2017 (Or, how to set better goals!)

Happy new year, everybody! The first 10 days of 2017 seem to have flown by. For my first post this year, I’m going to write about resolutions and effective goal-setting.

On Sunday I delivered a workshop as part of the Teaching Listening course that forms part of this year’s EVO.

(To quote EVO and explain what it is:  Every year in January and February, the Electronic Village Online (a project of TESOL’s Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section) brings together English language educators from around the world to engage in free, collaborative, online professional development sessions. Last year, we had over 8,165 participants in 14 sessions.)

My session focused on helping learners become more autonomous listeners and the main task the participants will do this week is to set up an out-of-class listening scheme to use with their learners; considering, amongst other things, about what they want the learners to do, how they will introduce the different elements to the learners, how they will help learners to maintain their motivation. Of course, within my session, within the discussion on motivation, I talked about the importance of goal-setting and the features of an effective goal according to Dornyei and Ushioda (2012). Here is my slide which summarises these:

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I always make New Year’s Resolutions. There is something magical about the beginning of a new year, and the potential it holds, that gets me really excited and I enjoy making my resolutions as a way of sizing up that potential and giving it some form. Usually, however, my resolutions are a bit fluffy and I forget about them fairly soon afterwards. This year, in order to help myself not to forget about them, I have copied them into a sticky note on my desktop so that I am reminded every day of the things that I set out to do. I also tried to make them more specific than usual, so that I can actually tell not only when I have achieved them but measure my progress along the way. It must have been preparing for the EVO workshop that subconsciously made me apply Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles for effective goals to my resolutions for 2017!

In the interests of gaining (extra) and maintaining motivation on the languages and ELT front, I’m going to communicate my resolutions relating to these areas here. Rather than just a list of goals, I am going walk you through the mental process I went through in making them, shaping them from a vague initial idea into something more specific, tangible and therefore achievable.

  • Learn Arabic. I started learning Arabic last year in around October, as I was going to be volunteering at a secondary academy here in Sheffield, working with a number of learners whose first language was Arabic. That fell through (2016 was one of those years?) and after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the Arabic fell to the wayside too. End of story? Evidently not. I didn’t stop wanting to learn Arabic but the related work situation had demotivated me somewhat so mentally it became easier to ignore both. 2017 seemed like the perfect way to reinvigorate it. First I reflected on why I want to learn some Arabic. Initially, it was instrumental motivation (the work situation). Theoretically, that is still potentially the case as ELT in the UK can often involve working with Arabic L1 students. But that vague possibility won’t in itself be enough to motivate me to study Arabic every day. What about enjoyment? Well, I enjoy learning languages (hence currently studying 11 of them, including Arabic) but why Arabic? I think it appeals because it is (to me) so different. It has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to me. Just as English has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to Arabic L1 speakers when they first encounter it. I am interested in the process of learning a language with a different alphabet. So, going back to my “Learn Arabic” goal, being as I am not a genius I am not going master Arabic in one year, not even nearly. So if I left my goal at that, I would be setting myself up for failure. I need to make it more realistic. How can I do that? Make it more specific. So my goal became: “Learn to read the Arabic alphabet and speak/write some basic words and phrases.” That seems entirely more realistic, it reflects my motivation for studying, progress will be measurable (by way of the number of letters and eventually words I can recognise and produce – which, by the way, there are more than you might think as they change a little depending on whether they are at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a word!), it is challenging (did you read what I just wrote in the last set of brackets?!). My completion date is 31/12/2017 but I do of course plan to monitor and decide if the goal should be developed before then. It will depend on my progress: there is room for extension!
  • Continue with other languages. Of course. That would be French, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Romanian, Indonesian, Mandarin. Plus the newly added Dutch and Swedish. But for this resolution to make sense, what exactly am I going to do with them? What counts as “continue with”? I need some parameters. For the first five, this means Memrise plus as much reading, listening, speaking and writing as possible. I’ve found someone with whom I will be able to practice my Italian and French, possibly also some Spanish, and as for Polish there is always my sister’s husband to practice with, when I visit them. I’ve catalogued all my DVDs so that although I don’t have the cases for most of them, I know easily what I’ve got and what language(s) I can play them in. For the second five, I’m going to focus on Memrise and shift into using them when I’ve got a bit more vocabulary. (The cool thing is Polish used to be in that category but now it’s in the “I need to use it” category – that’s progress! The other cool thing is that in the series episode I was watching with my housemate today, there was a bit of Mandarin with English subtitles and I heard and understood three words without the subtitles! For me and Mandarin, that is exciting, believe me!) I have ear-marked particular courses on Memrise that I want to complete and obviously goal way-points will be in evident in the number of words/phrases learnt, number of days in a row studying consistently (or “streak” as they call it – for Polish currently 113!) and how well I do when reviewing stuff.
    This was a motivating way-point!

