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Preparing for an EFL Interview

It’s nearly the end of an incredibly busy summer. Summer schools are a number of things – enjoyable, full of energy, manic, full-throttle, but above all, extremely hard work. In peak week this year, I was overseeing a summer school of 9 classes and 130 students in conjunction with an adult school of 17 classes and 208 students across three buildings. So, 26 teachers made it through the interview stage to join the team and me for up to 7 weeks of mayhem. Now it’s fair to say that, with such a large organisation, staffing is difficult and certain concessions have to be made simply to ensure that we have enough staff. Employing a teacher on a short-term contract for a summer school is far less about selecting the technical cream of the crop, so to speak, than it is about making sure that said teacher is likely to be able to cope with the craziness and go in to class every day, smiling and enthusiastic. Because of this, I’ll start generically and then divide parts of this post in to two sections: Summer school and… let’s call it “Normal” school, because summer school is many things, but it certainly isn’t normal! I’m not going to name any names or even years – in nearly three years as a Director of Studies, I’ve worked out that I’ve employed over 100 teachers, conducted over 200 interviews, and unfortunately sacked three people. Suffice to say, I’ve seen some things in applications and interviews. Not all were good…

Applications

Application forms are a real pain. Mostly, they require you to copy information from your CV in a slightly different way. They are a complete waste of time, but seem to be a staple HR requirement. What they do do though is weed out people who are just clicking around and applying for every job under the sun. The assumption is that if you spent an hour on the application form, then you are genuinely interested. This is completely negated if you do a half-arsed job! Fill it in!

CVs

I have witnessed CVs get worse and worse. I’m not sure if the UK secondary education has stopped providing guidance or if the guidance they are providing is just simply bad, but writing a sensible CV is so easy!

  • No photos unless specifically requested. They encourage negative judgement. If you are asked for a photo, make sure you are dressed sensibly – work clothes, with a neutral background, perhaps some study materials visible. Certainly not like one CV I received – pint in hand!
  • You could start with a few sentences that sum you up, but I advise against it – it almost always sounds cheesy and false. Certainly don’t do what one candidate did, and annotate your “key skills” with stickmen!
  • Start with personal details – Name, address, phone number, email address, LinkedIn. NOT Facebook, Snapchat or Tinder (yes, really!) Also, make sure your email address isn’t absurd and / or childish.
  • Education and Qualifications is the next section – A-levels and above only, most recent first! Nobody cares about your class exams from year 8!
  • Time for the work experience section – dates (from / to), company name and a bullet-pointed list of key responsibilities. No waffle, no long paragraphs and no meaningless jargon. Here’s an example (this wouldn’t be in a table on your CV – it’s just so you can see it clearly here:
Date – Date, Teacher of English, Company Name
·         Teaching General English (A1-C1) and IELTS classes to mono- and multi-lingual classes of 8-15 students
·         Designing assessment materials for General English
·         Invigilating IELTS mock exams
·         Using (name of system) online student maintenance system
·         Mentoring new starters
·         Attended CPD sessions on Task-Based Learning, Flipped Classrooms and CLIL

 

That’s it! Turning up every day, planning your lessons and wearing a shirt are NOT key responsibilities!

  • Other skills – Microsoft Office, playing instruments, typing speed, sports etc. Keep these sensible and short!
  • “References available on request” – make sure you have contacted these referees and they are willing to provide you with references. You won’t be able to start at a new job until references have been received. Remember, one must be your current employer. Try and choose referees in the field, and your father is not a referee!

Finally, remember that this is a job for an English teacher. If your CV contains typos or spelling mistakes, it will go in the bin. Check your work. Also, keep it to two pages – 2.5 at most. I once received an 8-page CV. It went straight in the bin.

The Interview

You’ve made it to interview. You’ve either got a good CV / application, or the school in question is utterly desperate because it forecasted for 100 fewer students than are turning up in three weeks’ time! Either way, you must treat an interview with respect and do some proper preparation even if this job is only for the summer.

Interview – Summer Schools

A large part of a summer school interview is going to be based around pastoral care / supervision of under-18s. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Young learners need supervising inside the classroom and out. Supervision ratios are typically 1 adult to 15 students under the age of 16
  • There are certain topics you will have to avoid in class – think about this
  • Groups of young learners will usually have afternoon activities – sports, projects, trips. Showing interest in getting involved will win you brownie points
  • Young learner classes are different from adult classes. Juniors are there temporarily, and for a fun holiday. You will need to use lots of games with shorter, more interactive / physical activities and minimal grammar input. Have examples of these
  • Young learners need discipline – be prepared to answer questions about how to deal with bad behaviour. Generally, a class contract is a good thing to establish, with clear boundaries and rules in place BUT never shout at them!
  • You may be asked about professional boundaries. Think about the importance of maintaining the role of a teacher, and having a policy of not being alone with individual students, especially if you are a male teacher
  • Think about the challenges associated with teaching students of different ages. You might have classes with 13 and 16 year-olds together.

Interview – “Normal” schools

The feel of a year-round school is different, as a proportion of the students will be studying for a longer period of time. Some may be sponsored and have progression requirements imposed upon them. As a result of this, they may be stressed. There will be other students who are only coming for short periods of time, and the needs of both these sets of students will need to be carefully managed and monitored inside the classroom.

  • What’s your approach to teaching? You can talk about the communicative classroom, task-based learning, blended learning… have a think and do some research
  • Example lesson structures – you may be asked to bring a lesson plan or you may be asked on the spot to go through stages of a lesson. This kind of question is designed to see that you know how to follow a structure correctly. If it’s a reading lesson, have you gone through prediction / gist / detail stages? Does your lesson finish with a communicative activity? If it’s a systems lesson, have you got a controlled practice stage?
  • If you’re asked to come prepared to do some demo language focus work, PREPARE IT! This summer, I asked for teachers to come prepared to go through Meaning, Pron and Form of 5 items of vocab of their choice on the whiteboard. Some of it was almost embarrassingly bad, or worse, unprepared. If you can’t do the most basic, staple EFL task in an interview, how do you expect a Director of Studies to employ you?! If you spell “messy” with one “s”, you are asking for trouble (again, yes, really!)
  • You will be asked a grammar and / or vocab knowledge question! This shouldn’t come as a surprise! Do some revision! The most common grammar questions centre around the differences between one thing and another, e.g. present perfect and past simple.
  • Don’t waffle – your answers should be concise. On the other hand, one-word answers don’t help an interviewer at all.
  • Look at the school website. All of them tell you what they teach. Don’t ask at the end “So, what classes do you offer?” Instead say “I’ve seen on the website that you offer X… how do you….?” – this makes it obvious that you have done some preparation.
  • Have some intelligent questions ready for the end – don’t ask about salary!

 

Finally, and this applies to both schools, come dressed smartly, shake hands, be polite, DON’T call the interview “mate” and DON’T turn up to the interview late or pissed! Again… yes, really!

 

Simon

 

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Product Writing – A Report (Useful for student feedback!)

Who is this post for?

