Dec 142019
 

Since United Nation Member States have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, a lot of work has gone into integrating these into school curricula, individual lessons, teacher training, etc.

Some of this work is also directly related to language teaching. Here’re some examples:

Book with lesson plans for each SDG

A book in the ‘Integrating…’ series by the British Council was published in 2017 with the title Integrating global issues in the creative English language classroom. Each chapter is devoted to one of the SDGs and includes lesson plans and activities around the particular SDG. As with the whole series, the book can be downloaded for free.

SDG and academic soft skills integrated EAP course kit

Develop EAP is a free course consisting of classroom material, slide sets, a VLE (Moodle) and assessment tools and can be used in university academic English courses, such as pre-sessionals. The content focuses on the SDGs and also teaches academic soft skills.It has won the 2017 ELTons Award for Innovation in Learner Resources. Read more about the course and download it.

Integrating SDGs and digital literacy skills

An interesting approach to integrating the SDGs into language learning and teacher training is taken by Owain Llewellyn, who created a website with training videos for teachers and lessons plans that both teach about the SDGs and digital literacies. It provides examples of how learners can improve their language skills and digital literacies skills while discussing SDGs and participating in hands-on activities to bring it all together. Owain explains the reason behind the website and the rationale for integrating these kills.

Individual lesson plans

Some teachers also share individual lesson plans that deal with the SDGs, for example a jigsaw listening activity by Jessica Mackay in which learners watch two different TEDtalks related to the SDGs, then share information and discuss the issues.

I am now also tagging my shared Sustainability Lessons and anything related to SDGs, such as this post, with ‘SDGs’ in general, or if they relate to specific ones: ‘SDG 3‘, SDG 6‘ , ‘SDG 11‘ etc.

Updates

I’ll update this blog post when I come across more lesson plans or resources related to the SDGs in language teaching. Please add anything you think should be listed here in the comments section, including your own lesson plans if you’ve shared them online.

Dec 042019
 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been working through the course Language Teaching for the Planet by Owain Llewellyn. We are now in Part 3, the final part, of the course, which asks participants to write and share a lesson plan with an environmental topic, bringing together what we have learned/discussed in Part 1 and 2.. The two course moderators, Owain Llewellyn (and for this part also) Daniel Barber, and the other participants will provide feedback on these lessons plans.

My interest is mainly in EAP/ESP lessons, so I’ve developed this lesson on air quality. It’s not a fully planned out or publishable lesson, but more a rough idea and plan developed for the course. I wrote it with the principles for writing environment-based lessons in mind, which I outlined here.


Context

EAP preparation year students in Turkey, going to study to become engineers in different fields
Localisaton: Use the same material but with a different interactive map or air quality data, such as AirVisual, that is available if used with other nationalities or international students in the UK, or other English speaking or English-medium universities.

Syllabus fit / rationale

In the previous lesson(s), they will have leared about graphs/diagrams and had practice in reading and guided writing of descriptions of graphs/diagrams.

Methodology: project-based learning

As these can be rather ‘dry’ academic lessons, this set of project-based lessons is to motivate them by providing a timely, relevant topic, including a video and by making it more interactive and personal, giving them choices and hands-on practice in conducting some research and presenting the outcomes.

Project-based lessons make tasks often more meaningful and ‘serious’ in the sense that it’s not just task to work through in a lesson as a context for some language outcome, but something that goes beyond that and is related to real life and real outcomes. Projects are also much more learner-centred and learner-led.

NOTE: If a project-based set of lessons is not possible, the first lesson can be used with slight changes, leaving time for doing a simpler research with the interactive map and writing it up as homework (individually or in small groups). If this can be done in GoogleDocs, everyone can read all the texts.. If that is not possible, the texts can be handwritten and pinned on the class noticeboard. If presentation skills should be practised, learners could prepare them as homework and deliver them in the next lesson. A class noticeboard or school noticeboard could be used to pin slips of paper with students’ pledges.

