Author: Pulkit Vasudha

5 Reasons to Ditch Projects in English language teaching

I think project work is one of the most underused activity in English language teaching (and learning). And yet, I’m not really a fan of projects as we usually do them in ESL schools.

Across English language schools, curricula and course books, projects are generally used as an end of lesson or end of chapter activity. Like most of my peers, I have often skipped these projects in favor of more targeted language practice. If I look back over my years of teaching, I think I have probably done projects with cover classes more than in my own classes.

Projects in English language teaching: Is there a better way to do it?
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How Design Thinking can be applied in language teaching?

I’m sure you’ve heard of design thinking. I hadn’t, until a few months ago. I was probably living under a rock because once someone mentioned design thinking to me, I started seeing it everywhere. For the uninitiated, you can find some very academic definitions of design thinking here and here, or you can watch this video for a little taster.

The Design Thinking Process

One of the ways I understood it is through this video, in particular the following words:

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REDUX: Training teachers in India

Last year, my husband and I decided to take a sabbatical from work, savor our time together as a family of three before our son was born, and unwind after a few years in Saudi. But six months into our sabbatical, and just around the time our son entered the world, I was itching to get back in the classroom. Actually, and I think this may have been part of the reason we went to India for our sabbatical, I really wanted to train teachers in India.

India has more than 5 million primary school teachers according to government statistics. However, due to the overwhelming demand for ‘private education’, there are millions of unregistered schools in every neighborhood. (more…)

5 Ways to Facilitate Deep Learning in ESL

I’ve been obsessed with deep learning since I took the wonderful UQx course on Deep learning through Transformative Pedagogy course on edx. As I read about how the brain works and how we learn, the more it became clear to me how lesson time ought to be spent in the classroom to maximize and of course, deepen learning.

Artificial neural network, ann, neural network, neural, network ...

Studying the material on this course helped me gain a new appreciation and understanding of our language learners’ brain processes as they take in new grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, create new linguistic frameworks in their minds alongside the L1 constructs that preexist. Keeping aside students’ personal motivation to learn English, as teachers, there is plenty we can do in class to create an atmosphere where deep learning can occur. Here are just five ways – none of them new to the world of language learning – but hopefully this post will make the connection between these teaching strategies and deep learning: (more…)

Deep Learning in ESL

Traditional pedagogical practices are rooted in the era of the Industrial Revolution, when schools for the public became common but the general population, and their children, were still thought to be stupid and vacant, and their teachers the fount of knowledge. Much of the general populace still grew up and was being reared to serve the elite, and therefore, there was no need for teachers and students to strive for anything other than surface learning – a mere memorization of facts, choosing of the correct answers, filling in of blanks.

The twenty-first century however demands students to be able to think critically, creatively, and communicate and collaborate with others to create new knowledge systems. Communicative language teaching (CLT) in ESL fits the bill. If you teach communicatively, you are already preparing your students for 21st century’s unique challenges. But is there anything more? Anything to deepen the learning? Despite our post-CELTA and post-DELTA teaching expertise, too many students slip through the net, into the abyss of language learning despair. Is there a way to take CLT to a new level and make deep learning the norm?

As an aside, watch this fantastic video on the futility of the modern day education system.

One of my most treasured memories of my teaching career is when I bumped into a student I hadn’t seen for 2-3 years. Maha had been a very shy creature, albeit in her mid-twenties, in my first Beginners class in Riyadh. Her fear of language was such that she kept her eyes down and avoided all attempts at opening her mouth in the classroom. When she did speak, usually during drills, her pronunciation was painful. Her first language was Arabic and she found the strangeness of the English language frightening. (more…)

Inclusive Leadership: Letting go of Unconscious Biases

If you didn’t read Sheila’s story, go ahead and read it here. Sheila needed not just a great manager, but an inclusive manager. She had already received complaints from parents and her teaching assistants, and there appeared to be some disgruntled noise from other teachers as well. Sheila was a new hire in a new country and at risk of being alienated at her workplace. So what could her manager do?

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 5.05.00 PM

This story came to my mind while studying the edX course on Inclusive Leadership. How could a manager approach Sheila, what could h/she say to her. There are two priorities the manager is faced with in this case:

  • the teaching and learning quality in the classroom
  • to ensure Sheila settled in well into the new country, new school, with her new colleagues.

