Experimenting with English (Part 2) – Activities for learners to do outside the classroom [26 and counting!]

In my blog post Experimenting with English: scaffolding learner autonomy, I discussed how I approached helping my learners to use English outside the classroom, drawing on learner autonomy theory and methodology (e.g. Benson, 2011; Oxford, 2003; Smith 2003). Central to that project, alongside the very important element of discussion, was a handout I created for my learners.

Here is a screenshot of a sample page, taken from the listening section:

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Sample page from my Experimenting with English activities handout, listening section.

As you can see, the handout consists of a series of activities for learners to try, with space for them to record when they tried it and what they thought of it. The handout is divided up by skill (reading, listening, speaking, writing). What you can’t see here is that in each subdivision, as well as the activities I’ve added, there is space for the learners to add their own ideas. I have two versions of the handout, which you can access below, one of which is aimed at the learners I use Edmodo with and one of which is aimed at the learners I use a WordPress blog with. Both handouts are geared towards a non-English speaking environment, and towards adult learners of General English, reflecting my current context (a private language school in Palermo).

In my experience, as I mentioned in the Experimenting with English blog post, simply giving the learners this handout is insufficient. It gets lost, it gets forgotten, it gathers dust… What is very important for the project to be successful is regular discussion time allocated to learners’ out-of-class activities and encouraging learners to set goals in relation to this. It is also important to get learners to think about why there is space for them to write comments. Here are some reasons that we (groups of learners and I) have discussed in relation to this:

  • it means you can remember what you tried and how useful/difficult/interesting/boring/helpful etc. you found it.
  • if you try an activity more than once, at a different time, you can see if your opinion of it changes or if it gets easier to do.
  • after some time, you build a record of what you have done and you can look back to see what progress you’ve made.

Of course, my learners are busy people and the time they have for out-of-class study is limited. And sometimes that limited amount of time becomes zero time, because other things take over. It’s important to be understanding of this. And, equally, to be enthusiastic when they do manage to do things.

Here are the handouts:

This one is for learners who use Edmodo

This one is for learners who use a blog (actually it’s the same as the Edmodo one but I replaced “Edmodo” with blog, where relevant! As I use blogs with higher level learners, one of my plans is to tailor this handout more towards what they can do and include use of other tools I use with them. When I did the name-changing, I didn’t have time to work on this aspect!)

(To read in detail about how I used them, please see Experimenting with English: scaffolding learner autonomy )

My comments about the handouts: future directions

These handouts are just prototypes. I created them to fulfil a need I identified while working on my autonomy fostering projects, and they’ve been useful for that, but I want to work on them: add activities and improve both the handout and how I use it in class, based on what I’ve learnt during the last 7 months, so that they will be more effective when I use them next academic year (yes, I shall be back in Palermo again!). Additionally, of course such a handout in a different context, for example an English-speaking environment, would look different and include additional different activities, geared towards helping learners mine that resource effectively.

I’m also currently working on a means of helping learners record their out-of-class activities in a quick, easy but visually appealing and useful way – so that they could look at it and at a glance be able to see the balance of skills they’ve been working on etc. Hopefully a couple of my classes are piloting it now, during the Easter holidays, so it will be interesting to see if it is working as I envisaged or…not! But more about that in a future post… :)

 

 

IATEFL 2014: Q and A with Sugata Mitra – Saturday 17.00 BST: a summary

At 17.00 BST (18.00 Palermo time!), the Q and A session with Sugata Mitra took place. Questions had been sent in advance of this session, and these appeared in turn on the slides, for Mitra to answer. I attempted to make notes during the session and here is what I managed to catch:

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Slide one

1)

a)If you look at the paper, which was written in 2005, it describes quite carefully what the measurements are. There *is* more than anecdotal evidence. The paper was peer reviewed internationally and got a prize for the best paper of 2005 from the American Educational Research Association.

 

b)With regards to the second question, Mitra doesn’t have all the answers. What he is going to measure are improvements in reading comp, searching skills on the internet and self-confidence. There are indications, purely anecdotal, that there are, but these won’t be accepted until there are some results.

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Slide 2

2)

He would love to see State involvement and indeed states across the world, U.S., U.K, India, has shown positive response. He has preliminary results and it would be great if the state as well as the private sector joined in.

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Slide 3

3)

Mitra is not sure what they mean by wider approach, but likes the first part – 60% out of school factors, 20% teaching, 20% personal – but would like to capture that 60% and bring it into school. One needs to identify what that 60% is, where it comes from and whether it should be brought into school and if so in what way

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Slide 4

4) 

a) Of course they would have learnt better from a good teacher but they didn’t have teachers so two options either learn nothing at all or learn by themselves. Nothing great, a smattering of a few words that they could use, but they could read webpages, needs further investigation

b) Parents sent their children to a system which is driven by examinations in almost all countries, so as a parent you want your child prepared for those examinations. The average parent, particularly in India, is more interested in better marks than confidence etc. Until benchmarks change, why would parents want a SOLE? Is for teachers and educators to bring in SOLES, to help children in critical thinking and creative thinking.

c) Financial interests – have been funded by several sources: World Bank, NIT (private company) and a few others. Corporate social responsibility. Mitra’s work shows that you need fewer computers not more.

