Six adapted farewells

This is it folks, the final six! The following are famous last words which I have adapted (ripped off and changed more like 😉 ) for the ELT blogosphere. Last task for you lot: can you identify the original sources?

1. Either those dogme-influenced blogs go, or I do.

2. It’s a far, far better thing I post than I have ever posted. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.

3. I am leaving Six Things now and I may be some time.

4. I have offended God and the blogosphere because my work did not reach the quality it should have.

5. Last posts are for fools who haven’t blogged enough.

6. Don’t cry for me, ELT.


Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 10:47 am  Comments (27)  

Andrew Wright’s six things from sixty years

A few posts ago I talked about my favourite Five Minute Activities, the much-loved resource book by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright. I had the honour of receiving a comment from Andrew Wright himself on the blog, partly in response to all the praise for his work. I was going to ask him to write something for me when he came out and asked if he could! It was a great pleasure to say yes, and share with you here Andrew Wright’s six things from sixty years of language learning and teaching experience.

1 I have been working in the world of language teaching for fifty years.  It has given me an opportunity to be with people and to have an interesting time and to travel to many places: about forty countries.  Furthermore, my fifty years as a teacher’s resource book writer have coincided with what are probably the last fifty years of resource books.  I feel I am very lucky to have been working during this last half century.

Sixty years?  Well, before that I was learning French at school or rather wasn’t.  Lead by Dr MacGraw, we, myopically, crawled along sentences looking up the words we didn’t know until, blinking, we came to a full stop or the abyss at the end of a paragraph.

2 Some friends told me that I have collocated with stories in the last twenty years before that I collocated with games and before that with pictures.  Stories is the big one.  I have become a story fundamentalist.  I believe that our minds are storied from top to bottom so much so that the way we eat and drink, work and die are all partly determined by the stories we have heard and which have constructed our life maps.  CNN once said something like: ‘The stories CNN bring you today make the world in which you live in tomorrow. ‘  Journalists are so open about what they are doing.  Not the news but ‘the top stories today are…’.

Of course, stories are for children but in the last year or two I have bought nine books about the use of stories in business (Internet: Business stories!).  Given that stories are so central to who we are and words are a major component in the way we story experiences then it amazes me that stories are not the main road we all take in language teaching.

3 I have always been a conference goer. I have had the good fortune to work with many brains,  feverish with creativity.  The tsunami of technology in the last twenty years is wonderful. So exciting!  But all these leading edge people and technologies represent a minute part of the world of language teaching.  Millions of language teachers never go to conferences and their only development, if any, is through the books or internet materials they use.  My belief is that the vast number of language teachers manage to teach according to their inner agenda whatever books or current philosophy they use or refer to.  A teacher I observed, in class, took the topic of sharing information about recent experiences.  Sounds very healthy and communicative.  A student told him, ‘I swim across Lake Balaton and do butterfly.’  The teacher corrected him, ‘I swam across Lake Balaton doing butterfly.’  He didn’t make a single comment or gasp and raise his eyebrows when he heard that the student had swum across the biggest lake in Central Europe!

He appeared to be a ‘modern’ teacher but he was an old fashioned grammar point obsessed teacher.  Like millions of others he teaches as he was taught.

4 The West gives great value to research and I believe research has a valuable role to play.  However, in my fifty years in language teaching I have experienced changes of value, perception and behaviour in society having far more effect on language teaching than research.  I am a creature of my times and in the late sixties I was influenced by the demand for concern for the individual (rather than global answers) out of which came the notional functional description of language by David Wilkins.  I conceived and helped to write with David Betteridge and Nicolas Hawkes, the first topic based course ever published, as far as I know: ‘Kaleidoscope’.  Macmillan.  And then, ‘What Do You Think’ with Donn Byrne, with pictures juxtaposed and no words, designed to poke thinking.  At the same time I was trying to support teachers in moves away from the rule of the text book by writing resource books, like ‘Games for Language Learning’, ‘1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy’ and later, ‘Storytelling with Children’ and ‘Five Minute Activities’ with Penny Ur.  None of these books are based on research but on the gut feeling of a surf boarder with his feet on the driving swell of social change.

