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Workshop Review: “Invisible Body Language” – Communicating in the Digital World with Sabrina Lucidi

in Professional Development

How do we express trust or distrust, engagement or empathy when we are speaking with someone sitting across from us? By smiling (or not), leaning in or away, physically opening up or crossing our arms, breathing in a calm way, or nodding. How about all this in a digital environment?

Guided by Sabrina Lucidi, 20 ELTA members who participated in this workshop on 26 March, started thinking about this. At the beginning, she wished us as much fun in the workshop as she had had preparing it. This sounded promising!

To begin with, we found ourselves equating ‘digital environment’ with ‘video calls’, and focussing on those. When we can see each other, similar principles apply in terms of body language (although we may need to be more explicit about nodding, using ‘reaction’ buttons and referring to people by name.

However, as Sabrina gently guided us to understand, much of our communication in the digital realm is in writing.

Communicating across time boundaries, geographically dispersed, communicating asynchronously, we rely heavily on instant messaging, chat, and email to communicate with one another. The absence of visual or auditory clues means that we have to create trust, empathy and emotion through different means.

Writing is the new speaking

Whether we realise it or not, the body language signals present in spoken conversation are replaced by other factors when communication is done in writing – the ‘invisible body language’ of the workshop title.

These factors include: emojis, spelling errors, choice of medium, response time, the time at which you write, amount of background information, and how and how often you thank people. Believe it or not, even punctuation plays a big role in expressing emotion, as Sabrina demonstrated with these three example WhatsApp responses:

a whatsapp message with different kinds of punctuation
Image: Sabrina Lucidi

How downbeat do you find a full stop? How aggressive is this for you: … ?

Exactly how these different responses are interpreted comes down to individuals, and our use of exclamation marks and other punctuation is affected by age, gender and personal preference. We realised this when Sabrina asked us to share what our ‘pet peeves’ are.

One person’s succinct may be another person’s caginess. One person’s speedy reply may include omissions and errors which their co-worker finds disrespectful. A short ‘thx’ may leave someone with the feeling that their hard work is not appreciated. So we all need to be considerate.

As Erica Dharwan states in her book Digital Body Language:

Reading carefully is the new listening, writing clearly is the new empathy.

It pays to become more aware of what messages we are sending and how we can make these more intentional, in order to reduce the risk of misinterpretation and increase the feeling of inclusion.

Tips for successful digital communication

Sabrina rounded off the workshop by suggesting some good practice guidelines when communicating digitally:

  • have an agreement on expected response times – maybe even include this information in the subject line (e.g. ‘2h’ means ‘please respond within 2 hours’ or ‘3d’ means ‘please action within 3 days’.)
  • as a sender, indicate clearly what is expected of the reader
  • as a responder, answer all the points in the sender’s original message
  • respond relatively quickly even if it is to say ‘I will get back to you on this’

We had fun looking at body language from a new perspective. Who knew that capital letters could equate to an excited grin?

***

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Gabriel Clark’s take on teaching with images.

Flashback: “Intercultural Competence in English” with European Language Competence

in Professional Development

To end the last year on a festive note, ELTABB teamed up with European Language Competence (ELC) and organised a free two-day training course in intercultural competence for English teachers. Alexandra Patent muses on her impressions and key takeaways.

Judith Mader and Rudi Camerer’s Intercultural Competence in English was a very informative workshop which provided us with a variety of classroom activities to improve our students’ intercultural competence – two reasons why I would definitely recommend attending the next one.

But perhaps the best part of the workshop for me was sharing anecdotes with my colleagues about our experiences, and reflecting on my own intercultural competence.

Day One

On the first day of the workshop, we spoke about the meaning of the term “culture”.
Although most people would automatically name their country of birth as their culture, Rudi and Judith stressed that cultures are more broadly “discourse communities”.
We belong to many different cultures apart from our nationalities, such as language communities, professional communities, religious communities, etc.

Many people would consider themselves to be part of the English language community, and learners of English are exposed to multiple varieties in the classroom, which may have stigmas or prestige attached to them. The trainers asked us to reflect on the varieties of English that we speak and/or teach and what attitudes learners can have towards these varieties.

Politeness vs. Accuracy

Regardless of variety, most English speakers can agree on some of the different ways in which we convey politeness  in the language. The focus of most of the first day was on the importance of politeness in effective intercultural communication.

