Diary of an intermediate language learner (Part 2)

Diary of an intermediate language learner continues with…

PART 2

(You can also read Part 1 here )

Day 2 – Tuesday 24th February 2015

Today we started by recounting in pairs what we had done since yesterday’s lesson. This time, we had to do it by drawing and guessing. It was great fun, but took ages and I felt I wanted to TALK rather than draw and guess. However, for those who have been in the class for a while and have already had plenty of speaking opportunities, this is a great way of adding some variety. I wonder how we’ll do it tomorrow? I must say, I felt rather envious of my partner who had spent his afternoon visiting a monument, buying theatre tickets for tomorrow, going dancing, and other students who had gone home, changed into gym clothes and been to the gym, then done their homework. I, meanwhile, had left Italian class, swallowed lunch, taught 2 classes, did All ¬†The Things, including homework, in my ‘break’, then taught two more classes before dragging myself home to a cup of tea and bed! I think the perfect combination would be a language learning and horse-riding holiday. Learn in the morning, ride in the afternoon, or vice versa, and some days with just horse-riding too. Bliss! ūüėČ

Next up was homework checking. This took a long time, but was very useful. I suppose in a 3hr class you have much more time to play with than a 1hr20 minute class (the usual length of the classes I currently teach). Checking the homework involved teamwork/points for correct answers, which was fun except for the point where I had been nominated by my group to read out our answer, but it was the last one in the section and for the final gap I had apparently misheard the final decision, in the scramble to wrap up, so I made a mistake and lost the point for our team le stelline. I crettini got it instead, and one member of my group had a right go at me! That was rather upsetting and threw me temporarily but then I got over it.

Once we had finished checking homework (I was chuffed that¬†I had done it all!), we returned to the stories we had written yesterday. C had looked at them all and marked up the errors using a correction code. They were stuck up around the classroom and we had to go round and try to correct the errors she had highlighted. This was a really lovely activity (another one I plan to steal! There’s an IELTS group-essay writing activity that I think this would make the perfect follow-up to…) but I found that I was very focused on the errors and didn’t really pay much attention to the story itself. So much had happened since we wrote them (work, life, homework, a lot of homework correcting!) that I could barely remember the premise. So, I think it might have been nice to have had a quick look at the stories right after we had written them yesterday, in order to enjoy the nonsensicality and humour, and do all the meaning processing, to then return today for the error correction activity.

The remainder of the lesson, following the break, was focusing on pronouns. We had a list of 14 sentences with errors in, which we had to correct in teams. This I found a bit frustrating because in my group of 4, two students hadn’t studied pronouns at all before, one a little bit and me not masses but definitely more. I wanted to be in the other group. :-p Frustrating, though, not because I was impatient with my classmates but¬†because I found it difficult to explain in Italian what I understood. (Lack of language classroom experience – not used to discussing language in the TL – as anticipated on Day 0!) And so my poor group mates were doubly challenged, by their lack of prior knowledge and my rubbish Italian! For example, how the formal ‘Lei’ works.¬†Fortunately, for this one, C stepped in and explained nicely and clearly! She also gave the two who had no prior some scaffolding (a table of subjects and pronouns – direct and indirect). So I experienced as a student the value of good monitoring and responding to situations that arise (obviously this kind of situation is not unusual¬†in mixed-level classes). Whole class feedback took the form of a point scoring game. It was funny because there was this two-tier point-scoring system and everything carefully written up on the board but then at the end, after all that, we didn’t add up the points! Not that it mattered.

(Interestingly for me, from a classroom management perspective, in terms of group work, I sometimes found groups of 4 unwieldily big for discussing, but also discovered what a difference moving furniture makes. Obviously I “knew” before, and one always does encourage learners to move into a tighter grouping prior to discussion, but I didn’t appreciate what a difference it makes until experiencing as a learner first-hand, ¬†the contrast between starting spread out and then continuing after C had duly pushed¬†us into a tighter grouping.)

Teamwork! (The ticks refer to which ones have been done - the game meant we went through them in random order - rather than what we got right or what was right to start with...)

Teamwork! (The ticks refer to which ones have been done – the game meant we went through them in random order – rather than what we got right or what was right to start with…)

Finally, homework was of course set. So much to do, so little time. Thank goodness a) the writing homework (writing a correct version of one of the marked up stories we’d looked at earlier) is not due for tomorrow and b) I hopefully will finish at 7.20 tomorrow, meaning I’ll have time to do written homework. Meanwhile, All The Things (preparation, marking, tussling with cantankerous photocopiers, eating, gap-fill homework due tomorrow) must be done between 4.30 and 6. Am utterly exhausted. But can’t believe 50% of the course is already gone. Must. Make. Most. Of. Rest.

Overall, today’s lesson was fun but seemed very grammar-heavy. The individual activities were all engaging and useful, but felt a bit¬†disconnected one from the next. Unlike yesterday, there was no context, no text, no situation. And all the speaking we did was about language. I think maybe¬†having spent as long as we did on homework correction, I perhaps wouldn’t have then gone into the story correction activity at that point (though such a nice activity) because it constituted more correcting, albeit of ¬†a different sort. Whereas possibly¬†a complete change of focus, keeping the story correction for a later¬†stage, might¬†have been good. So, for example maybe instead of the correction activity, working with a text, or having a discussion, and introducing some kind of context for the pronouns work.

