Saturday, 24 September 2016

My two favourite bloggers

I follow my Twitter timeline pretty religiously every day. When you follow over 5000 people (nearly all teachers, by the way) you have to be selective about which links you tap or click. The two blog links I almost always follow up are those written by (surprise,surprise) my co-author Gianfranco Conti and by headteacher Tom Sherrington, who works at Highbury Grove School in London.

Here are the URLs:

gianfrancoconti.wordpress.com

headguruteacher.com

What's unique about Gianfranco's blog is its detailed level of analysis of research combined with classroom practice. Gianfranco is very knowledgeable about the scholarly field of second language acquisition and has a firm belief, based on his instincts and experience, in the skill acquisition model of language learning. Although a full-time teacher in Malaysia, he manages to be both a prolific writer of resources, most of which he shares freely on TES, an interactive website writer, as well as blogger. Gian seems to have a 48 hour day.

Although there are plenty of language teacher blogs out there which share experience and neat lesson ideas, only Gianfranco's analyses and justifies classroom practices in such detail. Some readers will not agree with his prescriptions, particularly those who dislike the skill-building view of language learning, but all should find his descriptions and analyses interesting and challenging.

Gianfranco is not frightened to criticise poor practice, bad textbooks, dislikes time-wasting tasks and tech for the sake of tech. He is interested in the latest information coming from brain research and writes a good deal about memory function and what this implies for language learning. I find that much of what he writes chimes with my own experience, even if he leans marginally more towards 'focus on form', as the scholars call it, than me.

Gianfranco covers plenty of ground: teaching listening and reading, skill acquisition theory, feedback, grammar teaching, translation, metacognition, thinking skills, speaking, spontaneity and much more. His blogs are clearly structured, written in an academic style, and nearly always provide reasoned arguments for specific classroom techniques.

If you haven't read Gianfranco's blog, I urge you to do so. You'll learn a lot.


Tom Sherrington's blog is not for language teachers, but it interests me for its general educational content. Tom writes frequently (always a plus in a blog) and his posts are almost always based on his own rich experience both as a teacher and head teacher. He covers a lot of ground: assessment, behaviour, curriculum, ability grouping, differentiation, leadership, teaching and learning, Ofsted, individual lessons and much more.

Modesty, knowledge, depth of wisdom, integrity and passion all shine through in Tom's posts. He often relates his writing to what is happening in his school, sharing practice, helping other teachers and leaders with their thinking. There is great clarity in his writing and a degree of passion when needed, for example over the recent grammar school debate.

A post I read this morning from January 2015 contains a few typical gems. Here is one I'd pick out, useful for anyone having some discipline issues with a class. I'll borrow it in full:

"For some teachers, from time to time, a particular class is the key source of stress: the behaviour isn’t right; it feels like a perpetual cycle of negativity: they don’t do what you want; you have to be the arch-enforcer and the atmosphere is horrible. This can happen if you weren’t firm enough early on or when you get ‘sanction fatigue’ in relation to issues (eg persistent talking or calling out) that ought to seem minor. Resetting is really powerful in this situation. You can do this at the start of a term or at any time you choose. I’d recommend being very explicit with the class about how you feel (or a selected sub-group if that is more appropriate) :

“Right – tools down – before we go on, we’re going to re-establish our basic expectations. I’m not enjoying these lessons as much as I’d like because the persistent low-level disruption is spoiling the atmosphere; you are lovely people but there is just too much talking and I want that to change. I need you listening and when I say ‘silent working’ that’s exactly what I mean; from today, I want you to respond to that and I will go as far as ..(insert sanction)… if you can’t manage it. OK?”

You re-claim the territory; re-establish your expectations and give yourself a clean slate; a chance to be on the front-foot and to be positive. When you get the atmosphere you want – tell them. “Thank you. This is lovely. This is what I’ve been asking for.” From then on you can follow-up on the sanctions more consistently and assertively, setting higher standards than you’d managed before. It’s a huge relief. It will last for a period and you may need to reset repeatedly before it is fully embedded."

Do have a look at Tom's archives, especially if you have an interest in general teaching and learning, and leadership.




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