What do you want? SMART Goal Setting to Start Term

Another lap of the track! Here we go again!

Starting back in an English class, and among the first question I’ll ask my students will be “what do you want to get from your time here?”

Do you want to improve your speaking to survive a trip abroad?

Do you want to prepare for a specific exam?

Do you want to improve your written English for business correspondence?

Do you want to improve listening skills to be able to understand films and TV series?



People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily – Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker.

Motivation isn’t usually a problem for learners at the start of term, fresh from a summer break, well rested, falling back into routine. But fast forward a few months and this spark often starts to dim, and numbers in adult classes tend to gradually drop.

Why? Well, picture a road trip. Setting off on a journey with no destination or even points of interest to stop at on the way may seem exciting at first, but people soon get tired of a lack of direction. From English Teacher

So as suggested in Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord’s excellent book From English Teacher to Learner Coach, clear goal setting is key to sustain motivation levels once the honeymoon period has worn off.

“What do you want?” “I want to learn English”. This is a pre-requisite, but it doesn’t count as an effective goal. Instead, we should encourage learners to set their own goals using SMART principles, revisit and adapt them at given intervals throughout the year, and most importantly: ensure that what learners are doing day to day is drawing them closer and closer to their stated goals.

What does SMART stand for?


  • Well defined.
  • Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project.


  • How to know when you have achieved your goal.
  • How is it measured?

Agreed Upon

  • Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be (learner, classmate, teacher).
  • Important to take into account current level, attitude and other life commitments.


  • Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time.
  • i+1 – the next step up on the ladder, one at a time. There’s nothing more demoralising than an unattainable goal.


  • Setting a time limit for achieving the goal, when it can be measured and then taken forward.
  • Too long, and the goal is too far away. If there is one big goal for the end of the academic year, split it into three more manageable chunks – one per term.

What might a SMART goal look like?

Adapted from From English Teacher to Learner Coach, with a few of my own ideas thrown in, this is an example from an intermediate student:

Specific – Telling stories with more accurate use of tenses – at least 90% accuracy.

Measurable – Records himself telling an anecdote today, then at weekly intervals after practice. Correct tenses can be presented as a % of the total.

Agreed – The teacher agrees that this is within reach, and it is a priority to be more easily understood.

Realistic – 100% precision in all the narrative tenses isn’t realistic…yet (see growth mindset for more on YET).

Time-bound – The target is to reach 90% correct in four weeks time. A new SMART goal can then be set, regarding either narrative tenses or any other aspect of his English level (but not all of them at once!)

SMART teacher, SMART learners

Of course, we can apply the SMART framework not only to our learners, but also to ourselves, with any aspect of professional development or hobbies and interests outside of teaching. It’s not just learners who can lose motivation in the hamster wheel of routine; teachers also need to see progress to maintain enthusiasm.

I should heed my own advice and put down SMART some goals for learning Russian in the coming term. My own learning started off enthusiastically and has given me plenty of fresh insights into learning a foreign language, as I wrote about in a previous blog. But as is usually the case with something new, I’ve plateaued over the last couple of months, and my Russian book has gone from living open on the table to gathering dust on a shelf over summer.

Doing this not only sets a good example for learners, but can also expose us first-hand to some of the challenges in using SMART goals.

“What do you want?” is a good first step. SMART goal setting can help us move forward from there.

Have a great (and SMART) academic year everyone!

Any questions or comments, please leave a message below or send me an e-mail. Thanks.



8 Things I Learned on Adrian Underhill’s ‘From Pronunciation to Storytelling…’ Course

I’m just back home in Riga after a fortnight at Bell Teacher Campus, Cambridge, where I took the ‘From pronunciation to storytelling: a complete approach to comfortable intelligibility’ course with Adrian Underhill along with 13 others from around the world.

Other teacher courses were running at the same time, and our 21 weekly core course hours were supplemented with other workshops, talks and plenaries with other ELT dons such as Chaz Pugliese and Silvana Richardson.

It’s always a danger going to courses and conferences, getting giddy with the new ideas for a while and then dropping back into old routines. The length of this course presents another danger (I experienced the same with the IATEFL conference in 2015): such a saturation of ideas that later on it’s difficult to recall just one, let alone put any into practice. So now’s a good time to sit down, go through my notes and draw out some key lessons to start running with. So what are the main points I take away?

