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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Activity 3.2 - Scenario

Improving IELTS exam-takers grammar

Student A. is a high school student aged 17 in his last year of school studies. He is planning to apply to a university in Germany. He wants to do a degree in Business Studies and needs IELTS 6.5. He is computer-literate and easily finds his way around the site the class are using. Student T. is 22 and is a recent BA graduate and works as a computer programmer in one of the largest IT companies in Armenia. She wants to apply to one of the top universities in the UK. She needs to get 7.5 to be able to apply for a state scholarship. She spends most of her time in front of a computer and is happy as she is not very sociable and is quite shy. Student A. is also 22 and is an Economics graduate who has decided to change her career path. She wants to apply to a university in Europe to do MA in Tourism Management. She needs a 6.5. She is quite hard-working and has just left her job to dedicate all her time to IELTS preparation. She has a lot of time and does all her homework and even more. She is used to working online because of the class wiki and she actively contributes ideas to what else can be added to the wiki. Student S. is a 23-year-old marketing specialist who wants to do another MA in Marketing abroad. He is working with social media and has completed some MOOCs so is use to studying online.

Obviously, all the personas are highly motivated and I as their tutor want them to achieve the score they need by improving their grammar knowledge online.

They will be working on it outside their normal lesson hours and I will be checking their progress through the writing tasks they submit or speaking they do.

All they need for this is a computer and access to the Internet which they all have. The personas get onto their wiki and start reading grammar explanation and doing grammar task, which are posted twice a week to give them time to understand and 'digest' the material. On Saturdays they do their mock exam and I check the accuracy of grammar covered during that week.

One day the personas realise that they produce more accurate pieces of writing and their score for writing and speaking has increased. They register to take the official exam. They take the exam and when they receive the certificate, they see that they can apply to universities of their choice.

The design will help the personas to maximise their learning time and improve their English on their own pace. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Activity 2.3 - Objectives

Theme: Use of Educational Technology to improve learners grammar knowledge

Learning Objectives

After finishing this learning activity, my learners should be able to:

  • hypothesize using appropriate structures to increase their IELTS score in writing and speaking;
  • tell about past events by employing right narrative tenses to make it easier for the examiner to follow their story in Speaking Part 2;
  • improve spelling verbs with -ed; -s; -es; -ing ending;
  • employ infinitives and gerunds more accurately in writing and speaking; 
  • generally minimize grammar mistakes in writing and speaking

Activity 2.2 - Personas

Persona 1 - Potential migrants

These are professionals who need to take General IELTS and score 6.5 or higher to earn he missing points for their visas. They are highly motivated and have a specific aim in mind. They are both male and female aged 27 to 35 (the upper age limit for those applying to migrate to Canada, New Zealand or Australia). All of them are married and most of them have children. They can mainly study in the evenings after work and after their children have gone to bed. Representatives of this group are Armenians and Iranians and their motivation levels are the same. 
The jobs of people in this group are accountants, economists, financiers and programmers. Their partners apply as secondary applicants who do not need to take IELTS. They are all migrating with their families. 
Some of them are at Intermediate (B1) level and need a lot of work to be done on their grammar. 
They are all confident users of computers as they use it in their work. They have serious issues with correct spelling as they hardly ever write anything on paper. 

Persona 2 - Foreign university applicants

These are Academic IELTS students applying to universities in the USA, Canada or in Europe. 
95% of these hold a BA degree in a variety of subjects from Armenian universities and want to apply to a foreign university to do their MA/MSc. They are aged 21 to 27 and need to get a minimum of 6.5. They all aim at much higher scores to be able to secure a place at the university of their choice and get a scholarship. 
Students in this group are highly motivated and complete their home tasks in full as it is their dream to study abroad and are hoping to be able to get a job and stay. Many of these students are unemployed and unmarried so have plenty of time to study. 99% of them are advanced computer users and spend a lot of time looking for IELTS preparation material online. 
These students are generally at Upper-Intermediate (B2) or Advanced level (C1) and know grammar rules theoretically but find it difficult to apply their knowledge to the writing tasks they do. This is due to the education system in Armenia which teaches them grammar but does not require its application in speaking and writing. They make fewer spelling mistakes than Persona 1 but still have them. 

Persona 3 - Local American university applicants

This group consists of high school male and female students aged 15-17. They want to be accepted by the American University in Armenia as this one of the few universities that provides good quality education locally. There is also pressure on them from their parents to do well so they are often very worried about their IELTS score and are doing their best to score higher. A high score will also ensure tuition free enrollment into the university. 