Outcomes

At the end of the lesson(s)/project, students will have…

  • learned some vocabulary related to air quality / pollutants
  • learned/reviewed some structures to talk about causes and effects, solutions (modals)
  • Practised listening (video), speaking (discussion, presentation, video production), writing (poster) skills
  • learned/practised transferable skills such as collaboration, producing a short video or an academic poster (if chosen) and organising a conference
  • researched the air quality (change) in a chosen location over a period of time (throughout a day/week/month/year) and drawn a graph showing the differences.
  • thought about causes, effects of and possible solutions for air pollution  (thinking of their own fields of engineering)
  • written a short paragraph and created a poster with visuals OR created a video OR prepared and giving a short presentation describing their graph and reasons for the changes 
  • presented their findings in the way chosen to the other students and tutors at a ‘air quality conference’ which they have to plan and organise (one 90-minute lesson long).
  • made a pledge for at least one change they’re going to make in their own lives to contribute to better air quality.

Long-term outcome: who knows, this might inspire some learners to work in this field once they have finished their studies.

Materials

  • A video such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6rglsLy1Ys
    (It should include some of the vocabulary they need, some reasons for pollution and some potential solutions, and it shouldn’t be too long to keep learners focused and make the language input manageable for them.)
  • An interactive website to research air quality in Turkey that provides a map, icons to click for different cities and areas in cities, with detailed information on the level of various common pollutants, outdoor activities that can be done or are not recommended if risky due to air quality, graphs showing the chosen pollutants over a period of time. Specific dates and hours in a day can be selected to observe changes over a chosen period of time. http://www.havaizleme.gov.tr/ (see screenshots below)
  • Poster material (if available, digital tool to create and print an academic poster, if not poster paper, markers, etc.)
  • Students’ phones (optional)
  • A survey tool (e.g. http://surveymonkey.com) (optional)
    The internet
  • A wall for personal pledges (if available, this could be done on the internet (on the university’s Facebook group or using a digital noticeboard, such as Padlet).

Turkey map - havaizlemehavaizleme 2

havaizleme 4

Procedure

Lesson 1 – Introduction and preparation

Warmer

  • Introduce the topic by, for example, showing the symbols for the various pollutants (NO2, SO2, CO, O3, etc.) and asking students what they think these relate to or what our topic is.
  • If they mention the names (Ozone, etc.) of these fine, write them up and practice pronunciation. If not, give students a few minutes to find out using their mobile phones.

While

  • Write on the board or projected Word/GoogleDocs ‘Air quality’, then underneath ‘How good is the air quality where you live / come from?’
  • Brief discussion with partners/neighbours
  • Using a prepared survey tool with options (very good, good, OK, not so good, very bad), students send their answers using their phones. (Low-tech alternative: write the options on the board, students raise their hand)
  • Write: ‘Causes of air pollution’ (‘Reasons for…’) / ‘Effects of air pollution’
  • In groups, students discuss reasons. If time, regroup and report to that group and listen for other reasons
  • Class feedback: depending on tech, each group adds to the GoogleDoc, or one student writes what the others say on the displayed Word doc. / Low-tech: if enough boards, groups (or reps) come to the board and write their ideas.
  • Do some language and pron. work with these, possibly add some sentence structures (e.g. for cause and effect: is caused by / might be due to / etc.)
  • Write: ‘Possible solutions’
  • Repeat the steps of group discussion, feedback, language work.
  • Show video: students watch and compare with their own ideas for causes, effects and solutions’ (depending on level, how the info in the video is organised, etc.), they can be asked to focus on one, e.g. causes), then watch again and focus on effects, solutions.
    [depending on the class, situation, guidance needed, tech availability, etc., the watching can be as a whole class or on individual devices]
  • Students add new information to the GoogleDoc.
  • Class feedback and highlighting and practice of new language that has come up.
  • If time, introduce the interactive air quality map for Turkey. Ask: ‘How good or bad do you think is the air quality right now here?’ Have them guess, then show the map. Tell them they will do air quality research in the next lesson. If no time, do this in Lesson 2.

What next?

If a project is possible, follow this lesson up with Lessons 2-3 (4) below.

Lesson 2 (and 3) – Research and preparation of presentation

  • Do a quick review of the previous lesson.
  • Explain the research project to learners and show the options and time they have to present their research.
  • Put students into small groups of three (max four).
  • Explain also that they have to organise an ‘air quality conference’ attended by other classes (who are doing the same project) and some tutors (possibly also admin staff).
  • Students start their research, decide on how to present it and start preparing.
  • Teacher monitors and helps where necessary and/or provides resources where students can find help.