1) The phonemic chart is more than a wall decoration

This picked up from where I left off at IH Toruń’s teacher training day in March, where Adrian’s plenary brought his chart to life (yes, he invented it). Used correctly, it’s NOT about learning symbols and writing out sentences in phonemes (how I miss Delta Module 1), but using proprioception to feel what’s happening in and around the mouth to make the correct sounds. The chart is laid out as a map to support this discovery (I’ll be back on this in detail in a future post – the first Mouth Gym session can expect company very soon). So when I’m back in class in September, the chart’s going up at the front of the room. I’ve even bought myself a telescopic pointer!

phonemic chart.jpg

2) Drilling isn’t the most effective way to teach pron

I say, you repeat, but the ears aren’t necessarily in tune with the mouth. If you don’t understand the intricate positioning and movement of the four ‘buttons’ (mouth, jaw, tongue, voice) to make the sounds, how can you recreate the sound? It’s like hearing a recording of a four piece band and trying to play the tune back instantly.

Instead, by teaching pron physically rather than cognitively, we can teach students exactly what each of the four ‘instruments’ are doing, have them experiment and experience themselves, and use the chart to demonstrate. This doesn’t mean that modelling has no place; but learners need to know how to produce the sound themselves.

4 piece band.jpg

3) Pronunciation is in everything, so we should be teaching it with everything

Speaking? Obviously.

Reading? You pronounce the words internally.

Writing? As you read it back…(see above)

Grammar and vocabulary? Remembering structures and words often comes back to our internal voice sounding them out in our heads.

So after introducing the phonemic chart bit by bit, it should be used to complement everything else we do in class. There are many more activities we can do with pron other than drilling, as I’ll get to in another post.

4) Native speaker = better teacher? 

I’ve written about this before, but it will still be the case in September that learners specifically request a native speaker over a local one. Two nuggets from this course:

1 – The vast majority of the teachers at the Bell Teacher Campus had a first language other than English, and were giving up part of their summer to improve their teaching skills. Commitment and enthusiasm should be well above passport on a learner’s teacher shopping list (or an employer’s, for that matter).

2 – Just because we (native speakers) know how to do something, it doesn’t mean we know how to teach it. It’s more important to be aware of how we make certain sounds, and I hope all of my course mates feel ready to share that in their teaching now, no matter what their mother tongue.

5) Don’t take concentration for granted

It was the first time since Delta Module 2 in August 2015 that I’d been a behind-the-desk learner for longer than two consecutive days…and despite having the honour of being taught by one of the most captivating trainers in the ELT world in Adrian Underhill, it wasn’t always easy!

I was more switched on some days than others, when although still interested I was just plain mentally exhausted. Unlike me in Cambridge, many of our younger learners come to lesson after a long day at school and not voluntarily, so it’s no wonder they get lethargic. We could even expect it and be proactive, such as planning in plenty of small group work and moving around (these both woke me up during the course!)


6) Be present

This is for life inside and outside the classroom. Adrian spoke about this in his workshop on developing empathy and mindfulness, but more importantly, he demonstrated it throughout the course, whether in the classroom or in the pub on group excursions.

It’s easier said than done, but valuable communication is about complete focus on who you’re speaking with, leaving all other distractions out of mind (including putting your phone away!) Teaching is at its root a shared communication between teacher and learner(s), so being present in turn improves teaching practice.

How? Eye contact (not creepy), focus, putting your attention onto the speaker rather than waiting to be enticed. Oh look, my girlfriend just got in from work, started chatting and I’m glued to my laptop writing this. A long way to go!

7) Be behind your words

Again, a lesson for life, not just for teaching. Expressing yourself effectively is paramount in anything: explaining something in class, giving a presentation, buying a bus ticket, making small talk in a queue. The list goes on!

Adrian gave us many tips on how to speak from the heart rather than the head and attracting listeners’ attention, particularly during the second part of the course on storytelling. Here are a few simple ones:

1 – Speak slower than you think, and “get lippy” (exaggerate lip movement a little!)

2 – Pause for effect – leave people space to think, let your words sink in.

3 – Stretch out the stressed words in the sentence.

8) Lead (and learn) by example

The final words of this post should go to the one and only Adrian Underhill himself:

Don’t waste energy trying to persuade others who appear not to be interested. Start with a learning group of one, be enthusiastic, keep it up, and leave the door open for others to join you”.

