Monday, August 25, 2014


 Principles underlying my teaching
I am currently applying for a Delta module 3 course, and one of the requirements is to write about principles underlying your teaching. There is a 750 word limit and you have to mention examples from your own teaching experience. So, I started thinking about that and it is not very easy to write a short summary of the things you think make for good teaching. So, here is what I consider the most important principles (and part of the essay :).
A teacher should always be willing to learn:
I have a BA in English, a M.Ed in Tesol and have passed modules one and two of the Delta. I have attended webinars, I like attending conferences and have presented at a few. I do this because I like to learn. I believe that teaching evolves, there is always a new idea or technique out there, and a teacher should always be willing to learn and try out the new things she has learnt.  I am a firm believer of CPD, because when I do the same things over and over again, I get bored. I also think that learning helps me approach my teaching differently and when I notice that something is not working I can read up on it and try something else.  So, learning something new may give me a new idea; make my lesson more interesting and enjoyable for my learners and me.
A teacher should have a good rapport with her learners:
I think that students learn better when they have a good relationship with their teacher. What I mean by good relationship is that they feel free to ask questions, they are not afraid of making mistakes and taking initiatives. They come to class happily. I recently asked my EAP students what they think makes a teacher boring, and they said they like their teacher to be funny, friendly and tell stories about her/his life. I totally agree with this. I do like telling my students stories about what I did on the weekend, for example, and I like to make them laugh when I can. I want my learners to feel free to take risks with the new language and not be afraid they will embarrass themselves.
A teacher should know her learners’ needs and adapt her teaching:
I really think that there is not just one way to teach something, and that a teacher should be willing to adapt and be versatile. I approach teaching vocabulary or grammar to children differently than when teaching adults. With children I often try to make it fun, with adults I try to connect it with their needs and explain how and when they will need to use something. I also think that when a lesson not working, I need to change it. . When I see that my students have not understood something, I try to find different ways to help them. If one task is not working or an explanation is not good enough, I need to find another way. I often have to stray off my lesson plan with my BE students who do not feel like having a grammar lesson after a very long meeting. They sometimes just want to have a conversational lesson. So, I do that. I change my lesson to suit their needs. My learners’ needs always go first.
Pair work-group work:
I think learners learn better when they do things in groups or pairs. I like mixing up groups and pairs as well. I do this so that all my students have the chance to learn and work with another student. I also think this is a good way for shyer students to make friends and for strong students to help weaker ones. Jigsaw reading tasks and lots of pair speaking tasks, for example, are often parts of my lesson plans whilst when I teach EAP, I often set up study groups or group presentations.

The most important principle is this one though: a teacher needs to love teaching. I love it. I have been doing it for as long as I can remember. If you do not love teaching, you can’t teach.

So, what do you think? What principles underlie your teaching? What makes for a good teacher in your view? Feel free to comment in the comments section : )
Till next time........

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Marking projects online: the teacher's survival kit
I have been marking projects online for some time now (long ones, like 1.500 words) and I must admit... it isn't easy, although it isn't that bad either. So, today, fellow teachers, I am going to write a post about the Do's, the Don'ts and ''OK, this will work'' of marking projects online. We do live in the technological era anyhow, don't we? So, out with the paper and in with the lap top : S.
A bit of context:
At the moment, I am teaching English for academic purposes in the UK. One of the tasks students attending these courses have to fulfill is writing a research project.

Turnitin: This week my students used TurnitinUK and submitted the first draft of their research project. For those of you that have never used Turnitin, it is a website where you register, set an assignment and it is where your students can upload their projects (this is the 'assignment' you set). Once the learners have uploaded their projects, it checks them for plagiarism and gives an Originality report. In this report you can see which parts of the paper have been plagiarised and it also automatically shows you the source and the section they copied from. It also has a tab called Grademark which you can use to comment on the student's work and give feedback. There are lots of different sections which can be used for feedback so it does allow for different types of feedback. There are tabs which let you give oral feedback (you can be all fancy and record your oral feedback). You can use comment bubbles which let you make in-text comments. There is also a general feedback area, where you can write texts. You can use different types of highlighters and you can also import generic comments if you think it is necessary (it definitely saves you time).

Reasons why it is a good idea to mark essays/projects online.

