Five things to love about teaching English

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No two people have quite the same experience of teaching English.  My own history includes mostly private sector teaching to adults and teens (so this post might not reflect your situation exactly).  But regardless of the context you teach in, many of us, and this is undoubtedly true of any profession, might get to a time when we question why it is that we are doing it, or maybe we forget why we got into it in the first place.

For native speakers there is the added “I’m JUST an English teacher” issue to face as well, as in: I’m JUST teaching something that I didn’t have to put any real effort into learning myself, or Am I JUST taking the easiest option?  Shouldn’t I be more of a go-getter in world of increasing “go-getting.”  I would bet that this thought has crossed the minds of a fair number of you out there.  Perhaps if you are a NNS (non-native speaker) of English you haven’t had this same feeling, and the things listed below are somewhat more obvious to you.  If so, scream and shout about them!  Kick up a fuss about your profession!  And get your colleagues stoked about their job!  Because there are a great many things to love about being “just” an English teacher.

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3 ways to bring assessment for learning into your classroom

rocketWe all want our students to become more independent and responsible for their learning, but this won’t happen without the right support. Enter assessment for learning! As opposed to assessment of learning (think end of term exams, categorisation of students, awarding a number), assessment for learning sees learning as a journey: what does my student know, where are they going, what do they need to get there? Let’s look at three simple ways that good teachers employ assessment for learning.  

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ACEIA 2016, Seville: a resounding success!

Over 700 enthusiastic teachers from all over Europe attended the ACEIA 2016 conference in Seville on Saturday 12 November.

Antonia plenary

Under the banner ‘Creative Minds Inspire,’ the event was headlined by Pearson’s Antonia Clare, one of the award-winning authors of Speakout 2nd edition, with her inspirational plenary session ‘Language, Learning and the Creative Mind.’ Antonia examined the ways in which learning a language is in itself such an inherently creative task and looked at how to engender creativity, both on the part of the learner but also on the part of the teacher.

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Looking for a lesson idea? Try Cockney Rhyming Slang!

Bus London - Cockney Rhyming Slang

Would you Adam and Eve it? The trouble and strife’s on the custard and jelly!

To the uninitiated, and almost certainly to most Americans, such a phrase sounds like gibberish, but your average Brit would understand the expression of disbelief (Adam and Eve: believe) that his wife (trouble and strife) was on the telly (custard and jelly), slang in itself for TV. Welcome to the world of Cockney Rhyming Slang!

Where is Cockney Rhyming Slang from and how does it work? Continue reading

Famous English teachers

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte

Picture the scene. You’re teaching a class of rowdy eleven and twelve year-olds, trying desperately to elicit some vocabulary or practise a grammar point. New to young learner classes, you haven’t quite got a handle on discipline yet and are worried that the restlessness bubbling away in front of you might at any second boil over into chaos. Left to their own devices – for example, should you to need dash off to the staff room for a set of photocopies – you’re worried your charges will run amok, un-taming the classroom and turning it into something out of Lord of the Flies. You might, at just such a moment, be sorely tempted to change career. If so, then there’s a veritable list of former English teachers in whose footsteps you might want to follow. One of them was the author of Lord of the Flies himself, William Golding. It was his experience of teaching English to unruly boys at an all-boys school in Salisbury, England, combined with the horrors he had witnessed in the Second World War, which inspired him to write his famous dystopian novel. Continue reading

Achieving universal primary education

IMG_3822 (1)In the year 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit established eight goals for improving the lives of the millions around the world suffering poverty, hunger, disease and the effects of environmental degradation. Thousands of NGOs and civil society organisations took part in the process that drew up these Millennium Development Goals, and every single UN member nation (189 at the time) committed to achieving them by 2015.

Goal 2 was to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

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To La Rioja with love :)

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of collaborating with La Rioja region.