Lesson 3 (or 4) – Conference

  • All classes/groups set up their posters in one corner (or room), computers or tablets with their videos in another, present in another.
  • Classmates, tutors, possible admin members and other staff attend the conference, ask questions, etc.
  • Depending on level, interest, circumstances, this could end with a panel discussion.
  • There will be a wall (or a large noticeboard with a big title/writing ‘My pledge for better air quality’ where students and participants will post their pledges of how they’re going to make changes in their own lives to contribute to better air quality, using slips of paper and pinning them to the wall, or post-its (Low-tech option). If the internet is available, this could be  done more online with hashtags to share on the university’s social media platform(s), or alternatively using a digital noticeboard, depending on what the students come up with and what is available.

 

Nov 272019
 

This is an integrated-skills lesson originally created for an EAP class in 2011. It’s been used by me and other teachers with different classes at different schools and has always worked well.

Evaluation

Does it follow the principles I have listed here?

  • Focus on the ‘now’: Yes, it’s topical and has been so for many years. It’s an issue many people have.
  • Take a fresh perspective: I’d say so, because the environmental impact is mentioned in he second video but it’s not the main focus of the lesson, it’s more about which water is better.
  • Localise and Personalise: Yes, the students are asked about what they prefer in their real lives (not hypothetically); they are asked again at the end. They can also include their own opinions in the discussion of advantages and disadvantages of bottled and tab water. Also, as the students this lesson was originally used with were international students who had just arrived in the UK, they had to take the decision whether to use tab water or bottled water.
  • Focus on people: No, the focus is on the two types of water.
  • Positive and Empowering: Yes, on several levels. The first video is obviously very positive about bottled water. The second one, is negative about bottled water, but positive about tab water. Also, after watching the videos, discussing advantages and disadvantages, students are ’empowered’ in the sense that they are now better informed than before and know they have a choice.
  • What’s the language point: language related to water, listening for specific information
  • Make it interactive: Students interact with the videos, the tutor, with each other.
  • Integrated: Yes and no. Each Academic Listening Skills lesson is a stand-alone lesson, but although the topics and listening skills are different in each, they do have to be integrated logically between the previous and the following lesson. For example, they had practised listening and note-taking in the lesson before this, which is a skill they need in this one. They also had learned and practised the language for discussion advantages and disadvantages, stating one’s opinion, agreeing and disagreeing and giving reasons in the Academic Speaking Lesson(s) before this.
  • Integrated-skills: Yes, although the main focus is on practising extended listening and note-taking skills, students also practise seminar discussion (incl. providing evidence for their opinions), critical thinking skills and media literacy (evaluation information and sources critically).
  • Relevant: Yes, both the skills practised and the topic are/were relevant to my students (see above).
  • Go beyond the lesson: Yes, firstly, as stated above, this was a relevant topic and they learned about the advantages and disadvantages of bottled and tab water.
  • Lead to action: Yes, as seen above, this impacted on students’ behaviour/decisions outside class. Many stated at the end of the lesson that they had changed their opinion about which water is better, and said they would try tab water. The environmental impact was not discussed, but their change of behaviour means less plastic waste.
    Another type of action happened when I first taught this. We were lucky to have a student in class who had worked as a chemical analyst or similar at a water plant. After this lesson, he decided to change the topic for his academic presentation (which they all have to deliver at the end of the course). He had found a great topic he was interested in and knowledgeable about, and his class learned more about the safety and high quality of tab water in our location in his presentation.

The lesson

Materials: two online videos

  1. http://www.viewpure.com/LIeR6SoQ84A (viewpure removes the clutter and undesirable elements from YouTube videos)
  2. https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-bottled-water/

Technology: internet and projector
Low tech solution: learners could use their own devices / the lesson plan could be changed and learners asked to watch the videos in their own time before class, which would allow for more time to be used for the other activities.

Time: 90 minutes, can easily be extended to 2 x 90-minutes session – one for the listening focus, note-taking initial discussions and source evaluation, the next one for speaking skills (extended discussion and feedback or even presentations by groups in stage 6).