  • Students looking at writing skills – especially writing a report for FCE / CAE
  • Teachers looking at lesson structures
  • Teachers / Managers looking at effective ways to get honest feedback

Teachers

The thing I love the most about a product writing lesson is that it’s surprisingly multi-level. Because you structure the class around a model text and language from that model, (as long as you grade the model and the target language accurately) you can use this kind of lesson with classes from A1-C2. Students have the support they need because they can see a model, and when they finally produce their own work, they can rely on this model to different degrees depending on confidence and competence. Obviously, student output will vary wildly, but once you are at the written output stage of a product writing class, the pressure is off both the teacher and the student in that the traditional “teaching” part of the class is over, as is the stage at which students openly exhibit what they do and don’t know in front of the whole class.

Sample lesson / structure

Have a look at the material here (from New English File Advanced) Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

  1. Start students off with a discussion in small groups about the positives / negatives of their school, or things they would like to see in their perfect school. You could produce a form for them to make notes in.
  2. Get group feedback
  3. Students read the report on P.80 – ask some comprehension questions and get feedback on the structure / language used (How is it paragraphed? Is the language formal or informal?)
  4. Start looking at the controlled practice activities – P. 80 b, P. 81 c / d. Remember to get some of this language on the board – look sideways at the sentences (What comes after “advisable to” / “strongly recommend”?) – and go through meaning / form / pronunciation.
  5. Organisation stage – students look at how they will structure their report (ordering) – they can do this in a group
  6. Individual writing stage – the output stage. They’re trying to write their own report about the school, using some of the target language.

They can finish this for homework, and then you can either use some of their mistakes for another lesson, or provide feedback in a different way.

Adaptation

You could use this lesson with any level. I would even say that you wouldn’t need to adapt the model text for Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate students; grade the task, not the text. So, perhaps you would only focus on exercises c and d with an Int class (P.80 ex. b might be a bit tricky). For Elem / Pre-Int, you would need to simplify the text a bit, and perhaps your language focus would focus on something like “Ways to give opinions” (I believe / In my opinion / I think) or “Reporting using past simple”. You’d then need to prepare controlled practice activities around the model text, but this wouldn’t be too time-consuming, as a lot of the adaptation would be exactly that: adapting rather than rewriting.

Teachers / Managers

I watched a fairly inexperienced teacher do a great job with this product lesson from New English File the other week – they used P.80 and then c / d from P.81, missing out the brainstorm etc. stages after that, because they would be more applicable to a process writing task instead (see more on product /  process writing structures here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-sj ). The thing that makes this lesson interesting for students, teachers and managers, is that the output stage gives students a chance to reflect privately on what they believe the strengths / weaknesses of their school are. This is perhaps more revealing than focus groups, as students are often reluctant to voice their issues directly to a manager, or in front of other students. The timing of this class supported this theory; we had a focus group the week before and much of what was raised on the written reports from this lesson hadn’t been mentioned! I’ve since arranged for all classes to do this lesson at some point this term, so that we can get some really good feedback to work from.

Students

Have a look at the material in this file. Here are a few things to consider if you’re preparing for Cambridge Exams.

  1. The structure is based on a series of titles
  2. The introduction clearly states the aim of the report
  3. The conclusion is very generalised
  4. There are a lot of examples of the passive being used, as well as language for generalising – eg. “It is generally thought…”
  5. Precision is an important part of the test. Why say “making classes smaller” when you could say “reducing class size”? The words do  / make / get are often used because a student doesn’t know the exact verb that a native would use. When you start to write one of these verbs, think: is there a better word I could use?

Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

As always, if you want to send your attempts to me, I’d be happy to receive them! 🙂

 

Simon

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A look at writing lesson structures

It can be difficult to adjust your mindset from systems to skills in the language classroom. “Traditional” General English and its course books revolve around grammar and vocabulary over skills teaching. Not only this, but the CELTA and other pre-service training programmes provide the opportunity for trainees to run through systems lessons exclusively, meaning that skills teaching is an almost completely un-encountered mystery until a teacher gets extra training, or decides to take on a higher-level qualification. Therefore, when you’re presented with a skills-only class, like an elective or an exam class, it can be difficult to know what to do differently. What I’ve found in my experience, is that this results in teachers doing the dreaded AAA (activity, activity, activity…) lesson structure!

What I’ve done here is outline a few different structures for a writing skills class. This could be IELTS, general English or ESP. The four structures are product, process, process genre (kind of a mixture of the first two) and then a task-based learning lesson structure. Obviously, the first three are specifically for writing classes, but TBL can be used for any skills class. I’ve also put a couple of benefits / drawbacks at the end of each structure. In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting a lesson plan for a product writing, and I’ll follow suit with the others over the coming month. As always, feel free to comment on or query anything.

Here’s the link to the word document:

Writing Lesson Structures

 

Simon

 

 

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Teaching Pronunciation in the Classroom

I’ve attached the powerpoint slides of a CPD I delivered at school this week. I’ll say a few brief things about it.

Firstly, I think it’s a real shame that there is this fear of dealing with pronunciation in depth in the classroom. In my experience, students respond really well. It increases confidence, builds bonds and really develops not just the ability to discriminate between sounds and improve production, but the ability to listen more accurately; the area that I think is most improved upon when we teach pronunciation.

You may find a few terms / suggestions in these slides that you aren’t familiar with. As always, message me or add a comment if you aren’t sure and would like to use some of these ideas in class / deliver this as a CPD in your own school. I hope you find it valuable in some way.

Teaching Pronunciation

Simon

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Multi-Tasking lessons #1 – Dictogloss

I’ve touched upon the (wonderful) dictogloss before in my post about lesson structures for teachers here http://simonrichardsonenglish.com/2015/06/08/lesson-structures-for-teachers/ , but how is this a multi-skilled lesson, and how does it help prepare students for “real life English”?

  1. Lesson Procedure

The class starts, as most do, with a discussion that introduces the topic (“Activate schemata” or “Engage”). The teacher then explains that they are going to read a text, while the students just listen. On the second reading, they can make notes and then try to reconstruct the text using their notes and existing knowledge of grammar, collocation and discourse. They can do this in groups or alone. Once the text has been reconstructed to the limit of the students’ abilities, the teacher can provide a model.

It’s a very simple lesson structure!

2. Variations / Tweaks

Here are a few variations that I’ve used / seen used in classes.

  • Listening for types – students are only allowed to note down specific types of word. These could be nouns, verbs, adjectives, or “grammar words” – this means that they are reconstructing specific areas of language
  • Robot Teacher – the teacher can repeat the text multiple times, but the students dictate speed and repetition by using the instructions “Stop”, “Repeat from X”, “Spell X” and “Repeat Slowly from X” – this weights the exercise more in favour of listening and less in favour of grammar / vocabulary knowledge
  • Lecture – students record the teacher reading the first dictogloss, and then put headphones in and assume control of the recording in order to reconstruct. They can do this alone or in groups. Again, this is more focussed on listening, but is also incorporating skills required to attend and digest lectures – very useful for students intending to study at British universities.

3. Integrated skills / multi-tasking

  • Listening and writing – mainly through note-taking, but if students are reconstructing in groups, they may dictate their own work verbatim to other students. Note-taking as a skill is useful for meetings and lectures, but also directly helps preparation for exam listening (IELTS and FCE, for example).
  • Listening and speaking – if you use the robot teacher variation, students have to be able to give instructions while listening, at the correct point in order to successfully facilitate task completion.
  • Learner Training – if using the “lecture” method

Is this the finest example of a multi-tasking lesson? It’s certainly one of the favourites. I’d like to hear from people who use further variations.

