We’ve changed our game

Rose Bardby Rose Bard

As a longlife learner, I realize that learning never ceases. This year was especially insightful as I am now finally able to make a better sense of the interactions that occur in my classroom. It might sound obvious that unless the people in the classroom are present in the moment, learning cannot take place. Yet in practice, more often than not that is exactly what we forget. Placing most of our attention on the content, we are so concerned with teaching that we might dismiss learning. Meanwhile, learning truly happens when we focus on the people in the room, instead of looking for methods and magical formulae that are supposed to make students comply to our way of teaching.

Nowadays teachers often rely on various online resources, but I feel that they lack the human touch and cannot provide learners with a way to connect to one another and the teacher. However, a classroom can do all that. A classroom, in which the teacher is not “the expert” but rather a more experienced learner. A classroom, in which everyone has something to offer. It’s also true that even such “ideal” classroom can become a boring place to be in, especially for teenagers struggling to connect with each other. It was through what teens like the most – games – that my students and I managed to connect this year.

Learners as creators, teacher as designer of learning experiences


In the end of the second bimester, I decided to propose a task that required my 9th grade students to design a game. I gave them an objective to test whether the players understood the story, and we discussed the concept of playability. Soon after they started working towards meeting the goal, I came across Jeffrey Kuhn’s work on designing board games for language learning (I wrote about my experience with it in detail on my blog here). After watching his presentation, I came into my class knowing more about game design and ready to learn from my students while mediating the process of game creation. It was then that I found on the website of Institute of Play the principle of iteration, which helped me shift the focus from content to experience. According to this principle, when we have an opportunity to experience something by trying it out many times and evaluating the experience in order to make changes, not only do we master the content but also think critically and look for alternatives and new strategies.

Playing any game can also be frustrating if the challenge is too much for the student and there is no real chance of achieving something. Well-designed experiences make sure that there is enough room for growth. Therefore, designing games helps us explore the competences and abilities that can be applied in other areas of our lives. When we develop a playful spirit, challenge becomes an array of possibilities rather than a problem that makes us to get stuck and give up.  In my own class, I haven’t yet found a better way to promote playfulness if not by playing with students myself.

The idea of viewing students as creators complemented another aspect of my teaching, which is teaching by generating dialogue, discussing issues, and finding solutions together. The safe space of our lessons, in which learners were encouraged to collaborate and create together, empowered them in such a way that I didn’t have to deal with discipline or boredom. All I had to do was invite them to become creators of a game and mediate it whenever they needed help to move forward. As long as they understood the task, they were able to take ownership and invest in the task. Needless to say, they were also excited to see what others thought of their games, play games that their peers created, and give their own opinions.


I did not realise until this year how drawing from what learners are most familiar with, games, could be a great way to help me understand the new challenges we face as teachers. I now accept that games are an important teaching tool which should be explored in order to develop a community of learners. What made my teens become even more motivated to learn words they needed to understand stories was the fact that they got engaged with each other through the process of creating and playing games together. They have also realised that they must become more active, and that they can count on their peers as well as me to learn more. I hope that in 2016 you, too, might look at your learners as creators instead of just game players, see for yourself what they can do, and learn to have fun in class together.


Be to others what you want others to be

Rose Bardby Rose Bard

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6.31

I didn’t use to have any confidence in myself when it came to expressing my ideas to others. It had been like that since I was a little kid. If you had asked me to talk to a peer one to one, I would do ok. I’d do even better if it was someone I knew. But if you asked me to talk in front of a class, I would be very shy. Actually, my schooling didn’t prepare me for talking in front of a group. I don’t remember school back then having us presenting stuff to the class at all. Most of the teaching was done through lectures and exercises from a textbook or board-work. Still, just providing kids the opportunity to talk in front of a class, to rehearse for the demands of their adult lives, isn’t enough. I hear students nowadays saying how awful they feel when they have to do these kinds of tasks, and how disappointed they feel about the grades they get when they do present.

But this discomfort with expressing my ideas didn’t seem to have too much of a negative impact on what I did in the classroom. I always thought that I was just a teacher and I felt comfortable just doing the teaching. I never felt the need to prove myself to my students. In fact, when I made spelling mistakes on the board–or any other mistake for that matter–and a student pointed it out, I would thank and praise them for their help and try to let them know that mistakes are part of speaking/writing in any language.