Am slightly sad that this week’s focus is pronouns, as it would have been interesting to study something I haven’t studied before, to feel what it’s like to learn something from scratch in a group. However, I’m crap at pronouns so it’s no bad thing linguistically! ūüôā ¬†I hope tomorrow there will be more speaking, listening or reading and fewer grammar activities.

On reflection, I think that C tends to favour a test-teach-test lesson frame¬†(which is cool – start from what we learners know and build on it) and perhaps where we finished with the pronoun game, that was a ‘test’ element,¬†with feedback providing some ‘teach’ but perhaps running out of time was the reason for the lack of text or context introduced in this lesson – it might have been next on the list? Nevertheless, I think it would be nice if the ‘teach’ bit wasn’t necessarily board-based explanation. C’s explanations are very clear, supported by equally clear board work, which is very helpful (I really wish my explanations and board work were as good!), but, pain in the butt that I am, both linguistically and pedagogically I’m also interested in experiencing a guided discovery activity as a learner, whereby the group-work would encourage us to investigate and work linguistic things out, with some kind of scaffolding questions, rather than just test us (as, for example, the pronouns game did). This way, sometimes the board-based explanation¬†could fill in the gaps that remain rather than be the dominant mode, adding extra variety and catering for different learning preferences. The structure of the course (long [3hr] daily lessons) might also lend itself to a task-based learning lesson frame and/or some kind of project work. Which I’d also like to experience! Not that I am at all demanding… ūüėČ

Meanwhile, today has set me thinking about the importance of lesson shape, flow and providing opportunities for speaking not only about language: a trigger for closer scrutiny of my own teaching… I have also realised that I have been applying some of¬†what I learnt on the tutor training course:¬†particularly that relating to lesson observation. While, of course, I am a participant rather than an observer, so in some ways it is flawed as an observation, in others it makes the process even more powerful as an experience, because you actually feel the effect of what is being done rather than just observing it. So that’s another layer of learning for me: language learner, teacher AND tutor-in-training!

Day 3 – Wednesday 25th February 2015

Today, again, I was in bright and early, ready to start. This time, however, I plucked up the courage to chat with partner in Italian while waiting for others to arrive! ūüôā

This time, we didn’t discuss yesterday’s events straight away. Instead, we all had to write our favourite word (learnt so far on this course) on a piece of paper. I chose ‘ingannare‘ – make someone believe something that isn’t true. Then C gave us all someone else’s piece of paper, and we had to tell our partner what we had done yesterday since the lesson, with the challenge of slipping in the word/chunk on our new piece of paper. Partner, of course, to guess what the word/chunk is. (Another activity I fully plan to steal! Edit: Tried it with my Level 3’s, another win!¬†Note to self:¬†Adapt it for use with my EAP students over the summer…) I had “fa venire i brividi” and spoke about my photocopiers woes – it was the passage of time (wasted) vs the need to do All The Things (of which there were many), and the rising of panic in direct proportion to said waste time, that mi faceva venire i brividi. Within the process of playing this game, a nice expression emerged related to the word I had written down initially: “ingannare il tempo” – in English, ‘kill time‘; as C said, Italians are less brutal and just dupe it/beguile it instead. ūüôā

Then, it was homework checking time. This time, no games. For me, a relief after yesterday’s episode! (Though the girl in question was absent today anyway!) It didn’t take quite as long as yesterday. Again, though, it was useful. Inevitably, from time to time, in the process of these discussions, we lapsed from Italian into English. I like how C deals with this: She would say something along the lines of “That doesn’t sound like Italian to me…maybe it’s some kind of strange Sardinian dialect. I don’t speak Sardinian so I don’t know.” – essentially, drawing attention to the issue (being that we needed to be speaking in Italian not English) but in a humorous way, thereby achieving the goal (we’d switch back to Italian) without it becoming a “thou shalt…” mandate and keeping a pleasant, fun atmosphere in the classroom. This is another technique I want to adopt. On¬†a side note, it’s been interesting to experience the question of rapport from the learner seat, and how nice it is when the atmosphere is comfortable, when there is a lot of humour and banter both between students and between the teacher and students. It definitely does oil the wheels of the learning process!

Review emerging from homework

Review emerging from homework

Next, joy, we got a context! Enter Walter and Natalia. Fortunately, one of my classmates requested for the clearer black pen to be used at this point. Which reminds me, I really need to get some more pens from the office – my only remaining pens are red and green, which isn’t great if any of my students are red-green colour-blind. Plus, green isn’t much better than fading blue, visibility-wise, as a main colour! Better for marking up/highlighting things. (Edit: Now fully armed with new pens and am paying much more attention to my board-work! And generally writing more things on my board, having found it very helpful when C wrote emergent vocabulary¬†up on the board, which she always made a point of doing.)

Meet Walter and Natalia!

Meet Walter and Natalia!