As they are still at school, their spelling is much better compared to the other two groups but grammar knowledge is not always very strong. 
They use computer a lot so are the best among the three groups at understanding how various tools work and are also more interested in using new online tools. However, their schoolwork and end-of-term exams do not leave them much time to do much work for IELTS which becomes a problem at times as they may not even manage to do their homework. Some of them sometimes can get deprived of computers or Internet access by their parents, which they do to make them study more.

Images: creativecommons.org

Activity 2.1 - Analysing Context: Factors and Concerns

Factors and Concerns:

1. Material

  • All the students have a computer connected to the Internet at home. The Internet can be down at times or other members of their family may be using it. This is not going to be a problem as such, as our face-to-face lessons are not going to depend on how much work students have done on their grammar.
  • Students will need to be able to work in a quiet room preferably on their own. Some of the students have children who can disturb them. However, these students usually work after their children have gone to bed so they will not need to change anything. 
2. Social
  • No groupings are planned for these activities. Students will be working independently and will take responsibility for their learning. 
  • Students may feel lonely without their usual communication with peers. Perhaps some chat room/forum should be added to give them a chance to discuss something that they find difficult. (I already have a chat wing on the wiki they are using, so this may be the solution).
3. Intentional 
  • Generally my IELTS students are very motivated and want to get a higher score than required because this will give them a competitive advantage when applying for state scholarships here. So motivation is not going to be an issue. 
  • Because of motivation some of them may try to do all the tasks in one or two days. As a result they may mix everything up and start making even more mistakes in their application of the grammar rules they have learnt. This can be solved by posting tasks one by one every other day. 
  • One or two students may not want to do the tasks online and might write them in their exercise books and hand them in for me to check. I do not really see this as a problem. As long as they do it, I am fine with that. 



Activity 2.1 - Analysing Context: Factors and Concerns

Factors and Concerns:

1. Material

  • All the students have a computer connected to the Internet at home. The Internet can be down at times or other members of their family may be using it. This is not going to be a problem as such, as our face-to-face lessons are not going to depend on how much work students have done on their grammar.
  • Students will need to be able to work in a quiet room preferably on their own. Some of the students have children who can disturb them. However, these students usually work after their children have gone to bed so they will not need to change anything. 
2. Social
  • No groupings are planned for these activities. Students will be working independently and will take responsibility for their learning. 
  • Students may feel lonely without their usual communication with peers. Perhaps some chat room/forum should be added to give them a chance to discuss something that they find difficult. (I already have a chat wing on the wiki they are using, so this may be the solution).
3. Intentional 
  • Generally my IELTS students are very motivated and want to get a higher score than required because this will give them a competitive advantage when applying for state scholarships here. So motivation is not going to be an issue. 
  • Because of motivation some of them may try to do all the tasks in one or two days. As a result they may mix everything up and start making even more mistakes in their application of the grammar rules they have learnt. This can be solved by posting tasks one by one every other day. 
  • One or two students may not want to do the tasks online and might write them in their exercise books and hand them in for me to check. I do not really see this as a problem. As long as they do it, I am fine with that. 



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Activity 1.2 - Dream Bazaar

The current situation (context)


I teach IELTS preparation classes at a private school in Armenia. All the applicants are placement tested first before being admitted into an IELTS class. However, I still face the problem of poor grammar knowledge, which doesn't allow them to achieve a higher score in the writing and speaking sections of the exam.The course itself does not focus on grammar; IELTS course books we use don't have much on it either. Of course, I try to give them grammar exercises as homework but then going over the homework and then answering learner questions takes a lot of the lesson time. Many of the learners want to join the classes a month or two before the exam and this does not give me much time to manage to work on everything they need to improve. The thing is that at schools or universities, students mainly do reading and translation of what they have read, so all their skills need to be developed, which does not really give me much time for grammar teaching or improving their spelling, which is also pretty poor very often. Because of poor spelling, they often lose marks in listening and reading (you might be surprised).




The change you would like to see (challenge)


I would like to improve my learners' grammar and spelling as these are essential for them to achieve a better result.
If I succeed, the lesson time could be spent more effectively; and my students could be achieving higher scores.






