Monday, 24 October 2011

Learner Diaries: Reading, Stories & Vocabulary.

This is a picture of my Portuguese homework, which I'm showing to you as a cautionary tale. If you give a text to your students and it has as much highlighted text in it as mine does, the chances are that they are not really reading the story. They are more likely to have their heads in the dictionary than they will be getting involved in the narrative, questioning the characters motivation or attempting to understand the author's point of view, all things that fiction is supposed to provoke.

When reading becomes solely about vocabulary acquisition, so many opportunities for debate, discussion, engagement and real intellectual stimulation are missed. So do your students a favour and give them texts they will actually enjoy reading. Trust me, I'm telling you this from a student's point of view.

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Friday, 21 October 2011

Blogoversary & Blog Challenge: What's Your Story?

Last weekend it was my first blogoversary. A big thank you to everyone who has stopped by, retweeted the links, added me to their blog roll and RSS feed, and commented. The following post is part of Vicky Loras’ blog challenge and it seemed to fit with my first proper post from just over a year ago. In the challenge she asked us to reflect on one of the options below:

  • Have you made a big move?
  • A career change?
  • Have you been teaching and living in a country for a long time, but have seen changes in yourself as a person, educator or both?
  • Are you thinking of a change in the future?
I’ve written about a moment when everything changed for me. I hope you find it interesting (and not too self-indulgent!).

Time to decide...
I studied Media Studies, specifically television production, at university. I studied it because I was, and still am, an avid consumer of the media and the arts. I also am very interested in the interaction between the media and society, and how their complicated relationship affects our daily lives. The fact is however, that academically I wasn’t a great student and in the end, due to a number of factors some of which were my fault and some which were not, my final grade reflected this. This experience has undoubtedly influenced my current belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with how we approach our education system, but that’s too complicated to explain here.

I worked on films for the year after I graduated, and while I enjoyed the work a great deal, I didn’t feel particular comfortable in that world and with those people. I was a shy man in a world of self-aggrandisers and show offs and it wasn’t for me. (I did meet some very nice people too, but they weren’t generally the ones who could get me work.) I also wasn’t prepared to spend years without any money, waiting on the slightest glimmer of a break. I just didn’t feel cut out for it. The problem was that I didn’t know what it was I supposed to be doing instead.

To pay the rent, I took a temporary job. It wasn’t interesting at all, but the money was pretty good and I could keep myself supplied in records. Somehow, and I still don’t know how, I ended up doing that supposed temporary job for three and half years. As I sit here and type this I still find it completely inexplicable that I worked there for that long. I know we’re not supposed to have regrets, but I can’t help but wish I’d made more of that period of my life.

And the question remained: “What am I going to do with my life?” After a mercifully brief stint in a bank, I got a job in a massive central London music, film and video game store. I enjoyed it there, largely, working my way up to the position of buyer, but it didn’t fulfil me. It was a job, I didn’t hate it and it paid enough, but I hadn’t found what Sir Ken Robinson calls the Element.

The fact is that I was searching, like so many of my generation, for a job that satisfied us creatively, morally and professionally. We wanted to do something interesting, worthwhile and valuable, but those jobs are not easy to come by or even to define. The idea that I would become a teacher and live abroad was so remote in my thinking, I hadn’t even considered it as an option. It just didn’t figure at all, for reasons I’m still not sure about.

But move abroad and teach I did. For personal reasons, I had the opportunity to move to Brazil and I lept at the chance without a seconds thought. That really isn’t an exaggeration either, I literally said yes to moving there without any pause for reflection or time to think. I didn’t need a couple of days to mull it over, or to ponder over my decision with a cup of tea. I didn’t speak to my Mum or my friends, I just said yes and it all hinged on that moment.

I think my lack of hesitation came down to the fact that I was searching for something and an opportunity presented itself. I was craving a change, an adventure, something needed to take my life by the lapels and shake it around. I didn’t know what I was going find, but I knew it was definitely going to be different from what I’d left behind.

Moving to Brasília, I had no choice but to become an English teacher and luckily for me, I adored it. Everything fell into place and I could look back on the previous ten years and see how everything should have gone, how I should have read the signs and studied English Literature at university, how I should have gone to a far flung corner of the world when I graduated to teach English to a room full of exotic kids, how should have got the bug and taken my CELTA and started along the unpredictable career path that is TEFL.

Unfortunately that never happened, but if it had, I wouldn’t be here now and I wouldn’t be half as grateful for discovering my Element, the thing that I love doing more than any other, which is teaching English.

If you’d like to read about my first ever class, read this post from October last year:

Read more entries in this challenge by heading over to Vicky’s blog:

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Monday, 17 October 2011

ELTchat Summary by Edith Occelli - How can you teach Business English with minimal experience of being in the business world?

