By Laura Kehdi – Westway Trust. Member of PDNorth’s online practitioner action research group
I am currently teaching ESOL pre-entry at Westway Trust and I just love it, as it is very rewarding. I have based my research on a pre-entry group of lovely international students, who I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays for two and a half hours per lesson. Each student has a different background, nationality and age. Most of them are illiterate and many also have learning differences and difficulties. Many speak Arabic as their first language, others speak Portuguese, Spanish and Farsi.
Stage 1: Getting feedback from students
I asked my students what they like about my lessons, what they don’t like, and what they would like to continue doing. As they are beginners, I did this by talking to them directly (using translation when necessary), and by taking notes. Their response didn’t surprise me at all; they were all very happy and enthusiastic about what we are currently doing. However, what everyone really wanted to be able to do was to keep trying to learn how to read and write certain words. In essence the group want to become literate, which as an ESOL teacher, is my aim for them too! Following some phonics training our team accessed in November as part of our Outstanding Teaching and Learning (OTLA) CPD, a particular approach caught my attention – something so simple but so useful at the same time. I had never thought of it before, and I felt it could potentially help my students very much when it came to learning a new word, especially when writing and reading it.
Stage 2 implementing a new teaching strategy: From copy and speak to copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!
The technique I first tried out with students is focused on copying words while speaking them at the same time. So, while a student is writing one word, it is extremely helpful to speak the sound of each letter instead of being silent. However, notice that it is the sound of the word that we are taking in consideration, not the name of the letters. So, for example, with the word “cook”, students would say k-ʊ-k (c-oo-k), and not see-ou-ou-key / c-o-o-k.
I shared this strategy with my students, as a new way of practising and learning a new word while becoming more independent; in fact, students can use this strategy anytime and anywhere, without the teacher‘s help. However, I found that just copying the words wasn’t enough for students to both understand the word and to check how much they had actually learned. Building on my reflections, my work with students, and my learning during the CPD course, I developed the following exercise: copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!
STEP 1 Copy, copy, copy
Students copy the word multiple times and concurrently speak the sound of the word (we copied the same word at least 10 times).
STEP 2 No copy
Students cover the sheet where they have copied the word many times. On another sheet, they then try to write the word without copying, just one time.
STEP 3 Check!
Students compare the word they have written without copying (step 2) with the original word (step 1). Students can then see if the word is correct, how many letters were right and how many were wrong – by doing so, students can see by themselves what was correct and what they need to practise.
Repeat this cycle as many times as needed with the same word. Once students feel confident with the word chosen, they can change it and start all over again with another word. I found that it was helpful to stress the name of the steps ‘copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!’ almost like a chant, as this was very helpful for students to memorise the sequence of the exercise, which also helped promote students’ independence.
Stage 3: Reflecting on the results of copy, copy, no copy, check!
I am very pleased with the outcome of the activity so far; I could see huge improvements in every student! For instance:
- Most of the students can remember and write the word at stage 2 100% correctly. I was impressed on how much copying while speaking the sound of the word, could help students to memorising it – incredible!
- A few students did not write the word completely correctly. However, I saw a huge improvement in my group. Sometimes from one letter correct to three or four.
- Speaking the word is key. The sound itself massively helps students at stage 2, when they have to remember the spelling of the word without copying it. Students have combined and memorised the letter and the sound together, therefore this helps them with remembering each letter of the word when saying it.
A key finding from this intervention is that it has helped students to become much more independent when studying a new word. They learn how to practise, to check and correct the word by themselves, and not with the help of the teacher as usual. This is a huge step, especially for illiterate pre-entry ESOL students.
There are however situations where this approach could be less successful; it is helpful to be aware of these problems, to avoid disappointment. For instance:
- Students might not be aware nor confident enough with the pronunciation of the word. Make sure the teacher does a lot of drilling first and records the word with the student’s phone to help them and to promote self-study.
- Students might start spelling the word (name of the letters) instead of speaking the sound of it. For example, with the word “cook”, students would say see-ow-ow-key / c-o-o-k, but actually they must say k-ʊ-k (c-oo-k).
- Students might struggle with speaking the sound of the word and copying/writing it at the same time. For example, some of them might have just started copying the first letter but finished to pronounce the whole word already. Teacher’s must show students a few examples on the board first, and the stress the fact that writing and speaking must be concurrently.
