Let’s be honest this time!

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You know, I really, really, really love my job. But why do I absolutely adore my job while other teachers and colleagues maybe don’t? Is it because I’m an exceptionally enthusiastic person and see teaching as a calling rather than a job? Maybe. But let’s be honest this time. There are other reasons too. Some of them have more to do with outer factors and the situation I find myself in:

  1. I’m an English teacher and teaching English is fun. It’s gratifying because you mostly chat about stuff you and your students are keen on.
  2. Point 1 implies that most students like English (or at least don’t hate it). This is the default state and we English teachers just take advantage of it.
  3. The groups of students I teach are smaller than in other subjects. While a traditional class consists of 30+ students, I teach 14 -19 max. This makes a huge difference: less noise, more one-to-one contact, better classroom management, more opportunities for fun activities as well as less/easier preparation and correction.
  4. Being proficient in English means that apart from teaching it at school, I can do other things: I can take part in international exchange programs, have classes outside of my regular timetable, translate, interpret, you name it. Not that I do all of these, but I know I can and this gives me an immense sense of freedom.
  5. I teach at a secondary school (combined with a grammar school). This means that the students who come to our school are mature and/or talented enough to be able to follow me. This makes my work much easier and my classroom management skills rock.
  6. Related to that is that fact that there’s actually not much work left for me; the students learn English on their own, mainly through watching English movies and listening to English songs; I only watch their progress. If a student is exceptionally talented (read: done a lot of work on their own outside of school) and wins a competition, for example, I’m the one who is given the credit.
  7. My students’ levels of proficiency range from A2 to B2. So if I make a mistake or don’t know an answer to a tricky question, there’s still a chance I will get away with it. As far as the C1 learners are concerned, if I don’t know an answer, I ask them to help and everybody is happy. Alternatively, we go on Facebook where I ask my PLN. This looks really cool because we take advantage of technology to learn. Aren’t we fabulous?
  8. The fact that I have many English-speaking friends (mostly online) who I can always ask for help makes me look even more professional (I think).
  9. I can share stuff about my job in English and thus reach a bigger, international audience. I’d say that the ELT community is probably the biggest online international community of teachers you can think of. I don’t think there are as many connected biology teachers, for example, as there are English teachers. This makes me feel safe and really proud of my job.
  10. Finally, I can blog about my job and my international audience helps me reflect on it. This form of therapy is one of the things that really keeps my head above water. Also, the fact that I blog in English proves I really know my stuff, right?

🙂

 

Taking shortcuts and reflective practice

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When you teach kids, especially in a relatively high stakes environment, you need to be prepared that they will tend to take shortcuts sometimes. I’m not saying that kids are cheaters or lazy per se; it’s just that they are often under too much pressure and taking shortcuts may lead to saving some energy for later when it will be most needed. There’s no need to be too judgmental but you do need to tell them that taking shortcuts is not always helpful – it may even be the wrong way.

What am I driving at? Well, I’ve just corrected a pile of book and film reviews. The students (B1-B2) were supposed to write about their favourite book or movie. In one of the lessons before the exam, we studied a couple of templates in their coursebooks. During this stage, I told them what language I expected them to use in their reviews but otherwise, there were no restrictions – not even a strictly given word limit. I encouraged them to write a draft; at this stage, they were allowed to use the Internet to look up all the information they needed.

The students did a great job and most of them got decent grades. One student, however, gave me a hard time; when I was reading through her writing earlier today, I realized that to a large extent, she had copied the text from the coursebook. She’d changed a few things here and there but otherwise, the texts were identical. At first, I wanted to give her a fail grade but then I realized that I hadn’t told the students explicitly that they should not write about the movie/book that is in their coursebook. I supposed that it was obvious. But was it?

The Reflective Questions for Teachers may come in handy now (credits to Andy Hockley and to ILC IH Brno Conference 2019).

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What happened? 

My students were encouraged to use specific functional language in their book/film reviews, namely the opening sentences of each paragraph. This language could be found in example reviews in their coursebooks. One student, however, used a substantial part of the text found in the coursebook to write her review. In other words, her other sentences, as well as some of the facts, strongly resembled the ones in the coursebook.

What possible explanations are there for this event? 

Unlike the other students in her class, she hadn’t prepared well, i.e. she hadn’t written the first draft, so later she probably didn’t know what to write about. Thus, she chose the easiest way out – she read the text in her coursebook right before the lesson and used what she remembered to write her own review. Since I hadn’t told the students not to write about this particular book, she actually didn’t break any rules. I hadn’t told them because I thought it was kind of obvious. Moreover, during the prep stage, when they discussed their favourite books/movies, nobody mentioned the one in the coursebook so it didn’t even occur to me somebody would write about it in the exam paper.

