Teaching online or talking to a brick wall?

At Polish universities we have been working online for the last 14 months. During this time I have struggled with new technology, magnitude of trainings, docked salaries and hourly fees, uncooperative staff and blank screen on which I can only see my student’s initials and not their faces, eyes, smiles or no smiles.

How have I felt during this time? Variously. Very stressed and tired during the first semester. I even had this nervous cough which I thought was an allergy but which disappeared the moment the classes ended and holiday started. The first semester was like a battlefield for me but I grew during that time as the head and became much more relaxed and self-confident when the new academic year started. I promised myself not to exaggerate with work and the speed of work. I started to plan things much in advance, test them more diligently and rely on my common sense, experience and practice more. I also reduced the number of hours I taught and thought more about my well-being and health in general.

Now the third semester of online classes is coming to an end. Primary and secondary schools in Poland are planning to open for a while before holidays. At my university nobody really wants to return to on-site classes now. Neither the students not the teachers. Have they started to enjoy the new normal? They can sleep longer or even “in class”, they don’t have to dress or make up, they can save money on leases and commuting, they can also cheat in tests and only pretend they are present.

When I look back I can see me, myself and I always present in class, visible in the camera, prepared with various activities and new materials, encouraging students to talk to me, to engage, to react. What do I get in return. A black screen with circles and initials, sometimes a response, sometimes a question about how I am. I decided to not care in October last year. Because if I did, I would go crazy or become depressed.

However, I consider myself a very reasonable person and very observant. Do you want to know my observation? Every relationship is a two-way street. All parties shall contribute to building it up. I do blame my students for not trying to establish a relationship with me. I understand that they are the customers and we are the service providers but education is about relationships, too. All this hysteria about privacy and image protection, and zoom fatigue, and stress, and being depressed and struggling with the fears caused by the pandemic is about teachers too, not just students.

99% of students did nothing about strengthening the relationship with me. Some of them were so preoccupied with their things that they forgot to say thank you at the end of the course, not to mention turning on the camera and waving their hands goodbye. I understand privacy, depression and stress but such behaviour is simply rude.

So, what has the pandemic taught me? A simple truth – you will not establish a good relationship, any relationship in fact, by talking to a brick wall. This requires effort. I am not thinking about „best endeavours”, just feeble effort.

Thank you for your attention.

Pronunciation Practice on Quizlet

I remember how my students once used to call me a „pronunciation pervert”. Well, I always tell my students that it is very important to master your pronunciation if you want to be understood. And being understood is crucial for communication.

This is how I sometimes help my students improve their pronunciation. I create QUIZLET sets for them where they either have the same word on both sides of the flashcard as we concentrate here on saying the word and not really learning what they men. Or like in the set I am showing here I create pairs of noun : verb or adjective : verb.

To benefit from this form of pronunciation work best you should a quizlet account and Here I recommend using a „flashcards” mode to be able to hear the pronunciation.

New Normal at Universities

[Polish below]

At the beginning of 2020, we still could write about the controversy surrounding the use of technology in foreign language teaching, about teachers’ fears related to it, their reluctance to technology and the lack of digital competence.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the transfer of all university classes online has changed a lot and accelerated many processes planned for the following years. Currently, we still don’t know what the final education at universities will look like in the academic year 2020/2021, but using the experience and skills acquired through the pandemic it is worth to change and modernise your approach to teaching a foreign language.

The new normal may require us to teach the so-called hybrid way, where several students are with us in the classroom and the rest participate in classes online. The number of students in our language groups is growing, and it is difficult to give all students the same attention and engage them in the work in the same way. It is important to ensure that during the classes it is the students who work doing practical tasks, cooperating and creating the final product, and to transfer the theoretical part of the classes to the online modules and ask the students to perform at home using the methodology of the flipped classroom.

This academic year I intend to focus on the development of practical tasks that my students will perform in the classroom after they have learned the necessary vocabulary to master the following topics. The texts from the textbook will be developed in the form of tutorials available on YouTube and materials for understanding and repetition of vocabulary will be developed in the form of presentations.

Jeszcze na początku 2020 roku mogliśmy pisać o kontrowersjach związanych z wykorzystywaniem technologii w nauczaniu języków obcych, o obawach nauczycieli z tym związanych, o ich niechęci do technologii i brakach w kompetencji cyfrowej.

