Amy Brown – Reading for pleasure: a path to learner autonomy?

Well, I had to come to this – after all my reading project shenanigans, I was very interested to hear about another reading project…

Reading for pleasure: a path to learner autonomy?

Amy is a senior teacher and the coordinator of the IH Newcastle Personal Study Programme (guided self-study – 1 or 2hrs a day, timetabled, supports regular classes). The ethos of PSP is learner autonomy.

Amy starts by discussing the prickly term of learner autonomy. Not everybody has the same idea of what it is. She asked around the staffroom, getting teachers to say what they think about learner autonomy… but first we had to discuss!

What do we mean by learner autonomy?

The answers from Newcastle…

“learners learning to learn for themselves”

” having the ability to decide for themselves”

…and many more.

Key characteristics of reading for pleasure

Amy formed her own idea of what exactly this means. Three characteristics relevant for this project:

Choice, individual and at learners pace [and one more I missed!]

In the beginning…

Magazines and newspapers were available for reading and a small library of graded readers. Students couldn’t take them home, as so small, so no home reading. There were also trips to the library/bookshops, giving help in book selection (this guidance was appreciated) e.g. this is modern English so could be helpful for you to read.

They wanted more emphasis on pleasure…

This necessitated a bigger library and not only graded readers. Many books were selected, recommended or donated by teachers. Some books have been made into films. Some are for younger speakers. But authentic.

PSP Induction – conversation starter “have you ever read a book in English” (Just like I did with my project, but in the classroom!! :D)

Did many students take up the opportunity? Yes, but mostly those who were readers in their own language and the problem was, when the books came back, the enthusiasm had dipped. When they were returned a few weeks later, uncertainty as to whether they had actually finished…

Pre-check out questions: “What are you going to do when you come across new words?” – entry to a discussion on strategy. “What made you choose this book? – conversation starters.

There were also follow-up chats – how is it going? where are you up to? Also in written form through the journal system. If a couple of students were reading the same book, got them together to discuss also.

But were we getting to new readers or only established readers?

The Reader Organisation

Began in Liverpool, then moved to Newcastle. They promote literacy and wellbeing. They are commissioned from the local council, mental health associations etc. It’s always voluntary attendance, no one is forced to go. It’s a “shared reading group”. Amy mostly found examples with younger learners within ELT, rather than adult learners.

It’s low pressure. The reader (leader – trained reader) reads aloud and stops at natural breaking points, and asks questions re what might happen next and what do you think happens? It involves a lot of reading aloud. There is never any pressure to read. People who read out loud in these groups do it voluntarily and it can be a liberating experience. Amy attended a meeting, didn’t read aloud, but came away feeling really keen to read! She recommends that you google their website.

Amy also came away thinking about how to implement within the school.

How would learners react?

Within this project should be no follow-up activities. The reward should come from the reading itself.

A reader came into IH Newcastle for a 4-week collaboration. B1+ 2 weekly groups, max. 12 students led by “a Reader” (not a “teacher”) – to create an atmosphere not of class but of reading and pleasure. A mix of nationalities and genders. A teacher was also invited along. Luckily there was no asking about language points. They did a short story called “The Umbrella Man” by Roald Dahl

Lots of discussion and personalisation came up naturally and lots of prediction because it was suspenseful story. Without any visual aids.

What about the responses?

Feedback came from observing teachers – a form with prompts to complete.

  • No phone or dictionaries…the students were in the moment.
  • not rushed, not over done [a natural pace]
  • focus on overall meaning
  • lots of enthusiasm from the teachers [and their learners had told the class about it]

Feedback from students mostly came via class teacher “spies” from natural conversations where the students told their teacher about what was happening in the group.

Some of the students really loved it.

“It helps me to understand books better”

“After the group, I think – I need to keep reading” [in a focus group at the end – enthusiastic about reading when they left the group]

“It doesn’t feel like study” [important in a study-packed day!]

A lot of the students invited were IELTS students but the response:

“I need to practice more the exam” …something that needs working on! Students don’t see the benefit of non-exam focused work.

How is all this promoting learner autonomy?

We all discussed together and thought yes!

Finally Amy talked about where the project was going next…

  • more shared reading (more levels/choices)
  • silent reading groups
  • shared reading with IELTS texts? Splitting it into short stories and poetry separately.

Amy can be contacted at amy@ihnewcastle.com in relation to this project!

Cecilia Lemos – Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy

Stepping from focus on teaching to focus on professional development for a spell, I decided to attend the lovely Cecilia’s talk on making lesson observations something to really benefit from rather than a threat and shudder process…

Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy

Cecilia started by introducing herself – always interesting to learn more about the person behind the speaker 🙂 Ceci certainly has lots of varied experience.

Motivation, the problem, a possible solution and the different forms it could take, is the form the talk will take… Ceci’s ideas will be implemented next semester, but she has tried it with some volunteer teachers so we will hear about that.

The motivation

Ceci participated in a workshop on lesson observations. Yes, a whole day. You think it’s a long time, but there were a lot of ideas. She wanted to take it further. Additionally, the teacher training and observation she does in Brazil – formal observations (senior staff observe other staff for evaluation), peer observation programme (but teachers are told they have to observe some other teacher at some point and hand in an observation form). Ceci didn’t see much development coming from these, or feel that the teachers were taking very much from it. Finally, Ceci completed Delta module 2 last year and found that the type of observation, assessment and feedback made a real difference to her. She wanted to identify what it is that helps this progress to happen.

What is the problem?

  • The fear/pressure/terror/threat of being observed – by the manager/DoS/senior staff
  • How to make it truly a tool for professional development

Both formal and peer observation should be a tool for professional development. But however friendly the senior staff are or how good a rapport there is, you are still the monster in the room! When she came back from her month away doing the Delta, she observed each of her classes while the teacher taught the learners, just to get sense of everything before stepping back in as a teacher. But one of the teachers freaked out.

Possible solutions:

For summative observation (by management), when used as part of the teacher’s evaluation within the school.

  • pre-conference: sitting down together, teacher and senior staff observer, to have a talk before the observation happens. Shouldn’t be a serious, technical affair. Just establish a good rapport with the person, to set them at ease. Then talk shop. And let the teacher tell you what they want to take from it, e.g. looking out for a particular student etc. Establish particular goals.
  • if they are evaluative observations, then they should be serial. You cannot get a feel of a teacher from one lesson alone. You can’t say if the teacher manages the classroom well, or not, from one observation alone. A series of observations gives a more authentic, accurate representations.
  • Initial observation without an agenda, just sitting and watching the dynamics, to get the feel of a class – also for the students to get used to being observed.
  • Record (video or just audio) a lesson and give it to the observer – easier to forget the presence of a camera than it is an observer, in the classroom.
  • if possible, immediate post-observation reflection before feedback (a real game-changer for Ceci during the Delta) – take a notebook, go somewhere quiet for half an hour after the lesson and write. Put it all down, just write everything down with no criteria. That immediate reflection with everything so fresh makes you really think and relive the lesson and see how you could have done something differently or not. With Ceci, she already knew some of the feedback before she was given it, from this reflection. As soon as possible after, if not possible directly (in compressed timetables)

The “Buffet Table” approach to observation

You choose what you’re going to be observed on. We are still talking about the evaluative observation, done by senior management. They should say what area they want to focus on. But then the teacher should be able to choose the statements that the observer will complete. Ceci has been preparing lists of statements for this purpose. You can also find them in various books (references on last slide).