- Many students forget to continue speaking after a while. They get back to what they used to do, which was copying without any sound. Make sure you always monitor and encourage students to persist with the nature of the exercise.
- Students might struggle with remembering the chant at first. Make sure to reinforce this as it helps students to be independent, knowing what to do without any help. Without the chant, it is extremely difficult for students to remember what to do at every stage, especially at pre-entry levels.
Stage 4 – Concluding thoughts and next steps
I am truly pleased on the very positive results I had with my group. I believe that having included the technique as a three-stage cycle improved the outcome even more. This activity works very well not only when it comes to helping students, (especially those who are just beginning to learn to read and write), to learn and practise a new word, but also to promote self-study. I designed this activity for pre-entry students, but it can be adapted and used with higher levels too. For example, instead of learning one word, students might want to practise a whole sentence. Timewise, the exercise can be done in 5 minutes or in 15 – do it as much as it is needed, I would say. I intend to keep adapting my approaches based on learner feedback and my observations, and I will continue engaging in action research as a way of reflecting upon the strategies I develop to support my learners.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to engage in action research and to work on such an enjoyable and important project. I hope that many teachers will find this activity as useful and efficient as I did, and that they will use it to help students to become literate and more independent.
Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.
I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.
I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests? Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems even more relevant today.
I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable. The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering both the CELTA and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the mobile technology.
With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at what we could find out about iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom, because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study out of the classroom. This led me to apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their students, to explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.
It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.
In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD. This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any other practitioner research. I am both intrigued and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished, the report may be written but the activity continues.
Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year. There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.
- CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
- EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
- NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
- ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
- LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
- OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
- PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
- MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
- NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
- SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
- AP – Advanced Practitioner
- CPD – Continual Professional Development
by Susan Keenan,
PD (Lancs) TLA
I have recently joined a North West Professional Exchange Network for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Our first meeting was fascinating as we discussed the common issues and challenges of working in FE. One of our topics of conversation focused on how important it is to look after teachers working in FE and help them maintain their professional confidence as they work long hours with a large groups of learners and ever decreasing budgets. Retaining and recruiting FE teachers is a huge challenge.
Since that meeting I’ve been reflecting on my own career, with many years spent in FE. My teacher career has been fascinating and diverse; I’ve taught in primary schools in Manchester, a secondary school in Ghana, many years in prisons, I’ve taught unemployed adults, teenage FE students and trainee teachers. A wide range of different and fascinating settings, but in all of this rich experience there have been commonalities of ‘when it’s worked’ and ‘when it hasn’t. This of some of the key learning over my career that might just be of interest to teachers in their own practice.
Be authentic – When I first started teaching I observed and worked with loads of great teachers. I thought if I did exactly what they did then that would be the key to success. It wasn’t. I learned that you have to be ‘you’ in your classroom and you can only really find your teaching ‘you’ through practice. Some days were howlers; I got frustrated and demotivated. With practice and experience came confidence and the beginnings of my professional identity.
Enjoy it – This life is precious and too short to spend time wishing you were somewhere else. I’ll fully admit there have been times in the classroom where I’ve wanted to be lying on a beach miles away, but the best part of the job (and there’s a lot to the job) is the classroom teaching. The learners in your class of any age have stories to tell and potential waiting to be unleashed. To teach is a privilege and it’s easy to forget this. Find the fun; it is contagious.
Get rest – This is said often but it couldn’t be more true. There is always something else to do when you are a teacher, you never get to the end of your list. You need to stop, go home, go to the pub, get exercise, go dancing, spend time in the outdoors. It really is time well spent and ensures that you are healthy and well. One of my questions to myself when work is piling up is ‘Will the place burn down and anybody die if I don’t get that finished today?’ If the answer is no, then it’s probably something you can leave for a while.
See other people – At one stage of my life I lived with teachers, worked with teachers, spent my social life with teachers. This can be great; it provides you with a supportive network of friends who understand your job. But it can also become all-consuming and perhaps make you a little insular with a very teacher focused view of the world. Spending time with people who do other jobs gives you a sense of perspective on your own world and gives you some new, refreshing topics of conversation.