I’ll be back to visit some of these ideas in more detail once I’ve had a chance to put them into practice. In the meantime, please get in touch with any questions or comments!


Creative ELT Uses of Simple Tech (webinar, 30th June 2017)

xtern.ruBelow are my slides and a brief(-ish) write up of what I spoke about at the xtern.ru’s International Online Summer School for English Teachers on 30th June. Always pleased to be involved in these webinar events – great way to share ideas and experiences without the added time and expense of travelling to conferences.

Tech is of course such an ingrained part of everyday lives that we take it for granted. How long are you awake before you check your phone (its alarm might even wake you up)? How many ways do you communicate with friends and family? How many of those ways rely on technology? When you take a step back and think, it’s actually quite staggering how much tech we use on a daily basis.

So is the outside world reflected in the classroom? In my case, it certainly hadn’t been before this year. I wouldn’t say I was ever a technophobe, someone who dislikes tech and doesn’t want to use it, but it certainly bewildered and confused me, so I was reluctant to frustrate myself by opening my classroom door to this monster. So rest assured, all the tech tools I suggest will be very simple and accessible to even the greenest ‘techy’.

So why did I start including more tech-based tasks in my English lessons? The learners benefit!

 1.  The English lesson and the world outside it should be mutually useful.

There’s no need for English lessons to lag behind the rest of society in a time warp: books, pens and paper everywhere, whereas most people’s homes and offices became tech-heavy decades ago.

For younger learners, we should also be teaching them useful life skills along with English language. Incorporating simple tech into ELT kills two birds with one stone, and presents the language in the digital forms they are more likely to use in the future.

Of course, we can’t expect every classroom to be kitted out with a tablet or laptop per child and an interactive whiteboard, so the uses I’ll suggest are more apt for home tasks using an Internet connection and any simple device.

2. Interaction possibilities

Learners enjoy interacting with other learners, sharing knowledge and experiences through English.

Using tech widens the potential number of interactions to billions of people worldwide. An Internet connection is the only requisite to be able to connect with other English speakers across the world, so lessons should include tech to allow this to happen.

Humans are social creatures, as Atul Gawande’s quote on slide 8 expresses, and teachers can use tech to tap into that.

3. Motivation

This is a key ingredient in anything we do. In this experiment by psychologist Dan Ariely (slide 10), we see how effort and output decrease when the work produced has no lasting purpose.

Like the participants in the study, most learners will not work hard at something just for the sake of it. Technology can help us to tick two crucial boxes to motivate learners: making work that is long lasting and that has purpose. Long lasting because storing things online archives them much more effectively than using paper (look through your 2010 Facebook posts, for instance), and purposeful because the Internet provides a wider audience than is available in any one classroom.

Tech doesn’t have to replace teachers, but if we can harness it and use it well, it can greatly improve our students’ learning experiences and drive to improve.

1 – Blog

I used my blog to publish a collaborative writing project by my C2 learners. Following several weeks of looking at different aspects of culture, they each chose a different aspect of their own culture in Latvia and contributed a section to the class piece. The final product certainly taught me a lot about Latvian culture.

Of course, we could have produced this with pen and paper. But knowing beforehand that the work would be published online and reposted on the IH Riga Facebook page (and consequently by IH World, which was great), the learners knew that the audience would be much wider than if I’d just stuck it up on the classroom wall.

Using a blog as a public display is really effective actually, and increases the sense of purpose that is so important in finding the motivation to produce something. I have a ‘By Students’ section on my blog site for exactly this reason.

2 – Email

As I said, there is nothing complex about the tech I’m using in class!

Email is a great way to bring the age-old classic of international penfriends into the 21st Century, and save a lot of time waiting for the next round of correspondence to arrive, which means many more rounds and much more English written and read.

Once you’ve found a partner school (through the Cambridge Penfriends project or personal contacts), teachers can communicate directly and set a theme for the round of emails, making it a very educational cultural exercise too. Moreover, speaking from experience, it’s great to connect to a fellow professional in another country, which really increases teacher motivation that can only transfer on to the learners.

3 – Google doc

I used this for a critical reading exercise, having learners use IELTS writing criteria to assess a transcript of Donald Trump’s speech to mark Black History Month (then posted some highlights on the blog, actually).