It was in 2012 that I met the wonderful people of iTDi. English for Teachers lessons were just what I felt I needed. Despite the fact that I read a lot of books on teaching and learning, academic articles and blog posts online, I was never confident to participate in conversations about teaching. The only time I dared to ask a simple questions in a teachers’ group in Yahoo, I felt totally ignored. I worried whether my question was too stupid for anyone to bother to reply. I guess many teachers out there must feel that way too. Because there are thousands and thousands of English teachers around the world and now that my situation has changed completely, I realize that I can only see a very few of them participating actively online.

But my journey into getting better at presenting my ideas really started when Vicky Loras became my mentor. After reading Vicky’s blog post in January 2013, I contacted her. In her post, Vicky showed her desire to mentor more teachers that year. Her sincerity and willingness gave me the courage to ask her to be my mentor. I told her that I wanted to develop my speaking skills because I wanted to share my journey with other teachers. Vicky suggested we meet in Skype once a week on Sundays. Sundays for me was fine, but it blew my mind the fact that Vicky would take her Sunday time to spend an hour with me. Vicky is a great listener and a great educator. We would discuss education like we were sitting in a café. She never corrected me or made me feel somehow less than her. In short, if you have the chance to be mentored by someone like Vicky you are blessed.

As soon as I felt a bit more confident, I decided to share this sense of support by inviting a former colleague to have coffee with me that same year. She had just been to Canada and I was eager to hear about a course she attended through a Fullbright scholarship. While we were sharing about our teaching and personal life, she realized I was really engaged online and said that she wished to continue learning and sharing but she wasn’t confident about using The Internet for PD or new ways of using technology in teaching. We started exchanging emails with materials, and having regular meetings in a coffee shop. It was really nice to hear about her own context. She worked, and still works, for a regular school with big groups in the private and public sector. This taught me things about a learning/teaching context I had never worked in.

Vicky always said that mentoring is not about one knowing more, it’s about learning together with and from each other. I remember when I had my first presentations online, Vicky helped me by giving tips and remembering things others had told her when she was in the same situation. She also encouraged me to take the opportunities that came my way to present and write and I know she created some of those opportunities for me too. Listening to someone who has the experience that you don’t have is very important. A mentor after all is trying to help you achieve something. Instead of doing it alone, you can have someone to walk together, think together and exchange ideas with. Because of what Vicky did for me, I’m not afraid of sharing anymore and much less to be judged by those who will read or listen to my talk. I do my best to communicate my journey to others. Vicky always praised my efforts as a teacher and a presenter. I hope Vicky is proud of me as much as I am grateful to her for all she did for me.

In fact, I wish that everyone could find themselves a mentor. And I wish potential mentors would look for mentees as Vicky opened herself up to teachers in her blog. In 2013, mentoring was a big topic and we talked about it online a lot. Nowadays, people seem to have forgotten this powerful development strategy. I am still striving to do for others what Vicky did for me.

Mentoring is still one of the backbones of my PD, and here is some of my plans for 2015/2016:

  • Continue being open to teachers online who contact me
  • Start a local group for English teachers to meet and share practice, concerns and especially to inspire each other and show PD opportunities online
  • Be more open to my own colleagues in my workplace
  • Start my M.A in Media and Technology in Education

“The role of mentors is so important, regardless of the profession one is in. Especially for us educators, having a mentor and mentoring other teachers can evolve into an amazing and creative relationship. It is as simple as talking to someone about their worries, concerns, interests and guiding them into new paths. New kinds of teaching, new studies even. Be open and help out someone who needs it!” Vicky Loras, March 2013

Beyond Teaching Life

Rose Bardby Rose Bard

I guess I’ve always felt that I had to work harder to compensate for my lack of formal education in language teaching. That has left a mark on my family. I was never really able to tell them exactly how I felt about feeling as if I didn’t have enough education. I realised based on what they had to say while I was preparing to write this post, that I have left an impression that my working harder has always been about money. It hasn’t, but that is how my family seems to see it. Or maybe that is the way we have found to convince ourselves that it was ok for me to spend all that time dedicated to work and learning. Even I am guilty of it, excusing myself with “If I didn’t need the money…”

I wouldn’t be taking this course.

I wouldn’t be working this late.

I would work less hours.

I wouldn’t be awake at this time of night studying or correcting tests.