E.g. rapport with students

Possible statements:

The teacher addresses learners by name

The teacher gives equal opportunities to all learners.

etc.

The observer/management focuses on one or maximum two areas per semester. If you try to cover everything, you’re not going to really cover anything. So the teacher chooses 5 statements to be evaluated on, out of say about 20, for each area.

This is what Cecilia is trying to implement with her teachers for formal observation.

Problem:

Her biggest challenge now is to make peer observation something really valuable that contributes to development.

“From my experience, faculty, relationships and a strong sense of community prevent them from being objective and honest” (Braskamp, 2000)

Teachers are sensitive to pointing things out to each other. So everybody’s perfect. “Oh I learnt so much from your lesson” etc. But there is always room for progress – trying something different. So that you experiment and not fall into the same routines, get stuck in a rut.

Working with one aspect and one peer per term

  • If you observe the same person throughout a semester, you get a better feel for their teaching. Find a peer who is really good at something you feel you’re lacking. E.g. instructions. Observe them through a series of lessons.
  • This type of observation is primarily for the development of the observer rather than the person being observed.
  • No box-ticking forms
  • Pre-observation discussion important

Suggestion 1 for feedback:

The ladder of feedback: clarify, value, concerns, suggest.

  • You have to use all four.

Clarify: was there anything you didn’t follow, that you would like to ask the teacher about

Value: What did you find in the class that was particularly noteworth

Concerns: What questions/issues/tensions were raised

Suggestions: What changes/new things to try can you suggest?

A teacher adapted this ladder to lesson observation:

Thanks: How has observing and giving feedback enhanced your own understanding of learning?

Suggestion 2: 

Define the criteria/statements together. (E.g. using the observation checklist from EtP that Ceci is planning to adapt) :

You agree the criteria (5) in advance together; you define the scores; you put comments on it

 

Questions (paraphrased)

Q: How many per semester?

A: Anything between 3 and 5

 

Q: A whole class or sections of a class, to avoid logistical issues

A: At least 45 mins of a lesson to get a real feel for it.

 

Another very interesting talk. References are available on Ceci’s blog. http://cecilialemos.com 

Sandy Millin – Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

In the end, I chose Sandy’s session out of my three-way clash: it’s always good to learn better ways of teaching listening! Plus, I didn’t want to miss Sandy speak. 🙂 Stepping away from Academic English for a while, back into the world of regular teaching of an important skill…

Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

Sandy’s presentation will be available on her blog, including the audio she will use AND a recording! She used a “greet three new people” to illustrate some of the difficulties in listening.

“I’ve been studying English for years but I can’t understand anyone” – quote from a student in Newcastle. (Not only Newcastlers – films too, in London…) How can we help students understand English outside of the classroom/course book?

What is the difference between listening to whats in the coursebook/classroom and what’s outside?

In the classroom

  1. What do students listen to?
  2. What type of tasks to do they do?

1.

  • the teacher (if speaking in English – instructions, a story…)
  • – the other students
  • – recordings from the book (get longer as you go up the levels)

2.

  • Comprehension tasks
  • picking out new language
  • testing the level
  • the next thing in the book

In real life:

1. Real people – face to face, on the phone, on the screen etc

2.

  • For interaction
  • because they need something
  • to join the conversation
  • for information (e.g. train station)
  • because they want to (e.g. music/film)

Different!

Sandy played a recording from a course book (NEF – got lots of laughs because of course it sounded *so* natural…!) and then one from real life.

– interruptions, false starts, overlapping, pauses, fillers, you could work out what the language point was in NEF, two men rather than a man and woman (as common in course books until higher levels)

What went wrong?

  • follow up on answers, find out why they got things wrong rather than just telling them it’s wrong.

Could be:

  • speed
  • range of voice types (e.g. age, gender)
  • sound quality (or lack of sound)
  • lack of language
  • lack of confidence

Today will mostly focus on speed and voice type.

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.

Connected Speech

Apples and pears – in the word-blender – becomes:

apple zum pears

Sandy showed a worksheet with tic-tac-toe for explaining sound changes (has it moved? changed? disappeared?)

  • sol tum pepper
  • wom potato
  • frozum peas
  • a loafer slice bread   etc

from the http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/word-blender website

Don’t need to use complicated meta-language: just “the sound moves” or “the sound disappears” is fine.

What about final consonant and initial vowel link? Sandy spent half an hour pulling things out of a sentence, using the rules she had been teaching them. This was with pre-intermediate students and they could produce it at regular speed, feel it in their mouths and understand why the listening might have been difficult if a native speaker had been saying it to them.

Transcripts: With a listening with a very difficult accent (e.g. Irish!) – after the listening, get learners to look at a transcript and identify all the consonant-vowel links. You don’t need to use the whole transcript, just a paragraph, and just look at one rule at a time.

Next, we need something to write with. I shall use this blog post!

Micro-dictations: we hear two sentences and write them down.

  1. Today we’re looking at a lot of listening activities.
  2. I’m here for a conference.

That’s a single sentence, all we had to do was write it down. Easy? For us, yes. Not for pre-int students. Students have control of a sentence recording, they have to transcribe it on the board. Teacher outside of the room so that the students don’t keep turning to him/her.

To clip audio:

  • audacity (pc/mac)
  • wavepad (ipad)
  • mp3cut.net (online)
  • safeshare.tv (youtube – online, also good for cutting out the ads.)

Comprehension

Consists of using bottom up skills (using small components – words) and top-down skills (using the wider context) and bringing them together to make sense.

The activities so far have been for bottom up comprehension. The next one should be top-down.

Activity: What’s next?

When I was… younger, a child, a kid, I …. used to go….to scouts/skiing swimming every Saturday

How did you know what would come next? Collocation, colligation etc If you do this activity with students, you can build up their confidence because they see how much of meaning they can construct in their heads.

