Sunday, August 25, 2013

From teacher to coordinator: where do teaching and ELT management meet?

Alejandra Oliveri's session at the 10th Anglo congress  started with an examination of what facets a  teacher has to help them when they make the transition to coordinator. Suggestions Included responsibility, experience, authority.

It was mentioned that a teacher also needs to be a manager (of learning, classroom management etc.).

Alejandra believes that the gradual movement into the field of management is a result of increased readiness and a new willingness to accept the increased responsibility.

 Alejandra then asked the audience to think of 14 essential skills that are usually associated with teaching. These included giving encouragement, helping students to feel valued, course and lesson planning, making aims clear, assessing performance, training and research, establishing rapport, dealing with emotions, listening effectively, persuading, working with others, correcting, giving negative feedback, consulting, assessing performance, monitoring, keeping records, developing systems.

Which of these skills are transferable to management? 

Alejandra and the audience agrede that they all were, but Alejandra also said that these skills were not enough. She explained that there was a difference from when she felt she was ready to become a manager and then when she was doing the job.

Other skills typically associated with management are: setting clear aims and objectives, translating these into plans of action, adapting and initiating change, assessing effectiveness, offering objective advice, delegating, budgeting time, dealing with stress, giving regular feedback, encouraging and developing others, demonstrating our knowledge of ELT, keeping up to date, speaking and writing clearly, listening to others, building networks, accepting responsibility, knowing one's strengths and weaknesses, and having the vision and direction to make them clear.

It is also important to take a thorough look at the institution where you work. You need to do this in different ways. For example, the institution as a legal entity is very different to the institution as a social entity. It is very important that all the systems work well. But usually, there is no one person who is responsible for this. It is nobody's and everybody's job. The Manager needs to take a close look at the systems and how they work.

Confidence and attitute are the most important factors for the new manager. You need to look at the bigger picture and take a wider view of the organisation. You need also to:
- become more mature and sensitive to others
- become aware of the transition from teacher to manager and e balance needed
- gain more awareness of what management entails and includes dealing with a potential higher stress load
- start networking and managing relations with administrative staff

Training is important for various reasons:
- establishing credibility by acquiring more formal skills
- gaining more knowledge of financial management and conventions such as costs, budgets, margins, etc.
- handling different ways of communicating and assessing impact

Alejandra introduced us to the framework KASA, which stands for:
- Knowledge...i.e. Market information, management theory, resource information, academic programme.
- Attitudes...i.e. Staff motivation, staff needs and priorities, organisational structure, institutional history
- Skills...i.e. Communication, budgeting and financial management, Human resources, academic management, conflict and change management, teacher supervision and observation.
- Awareness...i.e. Strengths and weaknesses, how you are perceived by the staff, 

Becoming a manager, Alejandra mentions, requires personal as well as professional development.

To finish, Alejandra mentioned the importance of the 10 steps to a learning organisation by Peter Kline and Bernhard Saunders (1993):

1. Assess your learning culture.
2. Promote the positive.
3. Make the workplace safe for thinking.
4. Reward risk-taking.
5. Help people become resources for each other.
6. Put learning power to work.
7. Map out the vision.
8. Bring the vision to life.
9. Connect the systems.
10. Get the show on the road.

Further Reading

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Process writing: Allowing students to enjoy the skill they love to hate - Anglo

10th annual Anglo conference, Montevideo, Uruguay
Process writing: Allowing students to enjoy the skill they love to hate

Process writing has always been something I've been interested in, so I was particularly interested in Alistair's workshop and in hearing about the ideas he had for encouraging students to enjoy writing, a notoriously overlooked skill in most language classrooms.

Alistair started his talk by criticising the way typical writing tasks are doled out by teachers. Apart from demotivating tasks (e.g. write an application for a job. 200 words), many students do not know how best to go about writing something like this.

After a quick warm-up literary quiz, Alistair asked the audience to do a visualisation exercise. We were asked to close our eyes and imagine ourselves in our favourite coffee shop. After being told to experience the sounds, sights and smells, in the classroom, Alistair would ask students to talk about these and he recommends writing up the words that the students come up with on the board during this exercise because it is a fabulous way of generating vocabulary that can then be used for writing. 

Speed writing, another favourite activity of mine, is a very effective writing tool according to Alistair. The way he does it is to recommend students write for 3 minutes about a subject, without stopping. The idea is for the students not to worry about grammar, punctuation, etc. Then students in groups can then decide which of the texts to use to rewrite.

Alistair then introduced us to a task entitled Re-writing the writer, with some lines taken from a short story or from a novel, other lines removed and only the first line, a middle line and the last line on the handout for the students. As well as this, some words from the original text are provided to help them. The idea here is not that they reproduce the original, but that they produce an interesting piece of writing.

Speaking about the Cambridge FCE writing, Alistair asked which part of the writing (content, organisation, range-accuracy, appropriacy, target reader) is the most important one. He believes it's getting the message across that is most important.