 

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Slide 5

5)

FIrst of all, you must understand that if an experiment result says that children can learn by themselves, that doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t required. These are two different sentences. The two don’t equate. If we have teachers, we can get excellent results. We don’t have enough teachers. When would you use a remote method/self-organised? When the existing method is insufficient or not of good quality.

 

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Slide 6

6)

It’s true. I’ve given this kind of talk hundreds of times over, in all continents, so why did Harrogate give such a strong response? Three possibilities. Harrogate mainly consisted of teachers of EFL. So 1) Teachers of EFL are much more inclined to look for hard evidence than all other teachers int he world put together 2) Teachers of EFL did not actually read the scientific evidence and without reading it wanted to hear it, and there wasn’t enough time for this in the conference. 3) Teachers of EFL have a sense of insecurity in their roles and therefore react strongly to any possibility that threatens their role.

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Slide 7

7)

a) It’s not a question of believing, whoever makes an app tests and measures how it performs against a taught course. If it performs well, then it may be used. If it doesn’t compete well with a good teacher but still produces some learning outcomes then it can still be useful in contexts where a good teacher is not available.

b) Yes of course. (I missed some of this answer!)

 

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Slide 8

8)

The Granny Cloud makes it possible to bring a certain level of teaching to areas where there is nothing else available.

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Slide 9

9)

If you have a class of 30 children and you were a good teacher, and you taught something, some would learn it well, some wouldn’t at all and some would be in the middle. This applies also to hole-in the walls. The gang-pecking order was sorted out by the children themselves. The older girls would take charge and bring in a certain amount of admin and management, to bring order to the hole in the wall. Everybody does not benefit equally, just as they don’t in the formal system.

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Slide 10

10)

I’m just one person, and Pakistan is one of many countries which haven’t been included. I want to go to as many as I can and I will try to do that depending on availability of time.

It’s not just a question of the mother tongue itself, but any language that you learn. It gives you a picture of another cultural way of thinking which is not there in your own language. If you learn English, you learn a certain way of thinking, if you learn Urdu on top of that, you learn another way of thinking. Three would be ideal – English, mother tongue and another language – but this is not easy to do. On a practical note, if getting a  job is important, in the world today knowing reasonably good English will help.

 

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Slide 11

11)

Firstly, SOLEs are not done in computer rooms. Computer rooms are rooms where computers are lined up against the wall and children use them one-on-one. In a SOLE, children make their own groups, can make or break groups, can move from group to group, can answer the question, can play games, can share information between each other. Webquests and SOLEs are different.

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Slide 12

12) 

Are there children who don’t learn in groups and learn better by themselves? Should you encourage this kind of learning or try to get them into groups? I don’t have an answer to this, but suggest you consult the learner. If they prefer to work by themselves let them, but they don’t reach the same breadth of information as the groups. The individual learner tends to have looked at one aspect while the others have gone all over the place.

 

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Slide 13

13)

This is pretty serious stuff. How sustainable is it? As sustainable as the people who make it I guess. Sustainability was not my objective in the first few years, I only wanted to see what children can learn by themselves. I’m looking to see if SOLEs will be sustainable and wonder what the situation will be 10 years down the line, will they still exist?

There indicated results that it could be used at all levels of instruction. Don’t you increasingly turn to your tablet to answer something that several of you are arguing about? SOLE is not about the computer room.

The teacher’s role is not that of content provider. Does it hurt if the teacher has content knowledge? I don’t have the answer. But it can hurt because some teachers have a very fixed opinion of what their subject should look like that it can hurt the process. <Mitra provides an example of this> You have to be a friend, not a guide or a sage.

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Slide 14

14)

Critical thinking and problem-solving are obviously at the heart of learning, past or future, except for one area: the military. They are understood in a very narrow context in the case of the military. Our educational system has a few leftovers from this and we have to get over that. Critical thinking and problem solving will dictate whether you can fit into a job in the future, it’s as important as that.

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Slide 15

15)

a) The non-intervention decision was not only for the research. Let’s suppose if I had made one intervention and said “this is how you use the touchpad”. Imagine making that method global. You’d need millions of teachers worldwide to replicate that. And you’d be back to the same problem. I decided to make it intervention free, as then what little it could do, it could do everywhere.

b) It;s difficult to say, when you’re talking about 12-13yr olds, the most important thing is to keep motivation going. I find that if you say surprise me, I think you’re very good, they go very far in trying to surprise you. You have to be careful with duration. I think 45mins is maximum, 15-20 for an easier question. Or interest will be lost.

c) You’re assuming the granny isn’t an expert teacher, but the cloud contains many experienced, expert teachers.