A range of voices

  • Guests #eltchat “I’d really like somebody to talk about x in my classroom” – you might find someone who could do a skype into your classroom. Or you could use Facebook TeachingEnglish page. Or anybody you know who speaks English and can come into your classroom – e.g. visitors. [Sandy played a recording of when her cousin visited her and came into the classroom and the students had to try and get him to use a way of talking about the past that they might not recognise being used but had learnt about. Dan knew nothing about this] – would. Dan used it 19 times… This audio will be on Sandy’s blog if you’d like to use it with your students! Students said “Oh my God, you actually do use this!
  • Leaving the classroom: to get different voices
  • English language listening library (www.elllo.org) – lots of short recordings and you can search it by accent (how brilliant is this?!) Being added to all the time.
  • Collins English for Life – Listening: A2 pre-intermediate (Sandy got as a sample copy and uses all the time) – natural speed conversations, various accents, tasks graded rather than text. (Worth investing?!)
  • Extended listening: encourage your students to do so from early levels – you don’t need to be able to understand everything. Just getting your ears used to the rhythm of the speech that you listen to. You’d be surprised how many students don’t think about this. E.g. films, tv programmes (E.g. twenty minute sitcoms), BBC – one and two minute videos around the website but on the youtube channel there are more extended pieces (if abroad, there are some 30 min programmes on there), podcasts, TED talks.

Further reading:

Listening in the language classroom by John Field, 2008 Cambridge University Press (recommended to Sandy by me! 😀 )

….Yep! I don’t regret coming to this one!! 😀 

Julie Moore: How do Engineers say that? Encouraging academic independence in ELT (Session 1)

This is my first academic English session for the conference! I had intended to attend more, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, the best-laid plans of mice, men and conference participants… It is also the first talk of the day for the ESP SIG Day. We are shown the timetable and I realise I may  be back in this room again after the coffee break! That’ll save getting lost… 😉 Apparently they are also being recorded…

How do Engineers say that? Encouraging academic independence in ELT

Julie starts with thank-you’s and asking the audience to complete the feedback form at the end, and introduces herself.

She is going to talk to us about dealing with mixed-discipline classes and how to encourages students to be more independent. She asked us who are practising EAP teachers and most hands went up except mine – yet! She also asked about management roles and materials developers. Still not me… 😉 She acknowledges that we all want to get different things out of the day. (For me? to learn more about EAP!) She compares us to a mixed-discipline EAP class – going on to different things, with different objectives. The teacher/presenter has to (try to) keep all happy.

She shows us a wordle (word cloud) of the different subject areas of students on her courses. Some are more heavily represented than others, but there is a huge range. The course coordinator often doesn’t know till the last minute who will turn up. Institutional constraints mean they can’t be split up but must be taught in the same class, all with different needs, wanting to learn different things.

Principle no 1:

Identify key, transferable academic principles, features, skills and language: things that will be useful in any discipline. What will be useful to all of my students?

Principle no 2:

Give the students a clear rationale: explain to the students why you have chosen these things and why they are useful. This is a step that often gets missed out but is very important, as students may  not see the relevance. Materials writers should make it clear to teachers and students, teachers to their students.

Principle no 3:

Encourage students to apply general classroom ideas to their own discipline via independent study. We will see an example of how we can encourage students to do this.

E.g. 1 OUP Advanced writing module: A sequence of tasks leading to a writing task

Looking at the task of writing a critical response. Traditionally we teach essays, and essays do come up across discipline, but less common in hard sciences, but the other genre that occurs across disciplines is a critical response/critique/review. When Julie thinks of a critique she thinks of English literature, but students can critique all kinds of things, especially at advanced levels.

This activity presents students with examples (five in the book, three shown on screen), short examples of critique writing from different disciplines. Students asked to think about which discipline they are studying, topics discussed and stances taken. Within the examples, some of the language is in bold.

The first example is a science-y kind of subject. The review is a bit critical, a bit supportive – “significant uses”  but them it expresses limitations “not entirely consistent”: so this is getting students to think about how we evaluate.

So students start to see here that this style of writing occurs across disciplines. This is the very first task. You are showing them upfront that this something that all disciplines need to do. All the examples won’t be directly relevant to the student, but they can see the relevance of the activity. So this is an example of engaging the students upfront.

Identifying skills and features

Julie shows us a lesson sequence, with task headings that are focused on transferable features/skills rather than topics. This draws out skills and language, and how to use abstracts for writing and research. This may be from looking at examples not related to their discipline but then the final task is an independent research project where they are encouraged to find examples related to their discipline and focus on those abstracts. Which features studied in the lesson occur in the abstract and identify the language for describing aims.

But will they really do it? Maybe some of the conscientious ones. But the others won’t bother. Julie says that the important thing is to require students to report back. “Next class bring back what you have found, so you can report back” – that stops it being a throwaway task. (This fits right in with my thoughts/feelings/approaches re autonomy!) 

In a class of 14 students in Julie’s class, there were a total of 23 abstracts, ranging from law, business, electronic engineering, film studies, TESOL – quite a range. What they found was 12 used personal pronouns “I” and “We” – interesting as we often tell students not be personal but in this context, talking about aims, it IS common: important for reading and writing as well. 10 examples of reference to the text itself – “this article” and “this paper”. They also found some verbs for describing aims, some overlapping with what had been discussed in the above sequence from OUP and some new. E.g. examine, discuss, analyse etc

It got the students thinking about similarities and differences between theirs and other disciplines. With all these tasks, the discussion is more important than anything else, giving students time to explore their own discipline in relation to others, giving them the skills to start doing this themselves: transferable skills, helping them to move towards a more autonomous position. You help them develop the skills to explore and analyse for themselves.

(I love this!! So inline with my beliefs!)  

Five minutes for questions: (paraphrased…)

Q Are your students mostly post-graduate students? A lot of my students probably wouldn’t have that sense of their own discipline. 

A: The book we were working on was for Advanced level, so aimed more at post-grad students. You could do it a little bit. One of the reasons we focused on abstracts is that they are freely available, so even if they aren’t attached to a uni yet and don’t have access, then it’s still possible for them to start to explore a little bit. They can still explore texts from their own area.

Q: Presumably you as the teacher could bring in a pile of abstracts to help them, as they may not have the skills to find these themselves. 

A: Yes, you could absolutely.

Q: I was just reflecting on what you were saying about throw-away tasks – I think I’m guilty of this – I think a lot of that comes from nervousness thinking that we need to know about all the disciplines. I’d get nervous that I’d get all these abstracts back the next time and none of them would fit together etc. Any advice for setting up that second task?

A: I think for me it’s just about having confidence in what you do know and being perfectly happy to admit what you don’t know. E.g. this law student who brought in bizarre abstracts that I didn’t understand because of the legal language. All I could say to him was “that’s interesting” but other law students had brought more conventional ones and we explored the reason behind the differences and we came to the conclusion that it was a specific journal with a specific style. Release control, not worry too much and be able to admit that you don’t know. I don’t think you always have to have an answer. You just deal with the things you can deal with.

