Cambridge Delta: all that Module 2/3 feedback, all that reading…

In February this year, I revisited Leeds (was Metropolitan now) Beckett University (where I did my Delta and M.A. in the one crazy yet incredibly awesome year that was academic year 2012-2013) to deliver a workshop on Blogging to teach and to learn for the Multimedia and Independent Learning component of the M.A. in ELT. (This post is not about that but if you want to know more, you can read about it here.) This visit and workshop gave me the opportunity to meet this year’s cohort. During the practical element, when I was moving around the room helping students to set up their blogs, one of them asked me why I didn’t upload samples of my work e.g. LSA essays, lesson plans, module 3 sections and the like, as everyone is always desperate to see “a model” to make it clearer what they are aiming towards. The truth is, as I explained to that student, for better or worse, the Cambridge view is that this creates the potential for plagiarism issues to arise and so is best avoided.

In accordance with the Cambridge stance, Sandy Millin has offered a very useful alternative: on her ever-popular Delta page she shares a summary of the feedback she received for each essay and lesson plan of her 4 LSAs, together with the grades she got. I recommend having a look. Upon hearing my explanation of the Cambridge stance, the student I talked to at Leeds Beckett suggested that in that case it could still be very useful for Delta people if I shared my reference lists for each LSA and my Module 3 essay. I can’t see a problem with doing that as the same sources can be used to build up support for any number of arguments – and truth be told, it won’t narrow things down *that* much as I had access to a fabulous university library so was able to get my hands on a lot of resources!

Since that visit to Leeds Beckett, the conversation with that student has been in the back of my mind and finally I am going to do something about it – bit by bit!  I thought perhaps a good plan would be to use both the above alternatives combined into one: share my reference list and a summary of feedback I received for each of my assignments. This will hopefully complement Sandy’s post as I got a smattering of passes, merits and distinctions across 4 LSAs, coming out with a distinction overall. I was thinking of doing one post per LSA to make for four less cumbersome/lengthy posts rather than one ridiculously long one, and link to them from my M.A. ELT/Delta page, for ease of access. I might try to do one for the Module 2 PDA/Experimental Practice and Module 3 post as well, if it turns out to be useful. All in good time.

I hope this will be helpful to people, though I would still emphasise the importance of making full use of whatever drafting/feedback process you have in your institute (for example, I found it useful to go through the Delta 5a form and highlight all the suggestions made for the essay/plan/teaching components so that I could refer back to them as I worked on my next LSA., as well as using the in-text comments in my draft essays and lesson plans, and asking a million questions during tutorials) – this is where the real learning takes place and everybody’s trajectory is different.

The benefit for me, meanwhile, the way I see it, is that in doing these posts a few years down the line (time flies!!!), I get to re-visit all that learning (yay!), which is never a bad thing. (What a deeply influential learning journey it was, especially in combination with the M.A…) – Of course, I *am* working full-time so it won’t all happen at once… Watch this space!

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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! 🙂

TD Sig Web Carnival: “Time is of the Essence!”

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Yesterday, I delivered a session as part of the TD (Teacher Development) SIG (Special Interest Group)’s Web Carnival. I was one of four speakers and the opening speaker for the event, both of which scenarios were new to me! My session, as you can see, was called Time is of the Essence (the reason for which will become clear in due course…)

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This is the outline of the session I delivered. ‘Backwards time-travel’ may sound a little ambitious but in metaphorical terms it actually worked really well. I made sure to tell the attendees that their active participation would be required, and they delivered 110%! Before starting on our journey back in time, we established the definition of “turning point”:

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Then it was time to kick off!

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This is me now. An amazing likeness, don’t you agree? I’m currently working at Sheffield Uni, teaching on a General English evening course as well as delivering a workshop for my colleagues every so often. Alongside this, I am working on some materials with Onestopenglish/Macmillan, will be doing a couple of workshops for the M.A. in ELT multimedia and independent learning module at Leeds Beckett uni. Finally, I have got a book chapter coming out in a forthcoming IATEFL LT SIG book and recently had an article published in a peer review journal for the first time.

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At this point, it was the attendees’ turn to tell me about where they are now, and I can tell you, it was a real eye-opener! Such a diverse crowd all doing really exciting things! And this continued throughout the session as at each development point on MY map, I asked them to share theirs. I think I overused the word “awesome” in response, because their responses really were!

Anyway, I suppose you could say I am “Freelance”, ish. I suppose it all sounds pretty cool. *But*, I am just a normal human bean. Mmm beans. So how did I reach this point? And what about this magic turning point?

