ITE Professional Development Forum

ITE Professional Development Forum (12)

Last week I had the pleasure of delivering a presentation on reading skills as part of an EALD teachers’ professional development afternoon, in part arguing that improving the reading speeds of learners is perhaps the most critical skill development for improved reading and for building reading habits.


For those of you who participated, I would love to hear of your responses to the presentation, and in particular whether you are going to work on improving the reading speeds of your students.


For other readers of this post, it would be very good to hear from you on this topic.


As promised, I have listed some papers and resources on this issue.



1. Why Teachers Should Use Timed Reading in ESL Classes (Jeremy Browning)

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 6, June 2003

2. Does extensive reading promote reading speed? (Mu He)

The Reading Matrix © 2014 Volume 14, Number 1, April 2014

3. L2 Proficiency and L2 Reading: Consolidating the Linguistic Threshold Hypothesis

Yanping Cui, University of Victoria

4. Reading out loud (The British Council - James Houltby, Teacher, British Council, Portugal)


5. Using Choral Reading to Promote Language Learning for ESL Students

Joyce K. McCauley and Daniel S. McCauley

The Reading Teacher

Vol. 45, No. 7 (Mar., 1992), pp. 526-533


6. Practical Faster Reading (Mossberg and Mossberg)

This is an old text, but it is a great starting point for understanding ideas on faster reading skills. It is available in PDF form on the internet.

7. Speed Reading Activity for a Whole Class (By Jana Moore & Dan Ferreira)



These resources are just some of many. Hopefully, they are a starting point for teachers interested in developing the reading skills of their learners.


Please add comments!







Friday, 06 January 2017 15:00

New Year's Resolutions

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The New Year has started and the old year seems years away. Some people go on a diet, while others want to give up smoking. I have decided to throw out the majority of my old resources and to create a new collection. Teaching your most successful lessons again and again is perhaps guaranteed success but not really challenging. My resolution is to use more realia and authentic materials in class. 

In recent years, we have seen an increase in websites providing a plethora of resources for teachers and, apart from making a teacher's life easier, it also provides you with fresh ideas. What I got particularly interested in is using video in class and creating some of my own materials with videos that are both current and appealing to the students.

I would love to hear what your resolutions concerning ESL are for the new year!


Happy New Year

Wednesday, 14 December 2016 20:54

Solitude in a crowded staffroom

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Elsewhere on this blog Antony has penned some notes on solitude. That reflection arose through comments made at the book launch for Tom O’Donoghue, where teacher professional development was a consistent theme. Solitude is a wonderful opportunity to reflect and to improve, but even when time is available, that reflection can get pretty foggy and it may be hard to cut through to something meaningful.


But whatever its merits, solitude is about as elusive as quicksilver for the average ESL teacher amongst a sometimes roisterous teaching and admin schedule and the ever-crowded staffroom.


Professional development for most must be found elsewhere, and that somewhere should start with mentoring, PDs by experienced teachers, and, most of all, through teacher-teacher observations.


As a CELTA trainer, one of the main benefits to me from doing that work is the reflection that I am able to make on my own teaching through the observation and analysis of others. This is a luxury that most teachers do not have; the obvious solution is to build into the teaching program the opportunity to observe one’s peers.


PDs and workshops have their place and are valuable (this is not an either/or argument), but there is no substitute for seeing and doing.


Such observations do not have to be of experienced teachers only, and in fact experienced teachers would also benefit from watching new teachers, who bring thinking unencumbered by fatigue (it’s December, and I’m tired), bad habits,  fossilised teaching creeping in here and there…


A great thing about CELTA training is that I get inspired by the trainees, even through their mistakes when striving to push their boundaries, to go off and try some new idea or approach.


In sum, then, I think that observing others’ practice is the greatest resource we have for professional development, yet it is the least utilised. It may also be one of the best opportunities for productive solitude that many teachers will have.


Wednesday, 07 December 2016 14:30

Making our Success Criteria Visible

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I recently attended Professor John Hattie's Visible Learning Seminar in Fremantle. This was very well-attended by the local education community - teachers, heads of department, principals and Department of Ed officials. The day was engaging, stimulating and thought provoking with a good mix of input and group based activities and discussion.

