Rob and his colleague Emma Valahu have recently published a book on English language teaching methodology. The idea for ‘Teaching English: Being the Best’ came from three observations. The first was that busy teachers don’t have time to read methodology books, the second was that teaching is a complex business with a lot of things to think about or remember, and the third was that so-called best practice is often not very ‘best’. The book that eventually appeared in its final form was shaped by these thoughts. It’s a book with a lot of topics – over two hundred are dealt with, and could have had more but they said that they had to draw the line somewhere. It’s a book which can be used in different ways – you could read it from cover the cover, but you can also use it as a reference book or dip into it. Most topics are dealt with in a one page thought-provoking essay. Most teachers have time to read a page from time to time. The longest section is five pages on Communicative Language Teaching, but 90% of the book is made up of one page essays. Some pages are bullet point lists of things to remember, or ideas, for pre-listening tasks, for example. So if you are looking for ideas for pre-, during, and post-listening or reading tasks there are lists to help you. These all fit in under the best practice label. But, as Rob and Emma say, best practice is sometimes lacking the best part there are essays which discuss how you can move beyond best practice. There are two new ways to approach reading, for example: the Deep Text and Dual Text Approaches. They make a case for the principled use of L1 in the class (something Rob has been arguing for since the mid 90s); they tell the reader how use reading aloud well and argue throughout the book for more teaching (and learning) and less testing. Rob and Emma take a learning-centred approach. They look at PPP, ESA, TTT, ARC, TBL, data-driven learning, Dogme and Demand High and have advice on creating your own materials and using technology and blended learning. There are handy tables on exam comparisons, on the CEFR and course books, and on the number of headwords in different reader series. They also discuss things rarely, if ever, found in other methodology books: like opportunity cost, time management, being professional and what to do when you are ill. And throughout the book they include inspiring and thought provoking quotations from people like Scott Thornbury, J.R. Firth and David Wilkins, but also Winston Churchill, Bruce Lee and Yoda. The book is a bit quirky and idiosyncratic, but we like that, and we hope you will too.
Claire has recently returned from Tashkent, where she carried out an evaluation to determine where support is needed for English language teaching in the higher military educational establishments of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Thirteen years ago Claire worked with the Armed Forces of the Republic of Uzbekistan as a trainer on the British Council’s Peacekeeping English Project, so it was a marvellous opportunity for her to see how the English programmes had developed since then. She was delighted to see a number of really positive developments in the quality of the teaching and in the facilities. She also appreciated the chance to be able to work with former colleagues again, and hopes that the outcome of the evaluation will provide them with the necessary support to further enhance their English programmes.
The international nature of the annual IATEFL conference means that it offers a chance to catch up with friends and former colleagues from around the world. This year Claire was delighted to have caught up with Erkin Mukhammedov, who she worked with 13 years ago on the Peacekeeping English Project in Uzbekistan. During that time Erkin was a teacher at the PfP Centre, which was based in the Military Academy in Tashkent, where Claire worked as a trainer. She remembers his enthusiasm for teaching and his keen interest in professional development, and was very pleased to hear that he’s currently doing an MA in ELT with a focus on assessment and testing at Warwick University. He is now also a trainer himself. It is a real privilege to have played a part in Erkin’s professional development and we wish him all the best with his studies. Also in the photo are Nargiza Kuchkarova from the Inha University, Tashkent, and Guzal Utemuratova, who is studying for a degree in TESOL at the University College London.
In 2015 I led a British Council Regional Hornby School in Abuja for teacher trainers and academics from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Some were from UNICEF and others were supported by DFID’s Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN) and the Teacher Development Programme (TDP), which is a UKaid programme managed by a consortium led by Mott Macdonald that involves the Nigerian government and six State governments in the north. Over the past year or so I have been guiding the participants’ research and editing their papers, which have just been published. Many thanks to the British Council’s Yetunde Oluwatosin for all her help and advice.
Claire and I thoroughly enjoyed the many excellent presentations at the IATEFL conference in Birmingham last week. It was a good opportunity to meet up with old friends and colleagues and to wander around the centre of the city…
Last week I was in Montenegro evaluating the work of the PELT project, which has been running for three years and is due to finish this time next year. I talked to officials at the MOD and visited the Masline Barracks in the capital, Podgorica. I also made separate trips to the main MOD training centre in Danilovgrad and the Mountain Company in Kolašin. The aim was to see the progress of the teaching and learning of English in the Montenegrin Armed Forces (MAF) and to make recommendations as to what needs to be done before the project closes.