Stages

  1. After greeting the students, casually start a conversation about what students are drinking. Sts. usually have sth. to drink on their desks: Who has got water/tea/sth. else? To those who have water (briefly): Is is bottled or tap water?
  2. Say: Our topic today is water. Elicit: What do you know about bottled water? Do you prefer bottled or tap water? Why? Elicit some answers from a few sts. Do a quick class survey and count how many prefer bottled or tab water (this can be done with a polling/survey tool too if available, e.g. survey monkey).
  3. Students work in groups to discuss and make a list of advantages/benefits of bottled water. Elicit ideas from the groups and write them up on the board (or have a confident student do this). Alternatively, if the room setup allows it and there are enough boards, they could write directly on the board. If they are used to working with GoogleDocs, they could also write their ideas there, so that everyone could see everyone else’s ideas displayed.
  4. Students watch the video and listen for advantages, compare them with their list, tick off if they hear one from their list and add new ones they hear. They compare their lists with a neighbour. Elicit any new ones and write up on the board. Do some quick vocab/pronunciation work where necessary.
  5. Repeat stages 3 and 4, but this time students focus on disadvantages of bottled water and watch the second video.
  6. In groups, students discuss and decide which arguments they believe in and what their position is. They discuss which is better, bottled or tab water, providing evidence/reasons from the video (but can also add their own reasons).
  7. Whole class discussion/feedback: Has your opinion about bottled water/tap water changed compared to beginning of lesson? Elicit from some sts. or use the polling/survey tool again and compare whether the result has changed.
  8. Ask: Which information is more reliable? Why? (e.g. source of information, evidence provided, sponsor of video, etc.)
  9. Optional question:What do you think is my position/opinion? Why?
    If I had shown you the videos the other way round, do you think your opinion would have been influenced?
    If yes, what’s the conclusion/lesson to draw for your writing project or presentations (if it is an argumentation)?
  10. Provide students with the links to the videos if they want to watch/listen again. Point out that the Story of bottled water video has got a full transcript with annotations, which is particularly useful for business students.
    (Depending on the course aims, syllabus, flexibility and the needs of the learners, the transcript could be used for follow-up tasks or lesson.)

Note

As environmentalists, we might be tempted to push our students to what we think is right, in this case, this would very likely using bottled water for most of us. However, we have to remember that we want our learners to develop critical thinking skills and also to find their own voice, to think about different angles of an issue or come up with creative and different solutions. There might well be situations where bottled water makes sense. Our learners might also come from places where tab water is not drinkable/healthy and they might not have technology for water purification readily available.

Our role as teachers, as I see it, is not to provide learners with THE solution or THE right behaviour, but to provide them with materials and tasks and create a safe space where they have the opportunity to think through problems, discuss options and come up with their own answers. If we successfully do this, rather than push our on views and solutions on them, they will often surprise us with new insights  and we will come out of a lesson having developed our own thinking on the topic/issue.

Nov 272019
 

It is useful to follow some principles when writing environment lessons, which can then also be used as criteria when evaluating lessons.

This is going to be a work in progress as I assume my thinking will evolve and I’ll also be reading about principles other teachers or materials writers have come up with. There’ll certainly be an overlap with material writing principles in general, but the focus is on environment-themed language lessons.

Because he made us think about our own principles/tips, I’d like to start with Owan Llewellyn seven tips, which you can read about in more detail on his website ELTsustainable with examples from his lessons:

  • Focus on the ‘now’
  • Take a fresh perspective
  • Localise and Personalise
  • Focus on people
  • Positive and Empowering
  • What’s the language point
  • Make it interactive

These are all great and I’d include them in my principles, certainly for general English classes. In the ESP/EAP context, the lessons might not always need to have a focus on ‘now’, though, and might not (always) focus on people, depending on the particular aim of the lesson. Although being positive and empowering is great, some ESP/EAP lessons might focus on graver situations and be based on understanding and communicating research, data, etc. Nonetheless, these lessons can lead to a positive outcome or action, which can be empowering.

So, here are the principles I’d add:

  • Integrated into the syllabus and not just an odd lesson on an odd topic.
  • Integrated-skills lessons (e.g. speaking, listening, reading, writing, critical thinking, media literacy, etc.)
  • Relevant, not only should the environmental topic be relevant to the learners (which would be the principle Personalise) but also the tasks and skills practised in the lesson (general English learners will need to learn different skills from academic English learners, e.g. having an informal chat vs a seminar discussion).
  • Go beyond the lesson. What have I learned? should be about the language points but also about the topic or environmental issue.
  • Lead to action. What will/can I do about this? What could/should/will my next step be? How can I make others aware of this issue? etc.

