Yes to assess but how?

I’ve always had great empathy for those students of mine who get so nervous it paralyses them. When I explain to them that I’m exactly the same, I can see the incredulous look on their faces. Yet, it’s true. Well, at least it used to be. As confident as I used to come across to both my colleagues and students, when it came to exams and, the closest thing to them in our professional field, observations, emotions often got the better of me. I’m not sure what helped change this, except I suspect it was education, and most probably age! Training to become an observer and experiencing different types of observations have also helped me gain a better insight into the purpose and benefits of this practice.

However, today I have really mixed feelings about both exams and observations. As both a teacher and a student, a trainer and an employee, I find myself on both sides of the fence. I sometimes wish we did away with them altogether but I also see the benefits they can bring.

To me the point can no longer be about whether we should have them or not. I think it’s about retaining as much of their validity as possible by ensuring the evaluation is a relatively accurate reflection of the assessed’s performance. And when dealing with people whose affective filter rockets during evaluations, it’s an almost impossible expectation.


by @josettelb for

So how do we perform formal assessments on students and teachers, knowing the level of stress some of them may experience? How do we, while being fully aware that the evaluation may be a warped reflection of their performance or proficiency?

Should we assess people differently based on the way they react to testing and evaluations? Much has been written about coping with exams nerves and anxiety but little seems to be available in terms of differentiating assessments based on people’s ability to cope with their stress. As this paper  suggests, if approximately one in two students  suffers from a degree of anxiety in conversation classes (based on the study at their university), then what about those taking exams? What about teachers being formally observed?


by @acliltoclimb for

I wish there was a way our students and teachers could choose how they’d like to be assessed. This would probably result in much more positive learning experiences and better professional development. No doubt it’d have an impact on their motivation and teachers would no longer have to experience the resentment expressed by their students who see it as a punishment rather than a means to move on with their learning.

Assessment reforms should consider differentiation. Then all that talk about personalising, learning styles and needs analysis would make a lot more sense. At least to me it would.






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Teacher trainers’ challenges and issues

An #ELTchat summary

I’ve just found out that I’d been accepted to complete the Cambridge Tutor in Training this July. Needless to say it was good news. However, the happy event brought along mixed feelings I’ve yet to tame.

Eagerness – I’d been applying since 2013.

Panic – judging by the intensity of the CELTA, and then Delta, I think it safe to say that this is not going to be a walk in the park.

Apprehension – am I mentally prepared to go through a total deconstruction of my teacher/trainer self, again?!

Excitement – knowing that I’ll have achieved one of my professional goals if/when I pass the training process.

So in order to prepare myself for the intensive four-week challenge that lies ahead, I’m committing a few hours every week to research and standardisation practice.

Also, it’s always a good idea to touch base with my PLN through our weekly professionals’ #ELTchat on Twitter, and feed on what everyone has to say. So I proposed the topic ‘Teacher trainers’ challenges and issues’ hoping I’d be able to get a deeper insight into the difficulties faced by trainers . The vote took place, my topic won and here’s a summary of what was shared (on 24/02/16).



Tweeting that night…

17 ELT professionals  attended the discussion:

@Marisa_C – @Shaunwilden – @SueAnnan –  @Osamaelbeyaly – @DiLeed – @GemmaELT  – @Ashowski – @David__Boughton – @Sigardit –  @Languageeteach –  @ESOLLiz –  @bar_zie – @GlenysHanson  – @SmallwoodELT –  @MrsLindaPosp – @MConca16 – @HadaLitim



Advice before embarking on teacher trainer courses

  • Any teacher training  experience is of great value before you embark to work on a course like the CELTA or higher (higher even more so) (@Marisa_C)

Challenges, suggestions and comments


Suggestions / comments

Resistance to technology among teachers (@sigardit) ·         Work under their skin – a little bit each time – basically model use not teach it. I tried teaching it at first – but lots of resistance – now it’s much better and resisters few and far between  (@Marisa_C)

·         I try and work with what theyre familiar with first – or most comfortable with (@HadaLitim)

·         Introduce bit by bit. Slowly. Try to show them how #technology can be a solution to their #ELT problem (@Ashowski)

