Focus on ESL

This month the focus is on resources for teaching English to non-native speakers.

For some time, I have followed Larry Ferlazzo’s websites of the day and the resources he shares.  Larry is a Sacremento, California based teacher who publishes “best of” lists on any topic – there are hundreds of these lists.  He has written for New York Times Edutopia and Education Week Teacher, amongst others.

In 2016, the British Council and BBC’s Teaching English site published a post by Larry, in which he names his “best of the best”  web tools and resources for teaching ESL.  Larry maintains that it is still up-to-date.

Last week, his newest post,  The Top Blogs and Resource Sites For Teachers Of English Language Learners was published by The Council and BBC.

It’s well worth browsing!

Posted in ESL

Integrating learning design research and practice

I want to recommend Matt Bower’s 2017 book Design of technology-enhanced learning; integrating research and practice (Emerald Publishing).

The focus is on design thinking and learning design, and how they can be enhanced by the use of technology. Matt delivers a solid analysis of the evidence-based research on educational technology.  He provides useful suggestions and examples for practice at the “coalface”, that is, in the classroom.  This book outlines the underpinnings for good pedagogical practice and for designing exemplary learning experiences using Web 2.0, social networking, mobile learning and virtual worlds.

What makes a good online tool?

Tanner Higgins, Director of Commonsense Education, posts a paper, What Makes a Good EdTech Tool Great that is, well, common sense!  With experience in editing many reviews of online tools, he outlines seven points that developers would be wise to heed and cites examples of good practice:

  1. Listen to teachers and students
  2. Identify a real, solvable problem
  3. Do an exhaustive competitive analysis
  4. Create clear, concrete messaging
  5. Focus on learning design
  6. Make privacy a priority
  7. Give teachers and students agency

It’s worth a read!

Google, FaceBook and you

With the tech topic of the fortnight – the use of Facebook data to manipulate the American elections –  dismaying even those in the industry, I have been sharing the article  Are you ready? Here is all the data Facebook and Google have on you  (Curran, The Guardian, 3 March)  with friends who are not knowledgeable about technological concerns, security, privacy.  It’s worth reading, and sharing.

Elements of good practice professional learning

It’s always good to confirm what we know about our own learning!   Although there is nothing new in this article, For PD, the days of one-and-done are dead and gone! (eSchool News, September 2017) it is a sensible summary of good practice and steers away from the one-session-fixes-all approach.  We know that approach does not work, and usually, we know what works for us.  Four best practices are suggested:

  • Collaborative learning
  • Creative engagement
  • Goals that feel important
  • Online access

Lloyd and Cochrane (2006) in their paper Celtic knots; interweaving the elements of effective teacher professional development in  ICT, suggest that effective professional learning relies on four elements, which are said to be interdependent:

  • Context – relevance and immediacy
  • Community – collaborations
  • Time – prolonged, ongoing and sustained and as well, just-in-time and providing adequate time
  • Personal growth – giving the learner opportunities for increasing knowledge, skills and understanding

There are definite correlations with the eSchool article.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (AITSL) 2014 report Designing professional learning is aimed at producing the “how to” of professional learning.  The report provides guidance on designing professional learning that suits the context in which you are working, with an over-riding view that:

“Research has found that job-embedded professional learning is proving  to be more effective in improving teacher practice in schools than many of the ‘traditional’ external professional learning opportunities. This means a shift towards professional learning that is primarily school-based and focused on improving teacher practice, where schools become learning communities and professional learning is part of teachers’ everyday work. This change creates a need for a greater understanding and awareness of learning design.”


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2014) Designing professional learning. Vic: AITSL. Accessed from:

Drake, C. (2017). For PD, the days of one-and-done are dead and gone! eSchool News. Accessed from:

Lloyd, M and Cochrane, J. (2006) Celtic knots: Interweaving the elements of effective teacher professional development in ICT. Australian Educational Computing 21(2), p.16. Accessed from:






After attending an excellent presentation by Kellie Britnell, Program Manager, Outreach and Education, from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, I explored the resources on their website.  What an amazing job they do with resources. – games, videos, stories and activities for all age groups, for schools, for parents, for women, for the community.  