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Slide 16

16)

We’ve been discussing this quite a few times. The teacher is no longer someone imparting information/knowledge. Mainly because we’ve managed to create an environment where uni-directional export of information is not required. We should be proud of that, that children can find out things for themselves. Should there be someone around? Of course, to encourage them, to admire them, to ask them questions. An adult friend. When negotiating the internet, comforting for groups of children to know there is somebody they can turn to.

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Slide 17

17)

I, too, have a bit of a confusion about the role of the granny cloud on the one hand and SOLEs on the other hand. This is quite important. You can have a SOLE in a place with no school/teachers or a place with a good school/teachers. The Granny cloud has two different contexts: a place with no teachers and no facilities for learning or in a location where there is a good school/teachers. So four situations. I think that this will give rise to four or five different combinations, each with a different purpose. In a remote area with no school, a SOLE with a Granny cloud, this is better than nothing. What about in England, where there is a great school? I don’t know. Remains to be answered.

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Slide 18

18.

There are two websites: http://www.theschoolinthecloud.org and http://www.solesandsomes.wikispaces.com. The latter (wikispaces) site came first and is amateurish, while the former site came later and is more professional. What happens is you say you want to be a Granny and you get put in the database. Someone looks and decides whether you should be or not. First level short-listing. Once clear that you have the time/equipment to be a Granny then we talk to you on Skype and go through another level of shortlisting. Once we’ve gone through the second level, you get into a third database and you are a potential Granny. You go and interact with a group of children, supervised by an experienced Granny. Once that’s ok, you can go solo but are monitored for a while till we are happy. That’s the process.

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Slide 19

19.

a. I didn’t say we don’t need the education system, I’ve said we don’t need schools as they are today – they’re obsolete. The hole in the wall was an experiment to see if groups of children can learn to use the internet in groups with no intervention. Schools are extremely valuable. If you don’t put your child in school, you are taking a huge risk. Schools are extremely valuable, they just need to change that’s all.

b. Have you seen educators around the world? There are many instances where educators stop learning. Yes you need to change teacher training in order for schooling to change. The role of the adult is to bring up the questions, set a puzzle, admire the children. You’re a friend.

c. If you have a good teacher in a good school and you want to do a SOLE, that’s how you should do it.

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Slide 20

20. 

That’s a good question! What’s a good question? This is how you design a question. Suppose you are a history teacher. You’re walking into class in order to take a lesson on a particular aspect of your subject. Instead of delivery of that subject can you convert it into a question? So this is what you’d do in a good SOLE. Converting curriculum into questions. You need to ask why it’s there in the first place, why it’s important. You need to answer that first.

That was the end of the questions that had been sent in advance. Then there was time for questions that arose during the Q&A. I didn’t catch all of these – the sound cut in and out a bit, and it was difficult to keep up! But I caught a few: 

21.

Do you think there is a political will to spread the idea of revolutionising education along the lines you suggest? Any signs of it?

I wish I had a positive answer, unfortunately I don’t. But in country after country, before the elections, then education becomes important. Then you don’t see much action once the elections are over. The good news is, we don’t need to wait. The system will change anyway because the learners are changing. So there will be no choice but to change. This will happen within a decade, perhaps.

22. 

How have teachers responded to your ideas? (Or something along those lines, I lost it a bit)

Teachers who listen carefully and read the literature are generally supportive. There are some teachers who have used the method very successfully. Others hear what they want to hear and we have many examples of that.

23. 

You say you are measuring reading and comprehension skills, what about other skills?

I had to deliberately restrict myself due to funding issues. I’m afraid I have to follow the approach that I measure just two or three different parameters but measure them well. But maybe others will pick up the same experiment, and repeat it using different parameters.

24.

What do you think of the work of your colleague prof. James Tooley? 

I read what he writes and find his arguments convincing. I visit his schools and I see the point he is making. I’ve seen his model in Ghana, a pay as you go school, and find it fascinating. Are those schools better than state schools? He says yes and he has support what he has said, so I will take it at face value. I want to discuss with him how to put SOLEs into his schools.

25.

Where are the longitudinal studies? [I missed the end of this question]

None designed. Some journalists have followed individual children. The most dramatic is a child from one of the villages, who has said on camera that it is because of the hole in the wall that he developed an interest in biology and it is because of this he went on to do a PhD. [I missed the end of this answer]

It was an interesting session – and lovely to get a little bit more IATEFL 2014 too! – and I think everybody appreciated the opportunity presented by this Q&A, after all the furore that has arisen since Mitra’s plenary on the last day of IATEFL this year. 