·         Once they see how easy technology can be, they pick it up.(@Osamaelbeyaly)

·         Intro to flipped learning, digital tools, Ts use one of the tools in a lesson (@languageteach)

·         I haven’t had any issues with technology when training ICT (@HadaLitim) and I find the resistance is more with them using outside of training NOT the training itself (@shaunwilden)

·         Follow up with them until they’re confident and use it routinely (HadaLitim) and try to use online groups and tasks (@shaunwilden)

·         Overconfidence and complacency – think they will sail through it  (@Marisa_C)

·         99.99% of Ts in #ELT are stubborn, of the highest caliber (@Ashowski) which makes giving feedback daunting (@ESOLLiz)

·         Experienced teachers don’t always come voluntarily to the sessions. Sometimes they’re pushed by their management. (@Osamaelbeyaly)


The question is whether their own methodologies in #ELT are effective or not. (@Ashowski)
·         It’s a challenge to standardise with colleagues so that input and feedback are consistent  (@Marisa_C) and  ensuring all trainers are consistent (@shaunwilden)

·         This is one of my biggest apprehensions – feedback and dealing with trainees’ emotions (@HadaLitim & @GemmaELT)

·         the process should be transparent and visible to all (@Marisa_C)

·         Spend time on team building activities at top of the course – a worhtwhile investment (@Marisa_C)

·         Work on group cohesion amongst trainees (@HadaLitim) and get your Classroom Dynamics and transform activities for trainees (@Marisa_C)

Some Ts refuse to accept that there may be a better way of doing things! Especially if set in their ways (@ESOLLiz) ·         Inability to accept and process feedback is common to experienced teachers (@Marisa_C)
Training on INSETs can also be challenging; it can be tough to deliver to your colleagues. (@HadaLitim) ·         I hate training on INSETs as Ts forced to attend and usually during half-term = bad atmosphere. Me = buffoon (@languageteach)

·         It’s true that there is a lot more resistance to internal CPD than sb from outside coming in – for this to work.  You need an inspired and inspiring school leader –  a species which is in severe dearth  (@Marisa_C)

Can portfolios  help? (@HadaLitim)


·         In my experience Ts don’t respond too well to portfolios – just more work for them (@Ashwoski)

·         I think portfolios instill the concept of professionalism and responsibility – once trainees understand this they have few issues (Marisa_C)

·         Some kind of record has to be kept, a way for the trainer to follow up (@Osamaelbeyaly)

·         For CPD inside an ELT school, no – not mandatory. In a TT course they probably should be. (@Ashowski)

·         My trainees upload their stuff to a wiki – I set it up at beginning for them, then they start using it to collaborate. Then make own pages and upload their lesson material. I start one for each course so trainees accept it as part of the course as they don’t know any different. (@SueAnnan).

·         I use this one: (@languageteach). We use pbworks and wikispaces – both great (@Marisa_C)

·         You need to show teachers examples how useful the Wiki is (@sigardit)

·         We use the same wiki for all with resources and pages related to their syllabus – but they don’t upload because of regulations (@Marisa_C)

·         I have a separate wiki for that (@SueAnnan)


My trainees often ask for lesson demonstration (@MConca16)


·         On our courses lesson demos are the norm and as an in-house trainer I had to do a lot of that, basically to overcome the resistance and to prove to them that it COULD be done in class  (@Marisa_C)

·         teachers at the minute and demos seem to be working better than input (@MConca16)

·         As long as you give them observation tasks and then discuss the underlying principles otherwise demos produce clone/template lessons  I find (@Marisa_C)

·         Peer observation can be very useful (@ESOLLiz)




…and these tweets:

  • It’s a challenge to design a whole course (@Marisa_C)
  • The first few minutes in any session are crucial (@Osamaelbeyaly)
  • I don’t believe delivering input is the biggest challenge; It’s giving feedback and supporting planning (ALP).  This is where you can see the effects of a very good trainer  (@Marisa_C)
  • when you’ve planned as best as you could/know how and one CP isn’t happy and creates a bad vibe (@HadaLitim)
  • Having very clearly defined criteria is vital I think (@ESOLLiz)


There are clearly numerous challenges trainers face and I wonder how much help and support is available to them. This is making me realise how fortunate and spoilt we are as teachers when it comes to finding help whether it be relating to our teaching practice, students, resources, jobs and pretty much everything else. Can trainers make the same claim?