C elicited adjectives to describe this married couple who have a little girl, by telling us how they behave. Next we did a vocabulary matching activity, during the feedback of which lots of extra language emerged and was dealt with. C is very good at responding to emergent language and random questions in a way which I find is really, really motivating from a learner’s perspective. I wonder how I compare in that way. Another thing to put under scrutiny in my next classes! I also noticed that she does concept checking/display questions really well. (Jealous!) She puts on a sort of ingenuous air that makes it all rather humorous. As a learner, I find the question process reassuring – that I have understood correctly. So I think I’d also like to adopt/steal this approach to concept questions, as I might then feel less awkward than I have been known to feel when doing this type of¬†checking and therefore ask more of these questions! [Edit: I duly tried it in my first class after this lesson and it worked a treat! Something else to play with more…]

Next, we got a jumbled up conversation. Clear instructions and instruction checking questions ensured that we didn’t write anything in the gaps, we didn’t reorder the conversation, we just picked out which lines were Natalia’s and which were Walter’s. Once that was done, we were able to reorder the conversation and then practice it together, putting appropriate pronouns in the gaps. This was followed by whole class feedback, in which we were nominated in turn to read out the line, inserting the relevant pronoun. That brought us to break-time.

After break, we got a handout with the gapped dialogue in order, and went through it AGAIN line by line, nominated, inserting the correct pronoun. I found this a little tedious and would have preferred to have had the handout when we went through it the first time round. However, more questions did come out the second time round, so therefore¬†for those with less experience of pronouns, this was valuable. E.g. who is the subject, what is the object, what is the pronoun substituting, how does word order affect meaning etc. (I wonder if all my reading has helped me get over these word order issues? ¬†Or possibly because French also has special word order with pronouns so as a concept it is familiar to me…Still, whatever the case, it’s still way more interesting than the alphabet was! ūüėČ ) I think after this extensive language focus, it would also have been nice to try and ‘perform’ the dialogue without looking at it. This would have required some improvisation but should have been doable as by this point we were very familiar with Walter and Natalia and the meaning-content of the dialogue. We could have then been given some delayed feedback on our use of pronouns in the process of our improvisations.

In the event, we abandoned Walter and Natalia rather abruptly, and appeared to abandon pronouns, to move on to a guessing game where C gave out clues on cut up pieces of paper, one at a time, to different individuals to read out to the rest of the class, the aim of which was to have us guess what traditional dish she had written a recipe for. It was fun and a lovely way to bring some culture into the lesson. But I was also quite tired by this point and confused about what this had to do with all else in the lesson up to this point, which had revolved around Walter and Natalia, as well as pronouns. They –¬†and their child¬†–¬†had now disappeared from the scene! Eventually, after we had guessed what the recipe was, and done a vocabulary matching activity (during which again lots of interesting language emerged and many random questions were dealt with! ūüôā ), we were given the recipe, which, it transpired, had been written without pronouns! Aha! All became clear: the missing link. And so¬†it was that our homework task was to rewrite the recipe WITH pronouns. C gave us a bit of input on imperatives (which she elicited as commonly used in recipes) and pronouns first, to set us up for this. (Note to self: steal this recipe-guessing activity to adapt for Level 2 to review quantifiers…and then see which other levels I can shoe-horn it into as well!)

And that brought us to the end of the lesson and the end of day three. The recipe was a lovely personal touch, but I wonder if there would be a way to make it flow more smoothly from what had come before. I haven’t yet had time to think enough about this to come up with a ‘solution’ (‘..’ because it’s not a ‘problem’ as such, just a point of interest to me! And, again, is just making me ponder¬†lesson shapes, flow, staging, explicitness of connections between activities and so on. All of which is useful to think about!)

All in all, I enjoyed today’s lesson and was relieved when use of context came into play. I think chopping up the dialogue was a great way to introduce it and get us to process it for meaning before working on the pronouns. And the clear instructions were important to make sure we didn’t screw up the staging by focusing on the gaps too early. Must remember this! One thing that I do notice is that it is the end of Day 3 and I still know very little¬†about my classmates. I would really like there to be some kind of opinion exchange speaking activity, where I could find out what they think about stuff and have a go at expressing my own opinions on stuff. I think I mean speaking activities that allow some personalised use of all language resources, not just target structures or discussion thereof. This has made me pay particular attention in my lessons today subsequent to this class, to what opportunities I provide for interaction of this nature. In the form of lead-ins, response to texts and so on. I also wonder if we will do some reading tomorrow, as we haven’t yet.

I think so far my favourite day has been day one, with today in second and yesterday in third place. But don’t get me wrong: I have thoroughly enjoyed being in the classroom every day, particularly the way that it has, without fail, enabled to me to shut the outside world out temporarily, it’s really nice to engage that intensively with something.

 Teacher Take-away

Here is my subjective summary of what Days 2 and 3 taught me:

  • it is difficult to focus on errors and meaning at the same time (cf. the story-writing correction activity).
  • activities can be really good individually but lack flow as a series.
  • sometimes the link between activities can be immediately obvious to teacher but not to the learners.
  • context is very important for flow/lesson shape and¬†having a context makes everything a lot more fun and meaningful.
  • talking only about language isn’t enough.
  • related to above point, if talking opportunities are mostly language-related, you don’t get to know your classmates.
  • discussing language in the target language is actually quite difficult if you aren’t used to it! If one person in a group isn’t used to it, it can make things more difficult for the other group members too.
  • effective monitoring and classroom management is so helpful. ūüôā
  • it’s really nice when the teacher personalises the materials.
  • concept checking can be reassuring as a learner, and there are ways of making it fun as a teacher.
  • responding well to emergent language is very motivating for learners.
  • non-gap fill homework makes a nice change! But is much more time-consuming, which is difficult when you have a heavy schedule. Conclusion: when giving more time-consuming homework, give a longer deadline (as C did).
  • Decent board pens make a big difference to clarity of board work!
  • Clear board work is lovely to be on the receiving end of!