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International House, Palermo. (IHPA)

Most recently prior to Sheffield Uni, IHPA. It was a good place to develop. I did a couple of certificates (IHCYLT, IHTIT) , delivered some workshops (at work, online for IH World Organisation, online for IH Teachers online conference), was allowed to attend/speak at IATEFL each year, did a LOT of teaching. And, of course, I worked on my own little projects. You see, when I arrived at IHPA I had recently become an LA geek. Nothing to do with Los Angeles, everything to do with learner autonomy and all things related, especially metacognition and motivation. I did some classroom based research on it, trying to use all the theory I had absorbed and put it into practice with students. Thus, the following were born:

I collected feedback at the end of each term to find out what the students made of it all as a whole and it was positive by and large, making it all worthwhile.

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All this would feed into my book chapter for LT SIG. So was this my turning point? But wait…what about the materials stuff? And the journal article? So, what came before IHPA?

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My M.A. ELT/Delta!

An amazing, grueling, challenging, rewarding, exhilarating year. In the Delta portion, probably the key thing I learnt was how to reflect effectively and constructively on my practice. As well as a whole bunch of other stuff a lot of which you can see on this blog! In the M.A. portion, you would think I learnt a bunch of theory. Well, yes. But I learnt a load of practical stuff too, through the assessment. I did a research project in the research module (with the assessment being the presentation and write up of the research), created materials for the materials development material, wrote a journal article (criteria styled on the ELTJ) for the methodology in context module, and made a website for the multimedia and independent learning module. The assessment was able to be linked with the materials development, so the website linked to the materials I made for that assessment. As it happens, I used the skills developed in building that website using WordPress to completely overhaul my blog, and also developed my voice (hence now I never shut up, where before I didn’t think I had anything to say!)

So I was basically able to develop the skills that would enable me to pursue a variety of opportunities. But that isn’t all… for my dissertation project, I wrote some task-based learning materials (which I talked about at IATEFL the year before last – that long already!) which on a whim I submitted for the ELTon Macmillan new talent in writing award. Then I got shortlisted, which in itself amazed me. Then I won! Hence the earlier-mentioned materials writing…I am editing those materials to make them suitable for publication on Onestopenglish, and we are about half way there. Will miss it when it’s over!

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So that MUST be the turning point, right? Well, I would absolutely say it was. If you ask me what the turning point was, that would come to mind. But…let’s go back a bit further…

Why did I do that M.A. at that university?

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IATEFL 2012!

I went to IATEFL in 2012, my first ever IATEFL! Oh the excitement… And you know how you get a goody bag at the beginning? Who doesn’t love a good goody bag?! So, the first night back at the hotel room, I’m going through my goody bag and find a leaflet for this M.A. ELT/Delta at Leeds Met. So, 2012. Lizzie, at nearly 29 years old is feeling very old and under-qualified! I got into this ELT malarkey late, 26 and a bit years old. (Is/was it late? Lizzie thought so at the time…) Lizzie had to make up time…(hence the session title!) Lizzie had also just been rejected from a PGCE primary programme at Warwick University (thank the good Lord!) and was all “now what?” and so my guardian angel sent me the leaflet. After IATEFL finished, I applied, got accepted and the rest was, as they say… history!

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So THAT MUST HAVE BEEN THE TURNING POINT!!!! Again, absolutely yes. Except… ooops back up a bit… How did I come to attend IATEFL 2012?

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Cactus to conference scholarship! I remain indebted to them. But….how? Where was I? How did it happen?

Indonesia…

I worked in a couple of private language schools in Indonesia after graduating from my CELTA, as one does. I was feeling quite isolated so was on the internet a lot. I found a forum called I think Dave’s ESL forum or something (does anyone remember this? some of my attendees did and apparently it is still going!) and started a post on there. I can’t even remember about what, maybe about how to develop or something. Anyway, one of the respondents pointed me towards Twitter. And ELTchat. (Or did I find ELTchat after I found Twitter? I can’t really remember!) Anyway, the important thing is, I got on Twitter. Did ELTchats, summarized them (The dark beginnings of my blogging!) AND…one day…saw a link to IATEFL scholarships. Didn’t really know much about IATEFL other than it’s an ELT conference, but it seemed to be a big deal, so I applied for several and won the Cactus one, much to my amazement.

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So was THAT the turning point? Getting on Twitter? Again, there is a valid argument for it!

But… why was I bothering with looking for ways to develop, in my isolation? I could done other things than looking for ELT forums etc!!