Wybuch pandemii Covid-19 i przeniesienie wszystkich zajęć uniwersyteckich online wiele zmienił i przyspieszył wiele procesów zaplanowanych na kolejne lata. Obecnie wciąż nie wiemy jak ostatecznie będzie wyglądała edukacja na uczelniach w roku akademickim 2020/2021, ale wykorzystujące doświadczenie i umiejętności nabyte dzięki pandemii warto zmienić i unowocześnić swoje podejście do nauczania języka obcego.

Nowa rzeczywistość może wymagać od nas nauczania tzw. hybrydowego, gdzie kliku studentów znajduje się z nami w sali zajęciowej, a reszta uczestniczy w ćwiczeniach online. Nasze grupy zajęciowe są coraz liczniejsze i trudno poświęcić wszystkim studentom taką samą uwagę i w jednakowym stopniu zaangażować ich w pracę. Warto zadbać o to, aby w czasie zajęć to studenci pracowali wykonując praktyczne zadania, współpracując i tworząc produkt końcowy, a część teoretyczną zajęć przenieść do modułów online i zadawać studentom do wykonania w domu (ang. flipped classroom).

Zamierzam ten rok akademicki poświęcić na opracowanie praktycznych zadań, które moi studenci będą wykonywać na zajęciach po wcześniejszym zapoznaniu się ze słownictwem niezbędnym do opanowania kolejnych tematów. Teksty z podręcznika będą opracowane w formie tutoriali dostępnych na YouTube, a zestawy do zrozumienia i powtórek słownictwa będą opracowane w formie prezentacji.

Testing During the Pandemic

It has been over a month since we were on lockdown and teaching online. I have already conducted four tests using my Pustułka app just like we had done before the lockdown. My subjective impression is that my students have not outperformed themselves as compared to tests they had written before the pandemic. Their individual results are very similar.

However, in the case of „take-home” tests which students could do on their own just for revision purposes some results have been much better than those of the tests invigilated by me in class.

I have asked my students a question in an online survey conducted among my 63 students whether tests administered now test their knowledge the same as the tests we had had in computers labs. Over a half of students agreed (35%) or strongly agreed (23%), about a third (32%) remained neutral, and only one out of seven students disagreed (8%) or strongly disagreed (6%).

The conclusion is, therefore, that we can proceed with administering online written tests to evaluate students’ performance while teaching them online using distance learning methods. My recommendation is to set a very tight time limit and either use test questions such as multiple choice, cloze test, true/false or longer pieces of writing such as essays, reports, letters, longer paraphrases, etc. Short answer questions like definitions, synonyms, translations, etc. are unfortunately the easiest to copy from dictionaries and websites.

Teaching Presentation Skills

An Example of Good Practice

Thanks to teaching legal English I heard about plain language once and have become its great proponent. At first I only investigated plain English which was a great solution for teaching legal English to pre-experienced students by a non-lawyer legal English teacher (me). I started to present about plain English at conferences and publish articles. In the meantime I learnt that there existed Plain Polish Section at the University of Wrocław, Poland with its founder Tomasz Piekot.

Tomasz Piekot has participated in the educational campaign Just plain (end of story) (Pol. Prosto i kropka) which aims at the simplification of written communication of public administration. The campain shows the reasons and benefits (for offices and citizens) of using a plain language. It explains what a simple language is and dispels fears related to the introduction of a simple language in public offices. Episode 6 of the tutorials explains how to prepare good presentations. In this episode Tomasz Piekot provides guidelines on how to draw up good presentation slides. He speaks Polish and the viewers can read Polish subtitles on the screen.

I thought that the guidelines in Tomasz Piekot’s tutorial were so practical and up to date that I decided to use the episode in my business English class for BBA (Bachelor in Business Administration) students who come from various countries, including Poland.


  1. I have divided students into pairs in which one student was Polish and the other did not speak Polish.
  2. I played the tutorial and paused it when the new screen appeared and asked Polish students to translate Tomasz Piekot’s instructions into English for students who did not understand Polish.
  3. During the task non-Polish students were asked to take notes and then to prepare a summary in a form of one or two presentation slides drawn up in accordance with the guidelines.

The class was very dynamic with a lot of speaking, writing and slide designing. Polish students faced some translation challenges, e.g. how to translate mięsny jeż into English – a name which was used to describe an unattractive slide overloaded with information, colours and animations.