One of the most interesting exercises that Judith and Rudi showed us had a list of pairs of sentences which expressed the same idea, but each sentence had an error. Sometimes it was a grammar error, sometimes a vocabulary error, and sometimes an error of politeness. The trainers then asked us to determine which error in the pair was “worse”.

Ultimately, it was clear that in the hierarchy of problematic errors, grammar is at the bottom, lexis is in the middle, and politeness is at the top. We forgive linguistic accuracy if politeness is present.

What’s important to remember about politeness is that it is culture-based and not inherent in language, so it is something that we have to consciously decide to teach our students.

Day Two

On the second day of the workshop, we spoke a bit about low context cultures, which don’t have a great deal of shared history or experience, resulting in more of a need for explicit communication.

High context cultures, on the other hand,  have a lot of shared experience, resulting in less of a need for explicit communication. Erin Meyer speaks quite a lot about this in her book The Culture Map, which Judith and Rudi mentioned several times, and which I would definitely recommend.

We also spoke briefly about tight cultures and loose cultures; tight cultures value consistency and rules, while loose cultures value fluidity and rule-breaking. If you’re interested in learning more about tight and loose cultures, the trainers recommended the book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers by Michele Gelfand, which I’m looking forward to reading.

What Rudi and Judith stressed most about all of these differences was that there is no “normal” when it comes to culture.

The importance of trust

The focus of the second day was on the theme of trust, which Judith and Rudi identified as the most valuable business commodity. They showed us a couple of different critical incidents and asked us to consider what went wrong and how we could have avoided the problem.

Critical incidents are useful exercises with regard to intercultural competence because they require us to reflect on how someone who comes from a different culture could perceive our actions.

This kind of activity is great for our students who work for international companies. It is also really important for us as EFL teachers because we work with people who come from all around the world. We talked about our experiences teaching international groups, and problems we have had in the past.

Although we all have such different professional backgrounds, issues such as punctuality, authority, and diligence came up across the board, so it was interesting to see how many similar kinds of challenges we have faced.

Final thoughts on the training course

All in all, I think we walked away from the workshop with a few more tricks up our sleeve in terms of intercultural competence activities and exercises to do with our students, and a lot more awareness of the influence our own cultures have on the way we think and act.

***

If you’re interested in intercultural training with Rudi and Judith, you can visit the European Language Competence website here.

Book Recommendations

Erin Meyer. The Culture Map.

Michele Gelfand. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers.

 

EATAW Review: The Conference of the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing 2021

in ELTABB/Professional Development

After being awarded the ELTABB scholarship fund last spring, Annie Heringer attended her first conference of the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) in July 2021. Here, she shares some of her thoughts and impressions.

The topic may sound narrow to an outsider, but if you stop and think about writing for a minute, it’s not hard to understand how it connects to the way we think, communicate, learn, and make sense of ourselves and the world around us. The EATAW conference afforded the opportunity to reflect upon writing in new ways and even engage in some writing ourselves.

Working from Home (in bed, in pyjamas?!)

To give a sense of the scope of topics touched upon at the conference, I’ll start with Bronwyn Williams’ presentation “Basements, bedrooms, and parking lots: The physical and emotional spaces of writing during a pandemic.”

This research is part of an emerging thread of interest into the materialism of writing, which of course has been hugely affected by the coronavirus. Williams’ interviews revealed some surprisingly positive reports from students whose relationship to writing has improved due to the virus forcing them to reckon with the physical requirements needed in order to write.

Working from Home

As someone who spent the summer writing my dissertation in the apartment I share with my family, regularly moving stacks of paper from my desk to the couch, to the bed and back, I could easily relate to the task of forging new space to write in.

The Evolution of the Essay

Another favorite presentation came from Stuart Wrigley on exploring slowness in academic writing. He claimed that the essay, that paragon of academic writing, has shifted from once being a meandering intellectual exploration of ideas to become a tightly-planned piece of writing that must resolve neatly in a conclusion, however prematurely.

The effect has turned the essay into an “information-mining” activity that values contained answers rather than open questions. There was a deep irony in the fact that Wrigley’s presentation was shoehorned into a ten-minute slot, but his suggestion is an important one; who hasn’t felt the pressure to do more in less time in their classes?

Wrigley’s call to reevaluate the fundamental purposes of writing definitely deserves more thought and attention. 