We had better rewind some more…

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My CELTA course!!!

The beginning of everything… But in particular the professional development session towards the end of the course, where we were made aware that you could make a career out of ELT and shown some possibilities, through our tutors’ stories and suggestions of what we could do to develop in future. (For example, that there exists this thing called the Delta that you can do after you have some more experience!) Honestly, I don’t actually remember many of the details of that session, but the important thing is it awakened in me a desire to develop and make a career out of ELT, it gave me that sense of possibility. And perhaps the awakening of that desire and sense of possibility was the biggest turning point of all?

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But all the other turning points were just as important for me! How to choose only one…! As the attendees mapped backwards through their careers to date, sharing their stories as we went along, it was clear that they had plenty of turning points too…

I concluded the session with a bit of take-away…

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…warning the attendees that it might be a bit of a cheesy takeaway (but if from this drive thru it would be vegan cheese 😉 )

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Well, everything that has happened to me so far stems from this, so…

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Most of the attendees mentioned that discovering the online teaching world as key in their development. Of course, for me, if I hadn’t discovered Twitter, I wouldn’t have seen the Tweet advertising IATEFL scholarships, so wouldn’t have made it to Glasgow 2012, wouldn’t have found that leaflet…etc!

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Because they are Good Things. And if I hadn’t…well you know the story already! Be warned: they are addictive!

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If I had acted according to my confidence in my ability to succeed, then a lot of what I have done I wouldn’t have dared to embark on in the first place! (I never in a million years thought I would win an ELTon, for example!) We (attendees and I) agreed that people often fail because they don’t try in the first place. And often that not trying in the first place stems from thinking “I’m not good enough, that’s for people who are better than I am”. But if there is one thing I have learnt, it’s that you only get “good enough” by jumping in in the first place.

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Turning points may not advertise themselves to you as such. It’s often only looking backwards that we realise that such or such an event or situation was a turning point for us. Hence the importance of saying yes! (Even if saying yes all the time can make you awfully busy! 😉 Seriously, who knew the start of 2016 would be so jam-packed!!)

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What you learn needs to be part and parcel of your professional life, weaving it’s way through, not something separate, on the side. For example, if I hadn’t tried to put the theories that struck me on the M.A. into action, my projects wouldn’t have happened and thus neither would my LT SIG book chapter. Not only that, but learner autonomy/metacognition/motivation etc wouldn’t have become part of my teaching, which would have been a shame from the students’ point of view!

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Life is short. Be where you want to be. If you aren’t, then keep udging towards where you want to be. Right now, I am very happy. I am where I want to be and I can highly recommend it! 🙂

Thanks to the TD Sig for this opportunity and to all the attendees for making it such a fun, interactive session to deliver.

 

 

My ELTon-winning materials have gone live on Onestopenglish.com!*

*well, some of them have anyway! The rest will hopefully follow suit in due course…

Some of you might remember that I rather unexpectedly (so much so, that I found myself writing the speech I didn’t make after the event!) found myself standing on the stage at the ELTons award ceremony in May 2014.

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In the interview (which you can see here if you click on the The Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing tab on the right-hand side of the video screen), I explained that the materials were as yet only available on my hard drive.

Fast forward a year and a bit, to September 2015, and I can, with great pleasure, announce the appearance of my ELTon materials, the fruits of my dissertation project labour of love in 2013, at Leeds what was Metropolitan now Beckett University, on Macmillan’s Onestopenglish website! I have been working with Sarah Milligan from Macmillan to prepare my materials for publication on this website, which has been a great learning opportunity for me.

You can find the materials by clicking on either of the photos below:

Compass!

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– I hope you enjoy using them – let me know how it goes if you do! (And yes, I know, yet again my name has been misspelt: good job I’m all too used to it! 😉 Correction hopefully to follow!)

Leeds Metropolitan University has become Leeds Beckett University!

For reasons unbeknownst to us mere mortals, Leeds Metropolitan University changed its name to Leeds Beckett University, with effect from September 2014. I spent a happy year at Leeds Met doing my M.A. in ELT and Delta, between 2012 and 2013, and for me it will always be Leeds Met.

However, nostalgia aside, usefully enough, I have now finally updated all the links in my blog that used to lead to Leeds Metropolitan’s M.A ELT/Delta page so that they now point in the brand new direction of Leeds Beckett University’s M.A. ELT/Delta page. I can assure you, it was a very dull labour of love. Worth it though, as the good news is, the only thing that’s changed is the name: the M.A. ELT department is still kept going by the same lovely team of tutors who were at the helm while I was there.