The Department of Educational Innovation has included a blended course of CLIL methodology addressed to all the teachers interested in implementing bilingualism in their classes (or already implementing it!). Continue reading

Phonics, Reading & Technology

A month ago I had the chance to attend to a great training session delivered by Jude Edwards at Alloha College, in Marbella. Everything she explained was so interesting that I really wanted her to share it with as many teachers as possible. So, it’s a pleasure for me to introduce Jude and all her experience to you. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

About her:

My name is Jude Edwards. I teach children and teachers. I’ve spent a lot of years in the primary classroom teaching all ages from 4 to 12. I’ve also had a number of years in school management and leadership.

More recently I’ve been providing continual professional development to primary teachers in Maths, Literacy and Special Needs.

Learning Journeys: Why did you start to use phonics in your class?

Jude Edwards: British teachers were advised by the government to use a programme called ‘Letters and Sounds’. The government listed all the phonemes (sounds) that children should start to learn when they come into reception class at the age of four or five. Some teachers teach directly from this list and improvise ways to help make it interesting and relevant for children. Other teachers use phonics teaching schemes such as Phonics Bug – so that the hard work is done for them!

LJ: When do you think it’s the best age to start with phonics and why? (in Spain people start very early, since they use phonics more for pronunciation than for reading)

JE: I think it makes sense for children to learn phonics from their first days in school. Letter sounds are going to be more useful for them in the beginning than letter names.

 LJ: Have you got non-native speakers in your classes? and if so, how can phonics help them?

JE: Phonics is an enormous help to those with English as a second language. What teachers are really doing in phonics sessions is teaching pupils how to turn symbols into sounds and sounds into symbols (i.e. graphemes to phonemes and phonemes to graphemes). In a recent lesson with seven year olds, I had pupils explore how the sound /ai/ can be spelt; they came up with ‘ai’ ‘a’ ‘ay’ ‘a-e’ ‘eigh’  ‘aigh’ ‘ey’ and ‘ei’ …. And of course they were correct!

 LJ: Why synthetic phonics?

JE: The word synthetic comes from the word to ‘synthesize’ – meaning to blend different parts together. That’s exactly what we want children to be able to do; to blend phonemes together when reading and to separate or segment them to spell.

 LJ: What other methods do you use in class to complement the reading and literacy skills?

JE: The obvious strategies, such as contextual and syntactical, plus of course reading for meaning and enjoyment. When teaching early readers I also anticipate which ‘tricky words’ they are going to come across before they start reading the pages. We do a little bit of work on these words first so that it doesn’t put them off when they’re in the flow of the text or story.

 LJ: How do you work on phonics awareness in your classes?

JE: Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become more aware of how the sounds in words work. Therefore it’s important to spend time segmenting words  – taking a word apart by listening to the individual phonemes that it’s made up of. And then it’s important to do the opposite, to spend time blending – hearing different phonemes and combining them into a word. In the early weeks of school this involves lots of aural and oral work, tapping and clapping sounds and using memory aids such as those found in Jolly Phonics and the more modern video clips found in Phonics Bug.

Later on in their phonemic development, children are introduced to graphemes, which is just a way of writing sounds down. I like to let my pupils experiment with graphemes, perhaps using magnetic letters or on an IWB so that they are ‘spelling sounds’. Sometimes those graphemes are one letter, and sometimes they are digraphs, tri-graphs or even quad-graphs!  I like children to be as confident turning sounds into symbols (phonemes into graphemes) as they are turning symbols into sounds (graphemes to phonemes). This is what we call letter sound correspondence.

LJ: Do you think technology helps when learning phonics?

JE: Yes definitely. Even children as young as four can appreciate quality visuals and sound clips. Technology really helps to embed learning and to ensure that what is taught stays taught!

LJ: Tell us about the results that you have noticed in your class.

JE: When phonics is taught well and pupils are engaged with the learning, their new knowledge becomes an extremely effective springboard for future literacy tasks. We must remember that good phonetic knowledge equips us to spell as well as to read. Children who miss out on quality phonics teaching will not achieve to the same extent in literacy as children who do receive it.