Their remit is wide!  Complaints about cyberbullying, inappropriate online materials, harassment and more are handled by the office.

We learned about the challenges of streaming video – short term but wide exposure –  and location-based apps, many of which are explained on the website.

The Office partners with social media providers – Facebook, Google, Instagram, and others – and can negotiate to take down offensive material.

From their website:

“The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner works cooperatively with its social media partners to remove cyberbullying material targeted toward an Australian child. All of our Tier scheme partners are recognised for the safety measures they have in place. These safety measures include:

  • terms of use that prohibit cyberbullying material being posted on the service;
  • a complaints mechanism which facilitates removal of cyberbullying material;
  • a nominated person that the Office liaises with in regards to complaints…”

This is a site that all schools, educators and parents should visit.  It’s well worth exploring in depth.

Evaluation toolkit

I have been thinking about how to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of a large school inquiry-based project, and what methodologies will be used.  Here’s a great starting point!   Developed by Western Sydney University’s School of Education and the Department of Education’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, this 2016 paper, Evaluative thinking toolkit, from the NSW Department of Education Futures Learning, is a concise summary of the methods used to collect and analyse data.   It summarises the principles and methodology of:

  1. Focus groups
  2. Interviews
  3. Most significant change
  4. Photo voice and photo elicitation
  5. Student products
  6. Student surveys
  7. Video

This toolkit is such a good starting point for learning about evaluation.

Action research workshop

Last week, I was privileged to attend a one-off workshop on action research and mentoring.  Designed by Sydney University’s Department of Education and delivered by Dr Debra Talbot, the course dug deep into the underpinnings of this research methodology.  Practitioners embarking on an action research project:

  • recognise that there is a local problem and desires improvement
  • research knowledge about the problem from external sources
  • formulate an inquiry question that is specific
  • collect data within the local context
  • design a method of intervention
  • reflects and evaluate
  • bring others together to validate and collaborate

Debra discussed the principles through the work of Professor Stephen Kemmis, Charles Sturt University and Susan Groundwater-Smith. She presented strategies for working with teachers on their action research projects, planning the questions and collecting and analysing the data, modelling the strategies throughout the workshop. 

We used case studies to practise collecting data by classroom observation; we observed and discussed the challenges of working with interview data.  

As well as links to the grounded research underpinning this methodology, the take-home for me was that rigorous planning is vital, and getting the research question right is, perhaps, the hardest part. 

Debra outlined characteristics and principles of good practice in mentoring:

  • One-to-one mentoring relationship
  • Likely to be novice mentored by expert although equitable is also possible
  • Similarities with clinical supervision
  • Most importantly, it can serve to transform both partners in the mentoring process

This was a condensed workshop, custom-tailored.  Sydney University delivers an Action Research two-module 5 x 2 hour (each module) course, endorsed by NESA and addressing Australian Professional Teaching Standards.

Kemmis, S. (2009). Action research as a practice-based practice. Educational Action Research 17(3):463-474

Project-based learning, problem-based learning – what’s what!

Is there a difference between problem-based learning and project-based learning?  I found this post from John Larmer, in the Edutopia blog, a good explanation of the similarities and differences between project-based learning and problem-based learning.  Here is his summary:

The author explains that in each, the essential elements of “gold standard” project-based learning are present.

How useful it would be to have a scaffold to help design the task!  You might like to explore the Global Digital Citizenship Foundation’s solution fluency which provides a step-by-step guide using the 6 Ds process – define, discover, dream, design, deliver, debrief.

Learning Styles – a Myth?

What is your learning style? Kinesthetic, auditory, visual?  This post from Quartz –  Kinesthetic no more: You may think you learn better in a certain way. You actually don’tdebunks the notion of learning styles.  Interesting!   What does this mean for the plethora of publications and training courses built around the concept?

A more recent Quartz blog post states that “the concept of different ‘learning styles’ is one of the greatest neuroscience myths”.   Supported by evidence from several papers, the author suggests that we all fundamentally learn in a similar way and in spite of a “thriving industry devoted to such guidebooks”, there is little evidence to prove the hypothesis.  It’s not surprising – the theory always seemed a little simplistic to me.