    This was a motivating way-point!

    As with Arabic, I will monitor my progress and adapt the goal/resolution as necessary. For example to make it include having a pop at watching or listening to something in one of the 5 ‘weak’ languages (or 6, counting Arabic!) if/when I feel it would be worth a go.

  • Do lots of CPD. Do not we all start our year with this resolution? And perhaps renew it if academic year and calendar year don’t coincide (i.e. northern hemisphere), or when feeling inspired at the beginning of a new term. At the moment, for me, this is a tricky one. The only work I’ve got at the moment is a bit of private tuition. I had been all excited about volunteering in an EAL setting but that fell through (as mentioned above – and don’t get me started on academy management organisational skills…) which was a bit of a bump to the motivation. Currently I am also tutoring on the EVO course, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, but that is obviously a very short term thing. An interesting one, though, as it combines my interest in teaching listening and my interest in tutoring teachers! So, it would be easy to let CPD slip. In order to avoid that, I need some specific goals, rather than the nebulous ‘do some CPD’. I will be doing two sessions on the Leeds Beckett M.A. ELT Multimedia and Independent Learning module again this semester and I hope also to deliver a version of my IATEFL talk at the ELTC (I do it free of charge in exchange for the opportunity to work on my workshop delivery skills!). IATEFL itself is another focal point for me, in terms of workshops, as, hopefully, will be doing another British Council TeachingEnglish – related webinar. Additionally, each week I want to watch at least one webinar and read something ELT-related. Finally, as my pet project, I want to make some EAP-related materials in advance of the pre-sessional summer school period. As a specific starting point, I want to make some materials to help students become better able to synthesise sources effectively (this inspired by memories of my colleagues and I feverishly looking for any such resources last summer and not finding quite what we were after!). This will require looking again at the demands/criteria that we were trying to help the students to meet, as these would be similar this year at ISS or, if it turns out that way, other pre-sessional courses, reading relevant chapters from EAP Essentials and other such EAP teaching bibles (de Chazal’s comes to mind, though I forget its name!) and of course the actual materials creation and subsequent editing. Keeping with the weekly timeframe, I will expect myself to make tangible progress each week, which I will monitor via a log.

When I went through the mental thought processes described above, I wasn’t doing it with Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles in mind, but it’s clear that subconsciously they had an influence. And so I should think, the amount of time I’ve devoted to studying motivation, within learner autonomy, and trying to get students started on their autonomous learning pathways! I think as teachers, if we are able to apply what we want students to do to our own learning (of languages, of teaching) and have a clear idea of how to get ourselves from A to B (A being hazy ideas of goals, B being effective goals), we will be better able to help our learners go through that process themselves in the context of their language learning (if they want to then apply it to their New Year’s Resolutions and other aspects of their life, that is up to them!) with the idea that they leave our classroom better able to map and follow their learning goals. There is no one size fits all goal solution but we can help students become better able to set, and by extension meet, their own objectives more effectively.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Do share them in the comments – remember, communicating goals increases the motivation to achieve them! 😉

I hope 2017 is a fulfilling, successful and peaceful year for you all.

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References

Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Applied Linguistics in Action). Routledge.

 

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Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract (v2.April 2016)

Capitalising on post-IATEFL momentum and motivation, I’ve decided it’s time to renew my language learning goals – and practice what I preach! I’m always telling learners, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re busy, even ten minutes a day is better than nothing’ and encouraging them to maintain motivation. Meanwhile, what about me? Well, it could be worse, I suppose…

  • I DO write my diary in Italian (nearly) every day (I missed a couple of days while at IATEFL, for example!). My reading is slightly more sporadic – at the moment I’m listening and reading along with Per dieci minuti written and read aloud by Chiara Gamberale. It generally happens while I am having a bath in the evening but sometimes I am just too tired! (I’m also in the middle of a translation of the third book in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. But I haven’t dipped into that since I got back home from my most recent trip to Sicily, at Easter!)
  • I also have a stack of magazines that I don’t dip into as often as I should (read: erm, when was the last time I did so?!)
  • I’m reading in German a few times a week at the moment too, am quite enjoying the book I am in the middle of. It’s about horses and aimed at young teenagers (!) – good fun. 😉
  • I’m also in the middle of a book in French (Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola) but it’s been a while since I dipped into that properly – though I did read about one page recently!

It’s Polish that’s the real problem. I decided I was going to learn Polish in late May last year. Suffice to say, it wound up on the back burner. However, last night, for the first time in ages, riding the wave of post-IATEFL motivation, I dug out my ‘Harry Potter 1 in Polish’ audiobook and listened a bit, just enjoying the sounds and rhythm. (I had want to listen and read along but I’ve got to work out where my e-book of it is stored, was unable to find it quickly enough…) I still want to learn Polish. However, it doesn’t end there. I’ve also got a little bee in my bonnet telling me to try another project: Project “see how much Spanish I can pick up purely through using graded readers”. Unlike Polish, Spanish graded readers are fairly easy to come by – including those with audio discs, which are the sort I would go for. I think it would be an interesting experiment!