Audience member comment: Students enjoy explaining at a higher level what they know to students from a different background, when you put them in groups to discuss.

Students are a wonderful resource!

 

 

Plenary: Michael Hoey – The implications of a corpus linguistic theory for learning the English language (and the Chinese language too)

According to the introductory speaker, Michael’s talk draws its data from corpus linguistics…what a shock… 🙂 

 What Michael wants to do today is look at two old approaches to language teaching and learning, and bring a new perspective to bear on them. Both approaches have had a great number of adherents and critics, both are very much alive.

The Lexical Approach

He starts by showing us a slide of key works within Lewis’s Lexical Approach, which is now just over 20 years olds, saying there is still work going on but it is now an old approach though very much still alive. According to Lewis, the successful language learner is someone who can recognise, understand and produce lexical chunks. Learning the grammar and slotting other words in doesn’t work in a world where language doesn’t work like that. Rather than learning vocabulary in lists and focusing on grammatical structures, focusing on the actual words that can be used to communicate. When someone learns vocab in context, they pick up grammar naturally, but it doesn’t work vice versa – you don’t pick up much useful vocab when learning grammar separately.

He cites his language learning with regards to Chinese, where he has learnt to talk about his father’s tea-drinking habits while his father is actually dead, but can’t ask for a beer, is not useful – a learning grammar and then pieces of vocabulary. Whereas if you learn vocab relevant to your needs, the grammar comes along.

The lexical approach has been criticised for ignoring how language is learnt, that there is no theoretical underpinning and that it trivialises the role of grammar. There is also the question of whether it is limited to the Indo-European languages.

Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model

Another old approach but very much alive. Also known as the input hypothesis. Michael thinks it should be called the input theory but will refer to it as the Monitor Model. It is now 30 years old. He showed us some key works related to this as well. According to this model, comprehensible input is the key element needed for language learning to take place. It needs to be slightly above learners’ level and is a subconscious process. Michael illustrates this with his own experience of Chinese learning.

It has been criticised for ignoring how language is learnt, having no linguistic underpinning and trivialising grammar and the role of the teacher.

Michael’s 3 arguments for today:

  1. These two approaches are entirely compatible with psycho-linguistic evidence.
  2. Both of them are supported by at least one carefully worked out linguistic theory – his! (Puts them on shaky ground?! he wonders.. 🙂 )
  3. The characters that both approaches assign to the language learning process are equally true of non-Indo European language.

How do we learn language?

Michael is interested in the psychologists doing language work rather than the linguistics pretending to do psychology work. Psycholinguists identified two things: semantic priming and repetition priming

Semantic priming – informants shown an image or word (the prime) and then shown a second word/image (known as the target word). Speed of recognition is measured. Some primes slow the recognition of target word, while others speed it up.

E.g. “wing” followed by “director” – “wing” won’t alter the speed. If it is followed by “dog”, it will infinitesimally slow down. But if swan, then it will be speeded up slightly. It’s about linguistic knowledge rather than world knowledge.

It is old and uncontroversial work. What does it mean for language learning?

It gives us proof that words are closely linked in a listener’s mind. Words that are closely linked can be recognised more quickly together. So it encourages fluency. It doesn’t fit in at all with grammatical frames and words that slot in. This notion (the grammatical frames one) is not supported. It does, though, fit in very well with the lexical approach, which fully supports it.

Repetition priming

E.g. a listener hears the phrase scarlet followed by onion, then a few days later hears the word scarlet, it will speed up the process of recognising onion. So your brain remembers the co-occurrence and that speeds the recognition up.

Michael shows us some works related to this and says it, too, is uncontroversial.

Repetition priming explains collocation. If a listener/reader encounters words in combination, then they are stored as such and recognition is speeded up. When we encounter words in combination, we link them in our minds without there being any conscious learning. Doesn’t fit in well with  the grammatical framework notion but it does fit in with Krashen’s acquisition vs. learning.

So that takes care of number 1 for todays talk.

Now for number 2 – are these supported by another theory?

<slide>

Any account for collocation has got to be central to how language functions. The lexical priming theory is a psycholinguistic theory based on corpus linguistic evidence. It claims that whenever we encounter a word, we subconsciously note the words it occurs with – the collocations.

<He shows use lots of combinations with “hard”> All of these are part of collocation.

Once a priming is created, it is subject to further priming. “ears” collocates with “eyes”, which as a group becomes something that will be primed to collocate with “act as” as in “act as someone’s eyes and ears” So collocations can collocate with something else.

Michael quotes Hill regards to the density of unknown collocations that are the difficulty for learners. But the lexical priming theory goes beyond collocation. It is also about semantic association.

E.g. ears collocates with eyes, but also co-occurs with other parts of the body in a semantic set. All of this is part of that semantic association – “ears” likes to collocate with parts of the body. 23% of all instances of “ears” in Hoey’s corpus collocate with part of the body.

“consequences” tend to be negative – grim, bleak

“results” tend to be positive – great

We also note the grammatical patterns that a word or combination of words tend to take – the colligation.

“consequence” tends to be indefinite e.g. “a consequence of”; “result” tends to be definite e.g. “the result of..”

We are primed for this by recurrent occurrences of these combinations.

We also subconsciously note textual features. This goes beyond the oft-talked about that we have considered so far. We are primed for other things when we encounter language. We recognise whether a word is typically cohesive or not. We know, when reading or listening, whether this word or phrase is going to turn about again. So we know whether we need to hold on to it or can forget it.

Michael shows us an extract from The Guardian and picks out that president occurs three times in the course of three sentences. Not an accident. In Michael’s study, of 66 independent occurrences of “president”, 76% contributed to the cohesion of the text. So we are primed to expect that. We also notice how it is likely to be cohesive e.g. by simple repetition, or pronouns or with a name (co-reference), in the case of “president”

Back to the text – “frankly”, however, was only responsible for 5 instances of cohesion out of 50, and some of them were a stretch. So we are primed to expect avoidance of cohesion, with “frankly”.

Just reading a text, you get lots of experiences of those words that are repeated within the text.

We also are primed for semantic relationships within a text. Every lexical item – word, phrase – may be positively or negatively primed to associate with various items. Texts prime our vocabulary for us and our vocabulary primes us with regard to the organisation of the text. We are also primed to notice position e.g. is it typically used at the beginning of a sentence or the end of a sentence. E.g. “it was announced yesterday” is typically found at the end of the first sentence in a newspaper article. So very precise positioning.

Michael tells us a lot about what we know about “According to” in relation to newspaper texts in terms of collocation, colligation, pragmatic association, semantic association etc. Very interesting.