Having reflected upon the action, what will I do next. What will I do differently? 

I haven’t graded her review and I probably won’t. She will have to write a new one. Next time, I will explicitly say that they must not write about the book which is in their coursebooks because it’s difficult to prove whether the text the student wrote during the exam had just been inspired by the text in the coursebook or whether the student had actually plagiarized it. Also, before the exam, I will make sure, again, that nobody is actually going to write about that specific book. How? I will ask. During the exam, I’ll monitor and peek at the students’ writings, at least at the very beginning, to check that nobody is writing about the book in their coursebooks.

Can I draw a general conclusion from this? 

I have to be clear when giving instructions. The assumption that something is obvious will only get me into trouble. In fact, I can’t really punish students for taking shortcuts – they may not even realize they are shortcuts. It’s my responsibility to prevent this type of behaviour and educate students about plagiarism. However, the student in question should and will get feedback from me on this. And next time, I will not tolerate this and I will definitely take appropriate action, i.e. I will give her a fail grade.

No-prep activity bank: Lost in translation?

picture-frame-3042585_1280In this post, I’d like to share an activity I’ve tried in class several times this week. It was inspired by Daryna Luhovska‘s idea I had learned about at the ILC IH Brno Conference. I’d tried a few variations of the activity (including the original one Daryna demonstrated in her workshop) until I finally found the ‘ideal’ version which I believe perfectly suits my students’ needs and my teaching context, i.e. the number of students I have in class and the seating arrangement we are used to.

Stage 1: Students (the green and yellow circles below) are sitting at their desks (the blue rectangles) facing each other. The Greens have pictures in front of them on their desks. The Yellows can’t see the pictures. The Greens have two minutes to describe the pictures in detail (hence the speech bubbles). The Yellows are listening, trying to remember as many details as possible.

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Stage 2: The Greens turn the pictures face down. The Yellows (the inner circle) move one seat to the left as indicated by the arrows. The Greens stay put.

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Stage 3: Now, the Yellows have one minute to talk about the pictures they have just heard about, i.e. the Yellow Student Number 9 is describing picture number 9 to the Green Student Number 1.

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Stage 4: After the Yellows have moved one chair to the left again, the Greens are describing the pictures they have just heard about from their previous Yellow partners. I found it very handy to give the Yellows slips of paper with numbers on them. Each time they finish the description, they hand the number over to their partner (sitting opposite them). This makes the activity more transparent and everybody knows what they should be doing. In other words, if you are holding a number, you are talking about that particular picture.

 

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There can be as many rounds as you feel is suitable and meaningful for your class. If it’s too long, though, it gets boring and frustrating since it inevitably gets more and more confusing with each round. Also, students have less and less to say. Nevertheless, try to stick to the one-minute limit.

Regardless of how many rounds you decide to go for, you must always stop the game after the Yellows (the inner circle) have listened to the Greens (the outer circle), not the other way around. It’s simply more practical (you’ll see why right below).

If you wanted to wind up at the stage depicted in the diagram above, for example, the student who has listened to the description of picture 1, stands up and finds the student who originally described picture 1. So, The Yellow Student 9 (who has just heard about Picture 1) goes and sits next to the Green Student 1. Now the Greens turn the pictures face up again and listen to the ‘original’ descriptions. The Yellows can’t look at the pictures at this stage yet. Be prepared that these will not really be the original stories but only leftovers; they will be way shorter (sometimes hardly a couple of sentences) and lots of details will have got lost (“in translation”) or changed completely. But this is partially the point. Students are forced to be creative along the way – they need to change the wording, correct mistakes, simplify, elaborate, etc.

Finally, I ask the new pairs to sit next to each other and write everything that was correct. Expect this to be just a short piece of writing – from 20 – 60 words. It will probably only take 5-10 minutes. At this stage, however, I strictly focus on accuracy. Phrases like there is/are, in the background/foreground, etc. are something I expect to be used correctly.

In the end, I always juxtapose this activity with the way gossip and fake news come to existence. People simply hear what they want to hear and/or they deliberately change stories to make them more exciting.

P.S.: You can use stories instead of pictures.

Also, I very proud of my diagrams. 🙂

…. and this is Daryna Luhovska’s blog on Facebook in case you want to join her there. 😉