Know what you’re talking about – but you don’t need to know it all – I’m a big believer in evidence based teaching and being credible as a teacher has a very high effect size according to Hattie (2012). I get this, learners get this. I get frustrated when I’m in a training session feeling the trainer doesn’t know what they are talking about. Learners need to feel confident in you. They are wanting something out of the class or course, whether it’s a qualification or the stepping stone to the next stage. But you don’t need to be an expert in everything, it’s impossible. One of the keys roles of a teacher is to facilitate learning. Some of my best lessons have been the ones in which I’ve done least. Show the learners where the information is and then let them rummage around in it for themselves. They’ll make their own meanings from this and you can help them process and discuss this.
‘Get your teaching pants on’ – sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. You’re tired, you’re not motivated, you’re worried or distracted. The learners are there, they’ve turned up with some expectation and so you need to ‘turn up’. I like the metaphor of getting your ‘teacher pants’ on. There are a bit like WonderWomans or Supermans – they give you strength and presence, they help you to go in there and generate some energy and enthusiasm. My colleague and I use to work with a trainee teacher who we likened to the character ‘Sadness’ from the film ‘Inside Out’. This teacher had so little enthusiasm or motivation we felt depressed within five minutes of observing their lesson. Breaking news: the learners didn’t enjoy it either. Teach like you mean it, you can take your teaching pants off later and lie on the couch.
Do smile before Christmas – In fact smile a lot, it is not a sign of weakness. Learning and teaching are great; they are what makes us who we are. I am a parent as well as a teacher and my kids have had some brilliant teachers who smile, laugh, are interested in them and are helping them to become who they are. They’ve also had some grumpy, tired, demotivated ones too. It may be cheesy, but the teachers who inspired, and continue to inspire, me are the ones who made it fun, let me explore, knew their stuff and had some passion for life.
I’ve worked with trainee teachers and experienced teachers who have some brilliant ideas and energy, but many get worn down with the relentless pressure of the environment they are in. Teaching is a brilliant job but too many people are leaving. It’s a crisis for our children. New and aspiring teachers – look after yourselves, you are valuable and precious. Wear those teaching pants with pride but make sure they go in the wash at weekends.
by Gail Lydon, newly appointed PDNorth Regional Lead for Yorkshire & Humberside
My goodness – nothing stays the same for very long, but it all looks so familiar! That’s what it feels like working in post 16 learning. Constant change, but we feel we have seen it in another guise before. There is something comforting about the familiar though and when I was asked to lead on the Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) in Yorkshire and Humber I heard myself saying yes. Why did I do that!?? Well one reason is my previous experience of networks and how much I have learned from them.
I have been teaching since 1996 and some of the most important learning opportunities I have had have been through networking of some kind or another. Working with my colleagues on projects; safely discussing what was happening in my classroom and carrying out peer observations to develop my practice. Although much is familiar (funding and learner motivation to name but two), I think we could argue that the restraints we work under are tighter than ever. But we love teaching and care for our learners so what to do?
My husband is a massive music fan and Jimi Hendrix is a favourite. One quote of his (Jimi’s not my husbands) is “in order to change the world, you have to get your head together first” (if I haven’t got the quote quite right I hope both of them will forgive me). I get my head together by talking to my colleagues and friends. Refreshing and challenging my thinking and it is fun. It doesn’t mean I always get it right but having the opportunity to discuss issues with colleagues is always a powerful learning experience. But so many of us don’t get the opportunity to network. Many of us are now working remotely and can feel isolated. This can also be true even when working inhouse because there just aren’t the structures to support face to face time with colleagues. Staff rooms have often disappeared and lunch times staggered. Networks allow us to interface with colleagues in other organisations too.
I guess you will want to know what the PENs are all about before you sign up? These Networks are about enabling teachers and middle managers to not only share their knowledge and skills but to develop those skills further. PENs are there to support you to investigate some aspect of your practice and perhaps try something new; add something to your toolbox of skills. There is plenty of online support between sessions: Twitter chats, screencasts (just ask) and other CPD opportunities. The four meetings are facilitated by a lead from PDNorth but the focus is driven by the members of the Network. Your membership, your participation is what will drive the Network. What would you like to share? What would you like to investigate further?
I do hope you will get involved with the PENs, come with us and share your expertise, the sector needs you.