I wouldn’t…

And yet, even if I didn’t need the money that badly, I believe I would still be doing all of it. Because it wasn’t—and isn’t even now—only about the money after all. It was, above all, about my own pride.

You see…when I was young I lacked confidence, but when the opportunity to start teaching came along, it was too good to turn down. I had just come back from England. My English was pretty good. My daughter Hanna, who is 18 now, was less than a year old. My son Sean had been born in England and was 5. I felt Sean needed to stay in touch with English. We found a way to pay for one semester of language classes, but I couldn’t pay for the next one. When I decided to cancel the course, I was asked why and the owner of the school called me in for a chat. After speaking in English with each other, the owner invited me to take a written test. I passed the test and she nudged me to take a teaching position. She offered training and a semester for me to get used to the job. One of the teachers at the school had to leave one of her groups in a few months and they needed a substitute.

That is how I ended up watching classes for a group of 9 and 10 year-old students. I also studied the materials and the school methodology. Then, when I felt comfortable, I took over the group and the original teacher observed me and gave me feedback. But before the semester ended, I felt like I wasn’t cut out for the job. I went to talk to my boss about giving up, but she showed me a petition signed by all the students in the group demanding to have me as their teacher for the next semester. I often refer back to that single moment, the moment that made me stay and pursue a career in language teaching. To live up to others’ expectation, I have always worked hard to continue learning and developing myself.

My very first methodology book came a year later. I heard that someone called David Crystal was going to give a lecture in the Federal University. He had written this wonderful book, English as a Global Language, often cited as very important for anyone in the profession to read by people taking a degree at the time. I did not even know where the university was and my husband accompanied me to the lecture. During the break, they were selling books. Penny Ur’s training book was there for a very good price. My husband agreed to buy it and we used all the money we had to get it. It was the only book I had for many years, until I could afford to start my own library. My husband was always very supportive. But even so, I could not even think of attending university until I moved to this city and I got the job I have today. And although we were faced with sudden family issues which required all our money, I was fortunate enough to be able to start a major in Education in 2008. Studying Education has broaden my view of learning and teaching. I’m graduating this year. In addition, my husband’s 9-year-health battle finally ended in victory last year. Now, we can finally look towards the future.

But the ghost is still there and it eats me up sometimes. The challenges we faced weren’t anyone’s fault, but it broke my husband’s heart to see me working so much to prove myself to others all the time. So, I guess I understand why my family expressed their views about me as a teacher in a very negative way. I have included this background story in order to frame my family’s feelings in an honourable place.

My son Emanuel said that he loves that his mom is a teacher and loves learning things with me. He even listed the things he likes doing together. For Emanuel, I’m not only his mom, but partner in crime. We paint, draw, read, write, play with doughs, investigate nature, tell and discuss stories, and above all we share our love for the English language.

My daughter Hanna stressed that my lack of time for them has always bugged her. She said that although my knowledge helped her get through school many times, and not only in English, she wished I had never become a teacher. Even though me being a teacher enabled me to help Hanna develop her academic goals, for my daughter, it was still a price too high to pay.

My son Sean understands that money has always been in short supply in our family due to my husband’s long health battle. Sean says that although he can’t really talk positively about me being a teacher, he knows that all I did was for the family.

My husband, as I mentioned above, always felt bad for me. He was my cheerleader, my support and advisor. If I wanted to give up, he encouraged me to continue. If I was tired, he would do anything to take some of the burden off my shoulders. If I felt lost, he would help me see things through. Although I didn’t believe in myself, he always assured me I had what it takes to be whatever I wanted to be. And like Emanuel, he loves the things I know and that I share with him. But, like Hanna, he misses me too. And like Sean he understands the sacrifice we’ve all had to make as a family.

Regardless of some of the negative feelings they have, my family all believe that being a teacher is a noble profession and they can’t imagine me doing anything else. They assure me that I am very dedicated and good at what I do. But at the same time, if they could have chosen it, I would never have become a teacher in the first place. I owe my family their patience, support and love. I never realised that they had suffered together with me, but totally in silence, making sure as not to make me feel worse. I owe them a great deal for who I am today, for their encouragement and respect for the professional I have become.

The Assessment Issue – Rose

Rose Bard

Assessment is A Destination – Rose Bard


Assessment should work for learners and teachers, not against them. It should be a compass showing the way rather than taking the role or image of a judge. It should point the way, not be a burden to carry. Unfortunately the latter is the most common view among teachers and learners. One too many people feel trapped instead of liberated, thus the perspective that assessment is there to help you grow is quite often not present in many classrooms and minds.