5 For fifty years I have done my best to promote the teaching of verbal languages.  But now I want to protest!  Words cannot exist unless they are seen or heard. Words are manifested by the non verbal languages of voice and writing.  The language of the voice is SO important.  How many ways can you say, ‘Yes’.  Can you say, ‘thank you’, so it doesn’t mean thank you?  Of course you can.  And consider the difference in typeface used by Rolls Royce and MacDonalds.  It’s not an accident.  Non verbal languages of voice and typography manifest words but also add their own meanings which may be harmonious or disharmonious with the words they manifest.  Its a duet and often the non-verbal instrument of voice or typography is dominant.

And then, add in the many non verbal languages which do not manifest words but accompany them.  Its a blooming orchestra: graphic design, furniture and interior design, architecture, body, clothes, car, house, film, and so on!  The world leader’s frozen hand shake and smile for the photographs.  The mock Tudor black wood struts on a million suburban houses.  The John Lennon glasses.

Now that technology allows us to readily make use of these non verbal languages at a high technological level through video recording and editing programmes on the internet, surely it should become a central part of our teaching?  We would no longer be language teachers but communication teachers and in a very different sense.

6 I can’t retire.  I have never been able to separate my work from my personal life.  If we really believe that language teaching must be about more than learning a language then how can we separate our life from our work?  It would be a contradiction to do so.  Nevertheless, after fifty years of an unbroken production of books I have stopped working on ELT books.  It is wonderful to be able to spend more time on writing my life stories.  My theme is the individuality and the universality of all of us and the situations we are in.  It is my answer to MacDonalds.  I have a wonderful time listening to and sharing such stories with my students who, these days are mainly bankers and pharmaceutical engineers….well…people.

Forgive me please for not writing six useful things for the classroom.  I have spent my life trying to do just that.  This wandering and pondering on Lindsay’s six thing site is a little self-indulgence which I do hope you will respond to, with benign tolerance.

If you would like to see my stories then please visit:

If you would like to comment on my stories, then please do: as long as I hear tapping I will know I am still alive.

Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 8:50 am  Comments (11)  

Six jobs before becoming a teacher

Paperboy... my first job at age 13 (not me in the photo!)

This is always a fun topic of conversation among English teachers – what did you do BEFORE you joined the front lines of the teaching profession? I read somewhere that today’s young people can expect to have more than fifteen jobs in their lives. I don’t know if I had fifteen different kinds of job before becoming an English teacher but I certainly had at least six. Here they are, not necessarily in order!

1. Aid worker

I was an aid worker first in Croatia in the early nineties. I worked in a refugee camp, organising various social events and helping run the kindergarten. Actually some of this involved a bit of English teachng, but also aerobics classes and arts and crafts afternoons. I did this for a few months (they did not let us stay too long). I then worked as a volunteer for the UNHCR (High Commission on Refugees) in Guatemala the next year, accompanying Guatemalan refugees back to their villages. Interesting work, and one felt like you were doing some real good but the pay was not good. In fact, in my case the pay was inexistent as we were mostly volunteers.

2. Video store cashier and shelf-stocker

Much less glamourous than 1, I spent some time in Montreal working for Blockbuster Videos – a truly evil company. When I think back on the staff training… shudder. But I did get a couple of free rentals a week and experienced the joy of getting screamed at by outraged customers when we charged them late fees.

3 Children’s book consultant

An amazing job that put me through university. I worked for the biggest independant children’s book store in Canada (alas it closed around ten years ago). I started working on cash and in the warehouse before getting trained to be a consultant, advising librarians, teachers and parents on suitable books for different ages of children. I discovered and rediscovered many gems of children’s literature, great picture books all of which served me very well when it came time for me to get books for my own children. I did this job on and off for over six years, the second longest “profession” I’ve had after teaching.

4 Bartender and waiter

I actually attended a course and got a certificate as a bartender, can you believe such a thing exists. For a time I knew how to make all kinds of cocktails, but all that knowledge has now been forgotten. I worked in a bar in Toronto for a summer and hated it. A few years later, I was living in the UK and I went back to the service industry as a waiter in a hotel in north Wales. And hated it again.

5 Lifeguard and swimming instructor

In my much younger days I worked every summer, and part time during the year, as a lifeguard and swimming instructor in Toronto. Those were very good times, although I feel now that we were all quite young to have such responsibility. Got good tans though.