Again, this could be done with pen and paper, but the format of a Google doc makes it much more interactive between teacher and student: instead of waiting for the next lesson to take in their corrections and comments and give it back the lesson after, I could comment on the Google doc immediately after them and shorten this feedback loop considerably.

It’s beauty in it’s simplicity: upload a document to Google Drive, get your learners’ email addresses and send them an invite to edit the document. During the webinar, we also discussed other possible uses for a google doc:

  • Collaborative writing project
  •  Peer-to-peer correction

4 – Twitter

It’s not something you’ll find in a traditional textbook, but understanding and writing tweets is a practical way in which classroom English isn’t always in tune with what’s happening outside its four walls. Speaking of interaction, there were 319 million Twitter users as of the end of 2016, which exposes learners to a fair few other English speakers.

So how could Twitter be incorporated into lessons? Having learners bring in their Tweet of the week and explaining why; learning about shorthand English, abbreviations and ellipsis; having learners summarise something in the form of a Tweet in fewer than 140 characters.

5 – Edurio

edurio.com is a Latvian startup company based just down the road here in Riga, Latvia, specialising in online surveys for students, transforming the data into simple graphs so action can be taken to improve. As well as being used in hundreds of Latvian schools, it is also expanding globally, with flagship partnerships currently underway in the UK and South Africa.

By using Edurio’s pre-made questions and/or creating your own, you can send learners, parents and other teachers specific questions on their opinions and experiences. All answers are anonymous, so people are free to express themselves honestly and openly.

As I’ve described in a previous post, Edurio can be an invaluable tool in both Needs Analysis and end of course evaluation for learners, by finding out key insights straight from the horse’s mouth, rather than relying on prediction and intuition. It also has the potential to reset the class dynamic, in that learners are encouraged to assess and take responsibility for their own learning, rather than be a passive consumer of the teacher’s decisions.

If the sample size is large enough, it’s also a really useful tool to be able to compare classes and teachers, and provide guidance for where time and resources should be spent to improve learners’ experiences.

Any further ideas or questions, please leave a comment below!

Implementing Mindset Theory in the Classroom and the Staff Room

Notes (slide number in brackets) from IH Online Conference webinar, 19th May 2017.


  • (3) Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck.
  • Result of decades of research on achievement and success.
  • (4) Summary of the key characteristics of growth and fixed mindset. I will refer back to this theory throughout the sections on practical tips.


  • (5) GRAPH Switching to a growth mindset can change student confidence and attitudes.
  • (6) GRAPH Switching to a growth mindset can improve student performance.
  • (7, 8) I applied Mindset Theory to my feedback in my previous job in Albacete, Spain in the 2015/2016 academic year, with positive results on student attitudes and subsequent performance. I wrote about this in the November/December issue of IATEFL Voices. 

HOW? Part 1 – Classroom

  1. (10) Feedback

(11) ##Highlight EFFORT, FAILURE, CRITICISM on table##

  • I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s well worth bringing mindset theory into your classroom. So how? One very simple and easy way is through *feedback*.
  • So what does growth mindset-focused feedback focus on?(12) 1 – EFFORT, rather than talent.
  • We often give talent-orientated praise by accident, but even if it’s positive, it can be really damaging in the long term. Promotes laziness and a belief in natural ability over hard work.
  • Research supports this.
  • 2 – PROCESS or STRATEGY, rather than result.
  • This can be positive and negative. It means that students will know exactly how they arrived to a certain result, and therefore how they can make changes to arrive to a better result.
  • Just a grade is useless. It tells you nothing specific on how to improve next time.
  • 3 – Use the word YET with negative feedback. Three letters can transform motivation.
  • No hope → There is another chance in the future.

(13) ##Participant work## – 6 feedback comments. Which 3 foster growth, which 3 foster fixed? (14 – answers) 

2. (15) De-stigmatising mistakes

(16) ##Highlight FAILURE on table##

(17) – Setting the bar a little too high now and again.

  • Krashen’s i plus 1, opening Ss to future steps, encouraging the effort and no negative reinforcement for failing.
  • (18) – Foster a general attitude. In my classroom. Ss will gradually become less afraid of failure, more afraid of not trying.
  • Practical application – poster in my classroom. 

