Antony Atkinson

Antony Atkinson

Wednesday, 07 December 2016 14:30

Making our Success Criteria Visible

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

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


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

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

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 12:28

Using Technology in the Classroom

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?




Wednesday, 17 September 2014 10:11

Intermediate Plateau


So often I see students who once were sprinting through the levels becoming becalmed at Intermediate to the extent that it seems they have lost the motivation to continue. I’ve been thinking about this and do not profess to have the answers, but here are some thoughts I’ve been having. Looking forward to sharing ideas with you.

Firstly a quick definition. Richards (2008) in his ‘Moving Beyond Plateau’ short book identifies the following, as features of students stuck in the intermediate plateau:

1.  There is a gap between receptive and productive competence.

2.  Fluency may have progressed at the expense of complexity.

3.  Learners have a limited vocabulary range.

4.  Language production may be adequate but often lacks the characteristics of natural speech.

5. There are persistent, fossilized language errors.

Course books are a mainstay for most schools. Students have been through the drill and know what’s coming next; probably they feel as uninspired as me when they look at what’s coming up. So rather than a text on house styles in different countries, I supplement and have students comparing house designs from noted Australian builders, creating their own, and doing presentations fast, fast fast! The point is the order of language presentation, set up a task get the students working on it, assuming they have had some exposure to the target language and then deal with needs as they arise – let the task demand the language. This may help to address issues of productive competence by teasing out the areas of need. This puts the teacher in a more dynamic role in which they act as a resource or at times a diagnostician of needs.

At the other end of the scale, I wonder if I have become too enamoured of the top down approach to receptive listening skills lessons. Do students benefit from tasks, which focus on inferring meaning as much as they do on actually hearing specific words and identifying them to complete a text – a bottom up approach? If the students identify specific language, is this a concrete challenge that they can recognise and apply themselves too? By recreating the task I can help students to notice chunks of language that are actually useful. If I then do a speaking exercise in which they replicate and then produce the language themselves, then I am aiding the students’ ability to develop their productive language.

Doing more with texts can also help to get a deeper response from students and aid their memory. Some of my colleagues have been using dictogloss a lot and this activity forces students to notice chunks of language and create meaning around them. In listening to the text being read, working first individually and then in a group, students are forced to draw on their existing resources and extend themselves when they have a gap in their knowledge.

So far I have been leading the horse to water. But what of the student what will it take for them to drink deeply of my thoughtful suggestions?! Use the technology, I say. Have students use a device and record themselves speaking, let them critically assess their use of language in a speaking exercise. Let them give a one-minute talk on a topic and assess their use of language. Make the students get a decent dictionary app on their phones and get them to use Notes or the like to record new vocabulary.

Students have done so well to reach an intermediate level, but if your students are anything like ours most of them are bound for university at some stage and they need a bit of a push to expand their vocabulary and productive language. What do you do to push your students/ Love to hear from you?


Antony Atkinson
Academic Manager Teacher Training


Richards, Jack. C 2008 Moving Beyond the Plateau- From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning Cambridge University Press