6 Newspaper delivery boy

My first ever job. I was thirteen and got a job delivering newspapers in my neighborhood. I had to get up every morning at six o’clock to finish my round by seven-thirty. Then I came home, had breakfast and went to school. That eventually ended when the government passed a law making it illegal to hire minors to deliver papers and pay them a pittance. I guess it would be called child labour now, although it didn’t feel onerous at the time.

So, what about you lot? What are the strangest most interesting, most awful, or most glamorous jobs you have held down before opting for ELT? Leave a comment.

Actually, if you have your own blog why not do a blog post on your past trades? How about a mini blog meme on the subject? I’d be interested to read them. There, the gauntlet is thrown down!

Published in: on May 22, 2010 at 7:45 pm  Comments (45)  

Special announcement – worth taking a look at…

I am making a big exception to the “rule” of this blog to participate in one of the latest ELT blog memes. It’s an initiative called ‘vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog’ which roughly translates into English as ‘it’s worth keeping an eye on this blog’. The chosen blog should copy the image and link back to the blog that gave the blogger the award. I was chosen by fellow bloggers Valentina Dodge and Mike Harrison. The tagged blogger should then choose 10 blogs worth keeping an eye on.

But… TEN blogs? What about my sacred rule of six? Well, there has been a bit of unfortunate bad feelings in the blogosphere recently and so I thought I would spread some goodwill and share some blogs which I keep an eye on. Some of these blogs I have been told I helped to get started, which is really nice to know. So, here they are

1. Emoderation Station – Started by Nicky Hockly of the Consultants-E. Speciality is in online moderation and online methodology. I learned most of what I know about this area from Nicky.

2. Carol Read’s ABC of teaching children – An alphabet of tips, insights and good pedagogy from young learner author and expert Carol Read.

3. l_missbossy’s ELT playground – Another young learner blog, initially I think, but covers many areas and has had some great posts on language learning from different people’s point of view. Written by Anita Kwiatkowska, a Polish woman living in Turkey.

4. onefortywords – I was a fan of Luke Meddings’ writing style from his Guardian days (even if, as a coursebook writer, I did not always agree with the content!) and had the pleasure of working with as series editor on Luke’s book Teaching Unplugged (with Scott Thornbury). I’m glad to see him out here with the same style.

5. DC Blog – By the man himself, David Crystal. Just a joy to read, always full of interesting little comments on English and never afraid to put the die-hard language mavens firmly in their place.

6. ELT Musings and other tidbits – By dear friend Tamas Lorincz. Quite a philosophical blog in a way and certainly worth musing over.

(oooh, this is where is gets hard as I break my rule of SIX… I think these last four are just going to be the names, very brief descriptions and the links… sorry but I can only go so far in breaking my own rules!)

The following four are always ones that I check on regularly. I encourage others to do the same.

7. Digital Play – on video games in the ELT classroom

8. TEFLTastic with Alex Case – if you don’t know this blog already, you should. Tons of stuff here, about everything.

9. An A to Z of ELT – by Scott Thornbury

10. Seth’s Blog – the only one that isn’t ELT. It’s about motivation, persuasion and various things. Interesting and hugely popular in non-teaching circles.

Of course, these are not the only ten I read. Check out the blogroll for others!

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 8:48 am  Comments (13)  

Andy Hockley’s Six Ways to Survive the Crisis through Professional Development

I met Andy Hockley through Twitter and he has become an important member of my PLN (Personal Learning Network). Andy’s got a fun  sense of humour and a great passion for teacher development. His blog, From Teacher to Manager is, as the title suggests, all about managing teachers and has lots of interesting readable pieces on areas such as communication, leadership and feedback. Andy’s quite an expert on this, having also written a book by the same name available from Cambridge University Press. I had been hoping for a good list on the topic of professional development during these difficult economic times. And hey presto, here it is!