 

Simon

 

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Lesson Structures for teachers

I created this recently, for new teachers at my school. Hopefully this will serve to help newer teachers familiarise themselves with skills teaching, and for more experienced teachers to get a bit of revision!

Note – where the post says “à”, it’s where there was a directional arrow –> to show step by step progression through a class, but it didn’t paste well from the original Word document.

 

Possible Lesson Structures

Systems (Vocabulary, Grammar, Discourse, Pronunciation) Classes

  • PPP

Warmer à “Presentation” (language focus – part elicited, part given)à Practice (controlled) à Production (Freer)

  • I only use this for Elem / Low Pre-Int, because the target language isn’t being drawn out of context – just being presented.

 

  • ESA

Warmer à Engage (effectively, this is where the warmer leads to a slightly extended discussion around a topic, which can then be formalised through text or presentation, so that students gradually start to focus on specific target language) à Study (language focus and controlled practice) à Activate (produce)

  • This is similar to PPP, but with an elongated opening couple of sections. It could also be similar to language from a text, as you could introduce text in the engage stage.
  • You might not have studied this if you did a CELTA – it’s part of the syllabus for the trinity TESOL.

 

  • TTT

Warmer à Test existing knowledge (this could be through a task rather than a formalised “test”) àTeach (language focus, so covering meaning, pronunciation and form) à Test (again, this could be a test or just a productive activity)

  • Obviously, the danger is the students all perform fantastically on the first test stage, rendering the rest of the lesson a bit pointless, so be careful with pitching!
  • The idea is that students perform better in the final stage than in the first stage, due to the language focus. Often, you can add a “meta-cognitive” stage at the end of your lesson. All this means is that you ask them to acknowledge what they’ve learnt, and evaluate their own performance in terms of improvement within the lesson.

 

  • Language From a Text (Inductive)

Warmer à Text / “Language Vehicle” (so there is a reading or listening in some format, with gist / detail comprehension tasks, and the final task is for students to identify and underline specific examples of language in prep for your language focus stage) àLanguage Focus (board the examples they find and do MFP from them) à Practice (controlled) à Produce (freer)

  • This is often the course book approach – don’t make the mistake of seeing a listening / reading and thinking “this is a listening / reading lesson” – if the goal is systematic (vocab, grammar, discourse, pron) then the lesson is a systems lesson. This means not spending too long with the text / language vehicle stage
  • I think that this is by far the most effective way to teach systems, because students view and identify language in context throughout

Skills (Reading, Speaking, Listening, Writing) lessons

For skills lessons, the final part of the lesson (the goal) is for the students to be performing the skill in a more effective way than they were at the start of the lesson, whereas a systems lesson simply helps the students to put new language in to context. So, a skills lesson should end with extended reading, speaking, listening or writing (followed by a feedback stage at the end). With receptive skills (reading / listening), there isn’t a need for a controlled practice stage, and this is often (although not always) the case with productive skills (writing / speaking).

  • Task-Based Approach

Similar to a TTT lesson, but focussing on skills instead of systems.

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Task (practising the skill) à Feedback and language input (either pre-prepared, or from the errors you have noticed) à Task (practising the skill in a similar context – students do it better this time because of the language input)

How does this work with receptive skills?

With skills lessons, you’re trying to help students improve the actual mechanics of the skill. With speaking / writing, this is pretty clear, but with reading / listening, it can be more difficult to understand how students can develop. Here are some ways:

  • Skimming for gist / scanning for detail (reading)
  • Taking notes (listening)
  • Inferring meaning from context (reading / listening)
  • Summarising (reading / listening)
  • Answering specific exam tasks – eg. True / False / Not Given (reading / listening)

This means that the “input” section of a task-based lesson needs to provide students with techniques to help them improve these skills. Generally, this is done by leading the students through the actual process of the skill step by step – in a controlled way. It may be that they are simply getting the mechanics wrong. For example, a lot of students will be scan-reading by reading normally, but quickly, rather than looking up or down / side to side on the page. We can improve this! Here are a couple of lessons that work well.

  1. Reading – inferring meaning from context

Task – Students read a text with some questions focussing directly on the meaning of individual words. Teacher goes through the process of getting answers as per normal and then asks students for their techniques on getting the meaning of these words.

Input – Teacher gets a couple of examples up on the board in context, and gets students to point out linguistic / meaning clues from the context – focussing on tense to help with time concepts, adjectives/  verbs or collocations, and then gives students the chance to do a couple more in isolation, in pairs.

Task – A further reading text with meaning-based questions. I’ve often done this and put made-up words in the text for a bit of fun. Students are now focussing on the mechanics of the task, and should perform better. Ask them at the end! (When students reflect on their learning and perceive their improvement within a class, this is called meta-cognition – it’s very motivating).

  1. Listening – “Dictogloss” (note-taking skills)

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Gist – students listen to a short audio / read text, simply for gist. Notes à Students listen again and take notes, with the objective of a future complete textual reconstruction. They can compare in pairs, and the teacher can do a second repeat. Input à Once the text has been constructed, teacher focusses on note-taking. You could look at structure, organisation, or simply the words that they are noting down (grammar is not necessary, as it can be filled in retrospectively, and students may be unaware of abbreviations, for example) Listening 2 à Students do another dictation / reconstruction, using the skills that have been focussed on.

Productive Skills

With speaking, a task-based approach works very well, but there are a few variations.

  1. A transactional speaking class

This is a class where students are focussing on specific purposes for speaking, in which there are social conventions, “scripts” (things that the English listener would expect to hear) and a definite goal (the successful transaction).

Situations: In a bank, in a train station, in a restaurant etc…

Areas to focus on: Slang terms they might here, making formal / semi-formal requests, situation-based vocab – these would all form part of the input section. This is almost vocab / grammar input in to a skills class, so there is room for a traditional “systems-style” language focus / controlled practice if necessary

  1. An interactional speaking class

In this kind of class, students are looking at the skill of speaking, as a tool for general interaction. So here, the skills are slightly different. You could look at some of the following:

  • Interruption (how to signal that you would like to interrupt)
  • Agreeing / disagreeing / suggesting etc. (language points)
  • Redundancy (how to use redundant language to improve fluency – “I mean…” “like”, “y’know” etc.
  • Circumlocution (how to explain something when you’ve forgotten a word)
  • Expressing interest (how not to appear bored)

Etc…

 

 

Writing

With writing, there are two good lesson structures that work, especially with academic writing.

  1. Product writing – this is a writing lesson where students focus on a linguistic convention that will aid their writing, so this will include a controlled practice
  2. Process writing – this is where students are focussing on the actual process of writing (brainstorming, drafting, editing etc)

You can have a look at simple stage explanations for these here: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/product-process-writing-a-comparison

What else?

Thinking specifically about reacting and responding to student errors, something to consider is Dogme.