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Using the theory I’ve used on my learners, I am going to communicate my learning goals to you lot who read this blog in the hopes that it motivates me to achieve more than I would have otherwise. Even if I don’t always manage to meet my self-inflicted contractual obligations, it will hopefully still be more than I would have achieved if I hadn’t made them in the first place.

Lizzie’s Learning Contract

I solemnly do declare that I will (attempt to) do the following this week:

  • read and/or listen to something in Italian
  • read and/or listen to something in French
  • read and/or listen to something in German
  • use my 1000 first words in Polish
  • “read”/”listen to” Harry Potter in Polish
  • use Memrise and/or Quizlet for Polish
  • use my Polish for Dummies book
  • use graded readers in Spanish

Signed: Lizzie Pinard

That’s all! It’s not a huge ask. The first three are very vague, but that’s fine – it means they encompass any kind of input I wish to use (books, audiobooks, magazines, radio, tv etc) As as sub-goal, I will aim to vary it if I can…

Let’s see how it goes. There will be updates at various possibly semi-regular intervals!

Is anybody else trying to learn a new language at the moment? How are you going about it? Is it working?! 🙂

 

 

 

Leeds Beckett Multimedia and Independent Learning module session 2: The Learner Autonomy Maze

Yesterday (7.2.16) I did my second session for the Leeds Beckett M.A. ELT’s Multimedia and Independent Learning. This time, it was an online session, conducted using Adobe Connect software, and its title was “The Learner Autonomy Maze”. It was the longest online session I’ve delivered to date, and the extra length was actually rather nice because it meant I could spend plenty of time on all the interactive elements and respond to what was coming up in the chat without feeling panicky about getting through all the content. (This probably means that when I plan my 1hr webinars, I really need to include less content so that I still have plenty of time for all the interaction!) Having met the students in the face to face session I did with them several weeks ago, I felt very relaxed right from the start, which was also nice. It gave me a taste of what online teaching might be like, which made me think back to the session about this that I attended at the ELTC recently and, I believe, still need to write up!

I started by outlining the session, which was to be a combination of theory and practical ideas, and then briefly elicited student definitions of learner autonomy. Before turning to definitions from the literature, I also asked them to think back to a drawing activity that they had done at the start of the module, in which they had to draw what learner autonomy looks like, and consider whether their perceptions had changed since then, courtesy of the lessons and/or their reading. The general feeling was that their perception of it had expanded beyond the image of a lone learner sitting in front of a computer, to include such things as other resources, other learners (collaboration), decision-making and knowing how to learn.

I then went on to highlight that definitions of learner autonomy tend to depend on the context, beliefs and past experiences of the person doing the defining. Indeed, we all talk about learner autonomy, which is somewhat of a “buzzword” in ELT, but often we are talking about different things. Sometimes defining exactly what you mean can be a useful starting point! Of course the literature can be helpful for this.

From there, we looked at some of the theory around learner autonomy in the literature, starting with Holec (of course!)’s (1981) both oft-quoted and less frequently referred to ideas:

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We also considered different perspectives of learner autonomy (as described in Oxford (2003):

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 08.34.50Firstly, there is the technical perspective, in which autonomy consists of the successful acquisition and implementation of a set of skills and techniques enabling learning outside of a classroom context. This is a deficit model, where the learner is a blank slate and the teacher’s role is to transfer a set of skills the possession of which, in the teacher’s view, makes an autonomous learner. Secondly, there is the psychological perspective, where the focus moves to what is going on inside the learner’s head, in which autonomy is defined as a capacity consisting of both attitudes and abilities. Then there are two socio-cultural perspectives, which emphasise social interaction and participation in a community of practice, with the belief that learning is mediated by a more experienced other. This can be the teacher but it can also be other learners, as all learners bring differing experiences and skills to the classroom. Finally, in the political version, the emphasis is on control over the learning process and content.

We looked at different approaches to learner autonomy (Benson, 2011):

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The role of motivation (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) and metacognition (Vandergrift and Goh, 2012), and methodological possibilities (e.g. Smith 2003) were also considered. I believe that motivation and metacognition are both deeply entwined with learner autonomy and when we are thinking about how to foster autonomy, we need to consider these aspects too, in terms how to help learners develop the metacognitive thinking skills that will help them manage their learning better and how to help them stay motivated in the uphill struggle of learning a language and maintaining effort both in and outside the classroom.