One really positive thing, to my mind, that’s come out the controversy he created at IATEFL is that post-IATEFL there has been lots of debate and discussion – through blogs, through the IATEFL Facebook group etc. I think it’s great! As long as we are discussing things and challenging our own and others’ beliefs, we can continue to learn and grow as teachers. 

Mitra said this in one of his answers today:

“FIrst of all, you must understand that if an experiment result says that children can learn by themselves, that doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t required. These are two different sentences.The two don’t equate”

I think perhaps a lot of the furore was based on the assumption that these were not two different sentences. I think there is some good food for thought in the Questions and Answers from tonights session and in Mitra’s plenary at IATEFL as well as his published works and other talks. 

Thank you, IATEFL, for a great conference and a thought-provoking follow up session. 

(Finally, please let me know if you think there are any inaccuracies in what I have noted down in this post, compared with what was said. If there are, it is of course entirely unintentional!)

STOP and reflect: A four-step action plan for lesson reflections

Last year, I did a guest blog post for the British CouncilVoices” website, after winning the Teaching English blog of the month award. I wrote about using reflection as a tool for developing your teaching. (You can read the post here.) I’ve recently revisited that post and have now created a visual that succinctly captures the (hopefully!) snappy little acronym I created for it.

The acronym is:

STOP!

Step back; Take stock; Open your resources; Plan for next time

Let me know what you think! :-) (And compare what the visuals make you think with what I actually wrote in the blogpost linked to above!)

Scloud

Step Back

Tcloud

Take Stock

Ocloud

Open your Resources

Pcloud

Plan for Next Time

Little thing, BIG difference! (A reflective challenge)

I had to complete an appraisal form recently, in which one of the questions asks about input from workshops and feedback from observed lessons, and whether you’ve implemented this or not. At IH Palermo we are lucky enough to have workshops timetabled in to our week on a regular basis (once every two weeks) as well as formal and informal observations, both of which are developmental. In addition to the two formal observations I’ve had as part of the in-school development programme, I’ve also had four further observations due to doing the IH Young Learners and Teenagers training certificate. A fairly predictable result of this is that as well as experimenting with all (not all, I’m working on it but there’s a heeeeuge amount to be going on with!!) the theory I was exposed to during my M.A. in ELT with integrated Delta at Leeds Met and what I’ve added since through my own reading and exploration, I’ve been systematically incorporating things picked up, both from workshops and all those many observations.

Following the reflections required by the above-mentioned form, I’m going to share one of those things with you now. Just one. One tiny one. And, as you can gather from the post title, it’s a tiny thing that has made a BIG difference! Once you have read mine, I invite you to share something of your own (as a post on your own blog – post a link to it in the comments section of this post so that everyone can have a look – or simply comment on this post) that you have tried out during the last year and which you have found makes a difference.

To stand or not to stand? That is the question! Teacher position in the classroom…

Adults

And it’s a question I didn’t ask myself until after my first formal observation here, when my DoS gave me the post-observation feedback. It had been an adult class of pre-intermediate learners. He told me I tended to tower a little over the students when monitoring. I was a bit confused. So my DoS stood up, came round to my side of the desk and demonstrated: first he stood next to me and spoke, then he squatted down next to me and spoke. That visual explanation made a powerful impact. He then suggested I also try sitting down more in general – for example when doing feedback or during discussions. I went away and duly tried this (both monitoring from lower down and sitting more), and other things that had come out of the observation feedback, and found this eeny weeny-seeming little thing of teacher position made a really big difference. It created a more intimate atmosphere in the classroom. The level of banter increased. And, I suspect, the learners left the room with less of a crick in their necks than previously! ;-)

Teenagers

For some reason, though, I only tried it with my adult classes. Fast-forward some number of weeks and I was observed teaching teenagers, for my first observation on the YL course. It hadn’t occurred to me, for some reason, to transfer this particular feedback gained during my adult class observation to my teenager (13-15 year olds) classes. This came out in the feedback, and off I went to implement it. To sit down at suitable moments. Again, it led to a much more relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, with my teenagers being more willing to speak up.

Young Learners

Fast-forward a few more weeks (months?) to another YL observation, different observer, different age group. This time we’re talking 10-12 year olds. You don’t sit down for them, right? Well, I didn’t anyway. No. In fact, I made them all dizzy with the amount of time I spent moving around, including when I was giving instructions. Again, during the feedback, this observer also suggested I might like to sit down more in my lessons. I wasn’t convinced, but I was hellbent on implementing all the feedback and sorting out my YL teaching. And hey, guess what? It made a difference. With my 10-12 year olds, sitting down while I gave them instructions (in combination with having moved their desk-chairs closer together to make a smaller horseshoe) helped them to focus better while I was giving them instructions. Why? Their eyes weren’t moving around all over the place following me, and getting distracted by other more pretty things on the walls or on other students’s desks etc in the process. Spending more time at their eye level in general (both in terms of sitting and monitoring) has also decreased the distance between us, making, again, a more comfortable atmosphere in the classroom. I see less of the tops of their heads, they see less of my waist and chin – everyone’s a winner!! :-p

Over to you!