3. (19) Goal setting

(20) ##Highlight INTELLIGENCE, OTHER PEOPLE’S SUCCESS on table##

  • Every student has a different goal and level. But feeling of wading through the swamp of EFL an making little forward progress fosters the impression that ‘I’m just no good at English’ i.e. intelligence is innate and not improvable, and may bring about jealousy as they look up from the swamp they are struggling through to see classmates flying by overhead.
  • (21) Ss often feel they don’t make progress because they haven’t followed the SMART rules of goal-setting…Sports Psychology section of A-Level PE and Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord’s ‘English Teacher to Learner Coach’.
  • SMART ## Participant work ## – What does each letter stand for? (22 – answers)
  • (23) Practical application of SMART – New Year’s/Term’s Resolutions with SMART goals. 
  • (24) Growth Journal. Level increases in baby steps. Ss they can progress and intelligence can change when they see this in action. By the end of the month I will be better able to…

HOW? Part 2 – Staff room

1. (25) Teachers’ beliefs on intelligence

(26) ##Highlight INTELLIGENCE on table##

  • (27) Before we can hope for growth mindset among out students, we must demand it from ourselves and believe that students are in charge of their own intelligence.
  • “I can’t teach young children”, “I can’t teach Upper Intermediate and above”. Many teachers won’t leave their own comfort zone but expect learners to. 
  • Teaching = setting an example. Ss will mirror the teacher’s convictions. This could mean learning a language – a key advantage a non-native teacher has over natives. More on that issue here

2. (28) Observations and PDIs

(29) ##Highlight FAILURE, CRITICISM on table##

  • (30) The resilience and ‘bounce backability’ we hope for from our students isn’t always mirrored in our own attitudes to feedback.
  • Problem 1 – Don’t practice what we preach. Not the right example for Ss, even if they don’t find out. For instance, do you choose a difficult class to be observed and try hard to improve it with the feedback (growth mindset), or do you pick an easy class and hide from any possible criticism, and any possible improvement (fixed mindset)?
  • (31) Problem 2 – Our teaching doesn’t improve if we don’t take in criticism and make alterations for the better. Ss – Don’t get an evolving and improving teacher. Teacher – Stagnation. Disenchantment with teaching profession. 

3. (32) Attitudes to colleagues

(33) ##Highlight INTELLIGENCE, OTHER PEOPLE’S SUCCESS on table##

1Healthier team atmosphere

  • (34) Imagine atmosphere where anyone’s success is perceived as a threat e.g. a student’s comments to management that they are really enjoying the class. Fosters poisonous atmosphere.
  • Instead – celebrate others’ successes. As Growth Mindset believes that ability is not fixed, others’ success means a chance to find out specifics of what they did and try to incorporate it into your own approach e.g. new activities, classroom routines.

2 – (35) Management — Teachers and New — Experienced staff relationships.

  • Fixed Mindset – Born leaders, born followers. The managers have the gift, the teachers should follow.
  • Growth Mindset – Anyone could rise up the ladder if they wanted to and then put in the time and effort.
  • So instead of a top-down hierarchy, foster a co-operative system, where managers are there to make decisions, but everyone’s input is valued. First year teachers have something to teach 30-year veterans of EFL from their unique perspective, as long as the veteran believes that their ability is still malleable. Visa versa too, although this is already the status quo.
  • Practical application – staff meetings, mentoring schemes, peer-to-peer observations.

3 Ways to Beat Exam* Anxiety

*Also applicable to other high anxiety situations: marathon, job interview, first date etc.

It’s prime exam season, and the mind must be in tune with the brain for results to reflect knowledge. But psychology is not yet mainstream in teaching and teacher training. We teachers are big on the ‘what’ (i.e. knowledge), and at best skim over the ‘how’. This should change on a global scale, but I’ll start in my own lessons and here on my blog.

So what exactly do I mean by ‘how someone thinks’? Educating self-awareness on mindset: belief that intelligence can be improved, post-failure resilience, focus on process not results, others’ success as a motivation not a threat. Another example (and today’s topic!): techniques to break through the wall of exam stress to perform at optimal level. My Year 9 exam class requested this content during a recent Edurio survey, so this post is a summary of what I’ll integrate into lessons over the next month.

What’s the problem?

Back a few years to my A-Level P.E. course’s sports psychology content, and a graph comparing stress to performance. This refers to sports performance, but it can be applied to anything we do. The Riga Marathon is 2 weeks away, and the mind must be in tune with the body for times to reflect fitness; the mind must also be in tune for exam results to reflect knowledge.