This all wholly supports Michael Lewis’s view of the centrality of lexis. Everything he was saying in the Lexical Approach book is backed up by psycholinguistic and corpus linguistic research. It must be true. If you want to argue it’s not, you have to argue against ALL the sets of research. All the textual features are central to Stephen Krashen’s claim. You couldn’t expect to teach/learn consciously all the textual properties of every word in the text. But it is the case that the fact that we reproduce these things when we write/speak means we learn from frequent encounters. So he is right that we need to be exposed to naturally occuring data.

Like me with Italian, Michael can’t speak but can read Chinese! The textual features of lexis can be acquired.

Time for number 3 – does the Lexical Approach apply to Chinese? i.e. not only applicable to Indo-European languages

Michael contrasts English and Chinese and then looks at the Lexical Priming claims in terms of Chinese. He shows us collocations of “hao” in Chinese. And then points out that “houhui” is associated with negative colligation. Then shows us that houhui has a semantic association with unhappy action taken and pragmatic association of making a suggestion (a third of instances in the corpus), but only the negative forms.

In terms of significance, sensible to build on the common ground between languages rather than the differences.

Michael has shown us how both Krashen’s and Lewis’s theories have been falsely criticised, and are in fact safe to use. The two researchers have come up with very compatible positions.

hoeymp@liv.ac.uk

IATEFL 2014 Day 2: why I come to IATEFL!

Fresh after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, I walked the five minutes between my hotel and the conference centre, feeling sure it would be much easier to negotiate than it was in my addled state yesterday. Turns out, not so much! I’m not entirely convinced by Harrogate conference centre – Liverpool and Glasgow were – or at least seemed – both more user-friendly. Also, there were no talks in portacabin come tents (e.g. Queen A – I don’t think any queen in her right mind would give it her royal seal of approval! :-p ), or in the case of my room, half in the corridor.

Nevertheless, it’s been a super-interesting day, though I had to pace myself in order to keep at least some energy for my talk, which terrorised me increasingly, the closer the start time loomed. I even had to come back to my hotel room for an hour to recharge myself just prior to my talk (thank you Sandy, for that life-saving idea! I bumped into Sandy and upon seeing how frazzled I was, she told me where to go – my hotel room! Thank goodness – it saved me.)

Anyway, my talk is over and I’m happy – it was ok. But I’ve already posted a post about the content of that, so no need to go into details here.

In fact, today’s end-of-day post is mostly going to be devoted to things I love about IATEFL:

  • walking from conference centre to hotel first thing in the morning, bright and early, looking forward to a brand new day of learning. (This morning was extra early because I went to one of the pre-plenary sessions as well – tomorrow I shall merely get in in time for the plenary!)
  • bumping into someone you worked with briefly the previous summer, hadn’t been in touch with, hadn’t been expecting to see, in the loos prior to the plenary, and then enjoying the plenary with them [a.k.a random, unexpected encounters with people!]
  • picking up the annual black cat publishers bag (they make good handbags :-p)
  • planning to go to this talk and that talk, but then actually going to something entirely different because you bumped into someone and decided that you quite fancied what they were heading towards.
  • bumping into people you know and haven’t seen for ages randomly in the corridors and how delighted you feel when it happens.
  • seeing people talk about things they are deeply interested in and enthusiastic about.
  • realising (again) how big the world of TEFL is (so many contexts that you don’t necessarily generally think too much about,  in your day-to-day little bit of it) and yet how small (all those people you keep bumping into…)
  • meeting loads of people that you know from online but hadn’t yet met “in real life”; putting real faces to PLN names.
  • the way that in the third year you attend, you know way more people than in the first year and so you get lots more of bumping into people.
  • as a presenter, the lovely feeling of presenting to an audience in which you know a fair few people and they are there supporting you.
  • fondling beautiful ELT-related books in the exhibition area and wishing you could buy them all and read them all…

To me, IATEFL is about the learning (attending talks, giving talks) but also about keeping in touch with the big, wide ELT world that exists out there. It’s about being exposed to tons of new ideas and learning random new things related to the profession. (Example of a random fact I’ve picked up this time round: I learnt that there are loads of freelance editors out there; previously I had just assumed that each publishing company had only in-house editors) You get to meet all kinds of people, working in all kinds of contexts, that you wouldn’t otherwise get to meet. There are people that attend year in, year out, and it never gets old for them. And of course every year, new people come too. It’s not something that once you’ve done it once (attending or presenting), that’s it, you can tick it off a list and move on.

It was great to speak today, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow because I can just go to loads of talks and not worry about pacing myself so that I’m not frazzled by last session of the day (when I spoke today!). I’ve got my plan of what to see, and I know jolly well I won’t stick to it, and that’s just fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way. (There was discussion prior to IATEFL regarding whether it would be good to have to register to see talks prior to the conference; I think that would be a terrible idea – I like being able to change my mind at the last minute!) I will also be wearing my Leeds Met alumna hat tomorrow and hanging out with Leeds Met folk, during the morning break, in the Holiday Inn Foyer (across from the centre), to answer questions about the course from student perspective – so if you are interested, do come along and see us! 🙂

One thing that really strikes me as I sit here typing this is: It’s just wonderful to see so many people in one place who really care about what they do and want to share that with others who also really care about what they do, and to be a part of that. The amount of positive energy reverberating around IATEFL is phenomenal. I’m really glad I’ve been able to attend this year. It’s my third and I hope it’s far from being my last! 🙂

me presenting

Gratuitous picture of me presenting this afternoon! 🙂 (taken by Adam Simpson)

 

IATEFL 2014: Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment

My very first IATEFL talk!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.21.10

Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Time: 17.45-18.15

After introducing myself and my three invisible hats (teacher of English, learner of language/teaching, ex-student of the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta – the origin of the ideas on which this talk was based), I provided the following talk outline:

  • Over to you! (A few questions…)
  • Student-led interviews (benefits and issues)
  • My materials
  • Using the framework

Attendees then discussed the following questions:

  • What context do you teach in?
  • What materials do you use?

Which led to these:

  • Do the materials exploit the rich resources of language outside the classroom?
  • Do the materials encourage students to exploit it?
  • Do materials scaffold students to exploit it?

Following this discussion, I revealed two quotes by Tomlinson (2008, 2013):

“None of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.” (Tomlinson, 2008)

“Little[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.” (Tomlinson, 2013)

One way in which language schools try to encourage learners to engage with the language in the out-of-classroom environment in English-speaking places is to send learners out to interview members of the public. I asked attendees to consider the benefits and potential issues with this activity, before providing some of my own:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.32.42

The question of how to guide learners across the murky waters of the potential issues to reap the possible benefits is where my materials come in. The next part of the talk discussed the influences that informed the development of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.23.56

And then revealed the basic framework I’d created using Task-Based Learning (Ellis, 2003; Willis and Willis, 2007), Language Awareness Approach (Svalberg, 2007) and the Intercultural Approach (Corbett, 2003):

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.41.48

 

Of course this bare frame doesn’t demonstrate how those theories were woven in, and does give rise to possible questions/issues. So at this point I predicted some possible questions that might have been forming in the audience’s mind:

But…

  • Won’t they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn’t it a cop out? Mucking about instead of learning language?