To prove to you this fact, ask your learners what assessment is, and probably they will use a lot of negative words to describe it or how they feel about it. In order to change such a view in students’ way of seeing any type of evaluation they might have to take, the teacher has to shift her own view of learning, how knowledge is constructed and therefore the very nature of assessment.

We should ask ourselves questions like: What is the purpose of assessment? Is it to categorize learners into those who fail and those who pass? Is it to help teachers see what stage of the journey their learners are in so they can prepare better lessons? Is it to punish learners for not being engaged enough during our lessons? Is it to actually help them to succeed by showing them the way?

Do you ever take the time to explain to learners what you are assessing? The criteria you are using to measure learning? Do you actually give feedback on whatever type of evaluation you chose to give? Do you go through the results with each learner?

A lot of learners complain about this. They feel it isn’t fair. They shut themselves out. They disconnect simply because they don’t understand the purpose. They feel they are trapped in the competition and labeling system. Many along the way just give up. Some may decide to make your life miserable. This might be because it’s normal to react badly to stuff as a defense mechanism. Each context is a context, but moreoften than not, that is what I have seen happening in mine. The more anxious learners are, the less involved they get in the learning process, turning the whole thing into a burden to carry. It becomes a matter of just surviving.

I take the affective side of this matter seriously, and it takes time and strategies to change students’ point of view about what assessment really is. Regarding time, don’t rush. No matter what the system wants you to believe, take plenty of time at the beginning to work on shifting those negative thoughts by teaching students how to learn and the purpose of assessing their journey.

Do not just talk about it. Create opportunities for you and your group to feel that assessment is working for you as a positive tool. Also, position yourself as a lifelong learner instead of someone who knows it all – the expert in English. And I’m not saying you don’t have to be. We long to be experts. English is our trade, so we must be at the level of proficiency that our job requires. Period. But none of us knows it all. And that is what our learners should see in front of them. A teacher is just someone some steps ahead of them, leading the way for them to get to the same point where we are or beyond it. We should hope for that. As I side story, I usually tell my learners that they might become better at English than me. They laugh, but I truly believe it. And when my mind is so tired that I slip with a spelling or put the wrong word on the board, I thank them for helping me. Be kind to yourself and to your learners. Be fair. Treat mistakes and lack of knowledge with kindness.

Our school requires formality, and formality requires us to give grades, but I really think that it is not fair to just give them a mark. Learners should be able to know what exactly we are assessing and why. From class one, I start working on error and mistakes with kindness. Analyzing errors and mistakes is a good way to help learners move forward. Spotting mistakes/errors is easy. Create any kind of evaluation and they will pop out like a big neon billboard. But what really makes assessment shift from summative to formative is the actions teachers and learners decide to take afterwards. Is the error part of the process? Is it a persistent one? What strategies can the teacher and the learner use to overcome it?

Although the literature on assessment defines summative and formative differently, and I know that in nature they are, an evaluation can be both. Summative is concerned with giving a conclusive mark indicating what the student knows and is able to do on a given test. Formative on the other hand is concerned with the quality of the learning and how that is achieved.

I often use three types of assessment: diagnostic, summative, and formative. The diagnostic assessments, though simple and informal, help me identify who knows what. The formative assessment involves for me the diagnostic stage, then further evaluation tasks followed by reflection of my own and often discussion with students about what strategies are needed to achieve a certain goal. In feedback sessions with students I ask them how they did something or what they think was the reason they didn’t achieve a particular goal.  Then, I use summative assessment because grading is the formal aspect of the system for parents and schools and they need to see it quantified.

Still I also prefer to look at how learners progress in the learning of a language a bit differently. Instead of grammar points and vocabulary, I prefer to look at it from the perspective of continuing development in the ability to communicate, and until they become more confident, critical and autonomous, assessment is not just my job, it’s everyone’s job. Assessment is not the destination. It is the process where learning is critically thought of and a new course of action is taken.