Dogme gets a lot of criticism from people as laziness, but if done and prepared in the right way, students react really well to it, as it is a class that looks at errors made on the spot. Dogme is generally thought of as unplanned teaching, but this isn’t actually the case. It is going in to class with a clear lesson structure, as per normal, but with no language point as yet. The language point will become apparent at the beginning of the class. Here’s how:

  • The start of the lesson is either a general chat, or students pick a topic from a list for discussion
  • As the students are discussing (this works in pairs, with rotations), the teacher monitors and lists errors
  • Errors are boarded, and the teacher does an on-the-spot language focus
  • Controlled practice is either done live (teacher starts writing examples and the students start working on them as soon as they can see a first, completed one), or students repeat task 2 while teacher pops downstairs to copy some language-specific resources
  • Students repeat similar speaking task, focussing on linguistic accuracy. Again, teacher monitors and boards errors.

Another way to incorporate language focus is outlined by Ken Lackman here: https://www.etprofessional.com/cat_a_framework_for_dogme_83068.aspx

Dogme with receptive skills lessons / lessons that use a text

Again, the discussion part of the lesson at the beginning is necessary – this is how Dogme lessons traditionally start. Here though, the teacher starts stage 2 with a live listening (teacher tells a story on topic, with no preparation, and goes through gist, detail and language focus based on what they’ve said), or uses an app such as Zite to download and print a text based on the topic the students have been discussing, which students then do gist / detail tasks on, and then mine for vocab / grammar.

Obviously, these kinds of lessons require confidence and a lot of on-the-spot thinking on behalf of the teacher. They should also be used sparingly – I tend to go for 1 or 2 a week. However, with practice, they can become extremely effective strings to a teacher’s bow.

Demand High

Based on general best practices with regards to classroom management, and taking a lot of its ideas from The Silent Way, Demand High is basically a list of techniques you can use within the classroom to make sure that the level of challenge is kept high for all students. This is particularly useful when dealing with classes with a mix of level (so, most classes!) This includes:

  • Delaying acknowledgement of correct answers
  • Silent teaching
  • Demanding more from all student interactions (this is particularly useful for higher level students – if they offer an answer, was the answer delivered with perfect grammar? Can they repeat an answer another student gave? Can they say it again with better pron / using a synonym / using the past instead of the present?)
  • Student teaching (delegate ICQs / parts of the language focus to students)
  • One to one teaching within a group
  • And many more!

You can learn more about Demand High on the website here: https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/

And read my own research paper on Demand High teaching here:
https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/demand-high-a-delta-experimental-practice-simon-richardson/
As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions / comments! 🙂

 

Simon

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For Teachers – a great speaking activity

Sometimes I wish I could think of more activities where students really got stuck in to a meaty task that required linguistic ability as well as critical thinking. Well, here’s a great one. http://iteslj.org/Lessons/Gibson-PuzzleActivity.html

Originally designed as a job interview task, this lesson requires reading, negotiation, discrimination between important and unimportant information, leadership, organisation, mathematics and a LOT of speaking. This is how I set it up:

1) Do some preparation before the class – typically, students take about an hour to complete it so there isn’t really time for a language focus, setup and a decent amount of feedback in the class itself (in a typical 90 minute class)

2) In the lesson before, I look at language to make suggestions, agree / disagree, negotiate, and also have a revise of conditionals.

3) Prior to the lesson, cut up the bullet point information in to individual strips, so they can be distributed to students randomly. Obviously, the task is more difficult the bigger the class is – I find it’s most effective with 8-10 students, but works well with anywhere between 5 and 14.

3) In the setup, I explain that I will be silent during the task (but I usually provide head nods and facial expressions), and that they should use the board to make their own glossary and put up basic informative notes. They aren’t allowed to show each other the strips of paper that they have, but they can read them out loud (so there’s plenty of listening practice too). I also tell them that some of the information will be there to distract them (you can draw parallels with the IELTS exam here if you have exam students)

4) Now the task begins. I read out the introduction and write the translations of the “fake” words on the board, to reinforce the way in which students need to use it. I then hand out the shuffled strips of paper, so that students have a few each. They then start the task. Don’t worry if they are pretty much silent for 5 minutes or more. It’s a confusing beginning, but eventually, someone will write something on the board and it will make sense to another student that has a connected piece of information, and the task will start moving forward. Obviously, if you spot that someone has totally misread something, or that they are wildly on the wrong track, you can give a nudge, at your discretion.

5) When they complete the task, get them to run through the information they needed once more, and then have a look at the language they used – both to do with making suggestions, and any other mistakes. I usually board a “10 of the best mistakes” and then they have to correct them together.

It’s only fair to mention the way in which you get the answer here!

A) You need to know how many working days there are in a week. There are 4, because one of them is a day of rest. Therefore, they have a maximum of 8 days to complete the task within the two week limit.

B) You need to know how many people are working on the structure – in effect, there are 7, because each team consists of 8 people, but one does no work because of religious ceremonies. Also, only one team is working at any one time.

C) You need to know how many hours in a day they work. The answer is 9, because there are 11 working hours in a day and they get 2 hours’ break.

D) You need to know how many stones the structure consists of. As the structure is a solid cube, you multiply the length, depth and width to get 52,022. The information also says that the stones are 1X1, so that’s 52,022 stones.

E) You need to know the output of the workers – it’s 108 stones per person per hour.

So, 7 people lay 108 stones each in an hour – that’s 756 stones, and then in a 9-hour day, 6804 stones. The structure has 52,022, so they take 7.6457 days to build it. In other words, they finish on the fourth day of the second week, which is called Ee’da’ne!

 

Enjoy!

 

Simon

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Diagnostics / Needs Analyses

Have a look at the General English diagnostic / needs analysis below, as well as a (brief) IELTS one – in case you get sprung with a new class and need a way to check their prior knowledge of the exam at the beginning of your first class!

Simon

Diagnostic and NA

IELTS Needs Analysis

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Recording Vocabulary – Notebooks

This article is for students and teachers.

How do you record vocabulary at the moment? I see hundreds of students do it like this:

English Word                                                        L1 Translation
English Word                                                        L1 Translation
English Word                                                        L1 Translation

The fact is, this method doesn’t give you enough information about a word. You need more!

Think about these questions:

  1. What does this word actually mean? 
  2. How do I pronounce it?
  3. What kind of word (Noun / Adjective / Verb etc.) is it?
  4. Does it belong in a word family?
  5. Are there any words that connect (collocate) with this word? And words that don’t?
  6. Can I use this word in a sentence that’s useful to me / my goals?

Students often try to take too much new vocabulary and it ends up being lost because it isn’t memorable. Ideally, you should try to learn ten words a day. No more. And if you cover the words in enough detail, then you will remember them, and you will be able to use them effectively.

Let’s look at an example:

You read a text and find a new word: INTEREST

1. You need to find a meaning in English that you can understand. Here’s one:

“The feeling when you want to know or find out more about something”

2. How many sounds? Where is the stress?

/’ɪntrəst/ – so the word has two sounds, not three. The stress is on the first sound, and there is a weak (lazy) sound before “st”.
If you don’t know these symbols, you could also write “in-trest”

3. INTEREST is a noun.

4. Interesting (adjective) – something that makes you feel interested. Disinterested / Uninterested (Opposites) Interest (verb) – something can interest you. Example: Rugby interests me.