If you agree or disagree with the principles here, have further ideas or want to point out to me existing lists of principles on other websites, blogs, books, etc., I’d be very happy to read your comments below.

Nov 272019
 

I’m currently participating in the course Language Teaching for the Planet on using environmental topics in English language lessons created by Owain Llewellyn, who has been sharing his environment-themed lessons on his blog ELT Sustainable since 2012. It’s a very manageable course as it only lasts 15 days and doesn’t take more than two—three hours per week, unless one feels the need to engage more in the tasks and discussions, which can easily happen as they’ve been very interesting.

If you’re thinking of ‘bringing in topics of sustainability to your teaching‘ and would like to discuss ideas with like-minded colleagues and get feedback, I’d recommend it. It is helping me think through some of my ideas and has added to the motivation for me to finally start writing on this topic here on my blog.

The course will run again in January.

Update

And here’s my certificate!

Resource pack for download

The moderators had the idea to make the lesson plans the participants wrote into a free resource pack for teachers, which you can download here on the ELTsustainable website.

 

Jun 062016
 

Every year around this time the ELTons Innovation Awards are presented. There are always some very good nominations and I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision as it must be really difficult to choose the best in each category.

This year, I’m particularly happy about two of the awards:

Keynote by Cengage Learning (National Geographic Learning) won the ELTons for Excellence in Course Innovation.

I was involved in the authoring of some of the digital IWBs, online workbooks and ebook versions and it was a  real pleasure to read through and work with the material that is created around selected TED talks.

I also had the pleasure of meeting and talking to some of the authors and editors of the series at IATEFL in Birmingham.

As a teacher, I have used TED talk and other videos and material I created around them in my classes and they are usually popular with students. The authors of Keynote have written engaging course materials using TEDtalks as a basis for all skills and they help students gradually understand, learn and use the authentic language from the talks and language that is related to and expands on that used in the talks. The material is also personalized and learners get to critically engage with the topics of the talks and either write (an essay, letter, email, etc.) or prepare and give a presentation at the end of each unit.

Digital Video: A Manual for Language Teachers by Nik Peachey won the ELTons for best Innovation in Teacher Resources

Nik crowd-sourced the budget for this multimedia ebook and I contributed because I thought it was a fantastic idea, I was curious about the book and wanted a copy and it allowed me to follow the process of creating this ebook.

What is particularly great about Nik winning this award is that he self-published the ebook. This is very encouraging for those who have self-published or have been thinking of  doing it.

 

Two well-deserved winners of the ELTons!

 

Here you can read who else won in the other categories and there’s also a blog post with more details on the winners on the British Council website.

 

May 122016
 

One of the most-used functions on my Mac for work is taking a screenshot (using the shortcut Shift-Command+4). Particularly when I do editorial or writing work and have to communicate to others what part of a webpage I have a question about or what needs to be changed on a website or an activity, etc., usually the most efficient way is to take a screenshot, annotate it and send it to together with the question or feedback.

What’s been bugging me though is that on Mac OSX, the default location where screenshots are saved is the desktop. With the number of screenshots I take, my desktop always looked cluttered. I understand there is a good reason behind having the desktop as the save location: the screenshots can be located very quickly, for example if I want to send them as email attachment.

So, I was looking for a solution that allowed me to keep my desktop clutter-free but also allowed quick access to the screenshots. I thought easy enough, I’ll create a screenshot folder on my desktop and there surely must be a system setting where I can change the default save location… … … No? No! I actually had to search on the Internet how to do this and it turned out I needed to do it with a Terminal command, nicely explained here.

Eh voilà!

Screenshot of screenshot folder

Apr 302015
 

Let’s say you have thought about your reasons to write, and you want to get started. But how do you start?

I guess the best scenario is that you already feel the urge to share something with a wider circle of people than your immediate environment (family, staffroom, local association), rather than “just” the wish to write without knowing what about.

But even if you know what you want to write about, it can feel like a daunting task if you’ve never written for the “public”. So, how do you start?

