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Teachers helping teachers: Find and share classroom tips, research, experiences, and stories.

Mind Your Language – on Being Both a New Parent and a Language Teacher

in ELTABB/Teaching

One stereotype of teaching is that it is a busy life, buried beneath piles of lesson plans, timetables and grammar books. Swapping out these for nappies, toys and laundry, we find a not-too-dissimilar stereotype of parents… and when the two collide, we find ourselves in a very chaotic world indeed.

How does one balance the demands of teaching and parenting? The Eltabb Journal set out to investigate – and our first subject is Shaun Trezise, a new father raising a child with a very diverse linguistic heritage…

Video calling – some people are born naturals

There are many things I have done via video chat that I would have thought highly unlikely a couple of years ago. Playing quizzes with Eltabbers, teaching my university courses and leading other classes – all are directly connected to the pandemic and our responses to it. What I could never have imagined is that I would have to witness the first month of my son’s life through the same medium.

Due to a combination of factors, namely Brexit, covid and visas, I have had to take my first steps into fatherhood from 15,000km away. The hundreds of hours of online classes I have taught since March last year are no kind of preparation for meeting your first-born this way, although I take heart from the fact that he probably can’t see me too well yet. When we talk on the call, he doesn’t have too much to say – and only occasionally looks terrified to see my face beaming at him from the other side of the world.

A rose by any other name

My main task during the pregnancy was to come up with a name. I wanted something that reflected my Cornish heritage but wouldn’t be too mangled by a German or Filipino tongue. My son is going to be at least a third-culture kid and I wanted to help by not forcing him to exasperatedly explain his pronunciation his whole life. My surname will give him enough headaches! I spent most of the 9 months considering, debating and essentially focus grouping name suggestions, before checking with my wife – and her power of veto. 

Trying to consider three pretty disparate languages simultaneously, I researched historical names and read dictionaries with the aim of finding a good fit. Names beginning with J, like Jowan were considered but dismissed because of the amount of ways it could be said. No one could agree on how it should be said, even within my friends and family group. Tristan is maybe the most classical of Cornish names, but the 3 T’s, when combined with my surname, just took it over the edge of plosive acceptability. Branok is an old Cornish name that was very well liked by all of my family, and had made it through to the final stage. When my wife heard it for the first time, she started laughing and told me that’s the noise a chicken makes in Bisaya, her native language. 

When her labour started we still didn’t have a name and so I made the decision to abandon my Cornish roots and look for something that would be able to pass the veto. In the end – and believe me this is the short version – we decided on a name that had significance in Cornish (‘much loved’) and Filipino (‘king’) but wouldn’t be a hindrance to a German speaker (or any other nationality, hopefully). So in September we welcomed Hari into the world and rejoiced at the fact that we had finally found a name for him.

Bilingual bother, trilingual tribulations and quadrilingual qu… qu… erm…

I am choosing to think of this as a warm up for some of the tribulations that will come as a result of raising a multilingual child in a country that neither of his parents come from. I am an English speaker who has passable German. My wife speaks Tagalog, Bisaya, and English fluently but very little German. Hopefully he grows up as a fluent speaker of all of those and more, but it is hard to know the right way to approach it. His Lola (maternal grandma) doesn’t speak much English – whilst his Nana (paternal one) speaks only English. 

Do we need strict borders between the languages, or can we allow him to figure it out on his own? How is he going to do in school when German isn’t a language spoken well at home? Will he want to keep his linguistic connections to his forebears or will he immerse himself in German surroundings. Should we teach him or let him learn as he wishes?

All this is probably a bit too far in the future; he can’t currently hold his head up on his own, let alone converse in multiple tongues. But I am working on the assumption that if it took 9 months to choose his name, we probably need to allow a while for choosing his language.

***

If you liked this article on being a new parent and a teacher, head over to Part 2 with Sherri Williams here.

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.

/////

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?