End of Part 2

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Diary of an intermediate language learner (Part 1)

I wrote this post between the 22nd and 26th February just gone, now finally getting it up!  

After just over 5 years of negotiating the role of ‘language teacher‘ in the ‘communicative language classroom‘, and 4 days after doing the Italian entry test at work, the week commencing 23rd February 2015 sees me stepping into the role of ‘language learner‘ for one week. This will be my first experience of the communicative language classroom from a learner viewpoint. The keener followers amongst you will remember I did have a few survival classes soon after arriving in Sicily the first time around, but there were only 3 teachers including me in those lessons so they don’t really count!

Yes, only one week, BUT in that week I am following three hours of Italian class every morning between 10a.m. and 1p.m. 12hrs of learning time should yield plenty of interest, both linguistic and pedagogic.

This post, broken into 3 parts is a journal of my experiences as a learner, my reflections on these experiences and the resultant take-away as a teacher. I’m not sure how much interest it will be to others, but if nothing else, hopefully I can at least capture the value for teachers of putting themselves in the learning seat from time to time…

PART 1

Day 0 – Sunday 22 February 2015

I’m very excited about starting my Italian classes tomorrow. This is strange, as I didn’t much enjoy the above-mentioned survival classes. I was a very frustrated beginner and ended up quitting the classes (going off instead to immerse myself in the language via extensive reading and listening, a bit of self-study, and then during the summer of 2014, doing a vast quantity of self-study). This time, however, I am optimistic. This time, I have words. If the teacher tries to elicit something, it might actually work rather than just drive me nuts! ūüėČ

I’m also a bit nervous though. So I have been contemplating possible problems I might encounter (aka my fears) BUT, more importantly, what strategies I can use to overcome them.

Here is my list of potential problems:

  1. Understanding instructions.
  2. Doing listening tasks that involve answering comprehension questions.
  3. Giving up control of my learning.
  4. Being shy/nervous initially (the class started two weeks ago so we won’t all be new – not sure if I will be the only new person or if any others will be starting tomorrow too)
  5. Being a disadvantage due to starting late: resultant confusion with things that are familiar to the others.

Here are my reflections and solutions:

  1. My listening isn’t too bad. Plus, being a teacher, I know what most language learning activities involve (this was useful when I forgot to read the instructions during my entrance test!) so I can probably work it out between what I understand and what I can see. If all else fails, I also know how to ask my teacher to repeat something and how to say I don’t understand. Always useful!
  2. As above, my listening isn’t too bad. I’m not so worried about understanding if we listen to recordings, but more the process of listening-and-answering-comprehension-questions-simultaneously: it’s not something I do a lot of! Solution? Boh. Hopefully we’ll do the check-in-pairs thing so it won’t matter too much if I have missed stuff! ūüėČ Which reminds me, it will be interesting attempting to discuss activities in the target language (especially if I’m working with another teacher, with whom I usually speak in English…) Well, my students manage it, so it will be good for me to try, so I know how they feel!
  3. This will be a bit weird for me. Having done so much self-study, I’m not used to someone else being in charge. Even with my handful of 1-1 lessons, they were tailored to me and based on what I wanted, so I was still in charge, in a way. I remember getting frustrated with the survival classes because I didn’t know what the plan was, which made it less easy for me to tolerate activities I didn’t like (e.g. learning the alphabet :-p ). Solution: make a conscious effort to relax and trust the teacher. At least we won’t be learning the alphabet!
  4. I think this is any language learner’s worry, the first time they walk into a classroom! I shall just have to make a big effort to be brave, act confident and hope that the teacher does some kind of ice-breaker to kick off with.
  5. Well, it’s bound to happen. Hopefully not too much though! My solution has been to speak to another student (a colleague)¬†who is following the course and has done since the beginning, and find out what they have been up to, especially most recently. Turns out it’s imperfetto vs passato prossimo. So I’ve had a play on a website I use, with grammar activities. Other than that, the teacher will be aware that I’ve missed stuff and will be able to help if necessary, as will others in the class. A potential bonus of this situation is that I am unlikely to get bored and frustrated at things being too easy! (cf. alphabet, above :-p )

Mostly, I can’t wait! It’s going to be really interesting, both from the point of view of learning a bunch of Italian, including having plenty of speaking opportunities, and from the point of view of language teaching pedagogy. Knowing first-hand what it’s like to be an intermediate learner in a communicative language classroom is bound to affect how I teach in some way! It’s funny though, I have two intermediate classes at the moment, one (Level 5) is the first half of intermediate, the other (Level 6) is the second half. According to the entrance testing, I suppose I am somewhere around where the first half lot are at (i.e. beginning of intermediate). But I feel more in common with my Level 3’s (beginning¬†of pre-intermediate)! I hope I can keep up… time will tell!

Couldn't pass up the opportunity to get myself a shiny new notebook for the course! All ready to go!

Couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get myself a shiny new notebook for the course! All ready to go!