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Inclusive Leadership: How to Hack It

In my previous posts, we read about what inclusive leadership means, what inclusivity is, and what it means in the context of educators and academic leaders. Today, I want to think more broadly about action steps one can take to become an inclusive leader.

But first, what are the traits of great leadership?

I brainstormed with my friends and colleagues to think about all the traits we associate with great leadership, and came up with all of these: honesty, decisiveness, genuinity, restlessness, passion, communication skills, innovative thinking, generous, open-mindedness, steadiness, focused, insightful, confidence, positivity, empowered & empowering, organized and persistent. 

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Inclusive Leadership: The Power of Influence

Boss vs. Leader and Mission of a TeamTake a minute to close your eyes and think about the words that come to your mind when you think of these two words:

BOSS

LEADER

Think about your current / past boss. Would you call them a great leader? Think about a leader in your organization. Is he or she a good boss too?

The picture here effectively summarizes the differences between a boss and a leader. The term ‘boss’ usually has negative connotations – one can usually visualize an authority figure, one who’s also usually authoritarian. A boss is someone who directs, demands, drives (one up the wall).

The word ‘leader’, on the other hand, has predominantly positive connotations. A leader is a coach, a mentor, an inspiration. I think one of the most significant differences between a boss and a leader is that the latter is someone we would like to follow, to emulate, to become.

I’ve been taking this course on Inclusive Leadership on edX and they have a great summary of the qualities of great leaders. Here’s the Take 5 on leadership, with my thoughts about what Inclusive Leadership means in the context of educators and educator leaders. (more…)

Inclusive Leadership for Teachers and Teacher Trainers

I took this course on Inclusive Leadership on edX earlier this year and had so many thoughts about how to apply the learnings as a teacher and teacher trainer.

But first, I want to tell you a story. A teacher was once summoned by her manager. A summon is in itself fairly ominous but the manager started the discussion with a forced smile and casual chit-chat which convinced the teacher she was in trouble for ‘something’. She tried to stay calm and smile but in her head, she was feverishly running through the events of the last week, trying to figure out what she might have done, where she may have slipped, which student may have complained.

All she could think of was how she had walked into the school after a holiday and the receptionist had welcomed her with a huge smile and said, “Welcome back sweety! Your students missed you – I’ve had so many come and ask when you were coming back.” (more…)

Ambitious Teaching and Learning in ESL

 

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare

My main takeaway from this lovely quote is that there is a potential for greatness in each one of us. And for the purposes of our context, we can tweak this quote to read…

Some are born great teachers, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

I know for a fact that I delivered some shockingly abysmal teaching in the first few months after completing the CELTA. But then, most of us did. Did. Not anymore. 😉

I think the watershed moment in any teachers’ career is when they stop thinking about the quality of their teaching and assess lessons based on the quality of their students’ learning. All those utterly boring lesson aims (should) have one goal: students should come out the other end having learned something.

If we push this idea a bit further… (more…)

Lesson aims and how they affect learning

Does the language teachers use in their lesson plans really affect teaching practice? Perhaps a broader question to ask would be does language affect our thought? A great TED talk to watch on the subject is How the words we use affect the way we think by Mary Page Wilson. And if you’re not into videos, here’s an overview of Keith Chen’s TED talk on the same lines.

When I first started teaching, lesson planning was a monumentally daunting task. It would take many hours to plan an hour-long lesson for a bunch of six-year-olds who only really wanted to play games and burn off some weekend steam. But lesson planning took on a whole new aura of fear when it was time to get observed.

In my first three years of teaching, I worked in a school where teachers were observed every three months. The academic managers were lovely and very supportive but that did little to assuage my fears of writing an assessed lesson plan and getting observed. And then, the part of the observed lesson plan template that I really dreaded was the first page – the bit with lesson aims, subsidiary lesson aims and other such mundaneries. (more…)

Teaching ambitiously

For the last three years, I worked at British Council Riyadh. For various reasons other than that we were in Saudi Arabia, those three years were fairly painful. The Council in Riyadh had a pitifully poorly trained management which made working for them like walking through sludge!