Writing for teacher development

In my case, I started by taking notes for myself in private. Writing needs practice and this is a “non-threatening” way of doing it as there is no public.

Then, I started taking notes on my lessons and sharing lessons plans publicly on my first professional blog about my experiences of teaching in the 3D virtual world Second Life. Blogging is a wonderful way of starting writing publicly. The posts can be short, they can be informal and personal. Some people like writing guest posts on other people’s blogs without committing themselves to their own; others might find it easier to write on their own as they can decide what the style will be, the length, the topics, etc. A third option is to write for blogs of publishing houses, online magazines, and similar.

The next, bigger step would be to write an article for submission to a magazine or journal. It’s easier to write for a professional magazine because it doesn’t need to be academic, and they will accept shorter pieces as well. Many start by writing book reviews or submitting lesson plans and similar.
A great way of making this task easier is to write a series of blog posts on a topic and then combine these and rewrite for an article in a professional magazine. I did this with my blog posts about teaching in Second Life – my first published article in a print magazine!
I have also rewritten some of my MA assignments for publication, for example, my article on using podcasts in an English course for taxi drivers. Like with the blog post series, it makes the task easier because it’s already written. But it needs to be rewritten for a different audience, which can mean making it less academic or less formal, using fewer sources, shortening the text, adding new sections, removing others, etc.

For book chapters, you can do the same as for articles, but they might need to be more academic; therefore, it might be easier to rewrite dissertations rather than blog posts, because the former will already have references. In book chapters, they also often want some results, some kind of research with outcomes. In most cases, there will be a call for chapters to which you can submit your proposal, and if they accept it, you write the full chapter. For my first short book chapter, I have rewritten my MA assignment about the taxi driver course for a book on blended learning. You can compare it with the one for the magazine in the paragraph above to see how they differ in length, style, formality, images, etc.
I have also written a longer book chapter completely from scratch based on an editorial brief about technology-integrated ESP lessons. This has been the most challenging one for me so far.

The next step would be to write a complete (e)book. I don’t see that happening anytime soon 😉 but I’ve edited quite a few written by someone else.

Although it might sound very daunting to write articles and book chapters, the great thing is that, in both cases, you will have editors who help you improve your draft, so you are not alone in the process.
Writing to share my experience has been a great experience for me. And when what you write is published in a magazine or book, and people appreciate it, it feels like a great achievement and motivates me to do better work.

Writing course materials

Just like when writing for teacher development purposes, writing course materials was a gradual process for me, and probably is for many. I can’t think of any example where a teacher who has never written anything would suddenly start writing a whole coursebook. Let me know if you know anyone 🙂

So, it usually goes something like this (which is how it has been for me):

  • write some extra exercises for your students
  • write extra activities to go with a coursebook unit
  • substitute some coursebook activities
  • write whole worksheets
  • substitute a whole coursebook unit with more relevant content and tasks
  • write a complete course or set of materials for your students with special needs (EAP, ESP, etc.)
  • share lesson plans, worksheets, or courses you have written publicly on your blog (SLexperiments), or a special course website (English for taxi drivers, English for city planners)
  • write for someone else (a school, publisher, online lesson plan banks, etc.)

Writing course materials for others is still a very new experience for me and so is the logical (?) next step: editing the work of other writers. But it’s exciting and I’m learning a lot in the process.

Where are you in your writing journey and where would you like to be?

Apr 292015
 

I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

FB status update

I like the work I do and this is one reason why I tend to work a lot. As I also usually work on many different things, there’s always something to do, it never gets boring. For several years now, I’ve also been working during the summers, teaching on pre-sessional courses (which I love doing, but that’s another blog post). When I take off time to go on holiday with my family, it’s usually more a change of location/office for me, with reduced hours of work, but never without any. That’s how it’s been for some time now and it’s been good actually, as I can be in nice locations any time I want as long as there is internet access, and I don’t have to worry about work not being done, not earning an income, etc. A dream!
On the downside of it, I haven’t had any real time off for very long and I seem to have lost the ability to do nothing… or so I thought.