I’m not, though, going to change all mentions of Leeds Met, in various blog posts and pages, to Leeds Beckett, as it was Leeds Met when I was there, but at least now, should you be so inclined, you can follow links to more information about the course I did without reaching a dead end!

Enjoy! 🙂

Delta Notes 3: Issues in teaching lexis

This Delta Notes series came about because I was packing up all my stuff to move out of my flat and found my Delta notebooks. I didn’t want to put them in a box (got plenty to store as it is plus it’s pointless…) and let them gather dust, so thought I’d write up the notes I was interested in keeping and get rid of the notebooks instead! The project is on-going, the notebooks didn’t get stored or binned but I am getting tired of carrying them round the world…  

Feel free to share opinions, add ideas, argue against any ideas you disagree with etc by commenting using the comment box beneath the posts. (These are just some of my notes from Delta input sessions – I may have misunderstood or missed something: there was a lot of information flying around that semester!)

[NB: The sessions during which I took these note were delivered by Dr Ivor Timmis of Leeds Metropolitan University, so all credit to him for the insightful input.]

Lexis

 

Lexis! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification

Lexis! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification

Why do we need to plan how we teach lexis?

  • It doesn’t happen automatically: 

Focus on lexis is needed for learners to remember and be able to use lexis effectively. When acquiring L1, exposure – massive exposure – may suffice but in a classroom context, the exposure available is not sufficient for lexis to be acquired efficiently without focus and careful planning.

  • It’s a big task!

To understand an unknown item in a text, one needs to be able to understand 95% of the co-text. Fortunately, 2000 words accounts for about 80% of what you hear or read. Unfortunately, there is a law of diminishing returns at work thereafter: 3000 words would that figure up to about 82%, and so on. Calculating vocabulary size is complex because it depends on whether we count lexemes only or each word of a family. (NB: Lexeme = a basic root word with no inflections)

  • It’s a vital task!

Without grammar, little can be conveyed, without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed.” – Wilkins, 1972.

How do we choose what lexis to teach? What criteria can we use for selection?

There are several criteria we can choose to apply to selection of lexis:

  • frequency
  • coverage
  • learners’ needs and interests
  • learnability
  • opportunism

Frequency

We could teach learners the most frequently used words. We have frequency lists that would enable us to do this. However, there are limitations to this approach.

  • The top 50 most frequent words are mostly grammar words e.g. “and”.
  • Frequency can clash with “teaching convenience” e.g. days of the week have different frequencies.
  • Words may have great interactional value but little referential value. E.g. “just” is very commonly used as a softener but has little meaning on its own.
  • Written vs. spoken: “though” is in the top 300 but it is used very differently in spoken discourse from how it is used in written discourse. Compare “Though it wasn’t a very good film, it was quite funny.” and S1: “It wasn’t a very good film.” S2: “It was quite funny though.”
  • Frequency lists include single words rather than collocations whereas many collocations would feature more than individual words if lists allowed it.
  • It raises the questions of whose frequency. British English frequency? American English frequency? Frequency in language used by pilots?

Coverage

We could teach learners words with broader coverage first. E.g. Teaching “go” before “walk” or “drive”; “book” before “notebook” or “textbook”, in terms of word specificity, and teaching words that appear in a greater number of different kinds of texts before those that are very specific to a particular text type. As with frequency, there are limitations to this approach:

  • Context and learner needs may mean that more specific vocabulary is required from the outset.

Learners’ needs and interests

These may be more apparent in an ESP or EAP class than in a general English class. If you are teaching in a very specific context, then this will influence your vocabulary selection more than other criteria will.

Learnability

There are a lot of factors that influence the learnability of a piece of lexis.

  • Tangibility. Is it abstract or concrete? Concrete lexis is easier to learn and remember. e.g. apple vs. distraction
  • Grammatical behaviour. How does it behave grammatically? E.g. accuse -> accuse somebody of doing something; suggest -> suggest that; depend -> depend on; responsible -> responsible for.
  • L1 aid/interference: Is it a cognate or a false friend? False friends mean meaning is easily confused.
  • Confusability: similarity of words e.g. raise (transitive) /rise (intransitive), similarity of root word e.g. take over/take after.
  • Cultural distance: How familiar is the concept? E.g. “moor” or “sleet” in North Africa…

Opportunism

What about language that emerges in class? Do we ignore “Dogme moments” because it is a low frequency item or an item with low coverage etc.? Or do we take advantage of learners’ desire to know something?

