The fish bowl and peer feedback

Hi everyone,

Today I am going to talk about a task I did in class and the follow up. The activity I am talking about is a fish bowl task. What is it actually? Well, I had a seminar class, so I put my students in groups of four. They were the students taking part in the seminar. Then I had four students observe them and give them feedback. These students sat next to or were standing behind the students who were taking part in the seminar. So, imagine an inner circle (seminar participants) and outer circle (seminar observers).

Now, time for some context. My students are international students (Asian) who are in their fifth week of an EAP course. They are all intermediate/ upper intermediate students. This is their first time studying in the UK. They have taken part a few seminars before and they have self assessed and given peer feedback a couple of times. They are not very experienced at giving feedback.

The fact that their English is a bit weak and they are not very experienced at giving feedback affected the activity. In what way you may ask? Well, instead of asking them to give a lot of feedback, I focused on two aspects of the seminar. I asked them to look at the course’s assessment criteria, but only focus on the column that was about interaction. I need to mention here  that I went through the criteria with them and made them more student friendly (simplified the language and used emoticons!).So, that was one thing.

The second thing I asked the assessors to comment on  was the use of set phrases for taking turns and interrupting. These were part of the lesson as well. I printed out some useful phrases and asked the assessors to tick the phrases their classmates used.

The Task

The seminar participants took part in the seminar. The assessors listened quietly and gave feedback. Then the students swapped roles.

After the seminar

Students sat next to each other and gave each other feedback. They told each other what they did well and what they needed to work on.

When the whole activity ended, I asked my students to tell me what they thought about this task (I used a Google classroom comment thread).

What they said

Most students enjoyed the activity. They felt that their classmates gave them good feedback. They enjoyed the role swap and that they were not asked to give a ton of feedback.

There were a few comments about feeling shy and embarrassed, but those students did say that this was not a big problem because in the end they did find the task helpful.

Practical stuff

I printed out the helpful phrases check list.

The student friendly rubric was on the board and students had to take notes.

As for timing, this whole activity took about 40 minutes. The feedback part was an extra 10 minutes. I asked them to spend 5 minutes on student A and then five minutes on student B. That meant that each member of the pair got 5 minutes worth of feedback. The whole activity lasted for 50 minutes.

aa0a3-dsc01572Will I try this again? Yes. My students really enjoyed it and I found it very helpful. have you done something similar? let me know in the comments below.

Till next time……

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How to mark online without… crashing

Nowadays a lot of marking is being done online. Marking online can be very effective.
  • Results and feedback do not get lost as it is stored in the world wide web’s cloud.
  • It is easier to highlight, add links and comments when the essay/ piece of work is being marked online.
  • It saves paper, so it is better for the trees.
But……
Marking online can be quite stressful and tiring.
I get the benefits, but I do find it hard to mark online. That’s why I decided to dedicate a post to marking online. I have been teaching at various universities for the past few years and I have been and will be marking online quite a bit…..

My Top Tips for Survival

Be rested, calm, and relaxed

When technology (aka the pc) acts up, you need to be prepared to take a breath and find a solution to the problem. Panicking because you cannot save your comments does not help. You may also need coffee or tea.

Back up

Always keep some kind of trail of any kind of feedback that is important, grades for example. Sometimes things vanish or do not get saved and that may cause a lot of problems.
coffee break

Coffee time

Comment/ Feedback Bank

When you are marking online, it is a good idea to make your own feedback bank. A document where you can write generic comments which you can then add to wherever you think is necessary. You can keep a list of useful links which you can add as part of your feedback.

Check your settings

Make sure that when you are marking online everything is going as it should. Do you want your feedback to be private until a specific day/ time?

Two screens/ printouts?

Sometimes you have to mark a second draft of something. In that case it might be helpful to have a printout of the first draft or maybe a second screen which you can refer to whilst marking.
Finally, just remember the first 500 are the hard ones, it gets easier after that!!
Do you have any top tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Don’t forget to follow my blog is you liked what you read. Feel free to check out my beauty blog if you like… beauty.
Till next time…..

Research is like….. Getting creative in the EAP classroom

Hi everyone!