LJ: How do you guide families on how they can support their children if they are not aware of phonics

JE: I would suggest they talk to their children about sounds and have some fun ‘spelling sounds’. For example, the phoneme /ur/ can be found in ‘church’ ‘bird’ ‘work’ and ‘sister’ but in all of these words the /ur/ sound is spelt differently! They could then extend older or more able children with the /ur/sound found in ‘learn’ ‘journey’ and ‘were’!  Families could even have little charts up on their walls showing ways to spell different phonemes. Of course, parents can also invest in educational materials but the most important thing is to talk about letter sound correspondences and have fun exploring them.

 LJ: I loved the beans and sausages idea, could you explain it a bit?

JE: First of all you have to open a tin of Heinz Beans & Sausages if this is going to make any sense!

When phonemes are written down as graphemes and combined into a word, it is sometimes helpful to identify the sounds within that spelling. For example; ‘brown’ is made up of b + r + ow + n. That’s 4 phonemes and 4 graphemes. If I were to draw marks under the letters to identify the phonemes, I would have a bean (or dot) for b, a bean for r, a sausage (or dash) for ow, because it’s a digraph, and a bean for n!

Get it?!

Therefore:   ‘ mat ’ would be bean, bean, bean for (m+a+t)

‘stick’ would be bean, bean, bean, sausage for (s+t+i+ck)

‘chip’ would be sausage, bean, bean for (ch+i+p)

LJ: Thanks a lot Jude!

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11 ideas about the teacher profile

Sometimes I feel like a treasure hunter when I travel. There are amazing educational jewels hidden in schools, and I love to find them.

It goes something like this:  You visit a school and start to talk to a teacher or a headteacher.  Nothing out of the ordinary so far.  A normal school in a normal town.  But suddenly you hear them say something that catches your attention, like the glimmer of a shiny jewel.  Just follow it, ask the appropiate questions and…there it is!

A while ago I found one of these gems in a school called Betania-Patmos located in Barcelona. They had been asked by the regional governtment what kind of profile a teacher needs in this global era, but they didn’t rush to write down hasty conclusions as teachers.  They did something smarter.  They turned this into a task for their last year high school pupils.  This is what they told them:

 

“Imagine you work in human resources and you have to hire a teacher.  What profile would you be looking for?”

 

And those teenagers (you know, the ones everyone describes as being “lost”) worked in teams for a week, and then presented 11 ideas that demonstrate they might not be the ones who are lost after all, but the ones looking for someone who isn’t.

 

11 ideas about the Teacher profile required  for a global era.

Recruiters: Last year High school students.

 

This first set of requirements had complete consensus amongst the group.

 

1.-   Teachers commited to helping their pupils, who care for them, are close to them, and instill confidence through  respect and generosity.

2.-  Teachers with a deep, broad and up-to-date knowledge of their subject area.

3.-  Teachers that can express themselves clearly and make themselves understood using structured methods.. Good communicators balanced and mentally organized

4.-  Teachers that exude emotion about what they are explaining, and are enthusiastic and passionate about their subject and respectful of other disciplines.

 

Requirements with a very high level of consensus

 

5.-  Teachers who have mastered different types of learning – from paper to the latest generation of technologies (drawing, writing, sound, image, and mixed media), following the idea of introduction not substitution.

6.-  Teachers  who have mastered different languages, with English being considered absolutely necessary.

7.-  Teachers that teach critical thinking and promote alternative ways of doing things.

8.-  Teachers with patience, modesty, energy and coherence.

9.-  Teachers that promote participation, interactivity and practice.

10-   Fun teachers, with a sense of humour that can make teaching and learning a pleasure.

 

Requirements sine qua non:

 

11.- Teachers that are punctual and don’t miss classes.

 

The first time that I read this I was struck by two things:

–   When a teenager says that he is looking for someone stable and mentally organized…it makes you think about what he has seen

–   Technology appears in a discreet second place. First people, then gadgets.

 

So, as you can see here, our youth are just looking for a stable reference in a confusing world.  They are looking for educators that can teach their mind and their soul, someone who can maintain the essence of the educational experience even when all the elements keep changing.  Because essencially our young generation is alone and we are letting them grow up alone with no tribe to guide them.

As usual Mafalda said it first and better: “Educating is harder than teaching. To teach you need to know, to educate you need to be” .