22nd June – The perfect student?

What makes a perfect student? I’m sure you can recall people in your courses who were a real pleasure to have. They did their homework, asked engaging questions, helped their classmates, made notable progress, and continued to sign up for the next course. Likewise, you’ve probably had poor students who showed none of these traits. There are also the mystery cases, when someone stops attending the course at some point for some reason, and we never find out why.

Read this short article for some insights. How do the factors listed fit with your experience? Can you use the strategies in order to foster more “perfect students”?

Come to our next get-together on 22nd June at The Fitting Room at Welle 7 in Bern and share! Hope to see you there.

Jigsaw tasks

I’ve discovered an inspiring website stuffed full of resources, called Cult of Pedagogy. It’s aimed at school teachers, but certain articles apply to us language teachers as well. This page is about jigsaw tasks. There’s also a well done video about them here.
Do you use jigsaw tasks in your courses?
On Thursday 27th April, we’ll discuss information gap activities like the jigsaw, and other kinds of effective task based learning activities.
We’ll be at The Fitting Room, Welle 7, from 8:00 to around 10:00 pm.
Come be a part of it!

Positive peer observations

Early refLecTions

A few weeks ago I was coming to the end of my contract in my current job and so I thought it would be useful to observe some of the other teachers where I work as I know they are very experienced teachers. As with most teaching jobs the terms always fly by without much breathing space so observations seem to fall by the wayside and I almost backed out of these observations in favour of marking but I’m so glad I didn’t because, as always, they were invaluable. Richards and Farrell (2005) list a number of benefits of observation:

“It provides an opportunity for the teachers to see how someone else deals with many of the same problems teachers face on a daily basis”.
“A teacher might discover that a colleague has effective teaching strategies that the observer has never tried”.
“Observing another teacher may also trigger reflections about…

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Follow-up on “Washback”

Kathleen M. Bailey’s article on washback spawned a lively discussion at the ELT Springboard meeting in Bern last Thursday.

The term washback refers to any effects, be they beneficial, harmful or neutral, a test has on the teaching and learning which happens in a language class and outside the classroom. Even though there has not been much research into the issue so far, and therefore hardly any evidence, it is generally acknowledged that teachers and learners adapt their strategies and activities to the demands of a prospective test. This implies that a test should always be in line with the teaching methodology.

From a teacher’s perspective it may be helpful to distinguish between two ideal types of tests: those prescribed by an external authority which decides on content, length, standards for marking, test schedule etc., and internal tests set by the teacher, possibly together with the learners. It emerged from the discussion that teachers and learners have to take external tests as they are. They will inevitably tailor their teaching and learning to them. One could even say it is their job to do so. On top of this, exam preparation courses are organised by schools and publishers offer materials for such courses. So, external tests will usually produce a great deal of washback.

By contrast, internal tests and evaluation may be used by teachers to motivate learners, to show them their progress or to give the course a structure. In this way, assessment becomes an integral part of the teaching (and learning).

One of the ideas that came up during the discussion was that the teacher can record learners at the beginning of a course – when they introduce themselves or say something about a topic they are interested in – and play it back to them later in the course, or she can ask them to write a text, collect the texts and give them back later. While it is not exactly washback, this is a simple means to give learners an opportunity to assess their progress themselves and therefore enhance learner autonomy.

Thanks a ton to Markus for hosting and writing this follow-up!

Do you have any remarks, ideas, questions? Post a comment below.

Working for washback

How much do you test, evaluate, or assess your students? Is it formal or informal? If you teach an exam preparation course or a course in which students receive a grade, what effect does having exams have in the learning process? If you don’t teach a course with formal exams, do you use other forms of evaluation or assessment?

Before you come to the next Springboard get-together, have a look at this section of this text, the section titled, “How can we promote beneficial washback?”, written by a researcher out of the Monterrey Institute of International studies, about Washback. If you don’t know what washback is, read more from the whole text here.
Help us answer these questions and  build your professional value as a teacher!
Come to the next Springboard get-together on Thursday 23rd February at 20:00 at The Fitting Room Restaurant in Welle 7, just next to the Bern main station. Or follow the blog, by clicking on the gear wheel at the top of the page.