In today’s post I am going to talk about a fun and creative activity I did with my students (not my idea, but really enjoyed it and thought I’d let you in on the task). Teaching in the EAP classroom can be sometimes dry and tiring. It can get boring as well!! Teachers are always trying to find ways to make some of the lessons a bit more enjoyable. This is the case of today’s writing idea. It’s sort of like an EAP picture composition.

What did I do?

Students were introduced to metaphors and were then asked to finish the sentence
research is like……
What this meant was that students had to compare research with something
Research is like a birthday cake……
Now, they also had to discuss the features/elements of research with those that go into the process of let’s say, making a birthday cake. I probably do not make sense…….

Procedure

Students were then asked to think and brainstorm about everything that comes together in order to do research (professor, thesis statement, books, journals, library etc.).
We wrote everything on the board. I then started writing my text. I introduced the task with an example.
I said,
Research is like a day at the beach. The water is my research question and the sand is the data and the sources I need to use. When I combine the water and the sand they become one entity which helps me make a castle. The castle is my research project. The person who helps me create the sand castle is my professor. He tells me ……
I actually drew pictures of some of the items as I was writing this text.

Final thoughts

Most of the students got into it and made picture essays in a Google doc. Others just wrote a text. It was a fun activity and I will definitely be trying it again next term.
Till next time…..
Joanna

What’s the highlight of your teaching career?

highlight

I was asked the other day,

What’s the highlight of your teaching career, Joanna?

and that question was quite difficult to answer because it made me wonder

what is the highlight?

Highlight

the best or most exciting, entertaining, or interesting part of something

                                                                                            Cambridge online ddictionary

Exciting? Entertaining? Interesting? Hmmmm.

So, for a teacher, what is considered a highlight?

Is it getting a promotion? Yes? No? I ask….what’s a promotion? Is the best case scenario becoming a principal at a school? Maybe becoming the Prime Minister of Canada? Is it becoming teacher of the year? How many steps does the career ladder of a teacher have?

Is it gaining degrees and diplomas? Becoming the best you can become because of your education?

Being acknowledged, respected by your peers?

Going to conferences? Presenting at conferences? Being invited to conferences?

Owning your own ELT business?

Is it writing articles? Getting published? Writing a book that people actually read? Seeing your book quoted somewhere?

Maybe it has nothing to do with the career. Maybe it’s a feeling.

Can a highlight just simply be getting out of your rut, avoiding burnout, and feeling like a super hero every time you walk into the classroom? Having the ‘energy’ to keep going on. Having the strength to keep trying even though you are underpaid and not appreciated.

Is it feeling like you had a very productive day with a very challenging class?

Is it being creative? Making something? Sharing something? Having a zillion

Ah hah

moments?

Is it inspiring learners? Making a kid say,

I want to become a teacher because of you.

Is it seeing your work… ‘work’? I mean, witnessing a child or adult acquiring knowledge? Using a language? Having the chance to experience things in another language? Opening doors to a whole new world?

Is it when your kids make you a card or stay in touch even though you haven’t seen them for 10 years?!

What exactly is a highlight for a teacher?

Probably all the above.

My answer

That’s a very difficult question to answer because I cannot put my finger on just one thing. I  felt extremely happy when I realised that one of my kids ‘got it’ or when I saw another kid be able to express himself in English and thought to myself, “Hey! I helped make that happen”. I also felt very good about myself when I got to teach academic English at a university in the UK. I have managed to educate myself quite a bit. So, as I said,  I don’t really think I can mention just one thing. It’s not just one thing…………………

I also think that there are many more ‘highlights’ ahead.

So, how do you measure success?

Till next time…

J.

An Ietls Speaking Session turned into a needs analysis session

Hi everyone,

I had an Ielts class with a new learner and I decided to start with a speaking session. I thought this would give me a better picture of my learner’s level and a first idea of what I needed to focus on when choosing material.

What I already knew about my learner

Adult, engineer, post graduate level learner who wants to do an MA in the UK. He already had a B2 level language proficeincy certificate and used his English occasionally.

The day of the lesson came.

After a bit of small talk,

How are you? (that’s the end of the small talk)

I then took out the Ielts Practice Tests book and went to a speaking test. Of course, my first lesson was not going to be a mock test, but I did want to use ‘authentic’ exam questions.