AI – Blessing or Curse?

One of the larger themes of the conference was the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and its implications for academic writing.

A longer themed-discussion led by Ingerid Straume and Chris Anson presented some very scary new technology, including Keenious, which is a software that scans a text and makes suggestions for research. In other words, it gives you the supporting citations and quotations for your ideas so that you don’t have to do the research yourself.

While Keenios is still developing, some very sophisticated AI essay-generators are already out there, such as this one. You can try it yourself for free: just type in the topic of choice and the AI produces a very comprehensible text that is definitely passable as student work. With this type of AI in rapid development, Straume and Anson asked what we as writing teachers can do to avoid becoming ‘plagiarism police’.

Some very wise suggestions resulted from this discussion, including incorporating multimodal elements such as images and audio-visual elements into writing assignments that develop critical thinking skills while being harder for machines to replicate.

Creative Writing, Creative Teaching

Lastly, I want to mention a workshop led by Katrin Girgensohn, the academic director of the writing center at European University Viadrina. Prompted by a new position teaching creative writing, she led a small group of participants in a series of unfolding writing tasks. We ultimately wove these together to create a personal narrative about the work that we do and the conditions created by the coronavirus.

It was an eye-opening experience as no one knew where we were going with the writing until the final step. Seeing our disparate pieces of writing fall together was incredible. It was also a good reminder that sometimes you just have to write blindly and trust your own feelings, in faith that you’ll eventually arrive somewhere. In this case, the final piece was much more than the sum of its parts and an unexpected happy ending.

The Future is Bright!

The 2021 EATAW Conference was hugely inspiring and evidenced the power of teachers coming together to discuss the challenges that they face, whether it be corona, increasing demands on our curricula, or the AI threat to academic integrity.

Writing is often seen as an old-fashioned endeavor, but everything about the EATAW conference gave me hope for the future. I am very excited to be a new member of this thoughtful community that is pushing the field forward, and thank ELTABB for supporting my development in this direction.

***

Here at ELTABB, we are always keen to hear from you about workshops and other professional development courses you may have taken. After all, a well-written write-up can benefit all of us! Why not check out Evan Frendo’s review of a workshop about Corpus Analysis Tools in the Business English Classroom?

Making Peer Assessment work: Rubrics and Feedback Methods to Encourage Reflection

in Professional Development

As teachers, we don’t always have the time to go through everything that our students have produced – it’s also not always necessary. We want to get our students to the point where they can review their own work for strengths and weaknesses. So, how can we get there?

Three types of feedback

Feedback comes from one of the three Ps: professional, peer and personal. Professional feedback is from course tutors and anyone who could be considered the so-called expert. Students value this most because they feel that only the person who has been trained in this field has the knowledge and more crucially, the authority and expertise to review and comment on their work.

Peer feedback is difficult and often associated with negative feedback from fellow students. We need to encourage an atmosphere of collaborative learning and establish the goals of peer feedback. Just as professionals and experts have others review their work, our students can review each other’s work for strengths and weaknesses. When executed properly, peer feedback or assessment, can help students improve and recognise their own mistakes or weaknesses.

Reviewing one’s own work, giving personal feedback, is challenging for many students. Students are either too critical of their work or they see nothing wrong with what they have produced and are quite happy with their product.

Effective feedback

Giving effective feedback needs to be taught (and learnt). You cannot just have your students exchange essays and tell them to give their partner some feedback. They may not know what they should be looking for. Students may pick out unimportant aspects. They may also read the essay and summarise their feedback with a comment like, ‘That was nice.’ Or ‘I liked it’. Such statements don’t say very much about the work itself.

Here are some ideas on how to improve the quality of feedback from peer reviews and self-assessment.

Tip 1: Use rubrics to focus

Train students to give feedback and self-assess by providing guidelines on what to look out for. As with standardised exams, you can create rubrics which show students what they should be looking out for in a piece of work. Rubrics can be used for both spoken and written work and when designed well, should make the review process smoother. There are three types of rubrics.

Holistic rubrics can help evaluate the overall quality of a piece of work and can be used with any type of work a student has produced. Use it to assess role plays, podcasts, and even shorter pieces of writing. It’s not difficult to design, and easy to use. As a starting point, decide on how many levels of performance you want. Then write the descriptors for the best and worst level of performance. After that, write the descriptors for the levels in between.