5. Interested + in –> I am interested in reading. NOT interested about / for. Interesting + NO PREPOSITION / OBJECT.

6. I thought that yesterday’s lesson was really interesting.
     I’m interested in finding out more about vocabulary notebooks.

Now I really know this word, and I can use it in many different situations correctly. Here’s what that looks like when you put it together:

Interest /’ɪntrəst/ or In-trest (noun) – The feeling when you want to know or find out more about something

Interest (verb) Interesting (adj) – something that makes you feel interested (adj)
Opp: Disinterested / Uninterested

Interested+in à I am interested in reading.
Interested about / for

Ex: I thought that yesterday’s lesson was really interesting.
       I’m interested in finding out more about vocabulary notebooks.

Putting this together

Now you need to start thinking about recording vocabulary by subject. Maybe INTEREST would go well with vocabulary about free time / likes and dislikes. Recording it with other words from a similar subject helps you make connections and will help you organise your learning a bit better. Have a go!

For Teachers

Try introducing this idea to students and doing a few examples with them. Get them working together, sharing words that they have made “Lexical Notebook Entries” about. Set a few as homework and gradually work it in to classes as expectation. Use it in tests too! It is time-consuming, but it will help cut down on errors and confusion, as well as helping set realistic goals for lexis learning.

Have a look at Teaching Collocation (Michael Lewis, 2000) for more information. 

 

Simon

 

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Thinking Hats – can you present a balanced opinion?

One of the most difficult things to do in another language is think critically, evaluate a statement, and present an argument – in speaking or in writing – that is balanced. One of the skills you need to learn is the ability to think “What would someone else say about this?” and then present an idea that could be the opposite of your own. Let’s look at an example – an IELTS question I saw recently:

Increasing the price of petrol is the best way to solve growing traffic and pollution problems. To what extent do you agree or disagree? What other measures do you think might be effective?

The chances are that you look at this question and think “Yes” or “No” quite quickly. But are these the only options?

Meet Dr Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats:

Poster_Six_Thinking_Hats

The idea here is to put on a hat and deliberately think in a different way depending on the hat’s colour. Let’s try it. The easiest, and often the automatic thoughts, are yellow – positive and black – negative.

Yellow: This is a positive step. The benefits of this are that fewer people would be able to rely on petrol and would have to seek alternative modes of transport, thus decreasing traffic.

Black: This is not an appropriate solution to the problem. It will serve to widen the class gap and leave many people currently reliant on petrol-based transport unemployed.

Red: The increase in price would cause significant stress in those already struggling financially.

Green: While this is not a viable solution, the possibility of making carpool lanes more widespread would encourage people to share one vehicle, rather than all drive separately.

White: Statistics show that the amount of cars on the road is increasing year on year. However, it would be difficult to implement a sudden price rise without providing a figure related to affordability versus need.

Blue: While carpooling and financial incentive are possible, they will ultimately fail, as car ownership has become part of human consciousness, and this will be almost impossible to change.

So, you can see that you have 6 possibilities:

  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Considering emotions
  • Alternatives
  • Summary
  • Statistics – available and required

If we expand these hats a bit, there are several words that you can use as “triggers” for critical thinking. Have a look at the picture below. You may need a dictionary!

Hatmap

OK, now have a look at these two statements:

  1. School buildings have no future – the advances of the internet mean that all forms of education and study are now able to be done from home.
  2. Strict punishments should be put in place for the parents of children who commit crimes.

Try and write six sentences for each – one sentence for each hat.

A note for IELTS

Where can we use these hats? Think about the written exam:

White – Part 1. You can only use the white hat in part 1!
Black / Yellow – Part 2, body paragraphs. Ideally, one body paragraph should contain a black idea, and the other a yellow idea.
Blue – Part 2, conclusion. In your conclusion, you summarise the main ideas and then present your final view.
Green – A paragraph about solutions would be green. You definitely can’t use the green hat in your conclusion!
Red – A paragraph about personal experience or public reaction to an idea would be red. Don’t forget how something would make people feel, or affect them.

Now take a look at the next article, which shows how the colours fit together in an IELTS writing task: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-pI

A note for Teachers

I’ve found these work well in IELTS classes – once students have read about them and you’ve done some soft practice as a class, you can get them to either work in groups, with one hat per group, or get them to produce six sentences on their own. After that, they can share and compare. I’ve also found that an activity that works well is getting them to read out their sentences without saying which hat they were intending to use, and seeing if students can match the correct hat to the sentence.

Enjoy, and remember: email me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com with questions, sentences etc!

Simon

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What stage are you at?

Further to the CPD log post I made here http://wp.me/s2RmnE-cpd , here are the British Council stages of teaching. A couple of points:

  • You don’t have to fit entirely in to one stage – in fact, you’re probably between two.
  • Admitting to some of the “improvement areas” doesn’t make you a bad teacher. The whole point is that everyone can develop and improve.
  • Set yourself realistic goals and sensible time limits. For example: I’ve set myself a 6 month goal of becoming an accredited teacher trainer as part of my stage 5 development.

Take a look – I think they’re really helpful.

Simon

Stage 1 Teachers

Stage 2 Teachers (1)

Stage 3 Teachers

Stage 4 Teachers

Stage 5 Teachers_0

Stage 6 Teachers

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Placement Testing

Background

As part of my studies on assessing and developing critical thinking skills in the language classroom, I’ve devised and trialled a new kind of placement test for older teenagers and adults. The objectives are as follows:

  • To more accurately gauge a learner’s ability to apply, analyse, evaluate and create – rather than merely understand and remember.
  • To use the placement test to divide classes of the same level, not than by minute and discrete “levels”, but by level of ability to engage with critical questions.

The idea behind the above, in brief, is that classes where learners have a similar “level” of engagement (critically) are grouped together, ensuring that a common situation in which a very creative and analytical student is stifled within a class of other learners who have not developed these skills yet.  Secondly, a focus on critical thinking skills represents a more “western” learning model, and could be beneficial to learners who, culturally, have had very little exposure to this learning style and might therefore initially struggle to complete this placement test.

The Test

The placement test consists of the following elements:

  • A “general” test divided in to four parts – remembering (a multiple choice grammar section), understanding (a reading summary activity), applying (a set of rules for asking interview questions followed by a chance to apply these rules) and evaluating (a list of items in order of importance). The test is designed, critically speaking, to get harder (move further up the critical thinking pyramid).
  • A speaking test, consisting of two parts. Some general “level determiner” questions, followed by an analysing task – placing a series of pictures in to two columns and giving reasons for categorisation.
  • A writing task – creating – in which students have a choice of two questions.

Logistically speaking, the general test should take 35 minutes, the writing 25 minutes and the speaking 5 minutes (max) per student. The speaking can run in conjunction with the two paper-based tasks, meaning that the goal is to take an hour to get the tests finished.

Recording

During marking, a student front-sheet is filled out. This is copied and given to teachers ahead of their new students arriving in class. The front sheet includes areas for “notes” which are there to give new teachers an early idea of what their new students will need to work on. There is also space to comment on their traditional, “linguistic” performance.