 

Why?

I wanted:

to give the learner an idea of the speaking questions (topics, level and activities).This is going to be a crash course (intensive course?). We started this week and the learner will be taking the test in March. I needed to know the weaknesses asap, and I thought a speaking sessions would allow me to do that. This was going to be my productive skill needs analysis session.

I also wanted:

to have a communicative lesson (because they are more fun) + a lesson that focused on a productive skill..

to focus on a skill that is a bit more relaxed compared to the others.

The lesson: some thoughts and reflections.

I found a speaking test about being famous. In my mind, talking about being famous yourself, and other people who are famous, is probably a topic everyone can talk about because famous can be defined in so many ways. We also live in a day and age where being famous is not that hard.

Task 1: Ice Breaker/ Intro Questions

I started off with the first part of the Ielts test which is the ice breaker. Talk about your self, your friends, neighbourhood, life / work.

This actually was a good task cause I got to know my learner much better.

I did not stop him or time his answers, I went with the flow. I did not make error correction either. unless it was something major that impeded communication. Instead I lifted up my notebook and took notes. I said to my learner that I would jot down good points and corrections.

I noticed my student was making pronunciation mistakes and grammar mistakes, so I made that the focus of my notes. My needs analysis speaking lesson was in progress.

After we finished the 1st part, we talked a bit about his mistakes. He took notes, and wherever possible he corrected the mistakes he made. If he couldn’t find the correct answer, I told him.

Part 2 The Card

I then gave him a card with questions (this is the 2nd part of the Ielts oral exam). I told my learner he could think as long as he wanted to, take notes and then tell me the answer to these questions.

Again, I took notes, then at the end, we corrected mistakes, discussed issues.

Part 3: Open ended questions

This part was tricky because it required:

Longer turns/ monologues.

Critical thinking.

Digging deeper into the question and elaborating.

My learner had difficulty answering longer/ open ended questions, so I gave him an example and told him how I would answer a question like that. He then did answer the questions. This part showed me that when asked more complex questions my learner struggled, so now I had info about pronunciation, grammar and expressing opinions/ holding monologues/ longer turns.

Ielts.jpg

On the downside

My learner did look at me while I was writing, so while I did tell him that I was taking notes of good/ things and weaknesses, he wasn’t really convinced and there were times when he asked,

What are you writing now?

There were others where he felt a bit discouraged by the questions, so I did stray off the original exam type questions.I do not think that is a downside though (just to be clear). There was a lot of brainstorming and scaffolding in the last part.

In fact, the last part of my lesson allowed me to see how easy it is for my learner to come up with ideas and organise thoughts.

So, by the end of my one hour course, I had a first impression of what my learner needs help with. I have already made a list of some of the grammar points that need to be addressed in future classes as well as ‘sounds’ my student needs help with. By the end of this first lesson, my learner was also aware of what the Ielts speaking part is about.

All in all, I was happy with this type of ‘needs analysis’ speaking session. It was very hands on, dealt with ‘real language problems’. As this is a crash course, I really need to be very focused and have clear objectives. I always think that my 1st lessons are flops, a lot of let’s meet and become friends vibe and this was

Let’s meet, become friends and get down to business.

That’s all folks.

Don’t forget to follow my blog. Give my Facebook page a ‘like’ so you don’t miss out on my super duper posts.

Have a nice day/ evening.

Joanna

 

Monthly Favourites: September

Hi everyone!

I haven’t written one of these posts for a while now, so I am back with a #monthlyfavourites post. You will find websites, videos and blogs in today’s post. So, keep reading.

septmber-favourites-elt

Fun English: Advanced Pronunciation Exercise—Test Your Skills: My higher level learner wanted to do some pronunciation practice and I did a bit of research and found this poem that focuses a lot on sounds. You can check it out here.

If you like lists of words (not to give them to your learners but to use in order to make exercises , feel inspired etc.), you may want to check this site out. I focused on Business English but you can check it out and see what else you can find.There are videos where your learners can read and listen to texts. Lots of ESP stuff. One more thing, the pages take ages to load. Don’t give up.

Drawing in the classroom: story telling.You can find the post here.