How you might go about bringing that change (solution)


Although I am for implicit teaching, I think I will have to make it explicit in this case, as I want to do the grammar teaching outside the classroom. I will have no way of monitoring understanding and may not be able to clarify confusions immediately as the learning will take place online at the time convenient for each learner.
For grammar explanation I might use Present.me, but I am not sure which tools to use for grammar exercises. I don't want to use the ones available online, as I want to be able to see what mistakes are still made to be able to focus on those further. I was thinking of adding this to the wiki learners have, but if I cannot find the quiz making tool I need, I might use Edmodo as it allows teachers to create quizzes and see learners' answers.






Measures of success (evaluation)


More accurate writing and speaking of my students would be a good indicator of success. However, this result cannot be expected to be seen immediately.



Friday, September 18, 2015

DELTA Module 2 - Course Outline and Tips

I have decided to take the face-to-face option of Delta Module 2 at International House Tbilisi. The blended option with the Distance Delta was way too expensive.

In Week 1 of the course we had one diagnostic observation for which we had to write a full lesson plan. The lesson plan paperwork, self-reflection and the tutor feedback have to go into the Appendices of the first assignment - Professional Development. Before the start of Week 2, we had to submit one part of it (Stages 1 and 2) - 1000 words, which is actually quite doable. In this part of the PDA you are asked to reflect on your beliefs and classroom practices as a teacher, identify your key strengths and weaknesses and suggest an action plan.
NB When suggesting an action plan, bear in mind that you are going to be evaluated on how far you are progressing in whatever there is in your action plan throughout the course. So be realistic with what skills you can improve in about 3-4 weeks.

Week 1 was also the week in which we had to start getting to know our learners to be able to write a group profile and an individual profile for the first LSA in Week 3. The class profile may not be as difficult to write as the individual profile because you need information about your students' learning preferences and styles,  their interests and reasons for learning English, their general strengths and weaknesses. So during the first week you may need to design lessons and/or questionnaires to find all this out to be able to write the information in your assessed lesson plan.
NB Decide what your first assignment is going to be about to pay attention to your learners' strengths and weaknesses in relation to your first assessed lesson as these two are also part of the individual profile. Typing up the individual profile takes a long time so start this one earlier just to add new information whenever you learn new things about your learners. For your other assessed lessons, you will be using the same profile, but you will need to change the strengths and weaknesses in relation to the lesson section.

In Week 2 we had two developmental observations and had to write two full lesson plans and this made it impossible to start writing the first Language Systems/Skills Assignment earlier. I ended up doing this over the weekend and this was a real burden. I thought I wasn't going to make it by Monday morning because for the research you do, you need to design a lesson based on ideas you discussed in your LSA and write a lesson plan. The challenge here is not to mix skills with systems in your main aims. If your assignment is about some grammar area, then make sure that everything you do in the lesson is around that and is in the main aims. Everything else you do, speaking as a follow-up activity or gist reading for guided discovery should be in subsidiary aims. Actually, you don't have to have subsidiary aims, so you can forget about that for systems assignment. I think this week was very stressful for all trainees and some, including me, even started thinking of dropping out. So be prepared for a lot of stress.
NB It would help if before starting the course you already knew exactly which 2 skills and 2 systems you would like to focus on in your LSAs and do a fair bit of reading about those. For skills you will have to choose 1 receptive and 1 productive skill, you cannot do research on two productive skills, for example. For systems, you choose from pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, discourse. Discourse might be too challenging to do, so perhaps you shouldn't think of that one.

In Week 3 we taught out first assessed lesson and had to wait until Friday to find out whether the first LSA was a pass or a fail. The tutors warned us in advance that many candidates fail their first LSA and we should not worry if that's the case. A lot here depends on your post-lesson evaluation: if you can discuss the key strengths ad weaknesses of your lesson plan and lesson execution objectively, say what the learners took away from the lesson and provide evidence for that, and explain how your are going to consolidate on the learning, this will affect your grade for the LSA. I got Pass on both the background essay and lesson execution.
NB To get a pass you need to pass only two LSAs (one skills and one systems), but...one has to be the internally assessed one, the other one has to be the externally assessed one. So make sure that for your externally assessed lesson you save a skill or system lesson that is one of your strengths.