And then explored how I used the approaches I’d chosen, to address these issues and to maximise learning and learner engagement, and how I’d addressed issues that critics have raised with regards to the theories. The result was this framework:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.42.00

(F.L. stands for functional language and S.E. stands for students’ experiences.)

 

The final part of the talk dealt with using this framework and exemplified this with a task from my own materials. The initial steps of using the framework have much in common with a genre-based approach:

  • Think about how you want your ss. to use language
  • Find texts produced in that genre/those genres. (Or make your own with your colleagues!)
  • Identify common generic features (language, structure, organisation, appearance etc)

To this I add:

  • Pinpoint interesting/engaging non-linguistic outcomes.
  • Consider scaffolding.
  • Pick out linguistic and cultural dynamism.
  • Build in reflection.

Obviously the first bullet point of part 2 of the list is in keeping with TBL tenets. The second refers to how the tasks are going to feed into each other, how the activities within each task are going to feed into each other and how the whole is going to enable learners to be able to do something by the end of it. The third is in keeping with the Intercultural Approach and the Language Awareness approach. The final bullet point, opportunities for reflection, is crucial to all three approaches as well as being the key to turning experiences into learning, and connecting learning to experiences.

To exemplify this, I used the third task of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.03.44

 

I discussed how content generated by students in the second task fed into the pre-task activity, in which students collaborate and exchange information, in preparation for the main task of this third task. The main task requires learners to synthesise the information they’ve collected between them, and use it as the basis for their question preparation. They are then helped to analyse  these questions by considering cultural and pragmatic issues, before moving on in the post-task activities to engaging with input in the form of a real interview, which leads to language focus and speaking skills development. Throughout the task, learners are encouraged to reflect and connect their own experiences and knowledge with what they are learning, and to identify similarities and differences between their own culture, other learners’ cultures and the target language culture.

Being a twenty minute talk (plus ten minutes for questions), I had to bring it to an end pretty swiftly by this point, by thanking International House, Palermo, for allowing me to attend IATEFL 2014, and the Leeds Met M.A. ELT department (and especially Heather Buchanan, who was my supervisor for the dissertation project in which I made these materials) for all the guidance and support that I was given in my learning and in realising my ideas, because without the course I most definitely wouldn’t have been giving this talk today. And the final thank you, of course, to everybody who attended!

Here is a list of references for my talk:

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language Awareness and Language Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. Cambridge Journals

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice Heinle and Heinle. Canada

Murray, N. (2012)  English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence in ELT Journal Volume 66/3 Oxford University Press

Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. Clevedon

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press Oxford.

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, Oxford

Tomlinson, B. (2008) English Language Learning Materials: A Critical Review Continuum London

Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (2013) Survey Review: Adult course books in ELT Journal Volume 67/2. Oxford University Press Oxford

Nigel Harwood: Content, consumption and production: three types of ELT textbook research

ELT Textbooks (or ‘coursebooks’): not just books, all the paraphenalia that goes with. The focus for today is on global coursebooks e.g. Headway.

Why should we do research on textbooks at all? 

  • One powerful argument: teachers have to use them! Most teachers in most parts of the world are required to use textbooks to some degree.
  • Often responsible for end-of-term exam content and things like that.

Important to see if they are fit for purpose.

  • research that has been done can be criticised for lack of rigour, so more rigorous research is needed.

Harwood proposes a research agenda for textbooks:

  • studies of content: look at what textbooks include and exclude in terms of language, topics and culture. So, traditional content analysis.
  • studies of consumption: how the books are used by teachers and learners. Looking at lesson plans, looking at what happens in the classroom, looking at how learners feel about the book etc.
  • studies of production: the process of writing, the process by which the book are shaped and distributed.

Why does this matter?

Content analysis: for accuracy and appropriacy

E.g. of a content study of language:

There are lots of studies comparing language in corpora with language in textbooks. E.g. Ruhlemann (2009) – reported speech in seven intermediate level course books and BNC data. Evidence suggested that the corpus wasn’t being consulted.

E.g. of a content study of culture: 

Solokik (2007) – focused on grammar books and found that they are helping to transmit certain cultural images.

Gray and Block  (?missed the date, expect you can find it on slides online at some point) – earlier textbooks contain more reference to the working classes, but in none of the books was there any discussion of class issues. This is part of the discourse of textbooks as entertainment rather than serious education. Nowadays, the working class appear in pictures, in service encounters, but still no discussion.

Limitations of content analysis: 

Only gives us the “what”, not the “why” – we need to talk to writers and publishers about that. Also doesn’t tell us how material is used.

Consumption studies

This is focusing on actual use. Why does this matter? Because teachers use books differently. We need to try and explore the relationship between teacher’s profile and what they do with it. A book could look fantastic at page level but be used ineffectively.

Shawer (??) divides teachers into 3 categories:

1. Curriculum-makers: rare use made, they make their own based on learners’ needs.

2. Curriculum-developers: use it but supplement it with own materials

3. Curriculum-transmitters: slavish use of the book

Teachers do use books very differently.

Why? The content affects use; the teacher’s beliefs etc; the learners’ needs, age, level etc; institutional factors

So textbook use is context-bound and influenced.

Harwood then told us about a study he did with his PhD student. They found “john” used the book very rarely and they looked more deeply into this via various means. Turns out he was a “curriculum maker”. Looked at an exercpt; John didn’t use it. Why? Don’t like the topic, don’t think it’s useful, don’t like the visual presentation of the book; the topic wasn’t suitable for the level (his learners’ level was too low); the learner age was wrong for it; it’s too Euro-centric etc.

This study took Shawer’s work further in that Shawer developed the categories, they looked an example of one and tried to identified the reasons why. The findings map well onto Hutchinson’s (1996) model.  Also shows how textbook use is mediated by the teacher.

Textbook production

How writers write, what publishers do and so on. Why does this matter? Can help us understand how difficult it is to write a book. Very easy to criticise a textbook. But studies like this reveal all the hidden pressures at work. Can also reveal things that writers believe and publishers believe. May explain why there are problems.

Bell and Gower (2011) – chapter about all the compromises writers have to make. The unenviable task of the materials writer; trying to be all things to all people, but with constraints of space, tight deadlines (affecting piloting).

The new book

Contains, amongst others, a study by Dr. Ivor Timmis (the one and only!) – describes his experience of writing a textbook for publication in a context he had no firsthand experience of. It discusses the compromises as well e.g. conflict between text driven approach that they wanted to use vs the requirement “there must be three grammar points per unit” meaning he had to put in exercises that he otherwise wouldn’t have. Some material had to be cut due to influence from the ministry of education via the publisher. Very difficult to meet all requirements.