Results

  • I trialled this test on a random group of adults, who had already been placed using a different test. CEFR-speaking, the test matched their class levels with a reliability of just over 90%.
  • With the teen classes, the placement test was used in three continuous enrolment summer schools as the only method of placement. In situations where multiple classes of the same level were required, students were grouped by critical thinking abilities. The feedback from staff was that students interacted well within their classes and were able to respond to exercises on a similar level, showing that the test had “filtered” learners well.
  • Student feedback was at a very high positive level, with less than 10% of students across the three sites expressing dissatisfaction with their placed level.
  • Students completed the placement test upon arrival and then repeated it on departure. Of those who did so, every single student scored higher on critical thinking exercises, showing that teachers had not only addressed critical thinking exercises such as those outlined on other pages on this site, but also that students had responded positively.

I’ve attached the placement test, student front sheet and procedure notes. As always, please get in touch with me on my Email if you want to ask anything / share an experience, positive or negative, of using this test.

BLOOMS Answer Sheet

General Test BLOOMS

Oral Placement Test BLOOMS

Procedure Notes

Student Front Sheet

Writing BLOOMS

Thanks

 

Simon

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“Ghost” Observations – An Idea for Schools

“It’s time for a round of peer observations”

Why is it that this extremely helpful sentence always sounds like anything but? Sadly, mentoring, buddying, peer reviewing  – whatever your school calls it, often has the appearance of adding an extra layer of stress and scrutiny to an already stressful and scrutinised job. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Initially designed for busy times when there is no cover available for your classes, the Ghost observation allows you to be… well, a ghost. Yes, this is an observation during which your class is not observed by anyone.

Strange.

However, there are some really interesting and positive twists on a regular observation here. In brief:

  • The forms involved encourage and directly prompt reflection, but the pre-lesson form also allows for the teacher to think about the class itself before it has happened – meaning that a greater degree of objectivity can be achieved before thoughts are (often) distorted by the way that the class has gone.
  • No observer = a “normal” class. That phrase “They were far quieter / less communicative etc… because you were in the room” has no place in a ghost observation.
  • Feedback is objective – the “observer” hasn’t observed anything, so they only have your own thoughts to go on, rather than a prior knowledge of student behaviour from having taught / met them before.

Sound interesting? On to the procedure….

  1. The teacher completes this form Pre-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  2. The teacher teaches the class
  3. The teacher completes this form Post-Obs Form and gives a copy to the “ghost” observer
  4. The “ghost” observer reads both forms and organises a time to sit down and discuss these with the teacher. In the discussion – as with conventional lesson feedback – advice, tips, frustrations, joy and completely unrelated things(!) can be discussed.
  5. Everybody is happy.

With the exception of number 5, this should run like clockwork. Having had a go at this, I can say that I got an awful lot out of it – which wasn’t exactly what I expected. I strongly urge you to have a go – or talk to your manager about having a go. If you do, then please let me know how it goes!

Simon

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An Introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of educational objectives, separated in to cognitive, affective and psychomotor – as below.

Bloom's Rose

(See http://iteachu.uaf.edu/develop-courses/planning-a-course/outcomes-evidence/ for more charts)

The chairman of the group of educators that conceived it was called Benjamin Bloom. The simplified pyramid below refers to the cognitive skills, and demonstrates the progression of thinking skills from lower order (remembering, understanding) to higher order (applying, analysing, evaluating, creating).

Bloom's New Pyramid

Looking at a range of controlled practice activities (eg gap fills) or reading / listening comprehension activities, they tend to focus more on remembering and understanding, which is a good start. However, if you progress directly to a creative activity, you may have jumped too far, too quickly. The pyramid provides you with the opportunity to take a step-by-step approach in the classroom, as well as clearly see areas where students excel or lack.

Example questions, based on a class about apples:

Remembering: What are the health benefits of eating apples? (Recalling facts, exhibiting knowledge)
Understanding: Compare the health benefits of eating apples v eating oranges. (Demonstrate understanding by comparing or interpreting)
Applying: What kinds of apples are best for baking a pie, and why? (Applying knowledge and facts)
Analysing: List four ways of serving foods made with apples and explain which ones have the highest health benefits. Provide references to support your statements. (Inferring, finding evidence and supporting generalisations)
Evaluating: Do you feel that serving apple pie for an after school snack for children is healthy? (Present and defend opinions)
Creating: Convert an “unhealthy” recipe for apple pie to a “healthy” recipe by replacing your choice of ingredients. Explain the health benefits of using the ingredients you chose vs. the original ones. (Remodel and combine existing information / learning to make something new)

How can I teach this in the classroom?

Through questioning. You can use and adapt the questions that you will find on the staff room wall. Through open questions, students are required to communicate, express themselves and exhibit a higher level of understanding and interaction with the language.

  • Add some critical thinking questions to your lessons after students have displayed initial comprehension, work on their responses and then give them the chance to respond again to these questions in their progress tests.
  • Differentiate your classes by responding to students that finish a task quickly with a question one ‘step’ further up the pyramid. Refer to the poster directly and record their achievement on the student achievement sheet.
  • Get some discussion going, by setting up debates, organising groupwork, looking at some problems, or using some ideas from this toolkit Challenge Toolkit– some of which are elaborated on more on this site.

I have been undertaking some studies on students’ responses to activities such as these in classrooms – have a look at some of the other links on the site for more information.

Simon

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Phone / Skype Interviews

Hi. Welcome. Congratulations. You’re here, so you’ve successfully negotiated the perils of processing and the pitfalls of print layout to create a CV / cover letter that doesn’t fall foul of any of the cretinous issues mentioned in my previous article http://simonrichardsonenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/efl-jobs/. Now, onwards to interviews.

Job interview etiquette is well-documented on the web. Don’t be late, dress appropriately, make a positive first impression by making eye contact, shaking your prospective employer’s hand firmly and then proceed to the interview room, where you sit up straight and deliver well-prepared answers to anticipated questions with confidence and assertiveness while all the time smelling nice. Oh, and then ask some good questions youself. What could be easier?

Well, let’s think about Skype. For a start, making eye contact involves staring at the top of the computer instead of at the video, something so completely unnatural that if you do it then the person on the other end of the call has absolutely NO option but to assume you’re a serial killer and inform the local anti-terrorist unit. Hear those sirens? They’re already on their way. Erase all files and take own life by auto-asphyxiation using small household pet. There. That went well.

Clearly, there are a few differences then.

Give me a job

“You’re going to give me a job, or I’m going to find you and eat your toes”

1. Appearances

The problem with a Skype / phone interview is that you’re at home. That might sound really obvious, but I genuinely believes that it alters your behaviour.  Sure, you’ve put on a shirt and tie, but under the table you’re wearing novelty Tasmanian Devil slippers and Oh my God, is that LUBE over there, just out of shot?! On some old toast?! That’s just… that’s just foul. You aren’t taking this seriously, but the interviewer is. THEY’RE at work, you see.

  • Put on smart clothes, including smart footwear. It’ll make a difference. Do this for a phone interview too – it’ll really help you get in the mood.
  • Clear your desk of toenail clippings, and arrange it like you would a work desk – mug, papers, relevant literature etc.
  • Remove distracting items from your eye line AND the eye line of the interviewer.
  • Switch off your mobile phone.

My favourite: A very well-dressed man sat with a Justin Bieber poster in the background. “Sorry, can you repeat that please, I wasn’t paying…..”