I then shared a little bit about how I get students reading and using English outside the classroom, highlighting the importance of effective goal setting (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012 – 6 main principles of goal setting) and motivational flow (see Egbert 2003 in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012). Next I moved on to talking about my EAP experience (yep, all two summers of it!) and some of the tools I used with my learners in the listening component of the summer programme, such as listening logs, strategy tables and metacognitive pedagogy (see Vandergrift and Goh 2012). In talking about these projects, I tried to demonstrate how, in each of them, I had used the learner autonomy/metacognition/motivation- related literature to inform my practice as best I could.

To round off with, I used a few sound bites from the literature and strongly recommended Morrison and Navarro (2014) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012) as go to books for ideas of how to systematically bring autonomy into the classroom. For more learner autonomy and metacognition-related resources, I also pointed the students at this post  on my blog.

Hopefully the session was useful for the students. (Thank you, students, for being so talkative/responsive throughout the session!) Finally thank you to Heather for giving me the opportunity to do this session. 🙂

Here are some of the resources I used:

Here is a list of the references I used:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Borg and Al-Busaidi (2012) Learner Autonomy: English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices London: British Council.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition)Harlow: Pearson Education.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Holliday, A. (2005) The struggle to teach English as an International Language (Kindle Edition)Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) Canterbury: IATEFL.

Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. (2014) The Autonomy Approach: Language learning in the classroom and beyond. Delta Publishing.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. Oxon: Routledge.

Workshop: Blogging to teach and to learn (Leeds Beckett Uni)

On the 8th of February, bright and early, I set off for Leeds. This was to deliver one of the sessions on the Leeds Beckett (was Metropolitan!) M.A. in ELT’s Multimedia and Independent Learning module. Yes, the self-same module in which all my learner autonomy geekery was born!

The topic of my workshop was “Blogging to teach and to learn”. In essence, the plan was to do the following:

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It may sound a bit ambitious, but we had around 2.5 hrs to play with, fortunately! (My longest workshop to date!)

So we started with the theory by talking about why theory mattered to this session:

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We need theory so that we don’t fall into the trap of just using technology for the sake of using technology. We need clear principles and purposes, which will help us to select which technology would best suit what we are planning to do, if any at all.

Then we looked at the question of using blogs:

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I think developing one’s own voice in another language is incredibly important. In fact, I used to blog regularly in Italian. Then, I decided to just write on my computer rather than on the internet as I was in any case keeping the blog private. I still do this pretty well every day. It’s the main use of Italian I get in my daily life since leaving Italy. Being able to express yourself in your target language gives you greater ownership over the language. Making the language ‘part of your everyday existence’ means that you are getting the all-important regular use that is crucial to language learning.

It is, of course, quite hard to start, when your level is low. I remember my first attempts early on. You know, before I discovered the past tense. Fast forward two years and I can say pretty much anything I want to, looking up the occasional piece of vocabulary. It was having read all this theory around learner autonomy and then moved to Italy, that I tried to implement it in my own language learning, as well as using it with my students. I was my own guinea pig, if you will. My learners are unlikely to have come across this theory and therefore may not think of blogging in their target language but as a teacher, I can build this experience into the course through a class blog, and, who knows, they might even continue and create their own blogs in future.

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Bit of a long quote! However, it draws on several aspects of writing for publication that, in my opinion, apply equally to blogs. (And, indeed, the authors do mention blogging in their breakdown of different modes of writing, though the focus of their study is teacher-writers who wrote for the Humanising Language Teaching magazine.) My blog has certainly been central to my attempts to align what I do in the classroom with all the theory around learner autonomy that I was exposed to when I was a student on this Multimedia course. It is an ongoing process! “Self-criticism” and “enhanced enthusiasm” also go with the territory in my experience: the very prospect of sharing something with a wider audience encourages one to reflect more deeply on it and critique it first. Perhaps in so doing, more ideas are born regarding where to go next and what to try next, and this experimentation prevents stagnation/boredom, as does being part of the “wider community” in ELT. Blogging, using Twitter, reading other people’s blogs, interacting on their blogs, these are all ways of participating in the wider community. People speak of their PLN – Personal Learning Network – the global community of professionals with whom they are connected and interact via social media, but often also in real life, meeting up at international conferences such as IATEFL.

On a more practical level, teacher blogs can double up as online portfolios, particularly as blogging software becomes more sophisticated. So, for example, WordPress allows someone with no coding knowledge to create a website with embedded blog. So, in addition to the benefits of blogging, you gain the benefits of being able to showcase what you do. It also enables you to pin content from the blog so that it is easier to find. So, for example, on my M.A. ELT/Delta page, I have linked to blog posts relating to that, on my Learner Autonomy page, I have linked to all my blog posts relating to LA, and so on. Being able to provide evidence of commitment to development is potentially useful in the hunt for jobs, in terms of making you stand out from other applicants.

Finally, I find my blog useful when preparing for workshops. I do the write-up prior to the workshop or talk, and it helps me to clarify in my brain exactly what I want to do or say. Subsequently I then edit it to reflect what actually happened on the ground as well, particularly in workshops where the participants play a more central role.