I had very constructive talks with teachers in the system as well as IT specialists, learners and unit commanders. In all the meetings I attended, there was agreement that there has been marked progress in the overall provision of English language teaching and learning for the MAF as compared to 2013 when an initial needs analysis was conducted. My thanks go to Jasmina Alkovic of the British Council who co-ordinated the visit and, especially, all of the teachers and also Lt. Col. Petar Ducic and Capt. Sanja Pejovic of the MOD. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days.
We have been delivering training courses for Peacekeeping English Projects (PEPs) in a number of places recently. Last week Claire was back in Zrenjanin, Serbia, running a five-day regional workshop called ‘Teaching with Technology Part Two’ for 18 military English teachers from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This course built on what was covered during Part One in October and the main aim was for the participants to develop activities using a range of websites, tools and apps that could be integrated into their courses. The participants excelled by creating a far greater number of activities than anticipated, which can now be trialled with their learners.
Rob was in Macedonia after his three weeks working on the PEP project in Namibia. The Macedonian MOD has invested in a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This was set up to enhance delivery of courses, including English language instruction. The British Council organised a three day ‘Introduction to Moodle’ training course for English teachers in Skopje. Rob and Mirjana Ivancev, a consultant from Serbia, led the training of ten teachers and testers. Two teachers from Montenegro also attended and reported back to their MOD on the potential for Moodle. The topics covered included the pedagogy of online learning and practical hands-on experience of the platform in preparation for future course development. The teachers are planning to upload supplementary materials onto Moodle as a first step to gain experience before developing longer courses. In addition, the Macedonian Testing Team are considering uploading information about STANAG 6001 examinations and practice test materials.
Alistair has just returned from China. He was at the UN China Peacekeeping Police Training Centre (CPPTC) providing support and training for Superintendents from across the country who are looking to apply for higher-level, senior positions in the UN Police (UNPOL). Many of the participants had already had significant police peacekeeping experience with some having been on three missions abroad. Alistair was working with Maureen Brown, a former assistant chief constable of Central Scotland and former adviser to the EU and DFID.
Finally, I will be in Podgorica, Montenegro, next week to evaluate the PEP project there. I’m looking forward to it.
Namibia sees it as essential that their military can contribute to peace support operations in Africa and throughout the world; to help achieve this the Namibian Defence Forces and the British Peace Support Team based in South Africa agreed a further course in the training of Namibian Defence Force personnel for peacekeeping and interoperability, to build on the work done last July in Windhoek. This course, the fourth English language training event for Namibian Defence Force personnel, was held from the 8th to 26th February 2016 at the University of Namibia Khomasdal campus. The three-week intensive course was delivered by Rob and Nick Fletcher.
The course was designed to improve the English communication skills of NDF soldiers for peacekeeping purposes and concentrated on communication skills such as giving briefings, radio communication skills [through realistic practice with walkie talkies], and report writing. The twenty-nine participants did a lot of briefings on humanitarian assistance operations and problem-based scenarios, and role-played running checkpoints and vehicle searches (outside in the car park) to develop the practical skills which might save their lives in future operations.
We are involved with a number of publications at the moment. The research that Alistair and I conducted into Basic and Secondary education in Egypt has just been uploaded by the British Council. We looked at education from the point of view of ministries, teachers, students, parents and employers in relation to the education goals of the Ministry of Education and the National Curriculum Framework for English as a Foreign Language: Grades 1-12. I will be travelling to London to present the findings at an event on Monday 7th March to help UK stakeholders to learn more about the context for English teaching and learning in Egypt and the current issues, and to strengthen and explore potential partnerships and opportunities for collaboration. It is similar to a presentation that Alistair made a year ago following research he conducted in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
I am also putting the final touches to editing a collection of research papers by Nigerian academics, which is due to be published in the next few weeks.
Claire is delighted to learn that one of the chapters she wrote for the British Council publication Blended Learning in ELT: Course Design and Implementation, has been used by Pete Sharma Associates to inform the final unit of their new course on blended learning for language teachers. All at McIlwraith Education wish Pete and his associates the very best with the launch of what promises to be an interesting course. For a free PDF copy of the British Council publication click here and and for more information on Pete’s course go here.