/////

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/

Teaching English to Younger Learners – When You Trade in Participles for Apples and Dinosaurs

in Teaching

With many English teachers and trainers focusing on adults and business clients, we don’t hear much about teaching younger learners. However, some challenges aside, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. Kit Flemons takes us on a little journey into the world of children’s education.

How it started…

When I was thirty, I retrained as an English teacher in order to pursue a dream of mine – but the dream wasn’t to teach, the dream was to move here, to Berlin. Teaching just seemed a convenient qualification that aligned with my interests and would provide me with a source of income (luckily, it turns out I rather enjoy this teaching lark!)

Of course, being a teacher with relatively little experience and no contacts, I knew finding work would not be easy. Instead of finding a job upon stepping onto the Schönefeld tarmac, I struck upon the idea of bringing it with me. And that is how I fell into teaching children…

Perhaps our younger members may know the same as I did – there is currently a boom in online English teaching for Chinese children. Seeking an advantage for their kids in a competitive school system, many parents are turning to companies offering online lessons with first-language English speakers. Remote learning across unimaginable distances, even before corona!

Homeoffice

I was homeofficing before it was cool…

So… What’s teaching children actually like? I won’t go into the specifics of the learning platform (there are lots, all with different quirks), but let’s explore what teaching children in general is like.

Banana, banana, banana…

First up – can I say this? – very young kids are… erm… kinda stupid.

[See me in my office! – Ed.]

Wait! I don’t mean to insult them! They’re as smart as they possibly can be – but there’s still a certain amount of development their brain has to do before they’re capable of grasping participles and declension. They don’t even really grasp that you speak a different language to them – expect to be enthusiastically told a lot of very interesting stories, of which you might not understand a single word.

As for reading and writing? They might one day be the next Shakespeare, but right now the only thing they have in common with The Bard is making up words when they can’t find any that fit.

Yup, encountering kids, you’re going to have to transcend much more than just a language barrier.

So, start simple and repetitive –

 

apple apple apple

apple, apple, apple

BananaBananaBanana

banana, banana, banana

– and spin your simple vocabulary into a whole range of activities. During this time, you can chatter with them as you like, trying to throw in some useful words as you do. Focus on their target vocabulary – you have a lot fewer words to convey than in an adult lesson – but… remember what I said about kids having different brains? Well, they have one slightly terrifying superpower: they learn at an astonishing pace.

They said… what?!

Any parent will know how quickly, and how thoroughly, children learn a ‘bad’ word they heard once from a stranger at the other end of the bus (favourite teaching moment ever: a five-year old yelling “THAT’S BULL****” upon losing noughts-and-crosses – not part of the target vocabulary). While you’re teaching them one set of words, they will be picking up a whole dictionary more. Rusty adult brains require constant revision – young, supple minds are all-devouring.

So, teaching very young learners can be, quite literally, all fun and games after the initial culture shock – and far more rewarding than it has any right to be, with so much progress from so little input.

How many teeth does a T-Rex have?

T Rex

About 60

Of course, they don’t stay that size forever, and older-young-learners require a different teaching method again. Teenage learners Teenagers [fixed – Ed.] can be horrific; they make no secret of being bored and they make no attempt to take part when they’re not interested – and why should they? They’re often in your lesson at the behest of their parents, not of their own free will.

They also have an odd habit of often being very fluent in particular areas of interest, and much weaker in more general areas – a few weeks playing Minecraft and suddenly my student knows the names of more minerals than I do – and because they have much greater extremes of shy-outgoing than adults, their competencies can often be masked by their behaviour.

Find something that interests them, however, and you’ll see why ‘childlike curiosity’ is a collocation. Just like very young learners, teenagers are also hardwired to learn. Now, however, they want to learn about things that an adult can find interesting too. I’ve heard various people lament,

I felt so much smarter as a teenager, I knew about art, maths, science, geography and so much more!

As adults, we specialise, developing deep knowledge about particular fields.

Teenagers have a much broader depth of knowledge, and you can rediscover your love of astronomy with a lesson on the solar system, explore biology, geography, history… Learning together with teenagers can be heaps of fun! And you get to indulge your love of computer-games, Star Wars, dinosaurs, or whatever other shared interests you may have. Now that makes a break from participles!