Day 1 – Monday 23rd February 2015

I was really nervous to start with. (Just as I had predicted!)¬†There are 8 students and we each had to introduce ourselves to the rest of the group. My heart was pounding while I waited for my turn, which is silly, as saying your name and what you do is not exactly rocket science! It makes me think, though, on reflection, that talking briefly in pairs (with a little task such as ‘find out three interesting things about your partner‘ or ‘find three things that you have in common‘) and then reporting to the class as a pair might be less intimidating, possibly, than jumping straight in to whole class introductions. However, the teacher (henceforth ‘C’)’s approach was certainly time efficient.

Next up was a warmer, which was to work in pairs and tell our partner about our weekend, BUT only using gestures. Partner had to interpret the recount. This was good fun. I was slightly at a disadvantage due to having missed the class on gestures done the previous week, but my partner showed me the handout and in any case miming worked just fine. This is one of the many activities I plan to steal. (Edit: Tried it with my level 2’s in my last class this week, perfect little past simple reviewing warmer!)

We continued with some listening. C started by eliciting the theme, ‘disavventura’ and thankfully (considering fear no.2 above) for the first listen, we just had to listen, so I practised note-taking (thinking about my last summer EAP students, who I spent weeks teaching how to listen, albeit to lectures, and note-take) – it IS hard to do in an additional language, but practice helps (e.g. the conference I attended last term, on the topic of veganism. But that’s another story for another day!). After we had listened, we compared what we had understood (in pairs). My partner had understood a bit more than me, but she was Spanish so maybe that was an advantage?! I’m not sure if C had set a gist question or not – if she did, I mustn’t have been paying enough attention at the time (there’s a lot to think about and concentrate on as a learner, I have discovered!). I think a gist question (or, as the case may be, paying attention to the gist question! ūüėȬ†) would have been useful. After comparing in pairs, we looked at a sheet of multiple choice questions related to the listening, which we completed from memory. That was pretty easy, but there was some disagreement on one of the questions, so we listened again to to check, but we had the additional task of noticing storytelling and commenting language. C set this up by drawing a table on the board and giving an example. I really liked this task and managed to pick out quite a few of the target chunks, which were then elicited and boarded in a whole class FB, following comparison in pairs of what we’d heard.

Lots of useful language!

Lots of useful language! But what is the one right at the bottom on the right? Damn my incompetent photography!

Having mined these chunks from the listening, we moved on to using them. C gave each pair of students either a set of chunks for recounting or a set for commenting, and the former also received a situation, something that had happened yesterday, to tell partner about. Partner was, of course, to use the commenting language. Mine were ‘A stranger on a bus asked you to marry him‘ and ‘You saved Silvio Berlusconi’s life‘ – good humour value! This activity reminded me of my Delta speaking skills LSA, for which I focused on telling anecdotes. It’s great because if the activities make sure you have understood how to use it correctly, you (the learner) wind up with a bank of instantly useful language. (Once you internalise it, anyway!) I think it might have been useful to have a copy of the transcript at some point though, to keep as a record/aide-memoire of ¬†the language in use.

Following our telling and commenting activity, we had some delayed error correction. C wrote up the sentences on the board and we had to identify the errors. Once we had had a go, C then put a red rectangle around each of the incorrect elements and we had another chance to discuss/check. (This I really liked – I usually write up the sentences, students discuss, then we go through and correct; I haven’t put an interim stage in before but as a learner I found it really useful. One to try out next time I do delayed error correction!¬†Edit:¬†Duly tried, learners responded well = win! Something to keep using!)

Finally, we did a group-writing activity. This involved C dictating an opening line of a paragraph, for us to write down, and then us completing the paragraph with our own ideas. This done, we folded over our paragraph and handed the paper over to the person on our right. On the new paper, we wrote down the next paragraph opener to be dictated and completed that. And so on. Once we had finished writing the stories in this way, C collected them and set homework (many gaps to fill!), bringing us to the end of the lesson.

Overall, for me, the lesson was very engaging and flowed nicely, with all the language work coming out of the listening text. For example, as well as the storytelling chunks, we also did some work on comparatives, which spring-boarded from a simile used in the recording – ‘bianco come un lenzuolo’ and encompassed different types of comparative and use of a selection of other idiomatic comparisons [which C elicited – good fun! Eliciting is definitely better when you actually have words, just like I thought!]¬†too.

I won't forget the pulcino!!

I won’t forget what ‘pulcino’ means!! ūüôā

As it happened, the activity for using the comparatives threw some people. We used the handout in whole class mode directly, with C nominating us to answer. Some of us could do it, others struggled. Maybe a quick pair stage would have helped?

Nevertheless, for the first 1.5hrs of the 3hr class, I managed to forget that there was a world outside the classroom door. For the second 1.5, I almost managed to as well, which, in the circumstances, was testimony to a very good lesson.