I challenge you to reflect on what is it, what little thing, has made a big difference to your teaching during the last year. And I look forward to hearing about it! :-)

Q&A webinar with controversial Sugata Mitra – Saturday!

Following Sugata Mitra’s controversial plenary on the final morning of IATEFL 2014, some educators were up on their feet applauding, while others were up in arms. As there was no time for a follow-up Q and A with Mitra at the conference, IATEFL has since arranged a webinar for this purpose. Here are the details as quoted from the IATEFL website:

Questions and answers with Sugata Mitra
19th April 2014, 5pm BST

Sugata Mitra will answer questions following his plenary session on ‘The future of learning’ at the IATEFL Annual Conference in Harrogate on Saturday 5 April 2014. If you have questions that you would like Sugata Mitra to answer during the webinar, please send them to Marjorie Rosenberg atmarjorie.rosenberg@besig.org or post them under the webinar announcement on the IATEFL group Facebook page. There will also be a chance to pose questions live to Sugata Mitra in the chat box during the webinar.

To join us, please click here

You do not need to register in advance to join this webinar, just click on the link above and then:

Select the “Enter as Guest” option, write your name and country, then click “Enter room”

You can check your local time here

We are looking forward to seeing you online!

 

Share the details with anybody who might be interested – it should be an interesting occasion! :-)

Helping pre-intermediate learners with listening: focus on weak forms

Introduction

My starting point for this activity was Sandy Millin’s Stepping into the real word: transitioning listening workshop at IATEFL 2014. In particular, it was this section of notes that I made during her workshop [my complete notes for the workshop here]:

Weak forms

“Pronunciation of a word changes when within a sentence. The schwas make a difference – the most important sound? With this sound, it’s difficult to draw the line between pron. and listening. “I wanna be a schwa – it’s never stressed!”

Give students some common grammar words which have strong and weak forms; ask learners to create a sentence using these words or a short story and discuss whether it’s a strong or a weak form as used in that context. Learners have to identify when the sounds will be weak or strong, then try to say them. Trying it out in sentences helps learners to be more confident when they hear it. Not expected to speak like this all the time, just a classroom game to build confidence and ability to recognise sounds.

Get students to race to say sentences as quickly as possible to win a point for their team. Weak forms come out as they try to get the sentences out as fast as they can.”

Counter-intuitively, I used a course book listening for my adaptation of this sequence. It was an interview with Jessica Ennis soon after she won the World Championships. (Of course, since then she has done rather well in London 2012!) There were a couple of reasons for this: Firstly, weak forms were in evidence. The TRB doesn’t say anything about the origins of the recording or how it was made, but it’s clearly at least trying to be authentic and challenge the learners’ listening skills (it’s a purely listening skills focused sequence the recording forms part of). Secondly, I felt that the book didn’t fully exploit the recording in the afore-mentioned sequence – it only had two fairly brief listening activities and a discussion activity attached.

 The sequence I devised, however, could be used with any listening recording –  basically, the sequence fits in after learners have listened to a recording for meaning.  I used a guided discovery approach with the goal of awareness-raising and metacognitive development, as well as the specific focus on weak forms.

Time:

45 minutes

Materials:

A listening recording – authentic or otherwise – where weak forms are in evidence; guided discovery handout (available here). [Handout optional - as long as you had some sample grammar words to display, you could do the whole sequence by feeding in the instructions/questions orally as you go along!]

Procedure:

  • Fold up the handout so that learners can only see the first question:

“What two things do all these words have in common?”