After the class I felt that the students really had enjoyed it and understood what a well designed presentation was.

If your students’ first language is Polish you can use the tutorial I recommend. If their L1 is different, find a good quality tutorial in their language and use in the classroom. They will not only learn how to design slides and present but practise translation skills at the same time.

The slide at the beginning of this post shows my summary of the tutorial in Polish and in English.

Peer Tutoring in My Legal English Classroom

Peer tutoring and peer evaluation activities increase the students’ engagement in the learning process. Student tutors require deeper knowledge and understanding of the task which may lead to better preparation for the classes, raising awareness, learning to share with others and performing additional out-of-class activities, e.g. reading, watching tutorials, etc.

Peer tutoring activities generate significant benefits for the students. They develop reasoning and critical thinking skills, improve self-esteem and interpersonal skills, motivate students to communicate by various means, not only face to face but also using latest ICT tools, so students’ digital competence may also increase.

Collaboration and teamwork are key competences for students. The syllabi academic teachers draw up for their legal English and business English courses always include the element of cooperation, group work, pair work as social competences that graduates require.

The project which I introduced into my legal English classes in spring semester 2019 was aimed at deeper engagement of students in the learning and teaching process. Students were delegated a number of peer tutoring tasks which were supposed to give them more responsibility, empower them to provide feedback and keep them accountable for the quality of the assignments carried out.

The activities which I introduced into my classes were modelled so that they developed the productive language skills of:

  1. writing/drafting (legal opinions, correspondence, blog posts, contract clauses paraphrases in plain English, translations), and
  2. speaking (presentations, job interviews).

An important element of each activity was the preparation stage during which students familiarized themselves with the rules, language, layouts and standards of modern writing/correspondence or presentations.

Before they made any attempts of writing legal opinions or paraphrasing contract clauses, they were introduced to plain language rules, they studied model answers, analysed layout, etc. Only then they were asked to write a document/text on their own. Peer tutoring involved in writing activities consisted in peer correction at the first stage before the assignment was handed in for the teacher’s grading. For writing tasks students were also familiarized with the correction code, so that they used the same code and the comments were understood by the authors of the texts evaluated.

In the case of presentations students studied the structure and the language of a presentation first and they were sent an evaluation sheet with checklist questions to know what their peer evaluators will be paying attention to while listening to and collecting feedback for the presenters. During presentations the audience was asked to make notes on the evaluation sheets under four headings: delivery, content/structure, body language, and visual aids. After each presentation audience commented on the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation and asked questions, they had been asked to prepare to rehearse a question and answer session after each presentation.

To help students prepare for job interviews a speed interviewing session was organized. Interviewers were given the grid to evaluate the interviewees and had five minutes to talk to each candidate after which time the interviewees moved to another interviewer.

As a follow up activity the interviewers group together to discuss their marks for each candidate and choose the student with the best score to get the job. The interviewees, on the other hand, may discuss the questions they had to answer, which were the most challenging, what surprised them, etc. or decide which interviewer was the most professional, asked the most interesting questions, etc. When the students announce their choices, they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates and the teacher may also give the class some feedback.

During the semester the students also prepared their CVs. The CVs were supposed to be authentic but anonymized. I photocopied the CVs and distributed them among students who worked in groups and were asked to provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the documents they got and choose the best one from the collection provided. On the basis of the peer feedback and the teacher’s feedback, students had an opportunity to polish their CVs and resubmit them.

At the end of the semester students filled in a short questionnaire in which they shared their opinion about peer tutoring activities performed during their classes. Most students (73%) admitted they improved their letter writing skills, job interviewing skills, presentation skills. The students felt the comments they received from their peers after the presentations were most useful (82%). More than a half of students (60%) found the feedback concerning their letters of advice useful, while in the case of CVs only less then one third of students (27%) valued the feed and most students (55%) were not sure whether the feedback they received helped. Eight students out of ten enjoyed taking the role of an evaluator and reported that they had improved their confidence. They also confessed that positive comments were easier to give and for most of them (78%) their peers assessment was important.

Quite interestingly, my students considered writing letters of advice as the most enjoyable of all tasks and speed interviewing as the least. The same order is reflected in the question about usefulness of the activities.

If you would like to see a detailed presentation of the results of my survey, please download the presentation.