Alistair suggests taking a piece of writing and breaking it down into small pieces as this helps students to get to know what is expected for each genre of writing. He introduced us to a genre analysis form, which had key caracteristics on it such as:- 
  • communicative purpose
  • expected audience
  • layout, overall organisation
  • level of formality
  • sentence structure
  • specific grammatical structures
  • specific vocabulary
The audience was asked to do this exercise with a job application letter and then Alistair looked at an example in the course book 'The Big Picture'

The next activity featured a number of photographs related to things mentioned in the Alanis Morissette song 'Ironic' and then another photograph visualising Alistair's 'best chat up lines' in order to encourage students to come up with similes (your hair is like..., his eyes were like..., the child sang like...)

Another idea called 'cubing' involves giving students a cube template and asking them to come up with 6 different ideas about a writing task (e.g. describing, comparing, associating, applying, analysing, arguing)

The next activity shown, Consequences, a variation on the popular game, involved a chain story starting with the line 'I closed the door and started to laugh because I realised...'

Alistair then suggested using the haiku format for promoting writing and showed us some examples.

Writing correction was the next thing Alistair looked at. He suggested minimal marking, which I am a fan of, as a strategy to help students self-correct. Rather than correct student writing, or use an elaborate system of codes to indicate errors (e.g. ww = wrong word, t=tense, etc), he suggests just circling the errors and letting the students try to work out what the mistakes are individually or in groups. 

Do we need teachers at all? Jeremy Harmer at Anglo

Jeremy Harmer´s opening plenary - 10th annual Anglo congress in Montevideo, Saturday 17 August 2013

Jeremy started by praising Uruguay, which is a place where very interesting things are at work (Plan Ceibal, for example), but unfortunately, not Jeremy's projector! Fortunately, the projector did work after Jeremy´s introduction. 

Sugata Mitra's hole in the wall project in New Delhi was mentioned by Jeremy as an inspiration for this talk. In particular he was curious about the fact that the kids worked out how to use computer on their own. Sugata Mitra sugests that if give we kids the right stimulation and the right kind of task, they don´t need teachers to help them.

Jeremy recommends checking out the TED talk on Youtube that Sugata Mitra gives (see above). In it, he talks about the past, the idea of school was built on values that have changed and that "I'm not saying that schools are broken, or the education system is broken...but we just don't need them anymore...they are out-dated."

Sugata Mitra believes that what is needed now is SOLEs (self-organised learning environments - download the SOLE toolkit here), where the role of the teacher is very different to the one most of us are used to. 

Jeremy then moved on to talk about Steve Bingham and a time last year when Steve asked Jeremy to help him with a show. Jeremy arrived early and Steve asked him to go to the teaching session for a string quartet. During the session, the women played badly, and Jeremy wondered what Steve was going to do.

Steve focused on the cello player and he encouraged her to play on her own and to play louder. When they played again, it was much better. This was a very good example of a teacher intervening in order to help learners.

Jeremy then recommended a book called 'Guitar Zero' by Gary Marcus, a psychologist who decided to learn the guitar at the age of 39. One paragraph in the book talks about why teachers are important.Jeremy summarised this - this is because i) they know things ii) they can motivate people iii) they can provide incentive iv) they can pinpoint errors, target weaknesses v) they can impose structure.

Jeremy then talked about the blog post he wrote about this and in particular the reply that Willy Cardoso wrote in reply, Jeremy said that Willy is his own SOLE but he is maybe not typical. Jeremy mentioned that Willy did agree with one aspect...he said the one área where he did like having a teacher is when it comes to error correction.

With a picture of jalapeno chiles on the screen, and Jeremy talked about a dialogue he wrote about an exchange (the spicier the better) between an American and a Japanese talking about a Mexican restaurant in Japan.In the dialogue, the Japanese man corrects the American's pronunciation of jalepeno and the American gets upset. Correction is a sensitive issue.

Reformulation is perhaps the best form of correction. It is non-threatening. However, Jeremy mentions that this often isn't picked up by students. 

Kumaravadivelu (1991) in a paper in the ELT journal writes about the difference between what a teacher thinks students learn or understand and what the teacher thinks.

Jeremy talked about a particular transcript between a teacher and student about the term 'a little costly'and the teacher's explanation about why 'expensive' was the better word to use. Jeremy's point about this is that we are not that good when it comes to correcting students. A lot of time when teachers correcta written work, for example, is by guesswork, and it could be that the teacher often gets it wrong and doesn't correctly guess what the student wanted to say.

'Very good' is the most ambiguous phrase that teachers use with learners. When teachers use this, learners often don't know what is 'very good'(the content of the sentence or the way it was said, etc). It also brings an end to the conversation. It's much better to use a follow-up move (Cullen, 2002*)

Wong and Waring (2009*) suggest different kinds of intervention: 1) teachers should pursue students...i.e. ask follow-up questions 2) problematize 3) use peers.

To finish, Jeremy asked the question he posed at the beginning of the talk: why do we need teachers at all?

As an answer, he proposed that the one thing that teachers do well is intervene, but it was up to all of us to find an answer.


Cullen, R. 2002. ‗Supportive teacher talk: the importance of the F-move.‘ ELT Journal
56/2: 117-27.
* Wong, J. & Waring, H. Z. (2010). Conversation analysis and second language pedagogy: A guide for ESL/EFL teachers. New York: Routledge.