They’re called ‘porgs’

I don’t want to teach exclusively children – I like having adult conversations, or feeding the grammar nerd within. Sometimes it can be really difficult to get a feeling for how to connect to a particular class, who don’t want to learn for the sake of learning.

Sometimes I feel that if I ever see another second of Paw Patrol I’ll turn a bit Cruella de Vil… but it must be said, some of my highlights of the week are those when I can forget about customer service, targets and team meetings and instead share cool dinosaur videos, show off home-science-experiments, or learn the names of weird little creatures from Star Wars.

I might grow old reluctantly, but I’ll happily stay immature.

***

Photo credit: Thales Paz

Meanwhile, in the Balkans: An Intercultural Survey on Teachers’ Satisfaction with Online Teaching

in Teaching

It’s not a secret that ELTABB, despite being based in Berlin, is an international organization. So it’s only natural to ask, “How are teachers dealing with the online classroom as our new normal in other parts of the world?” Let’s find out – with a little help from Slobodan, one of our members from Bosnia.

It’s the end of June and teachers, students, schools and semesters are all slowly winding down. In the next school year, new adventures and challenges await them all.

Now, it goes without saying that the school year 2020/2021 is probably the strangest one in modern history. What will happen in the sphere of education starting September and the new school year, is anybody’s guess. A few days ago, a friend asked me about the conditions in schools and the mood in staff rooms in my region. I told her I’d look into it – here is what I found out:

Most teachers really want to be back behind the desk.

It wouldn’t make for very good reading if I stopped there; that’s why I’ll give you the whole story…

The Online Survey

So, to find out what teachers really think and how they feel about the situation, I decided to take advantage of online networking. I made a Google forms survey with some questions about experiences of:

  1. shifting to online lessons
  2. doing short(ened) lessons
  3. returning to the classroom and so on.

It didn’t seem enough to research only how people in my country felt.

That’s why I asked for help from my online connections – teachers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia.

The Numbers Paint A Picture

After all being said and all questions being answered, this is what they think and how they feel:

  • A decent 42% of the respondents is around the golden middle concerning the need to shift to online lessons during the previous schoolyear, with roughly 25% saying their students managed it well and they tried to make the online lessons a memorable experience;
  • When it comes to the overall experience of teaching online, 10% said it was great and would do it again which is countered by 10% of respondents who said it was horrible and they wouldn’t repeat it; the rest is nested in the middle with a mild inclination toward the positive end of the scale – all in all, a positive response;
  • During the (now previous) school year, all of the respondents did shorter lessons; the great majority doing 30-minute lessons instead of 45-minute lessons;
  • Directly tied to the previous question, the majority (roughly 80%) would rather do short lessons in the future than go back to teaching their students online.

The Overall Result

The questionnaire finished with a strong 50% of respondents wanting 100% classroom work – nothing done online in the future at all; doing an occasional lesson online and having a hybrid approach with online collaboration activities got around 20% each, and 10% would like to keep on teaching fully or mostly online.

What Teachers Say About Teaching Online

Despite the number of online-enthusiasts being rather low, let’s not forget the comments given by the teachers as responses to the question of whether doing lessons online has brought any benefits to the teaching/learning process.

The most memorable ones include:

Happily Ever After?

What to say about all this? The overall impression is that most teachers went through a tough time and they weathered the storm but are not buying an umbrella for the future.

 A few, however, are ready and willing to embrace this new medium through which so much already operates on a daily basis – as for which group will have the last laugh, only time will tell!

In the meantime, I am continuing to collect links and bookmarks for some useful online sites and/or services. How about you? What do you think? How much of “online” should be kept in education?

Give us your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

***

Boost your Online Teaching with Brain-Friendly Slides – Here’s How

in Professional Development/Teaching

When teaching online, you probably use slides to some extent. Making slides is easy — just add a text box and an image, right? In his May workshop, Ákos Gerold shared what makes slides brain-friendly – and it is not what you see most people do.