What Makes a Good Academic Teacher

Here is some food for thought on what makes a good academic teacher. Surely, this requires a a combination of characteristics. Below you will find a list of qualities Kozminski University students mention when asked the above question.

To sum up, a good academic teacher is:

  • Close to students
  • Experienced
  • Open-minded
  • Passionate, involved in their discipline
  • Charismatic
  • Communicative
  • Knowledgeable
  • Enthusiastic
  • Motivating
  • Engaging everybody
  • Understanding, empathic
  • Positive, happy
  • With practical experience
  • Responding to emails
  • Flexible
  • Admitting to mistakes
  • Good presenter.

Moreover, a good academic teacher:

  • Does the preparation for their classes
  • Runs engaging classes
  • Not only transmits knowledge but makes students think, come up with solutions (develops critical thinking skills in students)
  • Has knowledge
  • Is enthusiastic
  • Provides feedback to students
  • Can adapt to changing conditions
  • Is flexible
  • Teaches employability skills (i.e. prepares students for the challenges of the real world)
  • Teaches students to be innovative and creative
  • Develops analytical skills, problem-solving skills, socio-cultural skills and moral skills
  • Build partnership between the teachers and the students.

Use the above list as a check list  for auto evaluation. Identify your weaknesses and the new academic year which is about to begin might be a good starting point for change and improvement.

My Way to Boost Creativity

New ideas sometimes emerge when you are asleep and dream. Then, unfortunately, when you wake up they are gone. That’s why some people have a pen and paper on their bed tables to note them down. I don’t.

Sometimes you come up with a great idea by accident, doing something that is not thought provoking at the very first sight.

In my case it does not work this way. Usually it does not.

Because when I sleep, I sleep. When I swim, I swim. When I dance, I dance. When I am on holiday, I reset my mind, switch to relaxation mood, don’t turn on my computer and set an autoresponder message in my email box.

My creativity is encouraged best when I:

  1. Make a plan, set a deadline, make a resolution – they can be very motivating.
  2. Read. I read everything: articles in newspapers and magazines, blog posts, Facebook, LinkedIn posts, books, presentation slides, presentation abstracts. What I read does not necessarily come from my “industry”. I like to cross borders of disciplines and transfer into my professional area.
  3. Attend conferences (but when you do, take down notes and write down the ideas which come up with in the meantime). Even if the presentation if not exactly your cup of tea, try to think up ways you could transfer the ideas you hear into your field.
  4. Sit down and start writing. And this works best. My thoughts become well-organised, one idea generates another. When they appear on the screen or a sheet of paper in black and white, they start to make sense and develop almost freely. They can be always modified or deleted but they come to being. As long as they are not put on paper, they can easily vanish forever.

Before holiday I wrote a topic for a potential presentation or a blog post on a sheet of paper: How to Use Machine Translation for Teaching. I have past the sheet many times this summer but never conceived a word. I had used machine translation a few times before I went for holiday, though. Today I have opened my notebook and described three different tasks machine translation can be used in. As I was describing them, another idea evolved to extend the topic into a whole chapter in the book I am working on.

The conclusion is therefore one and only and as old as hills – only work can generate fruits.

Rules and Regulations of Your Course/Regulamin kursu języka obcego

[wersja polska poniżej]

Students like to have clear rules about the course they attend from the very beginning.

Teachers should specify the rules, preferably write them down and follow throughout the course. It is important to be consistent, not to change the rules or bend them. You should have the same rules for all students in the group.

Below you find a description of the task I do with my freshers at the first or one of the first classes. This system has been working for the last few years and students have never complained.

Drafting Rules and Regulations of the Course

Present the rules of your course during one of the first class.

Book a computer lab for this class in advance or ask your students to BYOD (i.e. Bring Your Own Device).

Tell students to make notes during your presentation.

Prepare a Google document for the students, e.g. like this one: http://bit.ly/2LmXAr5 (make sure students can edit it).

If you have a bigger group prepare two or three same documents.

Divide students into groups of 6-9 people to work in one document completing the information in points 1, 2 and 3 on page 1 in pairs or trios.

Circulate and help with any problems.

Ask one student for each document to prepare a polished version for the next class.

Make sure everyone has access to the document when it is ready (change the setting so that students can only view the content) to check in case of any doubts. You can save the text as a pdf and upload to Virtual University or send by email to students.