  • It is good for the environment and you/your students save money on paper and... pens. You also save space in your drawers, on your shelves etc.
  • It checks the plagiarism very quickly and quite effectively. There may of course be paragraphs that turnitin or any other software cannot detect but then you can double check by doing a Google check or something else.
  • No one loses their project+feedback. Everything is online. Stored forever.
  • It is good to use as a teaching tool during class. Why? Well, as I said earlier, if it checks for plagiarism, you can see what problems your learners have. You will see if your students have difficulty paraphrasing or if they need help with citations etc. You can then use it with them and show them what they need to work on. The same goes for other learner errors.
  • You can add links to your feedback comments and your students can press the links and practice or check something immediately.

Take baby steps

  • If this is the first time you are marking online, give yourself some acclimatizing time. For your first project, estimate that you will need about an hour or more to mark it. This is because the software you will be using, will be unfamiliar to you, so you will be trying to figure out how to highlight, how to use comment bubbles etc.
What else?
  • Give yourself breaks after every two hours. This is good for your eyes, your back and your hands. You can really get bad backaches if you just sit in front of a pc marking for hours.
  • Start with a project you think will be a good one. Choose to correct one of the stronger students first. If you start with a bad project, you will be discouraged by both the online marking and the project : (.
  • Make sure you have good lighting. If you wear glasses, put them on, and if you are using a lap top, always check your battery. You do not want to be losing any of your comments (some websites save automatically though, so you won't have to worry if the lap top runs out of battery).
  • Close all other website pages. It is very easy to get distracted by a Facebook message, an email or whatever else you like checking out online. Marking projects online requires a lot of concentration, so steer clear of all other online temptations.
  • Warning: do not be fooled by the fact that you probably only see the title of your students' projects (in Turnitin for example, you see the titles, once you click the title, then you see the project). They are still very long projects and just because you cannot see the piles of paper, doesn't mean they do not exist.
Bottom line: It is just like marking a paper project but it just takes a bit of getting used to. I usually read the whole project once. I then check it and make comments, give feedback. Once I have checked all my projects, I go through them once more and tweak my comments or add whatever I think needs adding.

Do I really have to mark online?
Well, you are probably already finding material online, reading online, teaching online. It is now time to mark online. In the EAP world, it is not really an option anymore. It is just they way papers are marked. C'est la vie.
Don't be scared, just do it : ).

Till next time.......

Monday, August 11, 2014

Journals in EAP

I caught the end of Sandy Millin's presentation at the TOBELTA Reading and Writing web conference on Saturday.  She had been talking about how she uses journals in her classes which gave me the idea for this post. So, today I will talk about using journals with your EAP students. Is it a Do or a Don't? Students attending English for academic courses already have a heavy workload, so why add some more work? After using journals with my students at the University of Bristol last year, I firmly believe it is a DO. So, let's see the How, the Why and the What happens after.......
The Notebooks/journals
Get your learners to use a notebook. It is more... let's say romantic, a reminder of the good old days when everybody used notebooks and not tablets and lap tops. On a more serious note, it is better if they have something in hard copy, something that is easy to carry around the house, put in their bag. Last year, when I worked at the University of Bristol, the notebooks were given to the students and it had the uni's logo, which gave a fine touch to the whole journal writing process. If this is not possible in your case, your learners can choose their own notebooks and you will get to see what they choose (I do see  a couple of notebooks with hello kitty on your desk : )).
What should the students write about?
On a weekly basis ask your learners to write about anything, academic and non academic . You could tell your learners to have two sections in their notebook. One section of the journal can be devoted to their everyday life, and the other section to their academic life where they document, reflect on things occurring in their student life. It wold also be a good idea to give them a minimum word limit and give them some ideas on what to write about.
Suggested topics for the everyday life section:
Write about what you did today.
Write about going to the supermarket.
Describe your room.
Write about your plans for the weekend.
Write about something interesting you saw, experienced.
Describe a building you saw .. and so on.
Suggested topics for the Academic section:
Write a paragraph about what plagiarism is.
Write about ways you can avoid plagiarising.
Write down the steps you will take to plan your project.
Paraphrase a source and write down how you did this.
Make notes of the parts of the sources you will be using in your research project ... and so on.
Why two sections?
Well, students attending EAP courses are usually international students who have difficulty, not only with their academic English, but also their general English. Also, keep in mind that it is usually their first time in the UK or other English speaking countries, so they are experiencing a different educational environment as well as a new lifestyle. Writing about everyday life will enrich their everyday vocabulary, writing about their studies will boost their academic English.
Which brings me to the next question.
Why should my EAP students write in a journal?
Well, firstly, they need as much writing practice as they can get. Although academic writing is more important for them, I do find that they lack knowledge of everyday simple English which is why I suggest having two sections in their journals.Another great reason, worth mentioning, is that they can see how their writing has improved. A journal also allows them to see if they are repeating the same errors over and over (maybe next time they will be more careful when using the structure they struggle with).
When do I collect the journals and what kind of feedback do I give the learners?
I collect my students' journals twice a month and my feedback varies. I correct some mistakes, I use an error code and I also ask questions about some of the things they write in their journals. Something like content feedback questions. So, if my student mentions, for example, that he went to the cinema, I then ask, ''What did you see?'' I also use smiley faces  : ) or sad faces : ( depending on what they have written. After having a look at their journals, I give them back to them and then my students can correct any errors and answer any questions I have asked them. If I see general errors occurring in most of the students' journals, like for example, a problem with using the present perfect vs the simple past, I then include this grammar structure in my next lesson or give them links for self study tasks.
Do the learners enjoy writing in journals?
In the beginning due to the heavy workload they already have, some like the idea, others are a bit reluctant whilst a few can't be bothered, but later on, they really get into it, especially when they see something come out of the whole journal writing process. Icing on the cake: It is interesting to see the written dialogue that develops among my students and me in regards to the content questions I ask them.
Bottom line
This can be a fun writing task for your learners. It also gives them the opportunity to reflect on some of the things they are asked to do in the EAP classroom. Sometimes writing down a plan of a project makes it less daunting, making comments about a source can help them be more organised and so on.
give it a try with your EAP learners. There is nothing to lose. Worst case scenario is that they stop writing. best case scenario, some of your learners will really enjoy it and will become slightly better writers because of it.