  • Let learners look at the words (a sample collection of grammar words that have weak and strong forms – I took a screen shot from Sandy’s slides, as she had prepared just such a sample using a word cloud creator like Wordle, to save me some time!) and discuss the question together. My learners found this challenging so I gave them some clues to help: “One of the two things is related to the type of word; the other is related to pronunciation“. One of my learners did then say “they are weak forms”, cleverly enough, so I expanded her answer to include that these words have both strong and weak forms, and they are all grammar words and grammar words are often weak unless we want to emphasise them for a specific meaning-related reason.
  • Unfold the handout and get learners to look at the sample collection of grammar words and work in pairs to assign each a strong and weak pronunciation. We did an example together first – also identifying that the strong pronunciation is the dictionary pronunciation but the weak pronunciation is often used when the word is used as part of a sentence, unless the word is being emphasised to express a particular meaning – then they worked in pairs for a few, then we went through some together to see what they had come up with, until one of the learners said “Is it my hearing or do they all change to the same sound?” – cue introduction of the schwa! and me acting a weak, frail, hunched over little person to visualise this friendly, neighbourhood weak sound! – and a bit more discussion, which culminated in them saying that they wanted to hear the weak sounds in conversation. – Which was exactly what I had planned…
  • [If it hasn't already been discussed within the previous step, ask learners how they think this phenomenon - weak forms - could affect them when they listen to people speak]
  • Direct them to the transcript of whatever recording it is you are using for this sequence, in my case the interview with Jessica Ennis. Get them to work in pairs, look at the grammar words in the transcript and decide if they think those words are pronounced as strong or weak forms. [I let them do it for the first part of the transcript, to get them thinking about the role of those grammar words in the given sentences and the likely resultant pronunciation but then stopped them to move onto the next stage in the sequence, as time was limited. However, I don't think it's necessary to do the entire transcript anyway, as it could get a little arduous!]
  • Play the recording again. Get learners to check what they have already discussed and continue the process but as a listening exercise this time, underlining strong forms and/or circling weak forms. Let them compare afterwards and give them the opportunity to ask about any they aren’t sure about.
  • Let them experiment. Ask them to work in pairs (or whatever number suits your recording/class numbers) and read through the transcript aloud together, each taking one of the roles, and using the weak forms they have identified. Encourage them to say the sentences quickly as speed influences pronunciation of weak/strong forms, so by speaking quickly, the weak forms are more likely to occur!
  • Play the recording a final time. This time, learners should mutter along with the transcript, again giving them the opportunity to listen and also feel the pronunciation in their own mouths as they produce. I deliberately did the last two stages in this order, as I felt they’d be more successful with the muttering if they had had the chance to try it out previously and therefore had more familiarity on their side, having thought about the links between meaning and pronunciation of the grammar words. [This shadowing/muttering along with a recording is an activity I picked up during my Delta]

At one point during this sequence of activities the issue of ELF pronunciation was also raised - the learners were wondering about the necessity of speaking like this, as they felt it would be very difficult to [of course], so I said that this depended on their goals: that use of weak forms/stress can make it easier for native speakers to understand, but that if they are speaking to other non-native speakers, then understanding is much easier if you don’t use weak forms. And I also pointed out that whether or not they wanted to speak to native speakers, focusing on weak forms as we had done in this lesson would help with listening, which they fully agreed with.

At the end of the lesson, I asked if it had been useful and the answer was a very heartfelt “YES!” :-)  Certainly a lot of interesting discussion was generated and the learners appreciated the extra time spent working with the recording and these words that give them so much difficulty in understanding.

I’m planning to adapt the sequence for use with my other pre-intermediate learners [who are lower in the pre-intermediate level] by using it with a notoriously challenging listening that’s coming up in their course book]. With either class, having done the sequence using a course book recording, I’d like to revisit it [not repeat the whole sequence obviously, but apply the concept] with them, using a more authentic recording. I’d also like to extend the concept by devising an activity that gets them to use syntactic and contextual clues to identify weak forms within utterances they have not seen a transcript for.

Thank you, Sandy, for the inspiration! :-) (As well as Vandergrift and Goh, 2012 and Field, 2009, of course! – They always influence what I do with teaching listening!)

References:

Field, J. (2009) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Millin, S. (2014) Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening   ( http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/iatefl2014/ )

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and learning second language listening: metacognition in action. Routledge

listen

image taken from google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification/ http://www.pixabay.com

 

IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place!

IATEFL 2014 was awesome and I blogged a lot during the couple of days I was there for.

Here is an annotated list of the blog posts I wrote, as I thought this would make them much easier to negotiate!

This post is mostly a summary of MaW SIG’s last SIG day session “So what does that involve? Incorporating general vocabulary into topics” by K Woodward et al. (the et al. is Liz in this case!) – their tagline: “For sound pedagogical reasons, vocabulary books and course books often teach vocabulary in topic groups. However, there is a danger that general vocabulary may be neglected. With reference to the Richmond Vocabulary Builders, this talk considers how seemingly general or abstract words cab associate quite strongly with particular topic areas and asks whether vocabulary materials can reflect this” – and the MaW SIG Open Forum meeting.

The last post I published was actually the second I wrote while at IATEFL  and is a summary of Graham Hall’s advice to anybody who is looking to get published in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal) or another academic journal.

This is a summary of Kathleen’s plenary given on the Thursday morning, in which she an argues for  “an approach to learning that seems inefficient may actually be efficient in terms of reaching educational goals in lasting ways.” 