My journey ahead will tell.DSCN1242


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7 things I do to improve my students’ classroom experience

Earlier on in our careers as EFL teachers, there’s a lot of focus on how to plan a ‘successful’ lesson based on the material we use, how we stage it, pitching the lesson right, what approach is best and so on.

I did that for many years but still, from time to time, experienced the feeling that it wasn’t enough. A few years ago I embarked on my own reflective journey as a teacher and realised that what was missing was the affective factor. It wasn’t enough my delivering a textbook lesson if I didn’t take on board what my students brought to class. That is, themselves, with everything that implies. So the shift happened. I learned to slow down, listen and observe my students. And it worked! I feel I’ve reached a stage where, on most days, I feel a sense of harmony with the people in my class.

So, here are seven of the things I now do routinely which I believe have contributed to this.

  1. Focus on group cohesion from the onset of the course. There are many ways to do this but one which I feel is essential is to dedicate the complete lesson to meaningful get-to-know-you activities. What I mean by ‘meaningful’ is, not just random fun activities but activities which will get you as much information about the students as possible. Be ready for lots of jotting down and try to include at least one where the students need to collect information about someone else for a homework task. If you’re interested in finding out more about ways to improve group cohesion, here’s the link to a previous #ELTchat on the subject.
  1. Discuss the content of the course with your students and allow them to contribute to the direction of the course. Rather than focus on the learner centredness of the lesson, perhaps a shift towards the learning itself and the students’ involvement in the decisions made during the course. Give your students choices. Let them be part of the decision making process of their own learning and create a learning-centred classroom.

For more on this watch this short video post by Scott Thornbury and try to make sure you read the ensuing discussion. It’s well worth it!


  1. Connect with each one of your students individually. This helps me view them as people rather than just students and thus build enough of a relationship that they are comfortable expressing their anxieties in the classroom as well as what holds them back . I make a conscious effort during the lesson, or outside the classroom (in the corridor or the cafeteria), to stop and have a quick chat with the students who I feel appear more passive or not as involved during the lessons. I do this in a ‘compassionate’ way rather than prying and intruding on their problems. This isn’t the time to tell them off for being late or not doing their homework, but rather try to understand why this is happening and offer support. According to Richards and Rodgers (1986: 117) ‘‘true’ human learning is both cognitive and affective.’ Sadly, in my opinion, the latter lacks from initial teacher training courses where planning and timing take precedence over students.
  1. Don’t take personally negative ‘incidents’ with learners. Instead, I’ve learned to take my students’ negative reactions as a need and/or a frustration they’re experiencing which they’re not able to express any other way. This could be related to their expectations, their understanding (or lack thereof) of the lesson, or something as simple as a bad day! Now that I do this, I’m generally able to defuse those stressful moments and turn a situation around which could have had a much different ending.
  1. Create a channel of communication with your students outside the classroom. I’ve done this so my students can contact me, or other students in the group, if and when they need to. For many years I didn’t give my students my number and tried to keep my contact with them outside the classroom as limited as possible. When I first began using WhatsApp groups with my students, I was worried I would be inundated with messages at all hours of the day, and night! But surprisingly, this didn’t happen. First, I can choose to respond, or not, depending on my availability. What usually happens when I don’t is that other students respond which is great and ties in with my first point on group cohesion. Also, I can always mute the group and only consult it when it suits me.
  1. Show interest in their country, culture and language. This may sound obvious but it’s actually disturbing to see teachers, both abroad or in English speaking countries, make no effort to find out about the culture and language of their learners. In some cases, some teachers have spent years in one country, socialising only with the expat community and having no direct contact with the locals or interest in their students’ world. My students always show pleasure at the fact that I know about their food, customs, etc. and that, I believe, helps build mutual respect.
  1. Be ready to go the extra mile, and give them tips and advice on group or individual needs. I sometimes dedicate the beginning of the lesson, or the end to share with my students ideas on things they can do outside the class to improve their English. This could be going online with them, either on the IWB or their mobile phones, and showing them how to research, use a website or even what dictionaries might be better for them. It could also be a chat about something useful like recording themselves on their phone and using that to develop their speaking skills.