Final thoughts....
At the moment I am in an EAP state of mind, most of my posts are related to English for academic purposes because, well, that is what I am teaching. I will soon be back with other types of wordy rambles! I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know if you have used journals with your EAP students and how this worked for you.

Till next time........
A pic of a rainy Sunday in the UK : )

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Choosing your teacher

Getting rid of the boring teacher
Catchy title don't you think? Well, this was the title of a reading text I was using with my students today, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit about this title, activate my learners' schematic knowledge. So I did, and my, oh my, was I surprised!
Let me begin by giving you a bit of context though.
At the moment, I am teaching English for academic purposes in the UK. The majority of my learners are post graduate students who will be moving on to a master's degree. Their English is not at the necessary level so they are attending this EAP course. Most of these students are Chinese and this is for most of them, their first time in the UK. Today, my focus was on reading and the aim was to get the learners to make predictions about a text by reading the title. So I did.
Getting rid of the boring teacher-the title.
I asked my students, ''Look at this title. What do you think this text will be about?''
They replied, ''this text is about firing boring teachers''.
So I then asked, ''What makes a teacher boring?'' and this is what I got. Some of the answers I expected, others, not so much.
Boring is a teacher:
  • who is not funny and does not have a sense of humor.
  • who only does things from the book/ reads everything from a book.
  • who is strict (?!) not flexible.
  • who does not show any facial expressions, stands still.
  • who doesn't have a lot of knowledge.
  • who doesn't tell us stories about her/his life (: O Didn't see that one coming!).
So this is what, for my learners, makes a teacher boring.  we discussed them in a bit more detail and then ..... Then I decided to become the devil's advocate and said, ''Yes, but what you may think is boring, I may find interesting''.  That is when they said something which I really, did NOT expect.
''That is why we should have different teachers teaching the same subject. We should be allowed to choose the teacher we want''. '' Huh? Say what?''In fact, one of my students told me that at her college in China, the students could choose the teacher they wanted and that there were teachers with 60 students and others with 3!A learner can do this if it is a one to one lesson but at school? At uni?
Choosing your teacher?
So, when we think of learning styles, do we also consider teacher styles? Isn't a learner's learning style affected by his/her personality? Does it actually all come down to rapport? Learning something, for me, has to do with giving and taking. The teacher gives, the learner takes. The learner gives, the teacher takes. So, why not match different teachers with different learners based on what type of teacher the student wants?
I am a happy, chatty teacher, who moves around and makes jokes occasionally, but is that suitable for all my learners? Maybe not. I also run a business in my home town. I have never, till now, thought of giving the students the option of taking a class but choosing the teacher. I know of students choosing subjects cause of teachers or their friends, but choosing among teachers, teaching the same subject? I like the idea! I think it is very learner centered actually. I do not know if it is practical or realistic but it would be a good idea, don't you think?