Conclusion

These three areas provide us with a framework for future research.

Harwood also briefly discussed the contents of this edited book: a variety of studies related to each element of the framework put forward in this talk. It looks like an interesting book.

Plenary Day 2 – Kathleen Graves: The efficiency of inefficiency: an ecological perspective on curriculum

Plenary: Kathleen Graves – The efficiency of inefficiency: an ecological perspective on curriculum

 

This was my second talk for the morning and here are the notes I made:

 

Argument: an approach to learning that seems inefficient may actually be efficient in terms of reaching ed goals in lasting ways.

 

Efficiency: how to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.

 

In the hospital:

 

The reasons for success can be the very things that are considered inefficient. Time-costly caring creates he relationship between the doctor and the patient and that is the secret of healing. The secret of patient care = inefficiency.

Long-term view vs. short-term results.

 

How about the classroom?

 

Ed is increasingly focused on efficiency and the push for efficiency centres on standardization of outcomes, prepackaged curricular and tests that test short term results rather than long-term results. Very true of ELT. This creates tremendous pressures on teachers and students to produce quantifiable results in the classroom, emphasis on tests rather than learning. But learning a language is a process that takes time.

 

Can we apply the efficiency of inefficiency to language learning?

 

It is a human process, organic, unpredictable and dynamic. Looking at how time is used in the classroom – what would the efficiency team consider efficient in the classroom? Getting the job done in as few turns as possible. Question; response; confirmation. But is it efficient in terms of learning? Is it really productive?

 

Graves makes a comparison of an “efficient” exchange and a longer, “inefficient” but learning efficient exchange.

 

What are some of the differences?

 

<slide shot> (coming soon!)

 

The non-efficient exchange is not efficient in terms of time but is in terms of ss participation. She builds on what the student has to offer in turn by asking the student to complete his thought, and then asks him to use technical language to express what he knows. This is very important in terms of learning the academic register is not just to understand the terms but to use them. She also creates an atmosphere where all the students feel comfortable to co-construct/contribute. 12 turns vs 3 turns: the efficiency of inefficiency. Making the best use of the resources – the learners – to achieve the results – learner understanding.

 

Physical and abstract resources – not just materials:

 

–       the learners and the teacher

–       the curriculum

 

How can we use these resources so they can thrive. Looking at this is in line with an ecological perspective on learning.

 

Leo Van Lier: passed away a little over a year ago but left an important legacy.

 

Ecology: the study of relationships among the elements in an environment or ecosystem and how they interact between themselves and with the environment.

 

In a classroom:

 

People: learners, teachers, others

Curriculum: materials and concepts

Environment = physical and social

 

Language is “Relations between people and the world

Language learning is learning ways to relate more effectively to people and the world

 

Ecological approach:

 

People

Relationships/interactions

Activity

Quality

Autonomy/Agency

 

You can have a high standard of living but a low quality of life. E.g. in the US – mansions and Mc Jobs = high standard of living but quality?

 

Testing system bypasses the quality of the educational experience and the wellbeing of the learners. We lose sight of the educational experience itself and how it contributes to quality of life. Focus on experience and wellbeing of learners harks back to caring for patients, in the hospital.

 

Not transmission of knowledge but a community where learners go about the business of learning by carrying out activities together, side by side or on their own.

 

Autonomy does not mean individualism or independence but having authorship of ones speech and actions in ones community of practice. Learners are sources of knowledge as well as learners of knowledge. Have opportunities to exercise their agency as sources of knowledge.

There must be room for learning – for a variety of expressions of agency to flourish.

 

An ecological approach to learning treats the classroom as a dynamic, evolving ecosystem. Relationships are built within the environment. Teacher and learners define their own meaning and purpose to what they do. The quality of these relationships matters. Focus on what is meaningful and helpful to the students.

 

<A clip with the sound turned off, to focus on what you see rather than what you hear>

 

– To give some insight into the potential of an ecological approach to curriculum.

 

–       Who are the participants/interactants?

–       Who interacts with whom? What kind of relationships are at play?

–       What kind of activities are the participants engaged in?

–       I what different ways are the participants acting?

 

<same clip with sound>

 

What is the role of language in this classroom?

 

Moving them towards standard language of schooling without devaluing what they are moving from (i.e. home use of language) – mentioned by a woman on the clip.

 

Language plays a role on several levels – on a social level (participants use language to interact with each other and carry out activities) but also on a symbolic level. Learners have symbolic resources – their own language they use with family and friends, an important part of their identity: African-American vernacular English. Is a linguistically complex systematic rule-governed variety of English. E.g. “We don’t have nothin’ to do” – The copula of be “He funny” is systematically omitted. Not broken English. Accurate to this variety of English. An educational system as an ecosystem uses existing resources to extend and build new resources. The home language is a resource to be used to contrast with academic language. The learners learn to use linguistic tools of contrastive analysis to identify similarities and differences. They learn a third language too – that of linguistics.

 

Autonomy – having authorship of one’s actions and speech within one’s community. Learners here are authors of and authorities on their language.

 

But why are you taking this time-consuming task – we just want them to speak correctly so just correct their incorrect language. i.e. a more “Efficient” approach. Mrs Sword could be said to be more efficient than Mr Russell but actually it’s a deficient approach. Ss own language is considered substandard and be overcome through correction. Ss own language is devalued, as are the ss. Whereas Russell’s approach is ecological, ss are resources and have resources i.e. their own language. They can tap it as a basis for learning Standard English by contrasting the two and learning the meta-language to do that. They are active participants in the process of learning and development, exercising their agency and challenging sophisticated processes. Students and language are both valued.

 

(Mrs Sword took a similar trajectory to Mr Russell, and used the analogy of wearing different clothes in different situations)

 

But first, ss stopped asking questions in order to stop being corrected and risk embarrassment. So rather than providing tools to expand resources, she shut them down. The focus was on the end result rather than on the learner and the process of learning.

 

Whereas Mr Russell’s class illustrates the efficiency of inefficiency: It led to increased understandings that could be demonstrated through test performances. But they also gained much more than could be measured in a test – confidence, social skills, problem-solving, how language works in different contexts, all these gains will serve them in life not just in school.

 

An approach to learning that seems inefficient may be much more efficient to reach long-term learning goals.

 

“My goal is to provide readymade answers or prescriptions but to provide food for thought, to encourage reflection about language and education, to stimulate discussion…”

 

A brilliant talk, that I very much enjoyed!

 

IATEFL 2014 day 1: Thank goodness for MaW SIG!!