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Having considered some arguments in favour of using technology, and in particular blogs, with students, I thought it timely to draw attention to a potential problem with it: the issue of autonomy being expected but not fostered. This is something that I was very mindful of when working on my learner autonomy projects in Palermo. As well as deciding what technology, if any, is best for the purpose(s) we have in mind, we need to make sure that we scaffold learners towards independent use of them.

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Otherwise put, use of technology cannot exist in a vacuum if it is to be used to full effect. We need to be careful to consider carefully how it fits into what we are doing with our students.

The main thrust of this session was practical, however, so at this point it was time to change focus to the HOW of blogging, starting with how to set up a blog. There are various platforms available for blogging, but rather than overwhelming the student teachers with choice, myself and the course leader both agreed that it would be best to focus on one, which would inevitably be the one with which I am most familiar: good old WordPress!

So, we went through the 4 steps to setting up:

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  1. Choosing a theme (which you can easily change subsequently, so don’t worry too much which one you pick!)
  2. Choosing a site address (be unique or be turned down!
  3. Declining to have money taken off you unless you are feeling ultra rich!
  4. Providing a valid email address

Then all that remains is to validate your email address by clicking on the link they send you to the address you provided.

Next, I imparted a valuable piece of wisdom – you can avoid the beep beep boop WordPress dashboard and continue to use the functional one by using the magic link:

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So then we were ready to start working our way through the handout I had prepared, which interspersed the various aspects of setting up a blog, which we went through step by step (to act as a reference guide/memory trigger for the students after the session) with reflection and discussion relating to these.

They were a great group of students, with plenty to say when it came to all the discussion points, and I really enjoyed working with them. I wish them all the best for the rest of the course and beyond. Hopefully they will get blogging, both with learners and for themselves as teachers! Finally, thank you to Heather Buchanan, the course and module leader, for giving me this opportunity! 🙂

Workshop on Learner Autonomy at the ELTC

Yesterday (Wednesday the 3rd December, 2015) saw me deliver my first workshop at Sheffield University’s ELTC. This seems a rather fitting way to round off (well, there *are* only a couple weeks left!) my first full term as a teacher here! Inevitably, perhaps, my topic of choice was Learner Autonomy.

In preparing this session, the main challenge that I faced was the wide range of teaching programmes that run at the ELTC and elsewhere around the campus by the ELTC. This contrasts with my previous context where General English (for all ages) was the main offering, with a smattering of exam prep in the form of IELTS classes. At the ELTC, the courses on offer split into three major categories – full time, part time and language support, and there are a lot of acronyms in use (to add to the vast quantities in the ELT world in general!).  For example, we have PAE (Pathway)  and AEPC (Academic English Preparatory Course) which are both full time courses run during the academic year, and ISS (International Summer School) which is the full time summer programme. As well as the academic focus classes, there are exam preparation classes (IELTS, FCE, CAE, as well as the USEPT, which is the ELTC’s equivalent to IELTS and, along with IELTS, is accepted as an entrance requirement) and General English classes (e.g. my own Upper Intermediate lot). You can find more information about the ELTC’s programmes here.

My own experience is limited to General English, exam prep and two summers of ISS. So, my general idea of the workshop was to share my own experience and some of the theory behind what I’ve done with learner autonomy within this, and encourage exploration of how this could be applied or adapted for the various programmes running at the ELTC. I believe that much of what I shared was adaptable for use on various programmes, as I offered various frameworks for systematising the fostering of autonomy which are based on Smith (2003)’s strong methodology so start with and build on what the learner brings to the table. Also, on a more selfish note, as I hoped, I also managed to learn more about these different programmes here in the process of sharing my ideas! Fortunately my colleagues are a nice bunch, so while I was incredibly nervous beforehand (particularly with regards to how much more experience and knowledge they have compared to me!), I could at least be reasonably sure they wouldn’t chew me up to spit me out in a thousand little broken pieces, which was reassuring! 😉

I started with a little discussion and drawing activity, to elicit participants’ ideas of what learner autonomy is and looks like, highlighting that definitions of learner autonomy tend to depend on the context, beliefs and past experiences of the person doing the defining. We all talk about learner autonomy but often we are talking about different things. I guess this could be called the buzzword effect! From there, we looked at some of the theory around learner autonomy in the literature, starting with Holec (of course!)’s both oft-quoted and less frequently referred to ideas. Different perspectives of learner autonomy (as described in Oxford (2003), different aspects of learner autonomy (Benson, 2011), the role of motivation (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) and methodological possibilities (e.g. Smith 2003) were also considered.