Nigel discussed these three different threads of research done on textbooks, including the importance of doing them and the limitations associated with them, arguing that they provide  framework on which to base textbook research. He also discussed the contents of his newest edited book of textbook research. Here is his tagline: “ELT textbook/coursebook research is criticised for its lack of rigour. I present examples of three types of textbook research to be found in a new book. English Language Teaching Textbooks: Content, Consumption, Production. Content studies focus on what textbooks include and exclude; consumption studies examine how teachers and learners use textbooks; and production studies investigate how textbooks are written.” 

Yep, I had to attend my own talk… ;-)  This is a summary of what I discussed (issues with current materials, a possible way to address this, and my own example of how I attempted to do so, using these materials) and a list of references that I used.

My round-up for day two focuses on the many reasons for coming to IATEFL again and again. And why I hope to be back again next year! :-)  How many square with yours?

This is my summary of what Michael Hoey told us about his corpus linguistic theory and how it supports Krashen’s monitory theory and Lewis’s Lexical Approach.

Julie used Oxford EAP Advanced to discuss ways of dealing with mixed-discipline EAP classes so that this becomes a benefit rather than a drawback. This post is my summary of the talk. Here is Julie’s tagline: “The reality of many EAP classes is a mix of students from different disciplines, which can make it difficult to please everyone. In this talk, I look at some practical tasks, from Oxford EAP Advanced, to help students, especially at higher levels, transfer academic language and language skills learnt in class into their own academic discipline.” 

Sandy’s workshop was very practical, outlining the issues with teaching listening in the language classroom and suggesting various activities to help deal with the problems that arise. This post is a summary of her workshop. Here is her tagline: ““I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from my students on arrival in the UK. This workshop introduces you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English” 

Cecilia talked about the benefits of observation and how to ensure that these are mined rather than passed over. This is my summary of her talk. Here is her tagline: “There’s a general consensus on the many benefits of observation. It is well known and discussed in training sessions, books and forums. So why are many teachers still resistant or threatened by it? In this session, I will share a program and forms developed after research, trial and error, trying to overcome resistance and make observation truly effective for teacher development. 

Amy described a project she has been involved with at IH Newcastle. Her tagline is: “Through the experience of establishing an extensive reading (ER) library within the Personal Study Programme (PSP) at International House, Newcastle, this talk will reflect on how we can use ER to promote and support learner autonomy as a whole. It will discuss the practicalities and pitfalls of such an approach and review experimentation with a reading-aloud group.” 

This was a practical session, using training modules published by ELT Teacher to Writer to guide the audience through various elements of materials writing for your own class or a wider audience: We looked at how ELT publishing works, the importance of good rubrics (instructions on learning materials) and how to write them, writing grading readers and writing critical thinking activities. This post is a summary of their workshop. Here is their tagline: “In this session we will give you a taste of the ELT Teacher 2 Writer training modules. We will present practical tasks designed to give you advice and guidance on how to write materials for your own classes or for publication, and step-by-step instructions for developing specific writing skills. There will also be a chance for questions and discussion.” 

Here, my touch-typing skills were put to the test: Trying to keep up with Pecha Kuchas is no mean feat… but I think I just about managed to capture at least the essence of what was a lovely evening of entertainment by a fantastic group of presenters.

This is a summary of what turned out to be a very controversial talk. So controversial, in fact, that IATEFL has organised a Q&A session this coming Saturday (19th April) for people to respond to this plenary. From standing ovations to outraged messages on Facebook and Twitter, Mitra seems to have attracted the entire spectrum of responses. Perhaps the best thing about this is: he has got us all talking!

This talk looks at the blurry line between spoken and written language, and focuses on developing fluency for writing in situations where the pressures of speaking (in terms of being able to produce in the moment, at speed, under pressure) are evident, e.g. sending messages on mobile phones and online instant communication. This post is a summary of the talk. Here is Fiona’s tagline: “How well are we equipping learners of English as a second language with the necessary skills for communicating in today’s online communities? And what are the skills they need? This talk will explore a new aspect of written fluency – the ability to write speedily, relevantly and concisely – and offer practical ideas on how to develop it.” 

My final IATEFL post is a challenge to all attendees of the conference, whether live or aline, to engage with what they’ve been exposed to, to reflect on learning, to experiment with new ideas, to articulate why they disagree with certain things they’ve seen and to think about what’s next on the path of CPD…

I hope everybody who attended IATEFL – live or online – enjoyed it and got as much out of it as I did! :-)

Verb patterns, curiosity and pre-intermediate learners

This is an activity I did with my pre-intermediate learners today, to give them extra opportunity to use the verb patterns that we had looked at in their previous lesson, in a more personalised way. It doesn’t require much preparation, as it mostly draws on learner-generated content – as well as their natural curiosity! What it does require is lots of use of the verb patterns in question, including questions and, potentially, third-person structures.

Time:

+- 40 minutes (could have run for longer but 40 minutes was sufficient)

Materials:

One teacher-made model:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.58.03

image of “me” taken from openclipart.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification; bubbles from powerpoint shapes!