So when we decided to leave BC Riyadh, despite having fabulous offers in hand (and in Saigon – which we both absolutely love), my husband and I decided to take a break and recoup. We wanted to spend time with our baby as a family and watch her grow, and we wanted to grow as a couple. We wanted to write – both of us love to write beyond blogs and emails – those stories that were screaming to be told but are hard to put down into words while working full-time jobs. We wanted to spend time with family and friends in India and reconnect with them (me) and grow new bonds (the husband).

For years, I have regularly scouted EdX and Coursera for great courses I would love to take. (more…)

Educational Leadership

Skilled leaders and managers develop the knack of reading situations with various scenarios in mind and of forging actions that seem appropriate to the understandings thus obtained. They have a capacity to remain open and flexible, suspending immediate judgments whenever possible, until a more comprehensive view of the situation emerges.

– from Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan

Delta Assignment 3 -Teaching Conditionals

From the title above, it would seem like I chose a rather easy topic for my second systems LSA. Well, the actual title of the LSA was Teaching Past Counterfactual Conditionals to High-Level Learners. What the..?

‘What the..?’ is exactly what I said and felt when I heard the more technical term for conditionals.

More often than not, ESL books divide conditionals into four categories – zero, one, two, three. Easy peasy. This is also probably the terminology you are familiar with from when you studied grammar in school (or at least when I did, in the 90s in India). But of course, it is very likely that you were taught traditional grammar in a boring, non-communicative manner. However, as has been well-proven in my own experience and that of learners all over the world, a traditional approach to grammar teaching does not increase communicative competence.  (more…)

Delta Assignment 2 – Multiword Verbs

..or phrasal verbs?

My second LSA was a systems one, and I chose vocabulary. Chunky, piecemeal, lots of fun activities to keep learners engaged and quantifiable ways to demonstrate learning towards the end – this was going to be fun!

And it was – fun. But it wasn’t easy. Multiword verbs are such a vast field of language that it took me a lot of reading to wrap my head around their semantics and systems. Not only that, I had to understand what the Lexical Approach is and then, how to teach vocabulary using this approach – because hey, we’re in 2012 (and now in 2016!) and you can’t not be using the lexical approach in teaching vocabulary. (more…)

Delta Assignment 1 – Developing Storytelling Skills

I started my Delta in early 2012 and did a face-to-face intensive Module 2 over eight weeks. There are four assignments, or LSAs, one needs to pass in order to pass Module 2, two of which need to be skills-based and two systems-based.

I thought I’ll start easy and chose to focus on skills for my first LSA. I thought I could teach speaking but I was quite surprised that I was expected to plan a whole 60-minute lesson focusing on speaking skills.

Until this point, I had only taught speaking as an incidental part of teaching reading, listening, writing, grammar, or vocabulary lessons. But speaking to our amazing Delta tutor, Beth Grant (if you get a chance to work with her, jump at it), I thought I could take this on as a challenge and learn to teach speaking not just in the brainstormingactivating schemata, or post-reading/listening discussions, but as a rightful skill in itself that deserved focused teaching of its various nuances. Come to think of it, this is why most students go to language centers or freelance teachers – to learn how to speak – and yet, most ESL teachers do not know or realize the value of teaching speaking as a skill in itself.  (more…)

Sneaky micro-writing activities for students who hate writing

I’m so happy to announce my first-ever guest post on Ms.ESL. This one is by Stuart Price, a fantastic ESL teacher with about eight years teaching experience, who also happens to be my husband! Without further ado…

I love writing and I love teaching writing but since coming to Saudi Arabia, I have found it a tough task. When it comes to writing, Saudi students have a unique set of problems, apart from the ones that plague nearly all ESL students:

  • the whole Roman script thing
  • no vowels in Arabic which leads to astonishing spelling problems
  • writing from left to right and
  • a lack of ideas to put into a paragraph of short piece of writing

As well as the usual paragraph structure / ideas flow issues, this makes writing a particularly demotivating task for students here. But as I said I love writing and like a moth drawn to a flame, with the inevitable frazzled end, I can’t but try to pass on, if not my love, then at least a glimmer that it is possible to write 150 words about your last holiday or to cobble together a story from a picture board.

So I sat down and gave it some thought. And after some serious mulling I figured I would need a two-pronged approach to 1) address their structural / compositional needs and 2) increase the amount they wrote (to give them practice) but in a way that wouldn’t seem labourious, or like ‘oh-no-not-more-writing!’. (more…)

CELTA: What will you learn?