I then shared a little bit about how I get students reading and using English outside the classroom, highlighting the importance of effective goal setting (see Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012 – 6 main principles of goal setting) and motivational flow (see Egbert 2003 in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) as well as looking at use of internet based tools (Google Classroom, Blogs and Wordandphrase.info) which lead to some very lively discussion around the use of technology in the classroom! Next I moved on to talking about my EAP experience (yep, all two summers of it!) and some of the tools I used with my learners in the listening component of the summer programme, such as listening logs, strategy tables and metacognitive pedagogy (see Vandergrift and Goh 2012).

To round off with, I used a few sound bites from the literature and strongly recommended Morrison and Navarro (2014) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012) as go to books for ideas of how to systematically bring autonomy into the classroom.

Here are some of the resources I used:

Here is a list of the references I used:

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Borg and Al-Busaidi (2012) Learner Autonomy: English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices London: British Council.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition) Harlow: Pearson Education.

Holec, H. (1981) Autonomy and foreign language learning. Oxford: Pergamon. (First published 1979, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.)

Holliday, A. (2005) The struggle to teach English as an International Language (Kindle Edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) Canterbury: IATEFL.

Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. (2014) The Autonomy Approach: Language learning in the classroom and beyond. Delta Publishing.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2009) Under whose control? in  in Pemberton, Toogood and Barfield [Ed] Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Basingstoke: Palsgrave Macmillan.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. Oxon: Routledge.

*The* keys! :-) Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Could these resources be the key? 🙂 Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

 

Summary of the 26.02.2014 #ELTChinwag on Metacognitive Skills

For those not in the know, ELTChinwag discussions, organised by ELT Ireland, take place on Twitter twice a month on Mondays at 20.30pm GMT, under the hashtag #ELTChinwag.  The focus is decided in advance and publicised on the hashtag, where you can also make topic suggestions. The topic on the 26th February was Metacognitive Skills. I suggested the topic and had intended to participate, but by the time I got home soon after 9 (Italian time, so in time!) I had clean forgotten about it! On the plus side, I’m participating now by writing up the discussion. Here, then, is a summary of it (NB: I have expanded contracted Tweet-speak into full sentences, to make it easier to read!):

The obvious starting point, of course, was to thrash out a definition… 

What do we understand by ‘Metacognitive Skills’?

  • For me, metacognitive skills is the ability to think about how we think about, find out about and remember things (@LahiffP)
  • Knowing what you don’t know and how to go about knowing it? (@EAPStephen)

  • .. and how you might go about being more effective in getting to know it? (@LahiffP)

This raised another question.

Are our students of how they remember and understand, or get to know things?

Response to this question, as you would expect, was mixed…

  • Adults tend to be more so than young learners. Teenagers – well it depends on them. Although some adults are totally not either. (@KateLloyd05)
  • i think most students are aware of lack of memory but not techniques nor learning style. (@Noreen_Lam)

  • “I know it doesn’t work but not what I might do about it.” Can they develop techniques to help though? (@LahiffP)

  • Yes they need suggestions because they may not be aware of methods. Some just think they’re not trying hard enough! (@Noreen_Lam)

  • Mine are mainly teens and I often ask what they find better when learning and what they don’t. Some have insight. (@LahiffP)

  • Mine are adults 22-50,  only some of them actually want to learn what they could do to learn better, faster. (@MihaelaOlarlu)
  • Adults, mostly European, and they were reluctant to do weekly reflection but they’re getting more into it now. (@Jane_Seely)

Further questions and issues were raised and suggestions made…

  • But do they have the self-awareness that would allow them to regulate that? (@LahiffP)

  • “I know it doesn’t work but not what I might do about it.” Can they develop techniques to help though? (@LahiffP)
  • Sometimes they are quite pessimistic see English as mainly as content rather than a  set of skills. Very few of them are willing to reflect on their learning and observe what they’re missing out on. (@Noreen_Lam)

  • Some educational contexts mean they are not encouraged to reflect (@KateLloyd05)

  • I think everyone has capacity to reflect. Some do it naturally with learning. Others do it in other areas of their life. E.g. most people would reflect if they erred in social situation. Perhaps a case of helping students transfer existing skills. (@EAPStephen)

  • “Helpful to try to find other aspects more relevant to them in which they reflect and then extrapolate.” (@EAPStephen)

  • Yes, they need suggestions because they may not be aware of methods. Some just think they’re not trying hard enough!

This allusion to the necessity of scaffolding led on very conveniently to the next question…

What can we do to help our students develop their metacognitive skills?

  • I’ve noticed that with reflection you have to give them some freedom as to the form and type of feedback. (@LahiffP)
  • I designed a questionnaire to appeal to different student learning types, in week 5 now so need to tweak a bit (@Jane_Seely)

  • In teacher training raising awareness of trainees own learning process is a big part of it. (@LahiffP) (So important! If teachers themselves aren’t aware of their own learning process or haven’t developed the skill of reflecting on it, how can they help their learners to develop this?)