One take away from the session for me was very simple - make success visible. Involve students by showing them clearly how they will be assessed, what success looks like and what steps are involved in reaching their goal.

At Phoenix Academy we actively use the Common European Framework (CEFR) as the instrument by which we describe and discuss the progress of our students. We could include our students more in the whole process of assessment by making the CEFR more visible - putting it on the walls with examples of 'Can Do' statements and examplars of work at different levels. What we could look for is for the students to be assessing themselves and marking their own progress. More importantly, goal setting on how to reach the next level could be driven by the student in consultation with the teacher.

So, we'll think about how we can make this happen. Do you think it's a good idea?


Thursday, 17 November 2016 09:14

Routines and Rituals

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Earlier this year I had the great opportunity to attend Harvard University's Dr Mark Church's seminar on Visible Thinking. Dr Church presented on the value of making thinking visible in the classroom and how to create time and space for thinking to occur and develop in the classroom. 

Dr Church gave examples of thinking routines in the classroom. Routine is, of course, a loaded word meaning that an action is repeated to the point that it becomes habitual and part of your everyday being. One of his routines he used and we viewed a video of in action, was 'Claim, Support, Question' Claim -idea or belief about the topic, Support - What supports that idea? Question - What isn't answered? What's left hanging? - the nice thing about this was how it could work over a period of time as students used the routine to test their claims as they gained new information.

For our next professional development session at Phoenix Academy, we will be asking teachers to consider their own routines in the classroom and to consider the principles behind them. Are they routines or rituals?


Mark Church Harvard University Project Zero

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 16:24


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Professor Tom O'Donoghue shared some of his deeply felt and hard earned beliefs about teaching at the very successful launch of his 25th book "Understanding Contemporary Education' at Phoenix Academy on the 11th of November.

He touched on his worries about the loss of solitude and the consequent loss of opportunity for deep thought and reflection. Tom stands as a great example of the value of solitude as we learnt about the locked door behind which he works and ponders from 7 am to 10.00 am every day.

On Monday I came to work and locked myself in my seldom used teacher training office. I sat down read through the material for a course I am developing on Language, Literacy and Numeracy. In short, I got a lot done and felt the benefit of focussing on one thing deeply for a period of time.

A fine lesson from a distinguished Professor.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 16:19

Phoenix Academy E-Learning Project Final Thoughts

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Incorporating Flipping the Classroom, Dogme, Demand High Teaching and Learning and fighting the Intermediate Plateau.

 This blog discussed the early days of a project I was engaged in with my colleague Eveline Masco. Here's how it turned out.

 Final Report

 1.      How will students respond to being in a class not governed by a course book?

 At different times I polled the students on this question. Each time, the students said they enjoyed not following a course book all the time, it was ‘cool to get emails with our homework’. As students stayed on in the class, some made mention of the lack of solid focus on grammar and writing and they were aware that coverage would be more consistent in a textbook driven course. My current class largely came down on the side of using a course book some days and authentic materials on others, a balanced approach.

 We involved the students in the planning of the class by asking them to discuss topics they were interested in and this gave us the inspiration to go out and find material relevant to students’ interests. What authentic materials allowed us to do was present a course that was up to the minute, local and relevant. I think students gained more than just English tuition, they gained life experience as well.

 2.      Will a course based on dealing with emerging need and language have sufficient rigour to satisfy our students?

 Certainly dealing with authentic texts was challenging for students as they were ‘unvarnished’ and therefore students developed their ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ in reading past what they did not know to achieve the task.

 Where there was not sufficient rigour according to student feedback, was in the grammar sections of the program as they were supposed to emerge from tasks the students were doing and thus were unpredictable and not as neatly linear as a grammar syllabus set out in a course book. I tried to counter this by having regular grammar ‘breakouts’ in which a language point was covered in depth.

 One area we ensured was included in the course was a weekly review test. Students were very keen on this and actively measured their progress. The tests were based on vocabulary, grammar and topics covered during the previous week and consisted normally of a vocabulary, grammar and writing section.


In deciding in module 3 of the  academic year to move on from the authentic materials approach and use the coursebook, I had a long discussion with my class about how they liked the class to run.