Going beyond words

There are many collocations that we use frequently: many would feature more than individual words if they were allowed in frequency lists.

Language is grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar.” – Michael Lewis (1993)

When we produce language, we go to lexis first and then use grammar to control it.

  • Delexical verbs and their collocations: e.g. have a bath; make a cake; have a word; do a runner; get lost; get drunk. These verbs are meaning-light (light lexical content) but commonly used in combination. Some combinations are more common than others.They are a common source of error. E.g. doing a Masters (“native”) vs. studying a Masters (“learner”)
  • Verb and adjective collocations of content nouns: e.g. teach “set the table” rather than just “table”. In order to be able to use nouns, we need to know the verb and adjective collocations that we can use them with.
  • Exploit metaphorical links: e.g. money commonly collocates with spend; make; waste; save; invest; spare – and so does time!”Bet” – the metaphorical meaning is more common than the literal meaning – “I bet you’re right.”
    “See” – used more commonly to mean “understand” than for its literal meaning.

“far more general utility in the recombination of known elements than in the addition of less easily useable items” (Sinclair and Renauf, 1988)

– do we need to rethink our priorities? It could be better to teach learners to use what they already know in a wider range of uses.

e.g. instead of just “enjoy” – enjoy, enjoyable, enjoyment, enjoy a reputation (different word types and different combinations)

Processes in lexis building

Here are a range of processes we can engage learners in, as we help them to learn lexis:

  • recognise – do they know it when they see it?
  • identify – do they know it when they see it within a text?
  • match – can they put it together with its definition? with common collocates? with synonyms? with antonyms?
  • categorise – can they link it with the correct word type? topic? metaphorical v literal? etc.
  • retrieve – can they remember it without a visual or aural stimulus?
  • contextualise – can they use it in a sentence or as part of discourse?
  • activate – can they use it without prompting?
  • extend – can they use it in a variety of ways?
  • manipulate – can they convert it into a different word type? can they use it in combination with other words?
  • rank – can they compare it with other lexis?
  • deduce – can they guess what it means when in an unfamiliar combination?

Depth of processing

This refers to the number of times the brain touches the word: identify and rank = two processes. The more processes used, the greater the depth of processing becomes. The greater the depth of processing used, the greater the chances of retention. It is important for learners to use a variety of processes when learning lexis.

Teaching lexis

There are two main approaches to vocabulary teaching: “Front door” and “Back door”

“Front door” teaching means identifying a group of words and teaching them. This can be done in two ways.

  • “verbal”: by eliciting, explaining or defining, using a matching activity (NB: this must be carefully graded to be of any use!), translating, getting learners to deduce the meaning from context (NB: learners must be able to understand a lot of the co-text)
  • “non-verbal” : using pictures/images (e.g. photos, from the internet, flashcards), symbols, actions (mime, gesture, facial expression), realia, drawings, sound effects.

“Back door” teaching means using a text-based approach, in which you highlight/draw attention to words/chunks within a text.

Elicitation

Elicitation is a commonly used technique in the language classroom. It is when we get learners to provide information rather than simply telling them something. Like many techniques, it has benefits and limitations. This means we need to keep certain things in mind when we want to use elicitation.

Benefits: 

  • It can be engaging for learners.

Limitations:

  • You can’t elicit what learners don’t know.
  • Can be time-consuming

To remember:

  • You must be precise.
  • You must ensure that the language you use to elicit is well graded.
  • You cannot use terms that are more difficult than the concept itself when defining/explaining it.
  • Once you have explained or elicited something, you must check that a learner has understood. (Concept checking questions are a common way of doing this – for more on this see Jonny Ingham’s detailed post on it.)

Review

How often should we review vocabulary? Very frequently, otherwise vocabulary books become “word cemeteries” – long lists buried and forgotten!

  • Students are very tolerant of recycling and revisiting, more so than we tend to assume.
  • It is useful to use the concept of expanding rehearsal: increase the gap between recycling each time. E.g. review after a week, then after two weeks, then after a month etc.

There are many ways of reviewing vocabulary, but that’s for another post!

References:

Lewis, M. (1993). The lexical approach: The state of ELT and the way forward. Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications.

Sinclair, J. M., & Renouf, A. (Eds.). (1988). A lexical syllabus for language learning. In R. Carter & M. McCarthy (Eds.), Vocabulary and language teaching (pp. 140-158). Harlow: Longman.

Wilkins, David A. (1972) Linguistics and Language Teaching. London: Edward Arnold.