  • Often interesting to get them to reflect on others in class – e.g. find someone who exercise. Who is good at remembering vocab. Then find them and ask them how they do it. (@EAPStephen)  (I love this idea!! Can’t wait to try it out! Watch this space!)

  • A reflection questionnaire? (@LahiffP)

  • I like an activity where they give each other study advice, “If I were you I would …” and do a class study guide (@LahiffP) (Another on the list of new things to try asap!)

  • Expectation management too, given high level topics, students worry about understanding, less about how it’s done. (@MihaelaOlarlu)

  • Sometimes it is better not to call it a reflection I find, Learner diary is not a great term either. (@LahiffP) (I wonder what labels do work?)

  • Recorded presentations, self scoring for writing,  reflection on missed items listening skills.They find it beneficial and encouraging, they can cope with mistakes as long as there are reasons. (@MihaelaOlarlu)

  • Possibly a Pandoras box. Get them to reflect on the lessons. What activities they enjoyed, found helpful. (@EAPStephen)

  • I did project about learner diaries few years back and v. interesting results with kids and adults. (@Noreen_Lam) (I would love to know more about this!)

The last question, food for thought to finish on:

Is it worth pushing our students to take part in regulating their own learning? 

Of course, anyone who reads my blog will know what my views on this are! 😉

  • Absolutely! If you do it consistently over time it rubs off on them. (LahiffP)

  • it depends on the type and reason for learning. EAP is easier to push them, GE in home country, less so. Just for fun. (@KateLloyd05)

  • Definitely, done properly they know it’s worth it. (@MihaelaOrlarlu)

  • Pushing but for their benefit! Giving them tools to learn better and tailored ideas. Makes it easier and less boring. (@Noreen_Lam)

  • Maybe it’s fundamental!! (@ESLBrain)

To finish off with, here are the links that were thrown up during the discussion:

How wonderful to see a bunch of teachers being enthusiastic about metacognition and metacognitive skill development. I would love to sit down with them all in a pub and chat about it! In my experience, metacognitive skill development is beneficial and the students do appreciate it. Of course it’s not an overnight thing, persistence is key, as is motivation management.  

If you are interested in learning more about metacognition and metacognitive skill development, then I highly recommend Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. Teaching and learning second language Listening: metacognition in action published by Routledge. It is an accessible introduction to the theory behind metacognition and contains lots of practical suggestions for putting it into practice. The focus is on listening skill development, as the name would suggest, but the principles can be applied in other areas. 

Finally, a small plug: In early April I will be doing an International House World Organisation live online workshop on the topic of metacognition. Only IH teachers can participate live but the recording will eventually become available to all, if I’m not mistaken. More information nearer the time… 🙂

Shhh...I'm thinking! Picture from commons.wikipedia.org licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Shhh…I’m thinking about my thinking! Picture from commons.wikipedia.org licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Things I have learnt about Quizlet from Leo Sellivan’s Webinar!

IATEFL run regular webinars for English Language Teachers to participate in, fortunately for us, and this afternoon I was lucky enough to be able to spend an hour listening to Leo Selivan share his knowledge of the power of Quizlet. For those who don’t know, Quizlet is a website that enables you to create sets of flashcards, using words and/or images. I am a big fan of Quizlet, having used it for my own language learning, and have tried to help learners use it too, by creating self-access materials for them to use. Coincidentally, as the webinar started, I received notifications saying a learner of mine was adding a set to one of my Quizlet classes!

Here is what I have taken away today:

To help you navigate this blogpost, the structure of webinar went thus:

  • Key principles for learning vocabulary
  • Quizlet functions
  • Writing definitions
  • Tweaks and tips

Key points I took away:

  • Memorable and manageable is what vocabulary recording should be!
  • Disadvantages of lexical notebooks:

– Students’ reluctance to go back and add in new items to existing topics. (If organised by topic or key words)

– Students view it as time consuming, possibly waste of time and prefer to record vocabulary in a linear fashion rather than elaborating on existent entries.

– Students’ notes and your notes not in synch.

– The notebooks do not provide active recall practice (ARP is necessary to commit new vocab to long term memory): Students can see the words in front of them, so they don’t need to try and retrieve them. Whereas ARP aids memorisation process.

  • Research shows that incidental learning of vocabulary is not enough.

Learners need practice activities. (This is the principle I applied to my Italian learning by transferring language from sources e.g. books, audio books etc to Quizlet!)

Decontextualised vocabulary practice is perfectly justifiable and learners, especially adults, can learn vocabulary out of context. (Like I did with Quizlet and my Italian!)

– We need a combination of both contextualised and decontextualised practice and use.

– The Communicative Approach sees language as a tool but vocabulary experts today say that it is justified to treat vocabulary as an object of study, not just a tool for communication.