The students said they enjoyed using the eBoard and discussing topics and reading articles but they wanted to make sure they had sufficient coverage of grammar. They felt a balance between coursebook and authentic material would be best. One student openly stated that using coursebook all the time “would be boring”.

 Students are very serious in general about their purpose for being at a language academy and they have definite goals in terms of wishing to improve. They also have certain expectations on how they think a language class should run. In the end, we exist to serve their needs and to provide a balanced and enriching learning program.

 Since returning to more use of the coursebook, I have noticed, perhaps, counterintuitively that I am much freer to work with things that emerge in the classroom. This is because we have started the lesson from a solid basis and have identified more universal needs that the whole class can relate to. I have been integrating coursebook use with authentic material, active use of the eboard and requiring more from the students in answering and dealing with materials to meet Demand High aspirations.

 3/4 How can the students in this class be encouraged to contribute more to look deeper and to extend their search for meaning and understanding?

 How can the students be extended/extend their learning themselves?

 We did look to set a range of activities for students to do at home. We would often email students tasks and they could respond to us in turn. Students are serious about homework and want a good amount of it, if it is relevant to what they have been doing in class. Students want then the opportunity to discuss the homework in class with their teacher. This is a good thing because the individualised feedback the students get is both motivating and validating for their study.

 5        What material is most useful to use in the class and which outside?

This question is difficult to quantify. The best way to think about it is that anything is possible if it is purposeful and it is not overdone. It is easiest to do a lot of reading using newspaper articles in class, but these can also be done outside. Writing is a very good thing to in class because students benefit from having immediate access for guidance from the teacher.

The benefit of a textbook outside the classroom is that it becomes a reference for the students – they can go over tasks done in the classroom and check the language explanations and vocabulary lists. Replicating this in our course was done by directing students to websites such as and BBC in addition to giving specific worksheets related to the language or vocabulary points that had been covered.

In some ways there should be no difference in the material used inside and outside the classroom. I believe strongly a major purpose of being in the classroom is for students to learn how they can learn themselves, therefore, it is useful to spend time in class on activities and resources that the students can use in their own time. This is definitely a benefit of having an eBoard available as students can easily be shown and work with useful websites and tools.

 Notes on the methodologies covered by the program

Dogme – Overall useful in short bursts and invigorating and liberating as a teacher when you see the opportunity and go for it. Not sustainable as a base methodology as students miss the ‘golden thread’, and teachers can end up desperately chasing their tails. A balanced approach is probably advisable.

 Demand High – Confident that this is a good way to go. When I presented the professional development session for staff on this, we discussed it and could note many areas where we push the students beyond their comfort zones. Demand High like dogme is a mindset and can operate to extend the learning of students in coursebook dominated and coursebook ‘lite’ programs.

 Flipping the Classroom – I do not think I had either the time or the expertise to explore this approach in sufficient depth. As mentioned, I feel I am upskilling now and can see more possibilities for areas such as Google Docs.


Arnsten January 2013

Richards, JC Moving Beyond the Plateau Cambridge University Press 2008

Jim Scrivener, J and Underhill, A



Thornbury, S Dogme: Dancing in the dark?” Pilgrims 2000

Friday, 11 November 2016 09:49

EAL/D Seminar

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On Wednesday 9 November, Phoenix Academy initiated and hosted a seminar for EAL/D teachers looking at pertinent issues. The sessions looked at the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA), the Common European Framework (CEFR) and Flipping the Classroom. Attendees from a range of public and private school contributed to the success of the event.

Common European Framework
CEFR developed by the Council of Europe is the common international language to describe language levels and performance. Teachers need to know what CEFR means as it is used internationally in Europe, Asia and beyond. It is also used as a common comparison point in language assessments such as the IELTS. The seminar also covered the use of CEFR in the assessing and framing of tasks.

Literacy and the role of the EALD teacher
In this PD, a general overview of the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) was given, followed by a more in-depth look at the Reading and Writing sections. Different strategies and techniques were examined. Most interestingly, perhaps, teachers explored producing their own practice materials.