In Week 4 we had to submit our second LSA and were again assessed - this time the LSA was skills and I have to say this one was really difficult to analyse for most of us, the trainees. The thing here is decide on the title of your LSA an stick to it in the analysis. Mine was Helping lower level learners understand authentic texts using top-down processing. So in the background essay I had to define what an authentic text was in the introduction and analyse top-down processing in the Analysis section. I analysed the types of schematic knowledge and top-down processing which needed to be explained in relation to stages of the lesson and types of activities. This all has to be based on the reading you do. I found Nuttall's book very useful for this. I got Merit for both the background essay and lesson execution.
NB The stress level at this point started escalating. The course became hell for all of us by Friday when we were waiting for feedback. So be prepared for a lot of stress because if you cannot handle stress, you shouldn't be taking the course.

In Week 5 we had a bit of a break. This was the week of Experimental Practice when you choose any approach in ELT that you have never tried before and try it on your learners. You are only observed by your peers and the background essay, lesson plan and the post-lesson evaluation form Part B of your Professional Development Assignment. For a Pass in the Module, PDA has to be submitted and does not have to be a Pass.
This week we had a lot of fun, I have to say. Some of us experimented with Dogme, some with the Silent way, Suggestopedia and strong-end TBL. You need to do the research before you teach the lesson because you need to have a clear idea about the approach/method. You should also write the background essay before the lesson, 2000 words, + you write 500 words of post lesson evaluation which is part of the assignment. I did mine on Dogme and my learners loved it. I decided that Dogme was worth trying out with my own groups back home. I got a Pass for my Experimental Practice paper.
We also had a developmental observation this week for which we prepared a lesson to test one of the approaches we were going to use in one of the remaining LSAs. This was very helpful for us actually although that meant extra lesson plan writing. Still I would highly recommend requesting a developmental observation, which is not assessed, to practise the approach you are going to employ in your LSA 3 or 4, especially 4, as it is externally assessed and it is of utmost importance to pass both parts of it.
NB This week we all started to understand what the second module of DELTA is all about and it became a matter of good time management skills, because if you are bad at that, then the course will be even more stressful for you.

In Week 6 we had to submit LSA 3 background essay and teach the third assessed lesson. I think this week it was less stressful because we were all more worried about the external assessment the following week. In this week the tutors changed TP groups. So the first two lessons and PDA Part A were assessed by one tutor, and PDA Part B and LSA 3 were assessed by the second tutor.
For my third LSA I chose writing and the title was Helping lower level learners writ formal emails. The focus of the lesson was writing emails of enquiry. I found writing this LSA easier than the previous two, because we had our tutor's feedback to base this one on. Again, the Analysis section of the essay was not so easy, and everyone found skills analysis more difficult than systems analysis.
The moods in general were gloomy and everyone was only thinking about the end of the course. Although I got Merit on both - the essay and the lesson, I was a bit worried about LSA 4, perhaps because of the fact that this one was going to be assessed externally and had to be at least a pass on both.
NB It would help if you could think of your LSA 4 well before the time you have to write it. It saves you time and worry. I decided this in Week 4 and did not have to worry about not having ideas about how to stage the lesson and how to deliver it. Some of my peers felt drained by Week 7 and could not come up with ideas.

In Week 7 we had our externally assessed lesson. Although we all found writing LSA 3 easy, everyone was again stressed about LSA 4. And it did seem difficult to write. I think we were all overthinking and wanted to include everything our tutors told us about. But the word limit would not let us do that, of course. After the lesson we were given 48 hours to write the post-lesson evaluation and send it to the main tutor. I think this is a rule for all Delta centres, but I might be wrong. After the last LSA it was really hard to get down to the post-lesson evaluation and all of us felt the same way. We were too exhausted to do anything. But the next day after the external we all partly got our senses back. So I would think that it wasn't just us and many Module 2 trainees feel drained the day of the external assessment as it is way too stressful.
In Week 7 we also had to write Stage 4 for PDA Part A and submit it for it to get a final grade of Pass or Fail. I did this one before my externally assessed lesson as I knew that after that I would be more dead than alive to be able to write it. And it proved to be a good idea. I couldn't even reply to my mail that day, leave alone write an assignment. So if you can, try to complete your PDA Stage 4 before your external because after it, you may find it impossible to do.
The last day of the course was about where to next. But I don't think we were prepared to think about any other courses that day. We still need to get our results in two months' time so we are definitely not going to take any courses yet.
NB Don't worry if the external assessor doesn't talk to you or smile. They are not allowed to. So take it as something normal.

All in all, the Delta course is worth taking but you should forget about life while doing it and you must be prepared to a lot of stress.

Good luck to everyone who is about to start it. And good luck to everyone who is waiting for the results.