One learner handout:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.58.13

Here is the power point that I made with both (so that the teacher one can be adapted and projected/printed, while the learner one can be printed…)

 Language focus:

Verb patterns – specifically:

  • I want to – infinitive
  • I’d love to – infinitive
  • I enjoy – verb-ing
  • I’m fed up with – verb-ing
  • I hope to – infinitive
  • I’m thinking of – verb-ing
  • I’m looking forward to -verb-ing. 

[although adaptable to whichever verb patterns you've been looking at which can be personalised...]

 Procedure:

  • Elicit the target verb patterns (that you have looked at in the previous lesson) and board them (if using projection, then in an area of the the board that is not used by the projector screen!) in categories according to pattern.
  • Either project, or hand out printouts of, your teacher model.
  • Put the learners in pairs and get them to look at the model.
  • Tell them these are your answers to the sentence stems given by the verb patterns.
  • Get them to ask you questions in order to guess which stem/pattern each answer/thought cloud corresponds with. (The answers are bare infinitives so there are no linguistic clues and learners have to put the answers into the correct form according to the verb pattern).
  • Encourage them to find out more about the answer once they have guessed correctly:

E.g. :

Learners: Do you enjoy speaking Italian?

Teacher: Yes but there’s something I enjoy more! Guess again!

Learners: Do you enjoy going horse-riding?

Teacher: Yes, I do! Very much!

Learners: Do you do it here? Where do you go? etc

  • Once they have finished guessing and quizzing you, hand out the blank student handout for learners to complete with their own ideas.
  • Put them in pairs (get them to work with a new partner)
  • Ask them to take turns asking questions (and finding out more about their partner’s thought clouds once they have guessed correctly) until they have correctly guessed all of the clouds.
  • Monitor and collect feedback for a delayed feedback slot.

Optional extra:

  • Regroup the learners so that each new group consists of either person A or person B of each of the AB pairs from the previous activity.
  • Ask learners to tell their new group what they’ve learnt about their partner, using the verb patterns.

(I did this with one of my pre-int classes today – the one that had already had progress test feedback because they’d done their tests promptly, and therefore didn’t need class time allocating to that today – following the delayed feedback slot from part one of the activity, and it gave them a chance to act on the feedback I’d given.)

My IH Journal column no.2: learner autonomy and metacognition

My IH Journal (International House Journal) tagline is as follows:

“To celebrate my 30th birthday (18/06/2013), I made an attempt to identify 30 things that I’d incorporated into my professional practice over the preceding year. 30 is quite a large number, but having spent an academic year at Leeds Metropolitan University learning vast amounts while tackling the Delta integrated into an M.A. ELT, I thought I should be able to pinpoint any number of things and by doing so, it would reinforce them in my mind as well has creating a record to look back on. Despite the final length of that blog post, each of the 30 items was only briefly treated. In this column, I revisit that blog post, selecting items and expanding on them.”

For my second column, which recently appeared in issue 36 (Spring 2014), I focused on learner autonomy and metacognition. As I get lots of searches relating to metacognition leading to my blog, I thought I would post a link to this column for any who are interested in this area and that of learner autonomy.

The contents page shows the wide variety of articles and columns that IH Journal has to offer – something for everybody to read, so why not have a look?

Enjoy! :)

Review board-game for advanced level learners

I used this simple board game that I made, with my advanced level learners, to do some post-progress test review with them. It worked well, so I thought I would share it here for anybody else who might like to use it. It took an hour for three learners (my 50% attendance rate for today’s class!) to play the game together.

It covers the following areas:

  • Compound nouns from phrasal verbs
  • Language for adding emphasis
  • Inversion
  • Passive distancing
  • Responding to news

It is based on Units 5 + 6 of New Headway Advanced 

Instructions:

  • Put learners in groups of three.
  • Each learner needs a coin/counter and one coin is needed for use by all – to determine the number of squares a player should move forward.
  • All learners should put their coins on square 1 – “Go!
  • Tell learners to take it in turns to toss the central coin. If it lands with the “heads” side facing up, then they should move forward one space. If it lands with the “tails” side facing up, then they should move forward two spaces. If a square has already been landed on and the question answered correctly, that square becomes a “dead” square. Exceptions to this are those squares which require creativity! :) In the case of a “dead” square, the learner would move to the next “live square” beyond it.
  • Each time they land on a square, they must follow the instructions in that square. If they answer incorrectly, they must go back to the square they were in prior to tossing the coin.
  • For the squares that require learners to take a longer speaking turn, to discuss a topic/tell a story, monitor and collect feedback to do a delayed feedback phase with the class at the end of the game.
  • For the other squares, monitor and settle any disputes that may arise!

Have fun! :-)