The Flipped Classroom
Here, participants were introduced to the concept of the flipped classroom and the differences between it and the traditional classroom. The benefits of this approach were also examined, leading into a mingle in which frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom were discussed.
This was a stimulating and valuable day of collaboration and shared development. Phoenix looks forward to continued learning and engagement with the education community of Western Australia.

Monday, 02 February 2015 12:33

To Pre-Teach or not to Pre-Teach Vocabulary?

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To pre-teach or not to pre-teach vocabulary.

I recently discussed this with my fellow teacher trainers. Should we pre-teach vocabulary in a receptive skills lesson?

I'm in favour of this as it will make it easier for students not to get caught up in a bottom-up approach (i.e. getting stuck on individual words with an unknown meaning) when reading or listening. Pre-teaching/ checking meaning/ providing a glossary of words that are essential to doing the tasks, in my opinion, is part of activating prior knowledge on the topic and setting context. 

However, some colleagues would argue that this pre-teaching is exactly what you want to avoid as it goes against a top-down approach and thus post-teaching vocab would be more beneficial.

What do you think?

Monday, 02 February 2015 12:28

Using Technology in the Classroom

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This blog will focus on some useful sites and technology I am currently using in class along with my colleague Eveline Masco as we teach an Upper Intermediate class without a textbook.

Our class is somewhat experimental and we are investigating Flipping the Classroom, Dogme and Demand High Teaching. Somewhat in contradiction to dogme’s unplugged purity, we are looking to harness technology as we teach the class.

E-Boards have been installed in many classrooms at Phoenix Academy and they are proving to be very useful. The E Boards allow the teacher to mirror from their devices using Apple TV – this means teachers can prepare video content or visuals … and seamlessly integrate them into their lessons. You can also use the browser to go directly to websites and a USB with prepared worksheets. With the E Board you are able to use writing tools to highlight features of texts making it a very useful tool for writing and correction. In terms of dogme, this is excellent because it gives a very immediate way of dealing with emerging language. Eveline was confronted with the question ‘what is an elevator pitch?’ from one of the readings the students did. She used the E Board to find some examples, they analysed the structure and language and produced their own. Phoenix Academy will be offering a Pd on use of the E Board to the public later in the year.

Students all have their own devices and I am happy for them to use them. I have actively encouraged them to get dictionary apps on the phones or tablets. I have the MerriamWebster but there are many to choose from. In a recent class I handed out different research topics on the life of Edvard Munch and the students used their devices (and mine!) to take notes and then report back to class. This task mirrored what they would do in their own lives when they want to find something out. Technology isn’t special, it’s part of the everyday life of our students and the classroom should reflect this.

The first site to describe is Quizlet. This site enables students to practice new vocabulary in engaging and easy to use ways. The students simply create an account and then create word lists by adding words and their meanings. Quizlet then turns the words into flashcards, games and tests. Students can access Quizlet on their devices while commuting – very good use of time. In our class we appoint a person each day to create a specific list from the words created. We have created a class, which is a conglomeration of the lists of the students. However, a great feature of Quizlet is that all lists are searchable.

TED Talks are proving to be an excellent resource. The talks cover a wide range of topics, are manageable in time and tend to have great visual support. The TED website has the transcript of each talk so they can be brought up on the screen for analysis. Students can be directed to view the transcripts for homework. We are currently preparing the students to do presentations and TED provides an excellent model for analysis of what makes a good presentation. TED also has a guide on its website on how to structure a TED Talk – very useful material for the class.

Word Press is a useful site to give students the chance to set up their own blogs, this is an interesting alternative to journal writing as, from the teacher’s point of view, it will encourage us to first look at content and intent in reviewing our students’ work rather than correction.

This is a brief summary of some of the technology we have been using in class. I think we have reached the point where we should be regarding technology as a natural extension of what we do in class. Life now, is screen oriented whether we like it or not and what we are trying to create in the classroom is an environment in which our students feel comfortable and are able to operate. The items mentioned above are all user friendly and easy to integrate into lessons. I still have a whiteboard and it is always covered in words and language examples at the end of each session. These days I take a quick photo of it and use it to inform the next day of teaching.

What about you? How is technology part of your teaching?