NB: Leo cited Laufer B (2005) – I think the title was Focus on form in second language vocabulary learning but check his reference slide to be sure – as the source for this information

To learn vocabulary we need frequent encounters with new items. 5-15.However vocabulary learning isn’t only increasing the size but also how well you can use the words that you know. E.g. depth as well as breadth. Depth is all about the how of the word rather than just the what.

Meaning is important but form is too. Students may think they know a word because it looks like they a word they know. E.g. adopt – adapt. This leads to over-estimation of vocabulary knowledge.

We should exploit L1. Especially in a monolingual setting.

– We should provide focused engagement with new language. Opportunities to manipulate, use it in different contexts etc.

Enter Quizlet!!! <drum roll!!!>

Functions: 

When you access the website, you are presented with the functions of: Flashcards, Learn, Speller, Scatter, Space Race and Test. 

However, Flashcards, Scatter, Speller, Learn, Space race, Test  is Leo’s suggestion of the order in which students should use the functions, as this represents easy to difficult, or receptive to productive with increasing challenge. (This I found particularly interesting, as I had never thought about it before, though in my own use of Quizlet have tended to go for the Learn function as it gave me the right level of challenge (also because I got used to using it on my iPad, in preference to the easier alternative of the matching mode), but once I was used to the language would use the test function and the space race function too, on my computer. I had never analysed my usage in this way before and now it makes more sense!)

  • You can create classes. Yup. But as a free user, can only have 8. If you want more, you can create folders.
  • It has as a mobile app, so you can practice on the go.

Writing Definitions:

  • Gapped definitions can be more useful for co-text, also more personalised as it is your example sentence.
  • Dictionary.com not useful for learners, as definition uses more complex language than the word being defined. Use good online dictionaries e.g. Cambridge, Macmillan, Longman dictionaries. Leo’s blog has a section called essential lexical tools, well worth checking out.

Don’t:

– define a word with its synonym: This gives the false impression that the words are interchangeable, whereas they collocate differently etc. E.g. What’s happened to you? Ok. What’s occurred to you? Not the same.

– rely on user generated content: you can add your own definitions, you can select from list of readymade definitions from other users, learners may not know the synonyms and they don’t work in the same way. Be careful, or becomes ‘usergenerated nonsense’

Bear in mind:

– 9 different aspects of knowing a word: spoken and written form, meaning, spelling, collocation, grammatical patterns, constraints e.g. appropriate in informal or formal context, connotation etc. Textbooks tend to only pay attention to form-meaning links, neglecting other aspects. In classroom interactions, teachers also tend to focus on teaching means rather than the other aspects of word knowledge: “The tip of the lexical iceberg” as Leo put it!

The collocation of a word may result in different translations in another language: E.g. heart conditions vs terms and conditions.

– Co-text is important for learning a word. NB: Context is the story or situation happening around a word whereas co-text is the words immediately surrounding the word e.g. have an accident or by accident. “The linguistic environment”.

Alternatives to definitions

(You can find Leo’s example flashcards to see that he practices what he preaches and have a play!)

  • Example sentence with a blank plus definition in brackets at the bottom. And word on other side.
  • Give example collocations
  • Multiple Prompts
  • Collocation chains e.g. lots of adjectives which collocate with the same word, being the target word. (works really well on Scatter)
  • Phrase and translation: perfectly acceptable and you can also negotiate the translation in class.
  • Phrase in a conversation: Provide phrases within a conversation, e.g. the phrase is taken out of a dialogue. But in learn mode, all that conversation is what you have type in in learn mode, so it is difficult. Less text is easier for the learn mode.
  • Word and collocate in co-text sentences with first letter clues. You can increase or decrease challenge in this way, e.g. by adding the last letter too, or not.

Useful to know:

  • “…” multiple dots indicate whether it is the first part or the latter part of the collocation, which is useful information when trying to access the correct answer in your brain! e.g. fallen into… …disrepair

In learn mode, do you have type in all those multiple dots. If learners type the answer correctly without multiple dots does that means Quizlet would reject the answer? Fortunately not!

  • What happens if you have a few instances of the same word, e.g. prepositions, when using scatter mode? You can use any instance of a word with any correct match. As long as it fits the sentence correctly it will be considered correct by clever Quizlet. (Good to know!)
  • You can bold certain items! When you enter the definition, you put stars on both sides of the word or group of words that you would like to bold. So, you can highlight dependent prepositions, for example. Or bold the gapped sentence and leave the definition normal.

Another tip Leo offered was to encourage students to take screen captures of their scores and times from their out of class study and compare in class!

Finally, I discovered that he introduces learners to Quizlet in a similar way to me, but including his special order of use of the functions (see above) that I will be bearing in mind from now on!

This was a fantastic webinar, which this post only gives the merest overview of, and I fully recommend accessing the recording on the IATEFL website if you can, or if/when Leo publishes his slides or any blog posts about it, visit his blog. Leo blogs at Leoxicon, which is well worth a visit, with plenty of quality content.

Thank you, Leo!