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Grammar Issue – Rose

Rose Bard

Grammar: From Knowing About It To Knowing How To Use It – Rose Bard

I used to think that presenting was the most difficult part of the lesson and I strived to make it as clear and interesting as possible when it came to grammar points. Then, once students had a lot of controlled practice, I thought they would naturally be able to use it on their own. But once they encountered the grammar point in a new situation, or context was not made clear enough for them, they wouldn’t know what they would need to use. So as you can see, focus mostly used to be on grammar and getting it right. At some point I started wondering why I couldn’t give my students more freedom to say what THEY wanted to say and help them reshape what they knew or thought they knew about how the words were put together to form sentences, paragraphs and texts.

As I learned English living in London and Arabic while living in Egypt, it was hard for me to follow that line of teaching as the way I learned languages while living abroad was different from the way I was trained to teach. Not because I had never received any formal instructions. I had. One of the first things I did was to buy a dictionary and a grammar book when I got to England. I used to wake up, have coffee and work on my grammar book on my own. I would translate word by word and fill the gaps of the exercise, then check the answer key. I would also ask people around me to teach me how to pronounce  words and sentences. I wanted to communicate to others, so I’d take any chance for that. Later on, I joined a language school. The same happened in Egypt. I had books and I counted on people around me to help me communicate.


EFL Context of Learning

In the classroom most of the interaction between teacher/students and students/students can be artificial and dull if it exists around grammar points only. Even if we make students spend a lot of time practicing grammar, and it is disconnected from what they would rather be learning to attend their needs of communication in the outside world, it would have little effect on their outcomes. By talking to my teens, I have discovered that they do a number of things outside the classroom related to English. Some of them like playing video games, chatting with other players, watching TV series, online surfing and listening to music. Some totally avoid doing it in English because they can’t deal with authentic language. And it is not uncommon for those who actually are in contact with English outside the class on a regular basis to bring their own doubts about the language and topics from outside the class , but most of the time we are so busy with our lesson plan to listen to them and use their knowledge of the world outside as a resource/material in our classes. Those moments could be great moments for learning how language works through conversation, by allowing them to bring their own subjects related to English usage.

Who has never heard about a phrase or word they heard from the movie, game or song which they were eager to talk about?

Instead of planning grammar lessons nowadays, what I do is create opportunities, or take every opportunity for language to emerge naturally and work from there. I also know that every learner is in a different point of the journey and they are the only ones able to make sense of the grammar they are learning. If you want to have a bit more control of what students produce and work from there, I would suggest using digital devices to record oral interactions and notebooks to record anything they write.

The purpose of audio recording is registering language that can be used in different tasks and for different purposes. Here is one example of how I use it with mixed-levels groups.

Once, I invited a student to have a conversation with me about the trip to an amusement park (they had been to one in the week before – it was a school trip) while the rest of the group just watched us talking. The most confident student accepted the invitation and took the hot seat. I informed the student that our conversation was going to be recorded and would be used later in a task. I tried really hard not to let the grammar police take over me and carried out the conversation as natural as possible. After the conversation, I asked the students to recall what their classmate had said about the trip. I didn’t ask them any questions. They recalled information and I wrote on the board. I wrote everyone’s contribution and then they discussed in pairs what they could notice about the sentences on the board. Back to the board we focused on form (simple past), quickly reviewed regular/irregular forms and answered any doubts they had about language and they took notes in their notebooks. The next step was to erase the sentences off the board and request them to write down the questions this time. Once they were finished, I elicited the questions and wrote again on the board making the modifications needed to make them correct. All contributions were accepted. They were not allowed to correct the sentences in their notebooks at that point. Just to listen to everyone’s contribution. Then, the next stage was for them to compare the corrected version on the board with their own, make corrections and add the contributions from others in their notebooks. Then it was time to listen to the recording and check the questions that were really asked during the interview.


Notebooks: Keeping a Record

Nowadays notebooks are an essential part of my classes. Whenever there is a speaking activity where students have to discuss a topic, add their opinions, tell an anecdote, I ask them to write it down in their notebooks first. When they write down they use more language and make more mistakes, but it is also the moment when I will walk around or they will come to my desk and we will discuss language and how it works. There are times, depending on the activity, when I will ask students to use my feedback rubric to guide them in self-discovering. I’ll try to make them think of what they already know to help them rewrite their sentences or discuss a word/phrase that they want to use but which might not be the best choice for that context. Using the notebook means to personalize learning for each student.

I really believe that language learning has to be also a personal journey even when they are studying in a group. There should be enough space in the class for each one of them to be seen as individuals with their own needs and knowledge. Students should also know that they can contribute to each other’s learning by creating the right atmosphere to become better users of the language.


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