2. The First Part

There’s nothing like saying “HELLO… HE… HELLOOOO…?” twelve times to calm the pre-interview nerves. Just remember: if the interviewer is choosing this method, then they have seen this before. You aren’t making a bad impression by having Skype problems. They aren’t writing “X – lives in area with poor internet coverage” on a piece of paper. Just stay calm, and make sure you’ve logged on in good time to do the Skype call test. If it doesn’t work, try switching off the video.

Once the call is connected and working, you are now VISIBLE. Then it really gets awkward. Do I say “Hi, nice to meet you”? (because we’re not technically “meeting”).

Something along those lines is fine. At this point it’s probably appropriate to introduce My Favourite: A man who chose “Alright mate?” as his opening line.

NB: If you’re on a phone interview, it’s still obvious if you’re looking out of the window. Remember, the interviewer can’t see you, so they place even more importance on your voice. Focus on your pitch and variation in tone. Nobody is going to be impressed if you sigh or breathe heavily. They may bar your call, but that ought not to be your goal. They also won’t give you a job if you deliver every answer in-com-plete mo-no-0tone.

Firstimpressions

3. Appearances (Again)

You’re still on camera. The interviewer can see you throughout and the answer is “No”, you can’t remain completely still and poker-faced while you slowly edge your hand towards your mouse, and “Yes”, they can hear you / tell when you start tapping in your Facebook password.

Instead of some tips, here are some cautionary tales. (Also, partly because people told me after my last article that they wanted more amusing instances of candidate idiocy).

  • A girl started talking about her previous experience, but got so comfortable that she picked her nose. OK, a surreptitious nose pick might have been forgiven, nut she pulled out a massive, green bit of nose-string that stayed attached to her finger AND nose for about 8 inches, like some kind of offering from a tiny nose-dwelling Spiderman web. Tip: TISSUES.
  • A young man who had prepared his desk well enough to have a mug of water ready for the interview. Perfect, but HIS mug had a pair of tits on it.
  • A young lady whose phone went off. Pretty poor, but then she clearly started texting under the table. I CAN SEE YOUR EYES.
  • A guy who put his chin on his hand for the majority of the interview. He looked like I was telling him a bedtime story.

Sit up straight, don’t lean on your elbows (a headset will enable you to sit further away from the screen without compromising on volume) and keep your eyes on the screen. You wouldn’t look out of the window during a face-to-face interview. What’s that? You would? Get out of my office.

4. General Interview Stuff

There is nothing more galling than devoting time to an interview for which the interviewee is unprepared. Nobody is asking that you spend days on this, but there are a few things that you really should be doing as standard.

  • Check the company website – locations, ethos, any clues as to your potential remit.
  • Be prepared to explain gaps in employment and go in to details about previous jobs. If something relevant happened a while ago, jog your memory about it BEFORE the interview, rather than choosing the midway point of your conversation as the ideal moment for a quick reminisce.
  • Try and think of a positive from each experience you mention. If you were responsible for filing, it was developmentally positive because it enhanced your organisational skills. If you made a “like-clockwork” 30-minute visit to the toilet each morning, it demonstrated both reliability AND intestinal health.
  • Be prepared to answer “competency” questions. (More on that below)
  • What are your weaknesses? This always gets asked. Try and think of something honest, but not too awful. “I need to improve my presentation skills” is OK. Anything that starts “I really hate…” is not.
  • Have some questions ready for the end of the interview. DON’T ask about salary, holidays, perks, benefits, pensions, free chocolate or where the interviewer got that lovely top. Also, don’t say “Did I get it then?”

My favourite: A candidate whose first question was “Yeah… are we nearly done, because I’m off to the cinema… I didn’t know it’d be an hour, you see” (The Email asked to allow an hour)

Special mention: Somebody who said “Nobody has ever told me I have weaknesses, so I guess I don’t have any, because feedback would have told me”. After my feedback, she was presumably unable to ever say this again.

1009

(In)Competency

By this, I mean questions that refer to specific situations and scenarios in which you have to make a decision. I DON’T mean the kind of questions that high-street retailers have started asking students in order to separate candidates (I know for a fact that one well-known retailer currently asks potential employees to think of an animal that they’d come back as if they could choose). Some examples:

  • Can you think of a situation in which you’ve…..
  • (PROBLEM) happens. How would you solve that?
  • (NEGATIVE EMPLOYEE TYPE THING) happens. How would you react?
  • In the event of (SITUATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR JOB), what steps / precautions etc would you take?
  • Tell me about a time when (SOMETHING) happened.

Take a look at http://www.michaelpage.co.uk/content/18002/how-to-answer-competency-questions.html and http://www.interview-skills.co.uk/competency-based-interviews-questions.aspx for a bit more.

NB: Don’t lie. I find it unlikely that anyone is going to believe that this one time, lions came out of a magic closet and started attacking inanimate objects until you strode in and overpowered them all with your bare hands while simultaneously teaching a class of 400 disabled monkeys to complete giant Rubik’s cubes made out of uranium  – something for which you received a 20p-a- year pay rise and an Employee of the Month certificate.

Remember: If you can’t think of a professional example of what the interviewer is asking, be creative. Interviewers like it when candidates can relate experience from different jobs / personal life to what they are asking. It shows intuition, ingenuity and awareness.

Lions

5. Goodbye!

I don’t have much to say here. You’ve asked some questions, the interviewer has told you that they will let you know, and you’re so desperate for the toilet that you’ve spent the last five minutes manoeuvring an empty Lucozade bottle in to position with your feet. All that remains is to say “Thank you very much for your time” / “Good to speak to you” / “I look forward to hearing from you” / “It’s been a pleasure talking to you” and you’re home and dry. So, DON’T do the following things (all of which have happened):

  • Wave
  • Hang up mid-sentence
  • “End” the call, sigh, say “Thank f*** for that” and then realise that you’ve actually just turned off the video, rather than ended the call.

As always, comments, questions and physical abuse are all welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Simon

Thank f*** that’s over… writing that was a RIGHT pain in the…Oh. You’re still there. But, I’ve got the job right? No? Oh….

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Professional Development – CPD Log

This will no doubt cause irritation. CPD logs are becoming the norm. Schools have already started using them as part of appraisal programmes and are now starting to expect teachers to have existing logs.

Obviously, if you are extremely active on the development front, this will be time-consuming. On the other hand, you’re probably the kind of person who will do it. It may give you an advantage as the industry moves to heighten its standards and differentiate between part-timers and those looking to further themselves and build a career.

The log consists of:

  1. Professional development courses I have attended
  2. Conferences / workshops I have attended
  3. Journal articles I have read
  4. Books I have read
  5. Internet resources I have found useful
  6. Thoughts and ideas from colleagues and peers
  7. Reflection – my thoughts and ideas on my own teaching
  8. Action research projects
  9. Talks / workshops I have given
  10. Papers / books I intend to write

I’m not saying that employers are going to disregard you for not having been to a conference or for not planning to write a book, but keeping an active log of your professional development could well help you.

You can find the log here: CPD Log

I’m doing mine now!