Here’s an example rubric used to assess 10-minute videos created by students.

If such a rubric is a little too general for you, or if you think your students need more guidance on what to look out for, why not try an analytic rubric?

The advantage of this rubric is that it is strongly aligned to your learning objectives. The rubric focuses on different performance criteria and enables students to identify strengths and weaknesses in a piece of work. To create this type of rubric, decide what learning objectives should be demonstrated in the work, and then write your descriptors for the best and worst level of performance before writing the descriptors for the levels in between.

The following rubric assesses introductory paragraphs for an argumentative essay.

Another good rubric is one that focuses only on what students are expected to know and demonstrate in their work. Less time-consuming to create, you can use this rubric in self-assessment and also easily adopt it for peer review.

The following rubric was used to assess student podcasts. Three learning objectives were assessed here: the opening or introduction of the podcast, the content, and the delivery. The rubric identifies the minimum standard for each of these learning objects and reviewers would make their own observations in the columns on either side.

You can create your own rubric or use a ready-made one (just note that you might have to adapt the latter to suit your specific purpose). Here are some rubric banks for you to browse:

Tip 2: Personalize your feedback with the P-Q-P formula

Holistic and analytic rubrics don’t offer much room for personal comments. Use the P-Q-P formula with the rubric, or even on its own to encourage students to really think about what they’re reviewing. This formula works with both peer review and self-assessment.

P-Q-P stands for praise, question, and polish. Have students look at the piece of work and identify something that is worthy of praise, something that stands out or was done well. ‘Question’ requires the reviewer to pose a question (or more) about anything related to that piece of work. It could be content-related, language-related, or even process-related. In the last step, reviewers make suggestions on how the work can be improved., i.e. how to polish it up.

Tip 3: Feed forward and feed up

Have you ever noticed how feedback only looks back on a piece of work? Comments such as ‘You didn’t have a strong thesis statement’ or ‘The email had too many spelling errors’ tell our students what was wrong with their work. However, they do not necessarily tell them how to do better. While it can be argued that comments like the previous would imply that this is an area that needs work, the main message is still: ‘This is not good.’

Consider how you word your feedback and try to make your comments feed forward and feed up. When you feed forward, you’re telling your students what it takes to do better next time. Instead of ‘The email had too many spelling errors’, try ‘Check your work for spelling mistakes before submitting; there were quite a number of errors here.’

In feed up, make the link between what your students have produced, and why their real-world language needs to be clearer. With the example of the thesis statement, you could clarify your feedback as follows: ‘It’s important to know how to write a good, strong thesis statement because you’ll be doing a lot of that when you write term papers in graduate school.’

Conclusion

Feedback shouldn’t only come from you. While getting students to do peer-review and self-assessment may seem like something lazy teachers would do, the actual goal of this independence. Students need to be able to review their own work and those of their peers. When they leave your course, they won’t have you to give them feedback on their every move. And, move up and forward – feedback is important but so is feeding up and feeding forward!

***

If you find this article useful, you may also be interested in coaching principles for the ESL classroom.

Global Learning Exchange with Law Jaw – Using the Internet to Get Law Students Speaking Together

in Professional Development/Teaching

Breaking out of the online blues. Running an international exchange from your armchair… After 18 months of online teaching many students are jaded. Chances are you are too! Here’s one way to breathe life into your online classroom and remotivate you and your students.

I teach legal English at Potsdam University and for the past three semesters that’s meant teaching online, using Moodle and Zoom. Online teaching has its downsides: that’s undeniable. But it also opens up opportunities that you’ll never find in the normal classroom. I wanted to make the most of one such opportunity.

Essentially online meeting software, such as Zoom or Big Blue Button, allows far more participants to take part than the standard classroom. Also, these participants do not have to be in the same town or state or even country. With this in mind, I came up with the idea of Law Jaw.

What is a Law Jaw session?

A Law Jaw session brings together two classes of students from different countries to talk about law-related and non-law-related topics. Of course, the students needn’t be law students, but common interests help. So you could just as well run a Biology Jaw or Art History Jaw or Economics Jaw session (they just don’t rhyme!) Of course students should share a common language, in this case English.

Many of my students had been missing the chance to have conversations with new people in English due to restrictions on travel. The session gives students the chance to practise using English in an authentic situation in which they can also discuss topics related to their studies. More than this, students get to know and network with international counterparts in a low- pressure atmosphere and gain insights into one another’s legal systems and cultures.