Final version of the Regulations may look like this: http://luczak.edu.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Rules_and_Regulations_2020-2021.pdf

Wersja polska

Studenci lubią mieć jasno określone zasady dotyczące kursu, na który uczęszczają od samego początku.

Dlatego też lektorzy powinni określić zasady, zapisać je i przestrzegać przez cały kurs. Ważne jest, aby być konsekwentnym, nie zmieniać zasad i nie naginać ich. Zasady powinny być takie same dla wszystkich studentów w grupie.

Poniżej zamieszczam opis ćwiczenia, które wykonuję ze studentami I roku na pierwszych zajęciach lub na jednych z pierwszych zajęć. Stosuję taki system od kilku lat, a moi studenci nigdy nie narzekali.

Regulamin kursu

Zaprezentuj zasady obowiązujące na Twoich zajęciach podczas jednej z pierwszych lekcji.

Zarezerwuj wcześniej pracownię komputerową dla tej klasy lub poproś swoich uczniów o przyniesienie własnych urządzeń mobilnych.

Powiedz uczniom, aby robili notatki podczas prezentacji.

Przygotuj dokument Google dla uczniów, np. taki jak ten: http://bit.ly/2LmXAr5 (upewnij się, że studenci mogą go edytować).

Jeśli masz większą grupę, przygotuj dwa lub trzy takie same dokumenty.

Podziel uczniów na grupy po 6-9 osób do pracy w jednym dokumencie, poprzez uzupełnienie informacji w punktach 1, 2 i 3 na stronie 1 dokumentu w parach lub trójkach.

Krąż i pomagaj w rozwiązywaniu wszelkich problemów.

Poproś jednego ucznia o przygotowanie ostatecznej wersji dokumentu na kolejne zajęcia.

Udostępnij dokument wszystkim, gdy będzie gotowy (zmień ustawienia tak, aby uczniowie mieli dostęp tylko do jego zawartości bez możliwości edytowania). Dokument ma służyć grupie w razie jakichkolwiek wątpliwości dotyczących zasad kursu (np. nieobecności, prace domowe, zaliczenia, itp.). Możesz zapisać dokument jako pdf i udostępnić na stronie Wirtualnej Uczelni lub przesłać mailem.

Gotowy Regulami może wyglądać tak: http://luczak.edu.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Rules_and_Regulations_2020-2021.pdf


W dniach 9-10 maja 2019 wzięłam udział w konferencji pt. Kompetencje dla XXI wieku: certyfikacja biegłości językowej na Uniwersytecie Warszawskim.

Tematem, który często pojawiał się w wystąpieniach konferencyjnych były nowe deskryptory poziomów znajomości języków obcych (z uwzględnieniem poziomu pre-A1), które uwzględniono w nowej wersji skali ESOKJ opublikowanej w 2018 roku. Z tym dokumentem w wersji angielskiej mozna zapoznać się tu: bit.ly/2JhIuWW

Nową tendencją w certyfikacji i testowaniu jest odchodzenie od sprawności językowych na rzecz działań językowych. Zamiast czterech tradycyjnych sprawności pojawiły się zintegrowane działania:

·      Odbiór tekstu, recepcja (słuchanie + mówienie)

·      Tworzenie tekstu, produkcja (mówienie + pisanie)

·      Reagowanie językowe (interakcja)

·      Mediacja językowa (przetwarzanie tekstu).

Działania mediacyjne umożliwiają komunikację pomiędzy osobami, które z różnych względów nie mogą się ze sobą porozumieć. W sytuacji mediacyjnej użytkownik występuje w roli pośrednika (mediatora, tłumacza), który przetwarza tekst. Dla mnie to działanie jest szczególnie interesujące, gdyż jako lektor języka prawniczego na co dzień na moich zajęciach angażuję studentów w tłumaczenia, parafrazy, definiowania terminów prawniczych. W 2016 roku pisała o tym Barbora Chovancova, którą znam z konferencji Legal English w Białymstoku i Supraślu tu: bit.ly/2W20ACq

Myślę, że warto, aby nowe deskryptory i działania językowe znalazły odbicie w naszych sylabusach i na naszych zajęciach. Można o nich więcej przeczytać w Językach Obcych w Szkole 1/2018 na str. 94 bit.ly/2vXt7dM.

Zachęcam do dzielenia się Waszą wiedzą w tym temacie.