Simon

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Applying for Jobs – Part 1 (CV and cover letter)

I must be out of touch. In my day, CVs didn’t have photos or opening paragraphs resembling quotes about the person whose CV it is I’m reading. They weren’t written in continuous prose, poorly formatted or in Comic Sans MS. Cover letters were tailored to the specific job being applied for and addressed to the correct person, with no sense of Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V about them.

Somewhere along the way, there has been a cock-up. Or I’m out of touch. I must be – hundreds of applicants can’t be wrong… can they?

Let me tell you something that is clear AND definite. At my company, I am now the employer. It hasn’t taken me long to see an enormous range of CVs and cover letters in a massive diversity of styles. It also hasn’t taken me long to develop pet hates. Some of these are blindingly obvious, and yet they wouldn’t have become pet hates had I not received them again. And again. And again. Others may simply not occur. Either way, here are a few shoulds and shouldn’ts (from the perspective of myself, and others I have spoken to)

CV

What was this job for again, innit?

CVs

1. Don’t make spelling mistakes!

You know that job you’re applying for? The one where you have to have a complete mastery of the language? Make a spelling mistake in your cover letter / CV and you can guarantee not getting an interview.

My favourite: Under “skills”, someone wrote “atention to detail”. Priceless.

2. Pictures on CVs

The general consensus in my office is that they are a bad idea. Imagine a scenario in which, before a potential employer has even read your CV, they’ve called a mate over with the sentence “You’ve got to see this! This guy looks exactly like…..”. Laughter ensues, but not in a good way. The attention has been drawn.  If you feel you simply have to do it, at least follow these instructions:

  • Blank background
  • Professional attire
  • NORMAL smile
  • No props
  • Not huge
  • Black and white

My favourite: A young lady whose CV photo was her, in a pub, holding a pint.

3. The “introductory paragraph”

I say scrap it, personally. It should be on your cover letter and tailored, so that the comments about your personality directly correspond to the skillset required for the job. Because of this, I’ll return to it in the cover letter section (below)

Note: I have been told that some people do like this, but the above points still apply. Third-person commentary and flowery vagueries are not welcome – you should check the job description and then write this part.

My favourite: Somebody who had created a column especially for quotes about themselves. The CV looked like a holiday brochure. Ultimately, I want a teacher, not a person I can “stay in” (so to speak)

4. Formatting

Don’t go over the top. Everybody knows where the “format” button is.

  • Choose a sensible font like Arial or Verdana.
  • Bear in mind that offices all have different versions of Word, so put your CV in a .pdf so that it doesn’t look any different on another person’s screen. Dont send .odt, .jpg, .gif, .png or .IDIOT versions of your CV.
  • Use bolded headings and bullet points – they make it very easy for reference purposes
  • 2 pages! A third could be acceptable if it’s reference info or interests

My favourite: I was sent a CV a few weeks ago in an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that’s right. An Excel spreadsheet. Just in case you’re still pinching yourself, here’s a picture of an Excel spreadsheet:

Excel

I have a degree in Call of Duty

5. Content

It’s pretty standard. Let’s go for four sections:

  • Personal info – Name, address, phone number, Email. You DON’T need your facebook ID. Yes, that’s right. A world where facebook is absolutely unnecessary.
  • Educational Background – most recent first. Include dates (months), institution names and grades. You don’t need to list your GCSEs. Just “10 GCSEs A-C” will do.
  • Employment History – again, most recent first. List key duties and avoid rambling by using bullet points and starting each sentence with a verb. The key here is to be concise. I personally HATE continuous prose on CVs. Also, don’t include useless stuff. If you worked in an ice cream parlour 10 years ago, I frankly don’t care. I want to know what you have done as a teacher. Next time you apply for a customer service job, plonk the ice cream parlour back on there. Until then, either leave it out or merely reference it to avoid gaps in employment. You don’t need to list your duties. A teaching example might be:

April 2011 – July 2012, Teacher, Roger’s Naughty Little Boys School of English, London

  • Taught A1-C2 general English, IELTS exam preparation and Cambridge Exam classes to multinational classes
  • Helped students with self-study
  • Delivered an INSET on pronunciation
  • Was observed regularly both by peers and management
  • Delivered skills-based classes
  • Assisted with and led extra-curricular activities

You don’t need to write about obvious stuff. Every school has registers – I don’t need to know that you can fill one in!

  • Additional Skills / Hobbies – Clean driving license? Black belt in Origami? Extra qualifications,  no matter what they are, show discipline. If you can use a computer, be specific. “Can use a computer” is not as good as “Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint”. If you play Football, put it down. If you go out and drink 25 Jagerbombs every weekend, DON’T put that down.

My favourite: Under “Skills”, somebody put “No tattoos”. I have three. I am still insulted.

Unskilled Workers

David Beckham – An unskilled worker

A final note about CVs

CVs are not colloquial. Exclamation marks, phrases such as “which I really enjoyed” and emoticons (Yes, REALLY) have no place on a CV. Trust me, you aren’t getting an interview.

And another thing… (I sound like my Mother) – put an Email address for your referees, if you are attaching their contact info. Most employers will have a form to send them.

On to…. The Cover Letter

I get the sense that guidance hasn’t been provided. Let’s go for a rough guide:

  • One page is enough – I’m talking Arial, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing. Any more and you run the risk of sounding pompous / making me eat the paper out of boredom.
  • Employers are NOT idiots – I receive hundreds of these things. If you’ve cut and pasted the format of a cover letter online, someone else has too and I WILL NOTICE.

As an extension to the above, here’s the rough format of a cover letter that I’ve seen several times of late:

“Blah blah blah my Cv / resume blah blah native / near-native speaker blah blah blah Thank you for blah blah CV / resume”

If you happen to see this before applying to me, take this as a warning: If I see this, I will press “DELETE”

  • Read the job spec – If there is a name at the bottom and you send your “old faithful” cover letter starting with”Dear Sir / Madam”, then you’re asking for trouble.
  • Refer to the actual job – mention the company name. Actually do a little bit of research. The clicky-clicky-sendy AND REPEAT method of applying for jobs in bulk will get you nowhere.

Content

Here’s a good idea of what should go in your cover letter:

  • A brief introduction – why are you applying? Why should I read beyond this sentence?
  • Overview of experience – NOT the time to mention that ice cream parlour job. Relate your experience directly to the role. Write about 200 words.
  • Your personal approach – do you believe in task-based learning? Does your school take the communicative approach? Are you well-organised? Do you believe that communicating with students outside the classroom lowers the affective filter inside the classroom, thus facilitating more effective learning? PUT IT. Again, 200 words is enough.
  • BYE BYE! – Thank me for reading your letter, state that you would like to arrange an interview to discuss the role further, and then sign off (using the correct sign-off – “Sincerely” if you used my name at the start, “Faithfully” if not.)

My favourite: “Dear Sir / Madam, I am most interested in working for your company and have attached my impressive CV. Please read it and let me know how many weeks’ work you are going to give me. Sincerely, X”. Whoever you are, if you read this, for shame.

Feel free to contact me / comment on this. I’m particularly interested in people between the ages of 18 and 23 who have received input at school / university on CV and cover letter writing and can recall what that input was. As I say, I am clearly out of touch.

Next week: Phone / Skype Interviews: An interviewer’s nightmare.

Simon