 Teacher Take-away:

All very subjective, perhaps, but this is a summary of my take-away so far:

  • Speaking whole-class straight away is intimidating!
  • Identifying issues you might have with something in advance of when they could arise means that when they do arise, you are more prepared for them and less floored by them.
  • Little warmers involving drawing and miming are a good way to add variety to review
  • Gist questions are useful (and as a learner, it is easy to miss something if it happens to be said when your focus is elsewhere and it is isn’t repeated!)
  • Related to this, learners have a lot to think about – check they are paying attention¬†to you at key points!
  • The text doesn’t lose its interest value when you repeatedly exploit it with further activities, as long as these are varied and flow nicely.
  • Noticing (looking out for a particular structure, functional set¬†or lexical set) and text-mining (focusing on extracting language you already know) activities are great! With listening, if you do it at a stage where the meaning content of the text is already familiar, then it is motivating to pick out a set of language that you know and be able to pick out quite a lot of it.
  • If you don’t have a transcript at some point, you want one. (Of course it shouldn’t come too early in the proceedings!) Transcripts can be useful in different ways. (E.g. in this case, I wanted it as a record of the target language in use, rather than to aid understanding)
  • Role play (e.g. when we were given the situations to play out) is useful, as you can focus on processing the language without having to use up processing room for idea¬†creation too.
  • Delayed error correction is more difficult than I realised! Having an interim stage of ringed errors helps in the identification and correction process.
  • Eliciting is fun when you have words. (VS when I was a complete beginner, when it really wasn’t!)
  • If you produce something, it is a bit of an anti-climax not to see it in the end (i.e. the group writing activity)
  • Activities may be more difficult than you realise, a pair stage can help flag this up without putting anyone on the spot.
  • Having a teacher with a sense of humour makes things a lot of¬†fun! ūüôā

End of Part 1

Entrance testing and my Italian: then and now

Yesterday afternoon, I did the Italian entrance test at IHPA. It consists of a computer-based grammar/vocabulary test and a speaking test. I also did the test about ten months ago. Since then I have put a considerable amount of time and effort into learning Italian…¬†

Computer-based component: Then

Ten months ago, I successfully completed the first activity, a gap fill, and passed on to the second, completing a conversation. After submitting it, I was booted out. My level was high elementary. I don’t remember much about it other than being frustrated in the conversation activity because I knew that my bodge along language wasn’t what was required! (Duly confirmed by the test ending at that point…)

Computer-based component: Now

Kids were running riot round the computers, waiting to go into class but I started nevertheless. I figured a bit of noise more or less wasn’t going to make much difference. Again, I successfully completed the first activity. I couldn’t remember it from before or anything, but it made more sense to me this time. I actually knew more what I was putting and why, rather than just guessing. I passed onto the conversation and again, for most of it, I was quite sure of my answers this time. Though some I didn’t have a clue. So far, so good. This time, I successfully passed this activity too. Enter activity three. The little timer was counting down, so I had “hurry hurry” in my head. Clickety click. Ah. I forgot to read the instructions on the instruction screen before passing to the associated activity. Fortunately, being a language teacher, I could work out more-or-less what was required without any instructions. It seemed to be transformations. There were more answers that I wasn’t sure of this time. At the end of that activity the test ended for me. I came out as intermediate, though. ūüôā (Funnily enough, when I spoke about it to one of my colleagues who also did the test recently, it turned out that he also managed to forget to read¬†the instructions for that third activity! Being teachers, who always till we are blue in the face tell our students to read instructions carefully in tests – how many times has this come up in my IELTS classes for example!! – how ironic that we don’t do it ourselves…)

Speaking component: Then

Ten months ago I didn’t have many words. Italian words, I mean. So it wasn’t a very extensive speaking test. I remember having to describe Rome (a city in Italy I had been to) and being largely unable to do so. I did have some random horse-related vocabulary, though, from my extensive reading and from going to the stables regularly! I think I only managed to speak in the present and very a little bit of past. I came out, again, somewhere mid-Elementary.

Speaking component: Now

I really enjoyed the speaking test yesterday! I have a lot more words now. And my tester pushed me to use different things, like imperfect, conditionals, hypotheses and so on. Apparently I kept avoiding using the future though. Which is strange because I do know how to form it! Subsequently, when pondering it, I wondered if it wasn’t a non-linguistic issue. I.e. I feel like if I speak about the future using the future tense, e.g. I’m going to have a nice house, I’m going to go horse-riding and running all the time, I’m going to do this, that and the other, I’d be tempting fate! So I err towards conditionals. E.g. I would like to have a nice house, I would like to work in x place, etc. Even talking about next weekend for me would require conditionals (largely weather-related!) not just pure future.

Anyway, it turns out that I’m intermediate in speaking too! Which, given this time last year it was all I could do to repeat phrases after people and get out a few halting sentences of my own, is progress! Also turns out that I have problems with word stress and putting it in the wrong place. Not surprising given I am largely self-taught. It also occurred to me after the test that I accidentally lied during it. I said I hadn’t done any courses since the couple of lessons of survival Italian that I did with the school right when I arrived. Whereas, of course I have had a handful of private lessons recently. But a combination of new timetable and ill teacher has meant that for nearly a month now I haven’t had any. So it was easy to forget in the heat of the moment! Besides, when asked about “courses” I only thought as in classes at the school. Which I really haven’t had any more of.

What next?

Well, it looks like I’m on the good old intermediate plateau now. And the vast quantities of self-study I did during last summer have dwindled right down to a spot of reading each night before bed! I might join an intensive course that is running at the moment, but still not sure yet. Either which way, hopefully I will be continuing with the private lessons, as there is still one viable day a week for it. It’ll just be paid lessons rather than an exchange (as it was before) since there just aren’t two possible days a week¬†for it to happen anymore. The joys of timetabling!