Final thoughts
I am really interested in your views fellow teachers so feel free to comment. Does this happen somewhere you know? Do tell : )

Till next time........

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Newbie Online Presenter

                        Presenting at my 1st Online Conference
Picture: my own : )
Like most teachers, I too have attended many conferences. After having attended many of them, and since I have many years of teaching experience, I thought to myself, "Maybe I should present at a conference". I did. Face to face conferences (not sure that that is a word but I am talking about the conferences where you have to be physically present) are great for teachers/presenters  because basically:

  • You read up on what you will be presenting so you become even more informed.
  • You meet and share your views with people who are interested in the same things as you.
  • It is great for your CV.
So, I loved my 'presentation' experience and decided to try something new. An online conference. I am already an online teacher so why not become an online presenter? I sent a proposal, it got accepted and I will be presenting at my first web conference (Belta and TESL Online Conference on Reading and Writing on the 8th and 9th of August). So today, I made myself a big cup of coffee, I found all my notes and the articles/ books I was reading in order to prepare for the conference and started working on my PowerPoint presentation. Whilst sipping my coffee though, I started thinking about the differences of a 'face to face conference' and an online one. So, here is what I think as a newbie online teacher/presenter. Let's start with some similarities between presenting at a conference and presenting at a web conference.

  • Reading, reading and some more reading.
My talk is about academic writing and helping students avoid plagiarism, so like all my other conference presentations, I have read  a lot about my topic. I want to be well informed and be able to give the audience a sense of 50 minutes well spent. As this is a topic that has to do plagiarism, I am also extra careful of how I will reference, cite everything and I am very cautious of not plagiarising!! Now wouldn't that be a big flop? A presenter talking about how to avoid plagiarism, plagiarising : S
  • Rehearsing
Like all the other times, I have rehearsed what I will be saying. I am timing myself and checking to see if I have enough slides for a 50 minute presentation. I think time management is quite difficult so I need to practise as much as I can.
  • Spreading the news
I have also informed my teacher friends about this conference. I have shared posts about the conference on my Facebook page and Twitter.

  • Spreading the news
Yeap, the similarity is also a difference. I think that because this is an online conference, I need to make my social media presence even stronger, so I guess I have to start bombarding people with posts (hmmm ?!?!?!?!) about the when, where and how of this web conference.
  • Technology
At my previous conferences I worried about the technology. I wanted everything to work (lap top, sound, WiFi) because my presentation heavily depended on technology. Now I worry even more! This presentation will solely be delivered online, via the Internet. This means that if the technology in the accommodation I am currently staying at is acting up and being temperamental, my presentation will go down the drain*!! I just hope the WiFi Gods will help me next Saturday. I do have my roommates to rely on if my lap top decides to break down, so no worries in the lap top department. 

* extra worry: I need to think of my time management as well because if the technology goes on and off my time will be affected as well.
  • Interacting with the audience
As an online teacher, I know that interacting online is quite difficult. this makes me wonder how I will connect with the people at home. I do not like going on lecture mode. I find it boring and I will try to avoid it. How? I will ask questions and see what the other teachers have to say in the web conference room's chat box pod. icing on the cake? The web cam. I need to use it to my advantage (don't know how but still thinking.....).
  • My Visuals
This is an online conference which means that my visuals need to be very effective. They are the main thing the audience will be looking at. They need to be to the point, clear, no contrasting colours, the right size and in general viewer friendly. Unfortunately, I am not an expert at PPT presentations so my slides will probably be basic! But then again simple is sometimes better than fancy schmancy.
  • Recording the presentation
As this is an online conference, I think it will be easier to find software that will enable me to record the presentation. I will be able to keep it, share it if someone wants to view it and watch it a dozen times and be reflective about what I should've, could've, would've done if I gave the presentation again : ).

Final thoughts
I hope everything goes well. I am presenting on the 9th of August at 5.30 pm CET. I will be talking about academic writing and plagiarism. I will be looking at the steps the teacher needs to take in order to help students avoid plagiarising and I will also give ideas on tasks that can be used in class. For more information about the conference go here. Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section : ).
 Till next time.........