 

 

Planning, planning, planning

The Zoom session is the focus of the exchange, but all really begins beforehand. In the week before, all students posted short profiles on a platform called Padlet. Padlet has the feel of a social media platform. It allows you to post and comment on other posts. However, the platform is self-contained and doesn’t require an account. By posting profiles and comments, students could understand more about their counterparts before the session began. The Padlet stayed online after the session so that students could continue communicating or swap contact details to stay in contact.

The core of the exchange takes place on Zoom. Students join pre-assigned breakout rooms in which they are given questions and topics to help them get to know their international counterparts and their legal systems. They take part in three twenty-minute-long discussions with different people and different sets of questions each time, separated by breaks of five-minutes.

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Here’s an example of a set of questions for one of the three discussions.

1) First, introduce yourself to your partner (5 mins)

2) Answer the following question:
What differences are there in legal education between your countries? Find at least two. (5 mins)

3) Tell your partner about a topic from class or another law-related topic that you find really interesting. (10 mins)
Run out of things to talk about? Do you have any favourite TV or film actors? Which series or films do they appear in?

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So far I’ve run two Law Jaw classes, one between San Andes University in Bogota and Potsdam University and another between Potsdam and Melbourne Law School.

Law Jaw Screenshot


Bogota- Potsdam- Melbourne

The Potsdam-Bogota Law Jaw, in which 70 students took part, ran (surprisingly) smoothly, in large part due to the planning that had taken place. My internet connection cut out just before the session was due to begin but I knew that Clayton, as a co-host, could take over and luckily I was able to rejoin after only a couple of minutes. The session did pick up some delays as it went on, but these could be compensated for by cutting into the five minute pauses between the discussions.

Clayton and I listened in on the conversations that took place and heard discussions of transgender rights in Colombia, the German constitution, the series House of Cards, learning online, Colombia as a fabulous holiday destination and the importance of positive female role models in the legal profession.

The session with Chantal’s group at Melbourne Law School was just as successful as the Bogota exchange although with a different dynamic. About 40 students took part and the breakout groups were smaller. The students came from a range of backgrounds, including Australia and South East Asia.

(Want to learn more about cross-cultural communication? Check out this article by Mandy Welfare! – Ed.)

Feedback and the future

The reactions from students in post-session questionnaires has been overwhelmingly positive with all saying that they’d willingly take part in another such session or recommend it to a friend. Informally, students were still telling me how much they’d enjoyed it weeks later.

One criticism was that the discussion sessions were too short, which in a way is a positive sign. Another criticism was that some groups were too large or there was a size imbalance between the two groups, which are areas of planning to be worked on.

I’m hoping to organise exchanges again with Melbourne and Bogota in the coming semester. An exchange with a university in Bhutan is also at an early planning stage. For the coming exchanges I’d like to help my students practise presentation skills and build their personal profiles before the sessions take place.

What’s in it for the teacher?

The positive feedback from students!

More than that, I found that the opportunity to collaborate with teachers you wouldn’t normally work with hugely rewarding. However, finding teachers willing to get involved was probably the most difficult part of the whole process. I took part in a big online meeting of legal skills teachers organised by the Legal Writing Institute, put myself out there, told other attendees about my idea and so met two law professors willing to give it a try.

It was through conversations with Clayton Steele from Brooklyn Law School and Chantal Morton from Melbourne Law School, that the Law Jaw developed from a basic idea into a session that can engage large groups of students from different backgrounds for ninety minutes.

Perhaps you have English teaching friends or former colleagues who work in other countries, professional organisations or institutional links that you can draw on?

But won’t somebody please think of the copyright?!

[I know what you’re thinking. “What a genius idea!  I can’t wait to steal it and hope I don’t get sued into oblivion!”. Well, dear readers, your noble editor has come to the rescue. Here is Tom’s response regarding copyright concerns:]

“I wouldn’t have any problem with other teachers using/ developing the idea. I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with such an idea to bring students together. Of course it’s nice when other teachers share their experiences of running sessions, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t!
I only really gave the whole thing a name as a useful shorthand and a bit of fun.”

Interested and want to know more or have a similar idea and want someone to bounce it off?

Drop me an email: tom@tomheaven.com or
visit my website: http://tomheaven.com/law-jaw-exchange-sessions/

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