Inverted U theory

To get to the top of the U and get the best possible exam result with the available knowledge (NB this is no substitute for studying!), we need to facilitate a shift to the right for the under cooked, and a shift to the left for the overcooked.

I’d argue that most students get too far to the right on exam day and experience ‘strong anxiety and impaired performance’ or worse, so most of these techniques will be practical ways to shift left on the graph and perch nicely on that peak of ‘Optimal Performance’.

The problems are psychological, but all solutions are physiological. When we understand that the body is a (complex) machine, we can set about tweaking the wiring and pushing the right buttons to get everything running smoothly. In this case, our enemies are a rise in heart rate (HR) and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which combine to shut down the frontal lobe of the brain and cause clouded thinking.

What can we do?

1. Power poses

Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, has researched how holding a ‘power pose’ for just two minutes before a stressful situation (find a private space to do it in!) reduces cortisol levels and increases testosterone, leading to an increased sensation of power and confidence; vital for that shift left on the Inverted U.

This comes from evolution: animals adopt certain postures, making themselves look bigger and stronger, to stave off threats. However, you’re not tricking yourself into feeling confident with power poses, as is the case with repeating a mantra or posting a meme; the hormones released into the bloodstream that create this genuine feeling. Here are three power poses Professor Cuddy recommends:

The Wonder Woman



ceo pose

The Victory

Victory pose

See Amy Cuddy’s full TED Talk here.

2. Techniques to Decrease Heart Rate

A moderate increase in heart rate can improve focus and motivation, but high elevation in stressful situations is really not useful. Many scientific studies have found that elevated HR impairs the frontal lobe of the brain, which contains most of our dopamine-sensitive neurones, reponsible for attention and short-term memory.

frontal lobe

Regarding the Inverted U, an elevated HR pushes us further and further to the right on the graph, so we should implement some techniques to lower HR:

Option A. Deep breathing

Take a breath for 5-8 seconds, hold it for 3-5 seconds, exhale for 5-8 seconds. Exhale completely and repeat.

Option B. Splash yourself with cold (ice if possible!) water

This simulates the dive reflex, which slows down metabolism and heart rate.

3. Pre-mortem

Also known as prospective hindsight, this concept is designated to psychologist Gary Klein and has been used in business for years (education is always a bit slow to catch up!). You look ahead, predict everything that could go wrong, then come back to the present to solve the problems while you still can.

In our case, students should reflect on their likely weaknesses in the exam, and divise specific study strategies to overcome these. This is best done a few days or weeks before the exam in question rather than the night before. This can shift us left on the Inverted U, as possible problems will have been dealt with rather than just worried about.

This TED Talk ellaborates on this and explores other techniques that could be useful:

What do you think? Which techniques do you use or teach?

Please leave a comment!

Exam Prep Meets Reality: Dear Mayor Bernabéu…

During my “Making Writing Real” webinar presentation at the SkyEng online conference in March, I discussed five ideas to make writing in lessons a more motivating activity by writing for an external audience (not just the teacher!) and doing useful, everyday tasks.

I received several comments in the live chat box that this philosophy is all well and good, but it can’t apply to exam classes. After a few weeks of reflection, I must respectfully disagree.

In fact, the added motivation beyond satisfying exam criteria is a real boost for the learners, and reminds them of the practical application of the exam skills. The exam topic might be boring, but the preparation doesn’t have to be. Motivation problems for writing don’t disappear just because an exam is standing over the students like an ogre, and two I mentioned in the webinar are applicable: having no real reader, just the teacher and a lack of interaction.

So in my Year 9 exam preparation class here at IH Riga, Latvia, I recently coupled an exam task (writing a short letter) to reality (sending the letter to other people). The topic was an Easter drum festival we’d looked at in Tobarra, Spain, which I attended five times while living nearby. After editing the letters together, I sent them off to Tobarra’s mayor Pio Bernabeu, as well as Jose Luis, the Head of Studies at the local high school, whose students had provided us with an excellent informative video we had used in class:


Here are some extracts from the letters I emailed over to Spain:

I cannot understand how it is possible to play drums for 104 hours.” – Kristina

It is very unusual and I have never seen anything like this.” – Fredrik

It was a really interesting video in which we understood how this festival starts and traditions of this festival.” – Veronika

I consider that it is very interesting when cities have their own traditions, and features, which are observed by every citizen.” – Ilya

…although people who are sleeping or relaxing at home might become very annoyed by loud drums.” – Eriks

I and my friends want to learn the melodies from the video like ‘la zapatata’.” – Vlad

If I could, I would like to visit this festival in Tobarra village, because it would be a new experience for me and I think I would not spend my time in vain.” – Daniel

I want to know something new about it, not by reading sites on the Internet, but by asking locals. Also, I want to make international friends.” – Polina

Real readers, not just the teacher (me)CHECK (Mayor Pio, Jose Luis, his students).