The following ELTChat summary was written by Edith Occelli, but as she doesn't have a blog of her own, I offered mine so she'd get the opportunity to share it with everyone. I'm sure you'll agree that she's done a fantastic job. You can follow Edith on Twitter at @EdithOccelli.

ELTchat - How can you teach Business English with minimal experience of being in the business world?

Last Wednesday's ELTchat 9pm discussion focused on the interesting (albeit controversial) topic of Business English and whether it is possible to teach BE classes having no business experience. The conversation was fast and furious and, as a newcomer, it really amazed me how much ground was covered in a single hour @_@ I just hope I can squeeze all the main points in this summary ;)

The discussion kicked off with chatters attempting to define Business English and what it constitutes. Definitions varied from the broad Communication skills for business contexts to more specific things like learning business terminology and working towards internationally recognized qualifications.

Then, after a brief "hands up" revealed that many participants had experience teaching BE classes, chatters jumped in to discuss one key question: Is business experience required to teach Business English?, a query that had no straight answer but for which everybody gave their opinions. 

Some said it "Yes, it is":

·       "advanced learners need expert in business to teach them English"

·       "Personally, when I'm the student I prefer when my teacher has personal experience in the field & learning from their anecdotes"

·     "We definitely need business skills. Some are acquired in coaching + through experience, but many we really do need to learn"

·        "I think advanced students (& co.s) are looking for more & more specialist training need ROI!"

·     "How about teaching things like negotiation, doing a SWAT analysis, or creating special docs? Doesn't teacher need that experience?"

·       "I believe that it is very difficult to truly be a BE language expert w/o direct experience of nuances of BE language :-D"

·        "If I want to learn BE I would trust a business expert rather than excellent ET"

·        "I think that those Ss who want both to stay ahead in the field will pay more for teachers with experience"

Whereas others said it was not really a requirement:

·       "I've never had that problem. They know you're not a business expert & don't expect it from you (thankfully!)"

·       "There's a common misunderstanding that bus sts need business classes. They don't, they need to improve their bus lang skills"

·       "I can see how it'd help but not necessarily"

·       "Much has been said abt business, but a lot of learners just want to be fluent"

·       "No but you need to understand concepts"

·       "No but they do expect u to be a language expert who knows how professionals communicate"

·       "I think it's going more & more towards specialist + elt but as the ELT expert in what might be a partnership it can work"

·       "I think is less about content and more about successful communication"

Still, some other thought it was first necessary to clarify what was being meant by having "business experience"?

·       "But what IS an expert in business? There are many different types of business experience as the Ss we're teaching, right?"

·      "Teachers ARE in business if they work 4 a private school - this exp can be milked too - esp'ly if u have admin responsibilities"

·       "I find it hard to believe that nobody has BE experience. If you've worked somewhere, you have experience to draw from"

And the conversation flowed all over the place with both sides passionately defending their views:

·       "Advanced Ls need expert in bus to teach them English  > really?  they want 2learn English not business!"

·    "Chances are that ss knows more abt their business than you. Your role is to help them express that knowledge in English"

·        "But you won't help them in using E if u r not an expert in bus especially advanced bus learners"

This went on for a few minutes until some people skilfully pointed out that:

·        "Different BE students can have very different needs and goals" 

·       "What do business learners need from English ?---> - a question must be asked before figuring out what to teach" 

Working in an office (St Stephens)

So that all chatters were (at least partly) right since the need for experience depends on different factors (e.g. context, level, type of class, Ss goals, company requirements, etc).

From this, a new subtopic ensued with chatters discussing different BE contexts and learner expectations:

·       "I would seperate business english from general english for business people. BEng more specialized"

·       "I find most advanced bus stds know the tech language and flounder with gen/soc English"

·       "Some customers looking for a hybrid - a kind of business CLIL - then teacher obviously needs the relevant subject knowledge"

·       "The scenario is different if we have to teach them abt doing businees w/ other cultures - we may have more experience here. "

·     "At our institution, the Business studies teachers teach Business Communication so we can send Adv. Learners there"

·       "But when bus stds arrive in the UK to work what they need is vocab, idioms, social language mostly"

·       "I find it more of a coaching role - helping sts succeed in their career"

·       "Teaching business English has become a branch of business consulting"

·    "What we have found is that in 1-2-1 the focus is much sharper on BE - in grp classes sponsored by company they want other stuff too"

Once this variety had been established, the conclusions were:

1.     The majority of BE students want increased fluency and English for social situations.

2.     Business expertise is only a requirement for some types of (specialized) BE classes. However, it is always an advantage ;)

3.   Most ELT professionals, even those without "business experience", can adequately support BE students when forming a partnership with their learners.