This year, we are in our lovely timeshare flat again, which has got thermal water in the bathroom and is situated in a lovely village where cows eat grass and wild flowers on the pasture and produce the fattest, tastiest milk, where the eggs and vegetables are organic, the cheese is made of the tastiest …, where you can walk in surrounding hills and collect tea leaves… You get the idea. AND, for once, this is at a time when I don’t have much to do as some projects have just finished and others are not urgent.

Sheep IMG_0188

So, I was sitting on the balcony yesterday and suddenly realised that I still am able to do nothing! Hence the Facebook update above 🙂 And I noticed how good it actually is not to be doing anything (work-related).

Then, when I wasn’t doing anything or thinking of anything particular again later (yes, I’m enjoying this now), I suddenly had lots of ideas pop into my mind — work-related ideas! Ideas for new projects, for new blog posts, etc. So, after all, it seems that doing nothing actually means doing a lot.

Now, back to counting the shades of green… or the sheep…

 

In the meantime, when and where do you have your moments of doing “nothing”?

You can leave a comment here or write on your own blog and share the link in a comment.

Apr 282015
 

Cyanistes caeruleus 3 Luc Viatour

I’ve been writing materials for my students for many years now, including digital material for blended and online courses. One of the benefits of writing for one’s own students is that we have a lot of information about them. We know their needs, we know their skills, we know their interests,  we know how they like to learn, what motivates them, what is culturally appropriate, how much time they have to learn, their work and (often also) their personal circumstances.

Another benefit is that we get immediate and direct and indirect feedback from our students when we use the material we have written for them, whether in the classroom or online. With direct feedback I mean what they tell us about the lesson or activities we have planned or the handouts we have produced. Some students, especially if it is an ESP course, will tell us whether the material were useful or appropriate, whether they think they will be able to apply what they learned in their job, or whether they found the activities interesting and engaging. Some students might even make concrete suggestions for improvements.
With indirect feedback I mean what I can observe: Are students engaged? Do they seem to like the text, the listening piece, or the activities that go with them? Do they make any remarks about the content? I find this kind of immediate feedback very insightful and rewarding.

Last year, I had the opportunity to work for english360.com and write lessons plans and material for project-based lessons for a group of vocational colleges in the Middle East. The material was delivered as PDF (teacher’s notes, worksheets) and had an online component for the students. It was the first time that I had to write lessons for students I didn’t know personally and lesson plans for other teachers, who I didn’t know, who were at an institution I didn’t work at. For the first time, I thought about coursebook authors who always find themselves in this situation. How difficult, I thought, not to receive any direct feedback! Of course, their materials are piloted and feedback is collected from teachers and students, but it just isn’t the same as walking into the classroom with one’s material and plan and trying them out. How would I know whether my material engaged the students, whether the teacher’s notes were clear, whether the timing was good, and the objectives were achieved? Without the immediate student (or teacher feedback), an important element was missing for me.

Then, I saw the colleges’ monthly newsletters and I was extremely happy to see pictures of students displaying what they had created in the project-based lessons that I had written! How nice it was to be able to see what students and teachers had actually done with the material! Sometimes, they had taken it further than I had planned for them. For example, I sometimes suggested that they work together with other classes or that they hold an exhibition to display their work to make it all more real and motivating, but I wasn’t sure whether they would be able or were allowed to do this. However, in one lesson based on health, where their task was to interview each other and create health posters, they had involved the whole school, interviewed teachers on their eating habits and gave every interviewee a health snack as a little present. Another lesson was about writing up their favourite recipes. What they made out if it was to actually bake and prepare other types of food and have a garden party with teachers and students where they shared the food.

How often does it happen that material or course book writers get to see this kind of thing? It made me feel very happy.

Another reason why I liked  this particular project was that the teachers were encouraged to provide feedback and could do so in the “staffroom” on the platform. I received feedback and questions from the teachers who were using my lesson plans and I could react to these by explaining the rational behind a lesson plan, helping them with some aspects, or, even better, by immediately making changes they asked for. One teacher, for example, suggested that one activity was not possible in their city, so I changed the lesson plan quickly slightly to make it work for them. This was easily possible because the lesson plans and materials were distributed digitally. It wasn’t a print coursebook.

Of course, it can also be challenging to receive such feedback if it comes across as criticism. One has to be open to this and ready to make changes where appropriate and possible. But for me, so far, it’s been a very rewarding experience.