In the Summertime: Thoughts for Next Year

Next year, next year, next year….

For a number of reasons, too complex and annoying to go into at this point, my teacher training next year will be limited to CELTA and a bit of literacy teacher training. Instead I am going to be lucky enough to teach a level 1 group three mornings a week, one L1class for one afternoon, and then a beginner / E1 group two further afternoons.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years with fairly minimal ESOL teaching, but at the same time getting properly out and about in the world of social media stuff for the first time, getting involved in practitioner research properly, going to conferences and generally looking up from the nearby stuff, and looking around at what else is happening.

Which has meant a whole load of ideas and thoughts about teaching ESOL, most of which I’ve not really been able to put into place.

So this next academic year is when I get to do this.

In the last month or so I have been lucky enough to see Melanie Cooke and Becky Winstanley talking about participatory syllabus design using some of the Reflect ESOL tools. http://www.reflect-action.org/reflectesol

So this got me thinking. It’s interesting because in the last year I’ve read up on dogme for the first time, and, I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always avoided the Reflect stuff based on my own cynicism (sorry, but “the Reflect Mother Manual” from which Reflect ESOL is drawn is not a title to inspire me, I’m afraid) and on account of being a PDF of about 90 pages which I didn’t want to print. but I realised actually that my favourite bits of lessons, and indeed, my best lessons, have, for some time, been the ones which have been unconsciously aligned with these approaches. Indeed I think I have been going through a process of “alignment” for most of my career (since, I think, the day I first read a page from a course book and went “really? Come oooon.” probably in about 2002).

I have, of course, gone into both dogme/reflect with my usual scavenger head on: I don’t fully subscribe to either approach (too many questions, which I know is a little like committing heresy) but I agree with the main principles, which will do. So instead I flicked straight through the Reflect ESOL book to the main “tools” at the back, and thought that, having seen their use so effectively deployed at the NATECLA conference, I will pinch the cause and effect tree idea as a way of developing the syllabus: the roots as the ss writing about their backgrounds, the trunk as “the course” and the branches as the course content and finally fruit as perhaps longer term goals, and/or ideas for future lessoms. Assuming we then have a base room, we can have this on the wall to revisit and discuss as and when seems right. I’ll be intrigued to see what comes out at the top.

The second thing, then, is the idea of basing the course around a class blog. Having seen Richard Gresswell extolling their virtues at the Adult ESOL for migrants Seminar erlier this month, and having experienced them as tools in teacher training, I very much want to exploit them in class. We are supposed to be upgrading our VLE in the new year, so that could be a possibility, I suppose, although for what I have in mind for these learners needs to be learner led, and I’ve not seen a VLE which could realistically claim to be that. So a blog appeals to me at the moment. I’ll still use the VLE for something. Not sure what, but I’m aiming for learners to be confident and regular users of the internet, so would like to remove the barriers as much as possible, particularly with the lower group.

It would then be great to have this blog open to as wide an audience as possible and even better to have a blog shared with another class in another part of the country, or even of the world. That may well happen and would be very cool if it did. I really like the idea of the learners not just writing for me, or for some notional audience, but rather writing for themselves, and for a real audience.

I think I’d like to try a facebook page, for sure, as I’ve seen people do interesting things there and definitely will be encouraging mobile phones in class. I have a lovely image of some wizened inspector of the Wilshaw / Gove mould walking in and finding me and the students accessing Facebook on their mobiles. So my main idea for some practitioner research next year is going to be looking at the whole Bring Your Own Device movement, and what actual access do ESOL learners have to technology outside the classroom. I got quite annoyed at some of the “well, they can go to the local library” attitudes of some people at the JISC conference this year – mainly teachers of young people and adults in a mainstream college setting, so I will forgive them. It is just not that simple for ESOL learners. I might be proved wrong, of course, which would be fab, but that is the point of research.

I am reminded of an OFSTED inspector at the NATECLA conference referring to the fact that e-learning is more than just electronic gap fills. She was absolutely spot on, although undermined by the approach on the Common Inspection Framework that e-learning is basically about the VLE, which is, really, just a great big teacher centred electronic worksheet. Certainly old attitudes to the web and elearning place the teacher in control of the content and the structure of the learning whereas a social media structure to the learning online could make for a much for responsive and learner-driven course.

So I guess I’m looking at marrying up my two obsessions / interests here – materials light, learner driven classroom practice, and my interest I elearning and social media. They marry up nicely: learners an take control of their lives online and offline, as part of a wider English using universe from which learning opportunities could arise, and to maximise those opportunities, in particular using the web as users of English to do things, rather than see it as a cold “practising English” space.

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7 comments

  1. I love the idea of blogging with another college or class in another country, but how about a kind of penfriends-with-another-class-in-the-same-college blog too? This might work well in motivating beginner learners – class surveys for others to answer, quizzes (ss use clipart to add pics they know)? I’ll be teaching a beginner class so would be happy to share if you like the idea.

    1. I think we could be looking at using perhaps the VLE to communicate internally: maybe with my beginner/E1 group and yours? There’s not usually a lot of VLE action at that level and perhaps the high level of teacher control and teacher directed content might be more appropriate for the lower level learners? It might be interesting to compare the blog engagement with VLE engagement?

  2. This sounds great, Sam! Good luck. I’ll be interested to read how it goes. I like the idea of your learners’ blog posts being available to a wider audience and reading them might just motivate the ESOL learners I work with to want to (and believe they can) write in English for reasons other than to keep me happy 😉

    I’ve read a bit about Reflect ESOL and I like the ideas behind it for ESOL learners but I’ve yet to hear people talk on it or attend training of any sort. I’ll have to revisit the site and also have to look out for opportunities to learn more.

    Thanks for this post!
    Carol

  3. Hi Sam, Came here because I was trying to find your ‘teachers’ that were waiting to be caught 🙂

    I look forward to see how everything works out in class with the blogs, writing for an authentic audience etc. I also like the idea of blogs being used for a learner centred classroom. I did something similar for my MA with blogs and their role in autonomy. I loved doing it. Last year I moved to a class wiki, but with students working in groups. It was hard going with French students, but I am looking forward to adapting and improving it this year. I don’t think autonomy is going to work as much as an element of competition with my students – they thrive on it.

    Good luck.

    1. It’s interesting you talk about using a class wiki: we used them a lot a few years ago but with quite limited success. Which was odd really because my colleague and I spent a long time discussing the difference in structure between blogs and wikis, and used them a lot with the class. But what did happen for us was the introduction of Moodle as a VLE in college, which replaced most of the teacher led elements of the wiki, leaving a gap for some form of student expression and interaction. And although there’s a blog in Moodle, it is pretty crummy: very bare and unattractive, and locked into the network, so unavailable to outsiders. The wider audience is the point behind a blog for me!

      1. Thanks for the reply. I agree with you about the blog and the wider audience. I used the wiki as it was a requirement for a course I was doing to become an online TT. Your comment has made me realise that I should really go back to blogs, and as I’m working with WP at the moment, I’ll probably use that. It will allow me to improve my skills. Of course, I should be totally learner centred and get the students to do their own (in groups) from A-Z.

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