My IATEFL 2014 has begun! I arrived at the conference centre in Harrogate – *finally* – soon before 5 and was happy to be able to register and go on in – live, finally, rather than just online!

iatefl-harrogate12-banner-300x200

Admittedly, having been travelling since 06.45 this morning, I was perhaps not the most with it that I’ve ever been, but Hugh Dellar (@hughdellar)’s tweet that I saw subsequently really sums it all up:

“If you’ve never attended #iatefl, imagine being propelled round a human pinball machine containing everyone you’ve ever met in ELT”

Laden down with 3 bags and rucksack by this point, I walked through to the exhibition room (my overriding impression of the conference centre so far is “labyrinth”!) and walked round it once. I think it was the final break of the day and there were TEFLers everywhere! I felt both overwhelmed and daunted – then I bumped into Ela Wassell (@elawassell), who welcomed me with a big smile and suddenly I felt a little better! Not long after that I bumped into @Marisa_C. By this time, I was trying to find my way to Harewood to find the MaW SIG gang – it seemed the only logical thing to do! It took a lot of getting lost in the labyrinth before I got there, so I missed the beginning of the talk  but I think I got most of it and it was very interesting. Really glad I managed to find the room – I think the alternative was turning tail and slinking off to find (read get even more lost on the way to) my hotel and this was the much better option!

So what does that involve? K Woodward et al. (et al. is Liz, in this case)

I was too dazed to make notes during it, I had a pounding headache, but listening to Kate and Liz talk made the day melt away and by the time it finished I felt so much better. I jotted down some notes afterwards, while waiting for the MaW SIG Open Forum to start, and essentially it was about the complex issue of selecting vocabulary to teach intermediate learners. Making word lists. The fact that the words that we automatically teach related to various topics are all well and good, but we tend to forget the more “general” words that we used to talk about them. So, we were shown some Wordles related to a few topics, and they threw up some general words that are less “expected” in association with the topic but very useful.

For example, taking the topic of jobs, something like “Oh, what does that involve?” is something we might say when we know what someone’s job is like but want to know what it is they actually do. And that’s another question we might use: “What is it that you actually do?”. Or, if we look at the topic of eating out, vocabulary is usually around menus, bills, ordering etc but something like “Oh, I haven’t decided yet!” in answer to what you’re going to get, when looking at the menu, is important but generally overlooked. We also saw the topic of personality, and Kate/Liz (I forget which!) advocated teaching things like “He’s always + ….” e.g. “He’s always talking” – as a negative description, or “He never + ….”, for a similar effect. Or for higher levels, “He tends to…”

They told us about a project they’ve been working on which involves lists of most commonly used words in other languages being translated into English, to influence what we teach as well, because for example “earthquake” doesn’t make the 6000 most commonly used words in English – but probably does in places with less stable tectonic plates! (It was more complex than that, but that was the general idea). They also mentioned Felicity O’Dell’s criteria for choosing what vocabulary to teach, and pointed out that the criteria might conflict with each other, so that there’s a lot to consider in vocabulary teaching.

After a short break, in which an extremely welcome cup of Cava came my way, it was time for:

MaW SIG Open Forum!

Nick Robinson got things started by reminding us of MaW SIG’s mission statement, which is promoting best practice in ELT materials writing (including in terms of teachers making materials for their own use, not just in the publishing world)  introducing the rest of the committee (Rachael, Lyn, Sophie, Karen and someone who was absent whose name I can’t remember) and then talking about what the SIG has been up to since being born.

It set out with 5 objectives for its first year:

  • Find the best committee for the job
  • Run a stand-alone event
  • Publish a newsletter
  • Run an IATEFL Pre-Conference Event
  • Make a website

It’s done all of those (in spades!) except make a website (and so far the Facebook page is fulfilling that role) and in addition has brought us a webinar too – you may remember John Hughes spoke a few months ago.

The stand-alone event involved 4 panels and lots of discussion generally about New Directions in ELT; the P.C.E. focused in depth on Writing for Digital; the newsletter is beautiful and will soon be downloadable – the need to get it published before IATEFL to avoid delay was the priority but .pdf format etc will follow.

Nick also mentioned that there will be four webinars in May! Very exciting. There is also likely to be a blog set up at some point. Meanwhile, the topic for next year’s P.C.E. has to be decided by this Friday!

Once Nick had finished telling us about MaW SIG, past present and future, there was some time for questions and answers. Here is some of what was discussed (paraphrased…!)

Q. Do you help people towards being published?

A. Would like to think we help people – our mission is to promote best practice in ELT. Will be interesting to see how it works for experienced people vs. newcomers, as needs are very different. Interested in bringing in inexperienced people and helping them develop. There were publishers at the January event, who got new writers: MaW SIG collected business cards, made a collation of information, and gave it to publishers e.g. Pearson. Attending events does give an opportunity to meet people.

Q. How about a discussion forum?

A: Will it become a ghost town? Onus is on members to take part, if we do make one!  [There was a lot of discussion around the pros and cons of such a discussion board, and it will be further discussed in the committee meeting tomorrow]

Q. How about writing workshops at weekend?

A: Absolutely, we are looking at different formats for future events. There is definitely potential for this. Maybe a virtual writing group online, working together on projects?

Q: How about writing “retreats” (with yoga involved)

A: A bit of a stretch for the second year perhaps? GIve us some time! Once the membership grows (and there is huge demand it seems) – if we can fill up a venue for two days, we’ll do it! 2 days max for the next year though.

Q: How about access to emails of people in the same location?

A: Not allowed to share this information – data protection – but there is Karen’s google map on Facebook where everybody was invited to share their location. We want to go where there are members who will attend events. Get in touch – tell me “I think you should do an event in <this town> and here’s why! We’ll consider it if you convince us!

The End (and the beginning…)

Finally there was a raffle and three lucky winners of their choice of ELTTeacher-to-Writer ebooks and more Cava-aided discussion.

I finally met Lyn, who I’ve had a lot of contact with in relation to the beautiful newsletter, which I contributed an article to, and Sophie, who was responsible for making it beautiful, and Rachael, who so kindly looked at and commented on my materials a few months ago, and Karen with the many hats – though I’ve yet to have a proper chat with her. Lots of super friendly people, and I came away from the Open Forum meeting feeling very positive and excited about the future of MaW SIG, as well as lucky to have met a bunch of lovely people! A far cry from the frazzled, daunted wreck that I had arrived in the room as! Thank you, MaW SIG, for existing! 🙂

Getting lost has become a key feature of this conference for me so far, hopefully tomorrow I’ll begin to get to know my way about. (Especially, it would be useful to be able to find my room at 17.45 tomorrow!!) So far, following much walking, some with lots of bags, I have located my hotel room and a supermarket – a good start!

Looking forward to tomorrow, seeing lots of talks and giving one. (I may be slightly terrified!) It’s a different IATEFL this year, as I’m going it alone, no hotel-mates (yet) etc. However, luckily everybody is so friendly that it doesn’t matter too much! 🙂  Here’s to the days to come!