Lesson plans – how you show you know what you know

Teacher metacognition for 21st century classrooms

I’ve been involved recently with observing EAP lessons and assessing submissions for the BALEAP TEAP portfolio. In both cases, I’ve viewed lesson plans, which were enacted in classrooms or linked to observation reports. It seems to me that the teachers often missed an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge about language and language teaching and about the attributes required for successful study at university through their plans. Teachers can have quite negative attitudes to lesson plan preparation, regarding it as an onerous chore and not something an experienced teacher needs to do. In some observed lessons, I’ve sometimes been presented with the bare minimum of a list of tasks, some timings and an indication of the student groupings for each task. This does not show whether the teacher understands the rationale for the tasks and how they link to learning outcomes and assessment. I might catch a glimpse of this as I observe activities in the lesson but there is much more scope for a teacher to show what they know in a detailed lesson plan than in a 60 minute observation.

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Grasping effective learning

A review of the past and future of learning from the Head of Open Learning at MIT

I like to read beyond the boundaries of the EAP discipline to gain insights into the way other disciplines (Learning Development in HE or Learning Technologies) are grappling with problems that I’ve experienced in syllabus design or teaching and learning. However, I don’t have time to read the primary research – there’s too much of it and it won’t be accessible to me as a non-specialist – so I’m always on the lookout for publications which digest the research for a general reader. I can then follow on from those with a more detailed look at specific aspects of interest. One such book came to my attention recently: Grasp by Sanjay Sarma, Head of Open Learning at MIT. The subtitle claims that the book explains the ‘science transforming how we learn’. I recommend this book for anyone grappling with the move to online learning.

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Asking the right questions

Designing feedback surveys to deliver evidence to drive or resist change

The summer Pre-sessional period is drawing to a close with institutions heaving a huge sigh of relief that they have managed more or less successfully to deliver their programmes online in the wake of Covid19 lockdown. Having written that last sentence, I realise it is full of dead metaphors (highlighted in italics) that writers often fall back on to connect with their audience. I’m not writing creative fiction here so these well-worn structures are useful to get us on the same page. (Now I can’t stop myself!) It got me thinking though about whether we aren’t guilty of doing the same thing when we craft feedback surveys for students and teachers at the end of Pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes. Do we fall back on the same questions without stopping to critically evaluate how appropriate or useful the responses will be?

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Reflections on flipped learning

Learning through interaction in synchronous and asynchronous modes.

The Heriot-Watt Pre-sessional English (PSE) Online programmes are almost finished for 2020 with materials delivery and assessment now complete. In migrating the campus-based programmes online, we used a flipped learning approach. Bishop & Verleger (2013) provide a working definition of this concept by contrasting activities which require human interaction with activities which can be automated using technology. (see image) For programmes delivered wholly online the contrast would be synchronous versus asynchronous activities.

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Sorting the EAP connoisseurs from the ELT amateurs

Interpreting candidates beliefs about EAP

I’ve just completed my last round of recruitment for Pre-sessional English (PSE) teachers, who will start teaching the final PSE Online programme 2020 from this week. We’ve taken them through a week of induction, which has allowed me to assess whether I made the right decisions in appointing them. The first week of teaching coming up will also be a good test of their ability to deliver the programme as it is designed, rather than as they imagine it should be designed. This final programme is so short (5 weeks of teaching and three days of assessment) that I really need teachers to quickly get to grips with the underlying principles and be able to deliver them.

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The strawperson argument

Challenging negative evaluations of EAP & EAP practitioners

I read the abstract of a recently published article posted to the BALEAP discussion list, which contained the sentence: ‘Although EAP has traditionally been blind to knowledge, focusing instead on language and skills development (Monbec, 2018), EAP courses are well placed to make explicit to students legitimated language practice AND legitimated knowledge practice.’ It made my blood boil – always a good trigger for a blog post.

It is an example of an argument that was traditionally – i.e. in the dark ages before enlightenment – called ‘strawman’, I guess now called strawperson. In this type of argument, the writer sets up a spurious claim, ‘EAP focuses on language and skills development’, weakly supported (Monbec, 2018 – who?) in order to knock it over with their own superior position. This same strawperson argument was levelled at EAP as an ‘academic socialisation’ model in the early days of Academic Literacies (Lea and Street, 1998). It was critiqued by Wingate & Tribble (2012), who noted that criticisms of EAP refer to ‘practices which might still have been in place at the time of the authors’ seminal publication (1998) [but] do not take into account Genre/EAP’s founding principles, recent literature and innovation in current instructional practice’ (p.488). I would suggest that the writer cited above is guilty of exactly the same thing as Lea and Street in 1998.

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Authenticity – what does it mean to say a listening is authentic?

Reflecting on what counts as authentic listening in online teaching

In migrating Pre-sessional English (PSE) online, we’ve come up against the notion of authenticity and in particular what it means to say a listening is authentic. In the on-campus version of the programme, we had regular live lectures, delivered by PhD students sharing their research, together with a number of lessons formed around a video-recorded lecture, perhaps a TED Talk or an inaugural lecture given by a newly ‘enobled’ professor. In the online version of the programme, we’ve adhered more closely to the coursebook, Access EAP: Frameworks, which contains a variety of scripted audio lessons (no video), often divided into short preparatory extracts before a longer (5-10 minute) stretch of uninterrupted speech. To what extent can any of these listenings be considered to be authentic?

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Metaphors we learn by

Understanding the metaphorical nature of teaching.

During this Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve been managing the migration of our Pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes online. I’ve been extremely busy – busier than a one-armed paper hanger with the itch. In order to make you understand just how busy I’ve been, I have to link this general adjective to a contextualised image that I expect you to recognise as an example of exceptional busyness. In other words, I’m using a metaphor to link a general concept to a real world instance. In their seminal work, Lakoff & Johnson (1980). pointed out that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, in language, thought and action. Our conceptual system, i.e. how we make sense of the world and relate to other people in it, is fundamentally metaphorical. The key to becoming aware of the system is through language.

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Moving assessment online

Working in partnerhsip with students to enable them to show their performance through assessment.

Lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been in place for three weeks in the UK with no prospect of it ending anytime soon. At my institution, we are now planning to move our three summer pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes entirely online and to assess them there as well. In the early days of lockdown, there were many useful exchanges on the BALEAP Jiscmail discussion list with colleagues sharing their experience of delivering online teaching & assessment for pre-sessional programmes. At the same time my institution was going into overdrive to reformat end of semester degree-level assessments, for delivery in the May-June assessment diet. There was much sharing of good practice and principles for secure and reliable assessments that were fair to students and maintained the quality of degree qualifications. Last week Advance HE, the professional body that supports academic excellence in the UK, ran a webinar: Moving assessment on-line: Key principles for inclusion, pedagogy and practice. It was a model of good practice in hosting webinars and delivered clear messages about assessing online.

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Loss in a time of Covid-19

The pleasures and benefits of living a life of the mind.

Statistics on the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19 are rising inexorably in the UK as front line health workers struggle to secure enough personal protective equipment and to be tested to determine whether they have had the virus and can go back to work. However, the statistics remained just that, impossibly large numbers, until one day the number of deaths was 208 + one person I had worked with professionally over many years. Suddenly, this death was no longer a statistic but a very real loss of someone whose professionalism and friendship I have valued enormously. It’s not too strong to say I am professionally diminished by this loss.

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