Many levels of interactionCHECK (with me to correct the letters, with the village of Tobarra and its English learners – see next section)

The responses

1. Mayor Pio left a long thank you message on his official Facebook page on 24th April (in Spanish – but Google translate gets the basic message across!), thanking the learners and extending an official invite to the festival next Easter:

‘I want to express that we await you next year with open arms, Tobarra’s doors are open to you, and I’m sure you’ll be made welcome by all of Tobarra’s citizens, as we would love to show you our traditions.’

This provoked many comments from Tobarra locals, welcoming the idea of a Latvian visit and thanking the Latvian students for their words. Several of the students have added Mayor Bernabeu on Facebook to be able to read through the comments (via Google translate!)


2. Jose Luis, English teacher in Tobarra and a great friend, shared the letters with his class who had created the mini documentary for my learners.

What happens next?

1. My students take the Year 9 English exam on 24th May. They may choose to forget most of the information once the papers are handed in, but I hope they remember that writing letters/emails is a life skill that can connect them to people all over the world.

2. Student trips to Tobarra for the Tamborada 2018 and beyond? Mayor Pio and the village are keen to welcome them, several students are keen to go, and I’m keen to join the two together. So WATCH THIS SPACE.

3. Although both mine and Jose Luis’s students are busy with exams in the next month or so, we’ve left the door ajar to further email communication between the two groups of learners. We’ll be exchanging email addresses next week.

How could you link exam tasks to reality in your classroom? Please leave a Reply!

Easter Resurrection/Learner Feedback → Learner Progress with Edurio (II)

Student centred vs. teacher weakness. Hearing this presented as a conflict always leaves me with my head in my hands, as it smacks of a lack of teacher self-confidence at learners’ expense. As well as using intuition, observation and test scores, there is a very simple way to find out what students want from a course and how they feel about certain aspects: ASK THEM DIRECTLY. The customer may not always be right, but they certainly deserve to add their voice to the other data we collect. In the age of social media and Netflix, people are used to individualising and reflecting on their own experiences, and there is no reason why a shift in society’s structure shouldn’t also be reflected in the classroom.

Of course, it’s the teacher’s job to compare these student perceptions to their own and act accordingly. This is where Edurio online surveys can help. After first using Edurio back in Autumn and blogging on it, below I’ll detail how I’ve used the new and improved Edurio surveys for both evaluation and Needs Analysis in my classes recently.

Using Edurio is effective in three steps:

  1. Decide what you want to know from the learners and create your own survey questions (or just use Edurio’s pre-prepped Qs), then email learners the link.
  2. Edurio collects and presents the data in a simple visual, ready for the teacher.
  3. Understand where improvements need to be made, take practical steps to do this and communicate these to the learners.

It’s beautiful in its simplicity, yet 1. may take 15 minutes of a teacher’s time (if I can do it with my limited tech brain, anyone can!) and 3. requires a teacher’s ego to be put to one side to admit that aspects need improving and they are willing to do this. As usual, this ties in to Mindset Theory, as a growth mindset sees ‘failures’ as opportunities to improve, whereas a fixed mindset would shy away from being exposed to these ‘innate shortcomings’.

So before I detail how I’ve used Edurio for evaluative reasons in two classes and Needs Analysis in another, why else am I advocating its use (apart from the fact that my girlfriend is Marketing Manager there and I’m sentimentally attached to the company)?:

  • At the moment, it’s still FREE.
  • It’s not just me. Edurio is used in over 200 schools in Latvia (it’s home state) and several schools in the UK, and has ongoing projects in Western Cape, South Africa, and with Oxford University Press.
  • The European Union’s research and innovation grant program Horizon 2020 was convinced enough to award Edurio a €1.86 million grant last year.
  • Learners are free to express their opinions without fear of retribution or causing offence, as all Edurio surveys are answered anonymously.
  • As I did previously, we can do everything Edurio does with paper surveys, but a. it’s a tree killer and b. it takes a lot more time to act as “data janitor” with all the results. Edurio collects answers and summarises results in simple graphs. Here’s an example from my paper Needs Analysis forms from September 2016, when each class’s feedback would take me 45-60 minutes to dissect:

James Needs Analysis

Needs Analysis

Why? I’ve recently been given a class of 15-16 year olds to prepare them for the Year 9 state exam. As I wasn’t left any clues as to their strengths and weaknesses by their previous teacher before she left the school, an Edurio survey was a quick and easy way to do a Needs Analysis to see what I should plan into the remaining two months before the exam.

What did I learn?

– Confidence is high on all parts of the exam, but a little lower on the Listening and Use of Language parts, so I will spend more class time on content and techniques for these in the remaining weeks. Edurio creates these results tables automatically; all I had to do was log in and decide what to do with the information.



– The majority of students expressed an interest in some simple psychology training in order to perform at an optimal level during the exam, so I’ll incorporate this. No matter what the brain knows, if the mind isn’t right, the grades won’t reflect knowledge!

PQ295915– I need to keep a close eye on exercises and practice exams to see if these perceptions match results, as at the end of the day, the exam results will reveal ‘knowledge’ rather than confidence.

– I might well repeat the same Edurio survey in 3 weeks to inform me for the remaining 3 weeks before the exam. This will take me less time than a TV ad break – copy and paste the survey link and resend to the same mailing list. The typical teacher excuse of “Good idea but I don’t have time” doesn’t apply here.


Why? I sent the same survey to two Upper Intermediate adult classes I have on Tuesdays and Thursdays, one in the morning and one in the evening. It’s important to remember that adults are paying customers, and have many other things to spend their time and money on, so they need to be getting what they want. To find out, asking usually works fine.

This also gives them the (accurate) impression that they are empowered and instrumental in their own learning, not just consuming what I force feed them. I’ve taught the morning group all year and the evening group for only a couple of months, but in both cases I wanted to use the idea of Easter renewal (hopefully not resurrection) to check up on their opinions of the course before we continue. Edurio also allows us to compare classes on the same questions, so I wanted to compare how my morning chirpiness and evening fatigue affect learners’ perceptions of my teaching. Edurio makes these comparisons for me:

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 11.49.57 AM


What did I learn?

– In both classes, some considered the speed ‘way too fast’ while others rated it as ‘slow’. I need to be on the ball and adapt the speed of the lessons to different learners, perhaps by setting a variety of tasks. Here’s the combined data for both classes, and individual class data is just a click away:


– I should make it clear when previous Needs Analysis data (from the paper forms!) has had a direct influence in lesson content. The NAs have a strong influence on my planning for these classes, but this wasn’t reflected in students’ perceptions.

PQ295722.png– Students do not understand what I want to achieve in each lesson as clearly as I’d like. I’ll start writing up some simple lesson aims on the board at the start of each lesson. This will also remind me what the point is!

HC1b– Student perceptions of their own progress is generally low. I could put this down to people being hard on themselves, or not actually making any progress. In either case, I’ll introduce a bi-monthly progress task next term to ensure that students realise that they are making progress (which they undoubtedly are!).

– Don’t ask pointless questions. ‘Before starting your work, how well do you understand how the teacher will mark your work?’ isn’t too relevant in this class. Students have their own coursebooks and are not preparing any exam, so the need for explicit marking criteria is minimal.

– The point of a Needs Analysis is not to tickle one’s own belly (polite way to put it), but to find improvable aspects and change them. However, I need to maintain the class atmosphere that meant that the vast majority believed attending lessons was time well spent and that lessons are interesting, as these adult students have no obligation to spend a significant amount of their spare time and money on coming to class. The positivity was shared across the morning and evening groups, so thankfully my personal energy levels don’t reflect on the students’ experience.

Other uses for Edurio surveys:

  • Content for staff training by easily observing common weaknesses in many classes (all data can be compared in a table with the click of a mouse).
  • Insights into bullying (it’s anonymous).
  • Insights into mindset and motivation.
  • Staff surveys on topics like class materials, general satisfaction, team cohesion etc. (you only hear from the vocal ones in staff meetings!)

What do you think? Could you use Edurio in your classes? Check out their website here. Please leave a comment!