In any case, I’ve found doing the test quite motivating. (I think I actually really rather like tests, disturbingly enough!) It’s shown me¬†that I’ve made reasonable progress. But will that be enough to galvanise me into action (lessons etc.) and further self study? Time will tell… ūüėČ

Screenshot 1: One World Italiano

Been a while since I visited this site!!

British Council Videos: ‘Teacher Talk’

One of the perks of being a British Council Associate¬†is that as well as having had the opportunity to deliver a webinar (with another on the cards¬†for¬†next year!) I have also been able to participate in a project called ‘Teacher Talk‘. This is a series of videos edited by the¬†British Council, which feature some of the BCAs talking about various ELT-related issues.

So far, you can watch short video clips about:

(Click on the title to be taken to the relevant video – I think there may be more forthcoming, but I can’t actually remember at this stage how many topics there were in all!)

I think part of the beauty of these clips is that they¬†are¬†so short – within a few minutes you can either pick up a few new ideas or remind yourself of things you knew but hadn’t been uppermost in your mind recently, becoming buried amongst the myriad other things that we, as teachers, have to juggle.

The other thing I like about them is that you hear a range of voices on a single subject, particularly as the British Council has edited the videos very cleverly, so that although they cut from one person to another, the flow of ideas is seamless and easy to follow.

From my own selfish developmental point of view, making the videos, which I sent to the British Council to be included in the editing process, encouraged me to reflect on and synthesise (very succinctly by my standards – the videos had to be fairly brief!) ¬†my views on these various important elements¬†of ELT. Watching the videos now, months down the line, it encourages me to question whether I practice what I (and the others in the video clips) ‘preach’ and how I could try and do so more effectively.

All in all, a very rewarding project to have been part of. Thank you, British Council, for this fantastic opportunity! ūüôā

Motivation

Motivation is a slippery beast.

Amongst those who research it, there are many differing views (Dornyei and Ushioda 2012) but there is agreement with regards to its effect on human behaviour:

“Motivation is responsible for

  • why people decide to do something
  • how long they are willing to sustain the activity
  • how hard they are going to pursue it” (ibid: kindle loc 259, emphasis as per¬†original)

A lot of investigation into motivation has taken place over the years, with various theories abounding to account for the origins of motivation, the effects of motivation, the effects of the absence of motivation and other such elements.

Motivation is fascinating.

It is something that everybody both enjoys and struggles with at various intervals. It can fluctuate¬†hugely in a very short space of time. When you’re feeling motivated, you can’t imagine not being motivated by whatever it is that is motivating you at that time, but then something happens and your motivation nose-dives, at which point you find it difficult to imagine feeling motivated again. Motivation can be influenced by so many things, both external and internal. Of these influences, some will kindle motivation and some will¬†dampen it, changes which may occur simultaneously, resulting in a sort of¬†battle of influences, with victory being a very temporary state. Of course, with so many influences at play, it is difficult to identify which one is responsible for any change that occurs (Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012).

Motivation is closely entwined with learner autonomy.

My other passion, learner autonomy, is closely entwined with motivation. Nobody is going to dedicate any length of time or great effort to doing something that they are not motivated (whether that motivation be positive or negative) to do. Autonomous language learning, by nature, requires, amongst other things, motivation. The motivation to begin, and, as importantly, the motivation to keep going. Enthusiastic language study/use¬†for two days followed by several weeks of doing nothing will¬†have little effect on one’s competence. Indeed, Williams and Burden, 1997 (in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) highlight the need for language teachers to consider not only the arousal of interest but also the longer term process of helping learners sustain it. I would argue that this applies not only to motivation within the classroom across the duration of a course, but also to the motivation for learning outside the classroom.

Developing one’s language skills¬†autonomously is hard work. It is hard enough work, when, as a teacher, you are very aware of how learning a language works: we know that it is slow, that progress may seem invisible, but we also know that every little helps and that perseverance is key. We know how important¬†exposure to the target language, in all its forms, is; we know that a vast amount of this type of exposure is necessary for the effects to become apparent. We have awareness of different approaches to learning, different activities and the benefits of these, enabling us to combine them as we see best suits our needs. Of course, even with our knowledge of all these things, we are not immune to dips in motivation. There are far too many different elements that influence motivation for anybody to be immune to dips in it.

Motivation is long-term.

Perhaps, then, in terms of sustaining motivation, we ought to ask not only “how do I stay motivated?/how do I help my learners stay motivated?” but also “how do I rekindle my motivation when it dips?/how do I help my learners rekindle their motivation when it dips?” Take, for example, my Italian learning. Over the summer, while I was in the UK, I was, by and large, hugely motivated to improve my Italian. I worked so hard on it that my housemate dubbed my attic bedroom “Little Italy”. My key motivation was¬†being able to converse in Italian when I got back to Palermo. Fast forward back to mid-October, and here I am. Have I spoken loads of Italian? No. Outside of work, there has been the odd bit of transactional communication, at work, the opportunities to actually converse, getting beyond pleasantries (hi, how are you, how was your weekend etc.) are few and far between. (I think I need PSP Speaking [on offer at IHPA – multilevel English conversation hour that students can freely sign up for, in addition to their courses] in Italian!) ¬†Since returning to Palermo, my motivation has fluctuated a lot more than it did in the UK. I find this interesting because being in the target language environment is supposed to be motivational. It’s supposed to be harder to stay motivated when you are outside it. Perhaps this would be the case if you had no concrete plans to travel to the target language environment in the foreseeable future.