Whether you have zero experience teaching or a few years’ worth, if you are considering the CELTA, you have probably wondered what you will learn from it? There is a reason the CELTA is the world’s leading TEFL certification and even though the intensive course is only four weeks long, the CELTA certificate is globally recognized as one of excellence. So what tools can the CELTA give you which you will need as an ESL teacher? Or if you already have some experience, what new tricks can a four-week course teach you.

As a CELTA trainee back in 2009, I was one of only four people in my group of twelve that had no prior teaching experience. As I struggled to keep my head above water planning lessons, writing assignments (you can download my CELTA assignments here), and dealing with a two hour commute everyday (yeah, I lived in San Jose and drove to the BART, then took the train to San Francisco to attend the course.. I honestly don’t know how I ever managed to pass the course!).

Anyway, as a trainee all those years ago, all I knew at the time was that there was a very steep learning curve for me. Last year, after I did the CELTA Trainer-in-Training, I realized exactly how steep that learning curve is. (more…)

CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Evaluative Essay

Once the CELTA was over, life resumed again. Except I still had to write the evaluative essay – a 1500 word piece reflecting on the rigors of the training and my self-perceived strengths and weaknesses as a qualified CELTA tutor. According to the Trainer-in-Training handbook, this is…

…an evaluative piece of up to 1,500 words on the process of undergoing training and what the trainer- in-training feels his/her strengths and weaknesses are as a prospective tutor. The trainer-in-training’s interactive journal, daily log sheets, Observations and notes made during the course will provide the basis for this piece of work.

I had spent at least two weeks on the pre-course tasks and an entire month on the during CELTA tasks (see all the CELTA Trainer-in-Training tasks here), and I’d been very good about doing things on time. But I have to admit I procrastinated for at least a week before I sat down to write this essay the weekend after the CELTA was over. Which was a silly thing to do because it’s incredible how quickly memory fades, especially when one is seven months pregnant as I was at the time.

The 1500 word limit seemed monstrous – before I started. But when I finally sat down to break it down, I realized it was going to be incredibly difficult to contain all my thoughts and reflections and (ahem) criticisms in 1500 words.

Anyway, the first step was to organize the essay into sections – headings that I could write under. This is how I went about it:

1. PRE-COURSE
a. Pre-course task
b. Interview

2. DURING THE COURSE
a. Input sessions
b. TP Observations and feedback
c. Tutorials
d. Written feedback on assignments
e. Peer observation tasks
f. Trainee progress

3. POST-COURSE
a. Trainee reports
b. Post-course evaluation

Once I had divided the essay into these broad headings, I started looking through the notes I had made before and during the course for each of these topics. In the end, all I had to do was select the relevant portions from my notes, add commentary, and plug it into the evaluative piece. Sounds pretty easy, and it was. Polishing it up and ensuring that it flowed smoothly took a bit of time but I think I was able to wrap this up in about 3-4 hours.

Here’s the finished product – my sweat and sleepless nights summed up in 1500ish words. Read and enjoy but please don’t be a monkey and copy (Cambridge is strict about it and I’ll be pretty upset if you plagiarize my work). You can download my Evaluative essay here.

 

 

CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Tutorials

This is the last in the series of tasks I had to do as a Trainer-in-Training. Well, the last one I had to do on the course. There was a mammoth of an evaluative essay I had to write after the CELTA was over, but hey, the CELTA was over by then. Read that again with an accompanying drumroll and fireworks show – the CELTA was over, finally! That’s how relieved I was at the end.

Getting back to the task on hand (see what I did there?), there are two standard tutorials for each trainee during the course – these are called the Stage 1 and Stage 2 tutorials. On an intensive course like the one I trained on, the Stage 1 tutorial happens mid-week in Week 2, and the Stage 2 tutorial happens mid-week in Week 3. As you can see, there is very, very little time in between the two tutorials but what a difference a week makes.

The Stage 1 tutorial was done in the form of written feedback in trainees’ CELTA5 booklets. To be honest, neither the trainers nor the trainees really have time mid-course for two sit-down sessions of tutorials, so it was just as well the Stage 1 tutorial was just a few lines of (mostly encouragement – it’s only Week 2 after all!) feedback from the course tutor.

The Stage 2 tutorial was more serious (more…)