There are probably many other things one could do to improve both teachers and students’ learning experience. What do you do? I’d love to read your tips.


Richards, J.C. and Rodgers, T.S. (1986) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Imagining teaching as a prestigious profession?

BlogI just read this post and felt a strong sense of connection with the optimism placed on all the questions posed by the author Divya. Education is such a powerful tool and could have such a major impact on the world today if only it were given more importance. This thought may only sound like an idea but could eventually become reality if only there remain amongst us those who will stand against the diluted, agenda-driven systems of education that prevail in most societies today. They may claim our visions don’t fit the context we’re in now and that the bills need to be paid! But isn’t the destruction their compromise has bred, clear today? Education has always been, and will always remain, the answer. Selling and spreading ignorance dressed up as knowledge is bound to destroy us. And it already is.

Thinking Change

The tragedy of MH17 shook me up quite a bit – both as a civilian person who reads about conflict without having to live in it, and also as a Malaysian in Europe. My annual summer route is MH20 which does Paris-Kuala Lumpur. Not that dissimilar to the one from Amsterdam. I’ve collected so many stories, lived my expatriating emotions, nursed my babies, missed my family, lost and found my friends and grown into adulthood on this route.

This tragedy illustrates very poignantly the extent to which we are failing as a whole world. How the passenger list reveals such spectacular human achievements so brutally wiped out by equally human conflict over land and over life. Societal breakdown.

This also illustrates how we need to change something in the way we make our world, our whole world. We need to say and to say again how education is…

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Make the first day count!

CAM00262Getting ready for week two of  our term and to make this course as

successful as possible, I was reflecting on how the first week went and how to move forward with my four groups. It’s taken me many years of experience, completing the Cambridge Delta and lots of PD to come to the firm belief that one of the key factors to achieve a successful course with my students is to analyse their needs thoroughly at the beginning of the course.

For many years, ‘analysing my students’ needs’ meant no more than handing out a form with a few standard questions which I felt fulfilled the purpose. With time, I learned that more than just knowing what they wanted to learn, I needed to try and learn about my students as people rather than just asking them to tick a few boxes. In the past year, this has had a tremendous impact on my students’ learning but also on my relationship with them.

One of the first things I stopped doing was distribute a form to analyse their needs. To me, that type of form works well for feedback but not as a diagnostic tool. Students come to class as curious about their teacher as they are about each other. For that reason, I try to make the encounter as personal as possible which establishes the classroom as a comfortable and friendly environment. We usually introduce ourselves and I encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. This is done orally to enable me to assess their speaking. I usually scribble away codes and signs which only I can decipher, but which will form a large chunk of the data I’ll be using to decide what to teach and how to teach it. Many students have come to me and commented that they really enjoyed this type of introduction as they were nervous on their first day. Some might argue that this could be  torture for introvert students, and while this is a fair point, when students take turn, the more introvert ones get time to prepare what they will say and also receive help in the form of questions and prompts. Lots of smiles can also go a long way in building their confidence!

Once this is done, I usually have a mingling , pair or group task prepared. Pitched at the students’ level, the task usually necessitates they collect information for a piece or writing they’ll need to produce in the last 30 minutes of the class. The writing is usually about another student which ensures they focus during the task. Added to that, I ensure the students know I will be collecting their writing at the end of the class.

By the end of this first lesson, I walk away with notes on my students’ speaking and a piece of writing which make up a far more thorough needs analysis than any form could have produced. Moreover, I walk away having established a connection with 18 adults who came to class, keen, nervous, apprehensive, excited, ready, and with their own expectations which I may have missed if I’d dived straight into teaching what the syllabus lists as their needs. The exchange that happens during the initial two hours of every course is what sparks the light that shapes our mutual experience together.

In today’s growing ELT industry, clinging to what makes us educators rather than operators of a system, is what gives me the renewed drive I need every term to keep enjoying what I do and sharing a special learning experience time and time again.

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