Later, after taking this most interesting of detours, chatters set up to share their advise on the main topic of the evening which was: … (drumroll) How to teach BE with minimal experience of being in the business world

Here is a selection of the TOP TIPS:

1.     Get a good start:  find out everything you can about the learners' roles and their companies, fish for ideas, take a course in BE, etc.

·    "if you've never been in Business but find urself teaching BE - do a thorough needs analysis and Profession analysis"

·       "Company documents extremely useful - for bigger clients we also send sb to spend a day in company "

·   "I did the IH Business English Teaching (BET) certificate. Useful, and avail to non-IH teachers too "

2.     Stay informed: take an interest in business and current affairs, read widely, join groups, etc.

·       "Reading articles to stay up-to-date, watching business channels on tv, listening to podcasts and news"

·    "I think joining in some LinkedIn groups also helps to observe the communication. A lot of business is communication"

·       "Definitely the #besig hashtag, webinars, and website are full of great information"

3.     Use your learners' expertise: ask them to explain, to give you examples, etc learn from them!

·       "Ask your students to provide as many real examples of the English they need to deal with emails, reports, brochures, calls"

·       "Get the students to show you around - ask intelligent questions - ask Ss to bring in documents they have to handle in English"

·       "A good idea to get them to teach you the processes while you feed in the language"

4.     Draw on your experience: whatever jobs you've had identify similarities, transferable skills, etc and use them.

·       "That's what I did - I used my experience as a 'worker' when teaching to the managers!"

·       "True If you can teach "How much?" in a supermarket context for GE teaching Negotiation for BE is much the same"

·       "I worked in supermarkets, shops and offices before becoming a teacher. It was very informative when I started teaching "

5.     Be humble: know yourself, recognize gaps in your knowledge and be willing to learn.

·       "Teachers shouldn't pretend to know more than they do about business"

·      "we need to know our strengths (& weaknesses), listen carefully and intelligently, spot the areas where Ss need support"

·       "whenever I taught I found myself learning lots to help my learners -  I even learnt binary math!"

Old Style Cash Register and Canned Goods in a Butcher Shop in New Ulm, Minnesota ..., 10/1974

 Chatters also agreed essential points for all BE teachers (and GE for that matter) this were:

1.      Having "face validity" (smart looks)
2.     Providing authentic practice for Ss
3.     Conducting a thorough needs analysis
4.     Tailor classes to fit in with Ss lives (E.g. mp3, online learning, etc)
5.     Promoting inter-cultural awareness

Some common problems like mismatches between learners Vs company wishes, compulsory coursebooks, and working with lower language levels were also briefly touched upon:

·       "We generally tell company shd be a balance of BE and Non BE stuff otherwise lose the Ss - in there but out to lunch in their heads"

·       "books I've used seem very vocab heavy, with little practice of it. Books were company requirement. 2 units = 1year"

·       "S/s I taught, their language was not on the level to do business expert type stuff w/ they really needed basics…"

Finally, participants suggested some wonderful Business English activities:

·     "Take me on a tour. My students loved doing that when they learned the right language. Useful for some"

·     "Take all of the numbers from a reading text & use them to describe trends / patterns etc (from Teaching Unplugged)"

·    "Crisis real time role plays. Feed information to groups which they deal with in real time. Each has an assigned role"

·       "With Skype classes you can have sts prepare, call a headhunter and practise real conversation"

·       "How about writing to an ISP re. spam or phishing email that came to their account?"

·       "Get them blogging. They can practice writing various business writing"

·       "Design a Facebook Page or website for their company? "

·       "Designing dream teams with famous business people, balloon debates etc"

·       "I use industry relevant docs, video, pdf them, and then annotate in a virtual class, record it - with courses"

·       "can give students exposure to experts through podcasts etc"

·      "Do a TED search on their subject area of expertise - try to find good short videos 3-6-9mins for authentic listening"

·       "How about case studies for business courses.. do any of you adapt some for BE purposes?? I think they made do good classroom activity "

·        "try to hooks stds up with s'one their field with whom they can discuss the role in English"

·        "Get them to do pecha kuchas if a class - or their presentations if involved in presenting"

Overall, I think it was a very productive session and I'd like to thank everyone for your great contributions.  Special thanks go to Shaun, Shelly, and Marisa for their skilled moderation and for giving me the opportunity to participate and write this summary. I'd also like to thank Berni for her endless inspiration and encouragement, and of course, James who kindly let me post this on his blog =).

Wish you all a great week!

Links to resources shared:

Thanks again Edith for your wonderful summary. If you’d like to do an ELTChat summary of your own, and you don’t have a blog to post it to, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll host it for you.

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