EAP blog: Teaching EAP: Polemical. Questioning, debating and exploring issues in EAP.

TED talk I enjoyed and will be using in class as part of a conversational lesson: The optimism Bias (this was recommended to me by a friend after I said that I always have low expectations).

Or a shorter version and slightly different video about the same topic.

I also talked about gender pay gap with my learners and used two things as stimuli. I usually prompt my learners by asking them if there is a gender pay gap in their country. Why they think there is one. What can be done to do change this. I also ask them what they think the gender pay gap is in the US, what in the EU. Which countries have the biggest gender pay gap and which the smallest (they also guess incorrectly here!!) This Video from the Harvard Business Review Website

//players.brightcove.net/2071817190001/BkesRPIZ_default/index.html?videoId=4644365717001

this article that has a very long text, graphs (some are bad graphs!!) and extra info about the situation in Europe.

Some random stuff

I started modern calligraphy. It’s fun and relaxing. You can print out pages and practice in your free time by clicking here (uppercase version. You can also practice lower case as well).

Snipping tool: You know when you have a pdf file and want to cut something out but cannot? You can use the snipping tool. It can be found at the little windows button (the one you go to when you want to shut down your pc or search for files. You search snipping tool and you start snipping). See I snipped my own blog post 🙂

capture

So, there you have some of my favourites. I have been gathering and saving stuff for a while now, but as you know, I have really been into my girlie blogging and haven’t been sharing that much here (sorry). You can read my makeup, beauty and other favourites here.Don’t forget to follow my blog or give my Facebook page a ‘like’ so you do not miss notifications of when I publish a super duper post :).

Do you have anything to share? Any favourites? leave a comment in the section below.

Till next time….

 

 

A few thoughts about Pre-sessional EAP courses

I have been teaching English as a foreign language for about 20 years now and English for academic purposes for the past six summers. My EAP teaching experience amounts to 56 weeks of approximately 20 contact hours per week. I enjoy spending my summers in the UK and teaching EAP. My learners are mostly Asian post graduate students who have conditional offers from their departments.

What I like about these courses

They are in the UK which means it’s a working holiday for me. The money is good and you meet teachers and students from all around the world.

The induction weeks/ days are very informative and you have a chance to share/ exchange views about the best practices.

The material used, the classrooms and teaching resources are up to date. Really good stuff. Wouldn’t expect less as I do teach in a university  building.

The lessons challenge me.. I learn and I think that is very important.If you have been teaching for 100 years like me, you do need something new and EAP is that for me.

What I don’t like

Some courses are over ambitious and a lot of EAP stuff is crammed in ten/ six weeks. I understand this, but it doesn’t mean I like it. Pre-sessional EAP courses give the term intense/intensive a whole new meaning.

When I go home, I am beat. No energy for nada. It’s like my brain is on snooze. There have actually been cases where I felt my brain hurt. Literally. So much that I needed paracetamol and coffee to keep going, especially during tutorials.

EAP course designers design courses assuming that students know basic English sentence structures, which they do…. and don’t. We expect students to be able to write an academic essay/ research paper/ long essay and some of them don’t even know how to write a simple Subject Verb Object sentence. I have read loads of gibberish over the years as students attempt to write complex sentences. They ain’t complex folks. They do make my life complicated though. That’s a fact. Again.  I understand that my students probably have a 5.5-6.5 writing score in Ielts

but that means nothing cause every coin has two sides and the whole Ielts as part of a uni entrance requirement is a hot topic (do the words in bold remind you of anything?)

I really really struggle with the stripping of anything EFL during EAP courses. I definitely think that going back to basics for a few sessions will benefit and not harm students even if this is an EAP course and we gotta be EAP-ish.Luckily, I do have opportunities during sessions to go back to basics (but not as much as I’d like to).

aa0a3-dsc01572

Picture credits to Marina D.

 

Having said that though, I love seeing the progress students make, especially when you go from the first draft of something to the final draft. How students do this blows my mind!! Hard workers these EAP kids.

No teaching context is perfect and there is always something that needs improving. Sixth EAP course done, moving on to course number seven.

What do you think? What do you love and what do you dislike about these courses? Feel free to share your thoughts in the section below.

Talk soon.

Jo