Imagine you are giving a presentation. You show a slide with five bullet points, each followed by a short sentence. You discuss the topics listed in the bullet points. But, to see if your audience is paying attention, you sneak in a completely unrelated sentence.

A few seconds later you check to see if anyone registered the odd sentence that should have stood out. Instead, most of your listeners won’t believe you said something unrelated until you play back the audio that you secretly recorded. When they hear your unrelated sentence, their jaws drop. They realize that not only did they miss the unrelated sentence but probably most of what you said.

I do the above each time I teach presenting slides in a brain-friendly way – it helps demonstrate what is wrong with the typical use of slides in every industry, including education.

Multi-tasking is a myth

Neuroscientists have proven that the brain cannot pay attention to more than one source of information at the same time. When we show slides and speak, the visual almost always wins over the auditory.

The result is that our audiences and students are unable to hear most of what we are saying while absorbing visual input.

Switching is detrimental to learning.

When they finish reading, they will shift their attention back to us. But the next slide will hijack it again.
Such switching is detrimental to learning.

So what can we do about it?

Make it as easy as one, two, three…

Whenever possible, reduce the amount of visual input in each slide to what can be absorbed in two to three seconds.

This roughly translates to an image and up to three words. Make sure you use the exact words from the slide and synchronise what you say with when those words appear on the screen. Such little and synched visual information will not distract your learners’ attention from your verbal message but support it.

How can you know what words are on the next slide and how can you synchronise perfectly? By using presenter mode in PowerPoint or Keynote, which allows you to see the current and next slide along with your notes. When sharing your screen in Zoom or Teams, only share the part of the screen with the current slide.

The green frame shows what part of the screen is shared in Zoom.

Keep it short and sweet

Say goodbye to bullet points and full sentences. Making them appear all at once will introduce visual stimuli that take longer to absorb than two to three seconds.

Instead, break down bullet point lists into separate slides for each point, reduce the text to its essence and synchronise when delivering.

If it is important to explain the link between the bullet pointed pieces of information, e.g. because they are part of a system, then keep them on the same slide. Just make them appear one by one as you introduce them and grey out the ones you are currently not talking about. Again, the text on each slide should be shortened to its essence.

Tips for longer texts

When you need to show visual information that exceeds what can be absorbed in two to three seconds, e.g. longer text, follow a three step procedure.

1. Before you click to the detail-heavy slide, say:
a) what you are going to show
b) how long the students will have to read it, and
c) what you will do afterwards.

Example:  “Now, I will show you a short text about X, I will give you a minute to read it and then we will focus on some of the sentences which demonstrate a grammatical point we will deal with today.”

2. Stop speaking, they will be unable to hear what you are saying while reading anyway, and show them the slide.

3. After the announced time is up, briefly repeat what you will do next and then do it.
Example: “Let’s look at some of the sentences which show us how the Y grammatical structure is used.”

Then click to the next slide, where everything but the sentence(s) which you wish to analyse is greyed out.

Brain-friendly slide design tips

Add a related image whenever you can. — Tested 72 hours after exposure, the retention of the content of a presentation that used only text in the slides is 10%. This number climbs to 65% if the slides include black and white images and up to 85% in the case of colour pictures.

Do colours matter? — Due to its resemblance to a large, shiny object, a light background attracts more attention to the slide than to the speaker. Respectively, the opposite colour combination gives the latter more prominence. Thus, a dark background with light letters is often better.

To share, or not to share, that is the question. — You may often start sharing your slides at one point in the class and then never stop sharing till the end, relegating yourself to a small screen in the corner. But humans connect with other humans, not slides. Therefore, whenever possible, exit screen sharing to facilitate connecting with you students.

As you can see, most widespread slide practices are unfortunately not aligned with how the brain works. This is because they are based on what we see in printed media. But magazines, newspapers and books are very different from presentations and online teaching.

***

To find out more about what makes presentations brain-friendly, check out my website, YouTube channel or LinkedIn page.

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