I’ll skip over the long introduction as to why professional development is a good thing, and assume we can take it as read. However, when times are hard, it can be one of the first things to get dropped off the budget (as many managers of language schools are only too painfully aware being providers of PD as well). But it’s very important to keep thinking about PD and how you can offer your teachers as much as possible – and it doesn’t have to involve a huge expense.  Here then are 6 ways of developing your teachers without breaking the bank:

1. Peer observation

Peer observation serves both observer and observed. Both can learn a lot from the process and as professional development opportunities go, it is, I suspect, one of the richest.  However, I know of some managers who’ve tried to institute a peer-observation programme and then later given up on it as being unworkable or ineffective. I’d argue that this is because it wasn’t set up properly or because there was a lack of purpose behind it. Peer observation needs work.  It needs to be clear to everyone why they’re doing it, and what the benefits are.  Above all people need to know how to do it.  People are rarely trained in observing lessons and in giving useful feedback afterwards (and on the flip side people are rarely trained in receiving feedback either!) .  I’d recommend working with the teaching staff to set up a scheme that works for everyone (and is clearly perceived as being entirely developmental and not in any way judgmental), and providing effective training in using the system and in observing and giving and receiving feedback.

2. Reflective Practice

Like peer observation, I think most teachers know the value of reflective practice, but like observation, many don’t really know how to do it. Provide some training in reflective practice, and follow some other ideas I listed here.

3. Online conferences

Attending conferences (and paying for teachers to attend them) can be a very expensive option, though it is, I’d argue, an extremely valuable one. If there is an ELT conference going on nearby to you, then I’d suggest taking the chance and getting as many people to attend as you can. If however this is not possible, these days it is increasingly possible to “attend” conferences online.  This weekend just gone for example, the huge and obviously excellent ISTEK conference in Istanbul was streamed online and provided many people with the opportunity to be involved without leaving their front rooms/offices/wherever people like to sit with their laptops. This post by Mark Andrews in Budapest is a great one about the experience of being part of ISTEK from afar. There is also of course the upcoming IATEFL conference which will also have an extremely high online presence.

4. The web (twitter/PLN/etc)

Mark’s post about ISTEK above also talks a lot about twitter and other ways of being involved and keeping in touch online. Personally I have found twitter to be an invaluable tool for keeping up to date with ideas, thoughts, articles, and above all people who can all help me develop. My PLN (personal learning network) has grown hugely since I got over my skepticism and really started getting involved. You can’t force teachers to go on twitter or other online communities (nings, blogs, etc), but you can make them aware of the benefits and possibilities out there

5. Outreach

Particularly for managers in “offshore” schools (that is schools which operate in countries where the first language isn’t English), outreach is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone – develop your teachers and be more a part of your community.  What I mean by outreach is to set up a regular ELT training session for local state sector English teachers. (Say on one or two Friday afternoons a month). The trainer is one of your teachers, and they choose what they want to train (or, better, you  come up with an arrangement whereby the local teachers specify what they’d be interested in learning about, and teachers agree to take on one of the sessions identified).  I’d go as far as to say that these sessions should be free. (The financial benefit to you is that those teachers who attend are more likely to recommend your school if a student or parent comes to them asking how they can improve their English outside class). The teachers who do the trainings get experience in doing teacher training, a very useful and marketable skill, and also through the act of preparing a session, end up really developing themselves in the area they have agreed to train. You have to be careful to ensure that there is no sense of condescending “we know better than you, let us teach you” in the advertising and training itself, but done well, this is an excellent way of getting professional development (As an aside, my first teacher training experiences were through such a programme, and I would say that it was possibly one of the most valuable forms of PD I ever got)

6. Performance management systems

That sounds a bit grandiose, so let me explain a bit. Most schools have an annual performance review/appraisal system, whereby the teacher meets with the DoS (or whoever) to  look over what they’ve achieved in the year and perhaps look forward a little (often there is a teacher observation as part of this process). It would be better to use this meeting as much more of a performance preview – allowing the teacher to talk about what they would like to learn in the upcoming year, and such that both parties can discuss options to that end. This could result in something relatively inexpensive – like that teacher taking their first business English course in the upcoming year (with support of course!) or less so – like that teacher attending a training course or international conference or doing the DELTA etc etc.  But the point is, that it is a discussion, and one in which the teacher feels valued, listened to, and like their development is important.

The 6 things limitation means I haven’t touched upon other ideas like mentoring and coaching, for example, but I think this provides a good list of ideas that you can use to get teachers developing.

The crucial thing is to get people involved in their own professional development, and make sure that they know the possibilities. It’s true you can’t make the horse that you lead to the water drink, but can you make it thirsty?

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (8)