Motivation is problematic.

My first problem after getting back to Palermo was that I lost my overall driving goal – that of ‘being able to converse in Italian when I get back to Palermo‘. Initially I was very happy – I managed to do things like sort out my phone and internet in the phone shop unaided, a far cry from the same time last year, when I had no language and could do nothing independently. And then something happened. A¬†week where, for the first time in ages, I didn’t meet my (updated) learning contract – by a long shot. I just hadn’t really bothered. Instead, I merely¬†read my current book(s). After that week elapsed and I had even “forgotten” to do my weekly reflection (in Italian), I had a little emergency meeting with myself, to try and figure out what was going on. What was going on was that I didn’t feel motivated anymore. My outdated goal needed updating. It has now, as of a couple of days ago, become ‘I need to keep studying so that when opportunities to speak properly in Italian¬†do occasionally¬†arise, I haven’t lost all the language I was building up over the summer with afore-mentioned opportunities in mind’. The reflection and the goal-updating have helped my motivation somewhat. Of course one of my other motivations, that I love the Italian language, has remained a motivation – but that only motivates me to keep reading and to a lesser extent watching/listening in Italian. All well and good, but the speaking only gets rustier! What all of this highlights for me is some issues around goal-setting: goals need to be updated if circumstances change (but a change in circumstances may, of course, not be as big as a move between countries as in my example); lack of, or outdated, goals can result in lack of motivation; goals that are too general don’t have such a strong effect on motivation¬†(“I want to be better at Italian” could be said to be a goal of mine, of course, but it is not specific enough to motivate me on its own.) Plenty of food for thought.

Motivation is inspirational. 

This whole process, spanning the months from June when I started learning Italian in earnest through until now, has on various occasions given me food for thought, leading me to wonder¬†how to apply what I learn from my own experience to what I do with students in the classroom. The latest developments have lead me to delve into¬†further experimentation¬†with helping learners manage their motivation. I say “further” because my learner autonomy projects last year had a strong thread of this running through them. So perhaps this post is a very long-winded way of saying “stay tuned for more posts relating to motivation and language learning” !

References:

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

Teaching Academic Listening (and transferral to the General English classroom!)

This summer, I worked on a pre-sessional course for the very first time…

At Sheffield University, as well as teaching your tutor group writing skills and guiding them through the process of producing an extended written project, each teacher is responsible for teaching one of the other skills (reading, speaking or listening) to their own and a further two groups. For me, that skill was listening, 8 weeks of academic listening. And it was really interesting!

In this post, I’m going to share some of what I’ve done with my students and some of what I’ve learnt in the process. I also want to reflect on what might be transferable back to the general English classroom at International House, Palermo – rather imminently! (This post has been a few weeks in the pipelines!)

The 8 week listening thread of the pre-sessional course at Sheffield University was based on OUP EAP upper intermediate/B2¬†(de Chazal & McCarter, 2012)¬†The listening skills development in this course book, to me, seems very strongly rooted in strategy development: students are equipped with strategies to use in order to help themselves listen more effectively to academic texts e.g lectures. Generic elements and functional language are teased out and students’ awareness raised, combined with scaffolded practice opportunities. This scaffolding is evident within units and across the book as a whole, where a gradual decrease can be identified, as students are expected to listen increasingly more independently.

This in mind, was all I had to do turn up and open to page x? Possibly not! In any case, having read a lot about teaching listening (e.g.Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action  Vandergrift and Goh 2012), much of which seemed applicable to academic listening, and adding to this what I had gleaned from the induction week as well as the relevant chapter in EAP Essentials (Alexander, Argent and Spencer, 2008), I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the listening skills thread:

  1. Include (systematically, with gradually decreasing scaffolding) review activities at the start of the class and reflective activities at the end. (3hr lessons lend themselves to this approach beautifully!)
  2. Avoid the scenario of students meeting a new strategy and then consigning it to the dusty depths of a folder, never to be used again.
  3. Enable students to track their progress/development and recognise an accumulation of strategies being at their disposal. Not only this but also encourage *regular use* of them.
  4. Linked to all of the above, help the students become more independent listeners.

How did I do this?

  • Long-term planning

I made a hand-out to accompany each class, based on the activities in the course-book. Each handout guided the learners through the lesson from reflection to main content to review, also highlighting any new strategies introduced, and I made several weeks’ worth in advance. The main reason for this was time-management, trying to free up time for intensive marking periods and planned absences (graduation, wedding). However, I noticed that it really helped the coherence, especially as I had Vandergrift and Goh (2012) in mind, in terms of systematically reducing scaffolding and guiding learners towards independence in planning, monitoring and evaluating their strategy use. There was clear progression, explicit progression, from one class to the next.

Result: 

Increased coherence, making the content more useful for students.

I had the ss fill in a feedback form at the end of the class - 4 questions, no numbers, to encourage reflection  (for them) and to gain an insight into their thoughts (for me).

I had the ss fill in a feedback form at the end of the class – 4 questions, no numbers, to encourage reflection (for them) and to gain an insight into their thoughts (for me).

Out of 36 responses, one was withholding judgement until he/she knew whether he/she had passed the USEPT exam (the university entrance proficiency test), one thought it was partly useful but felt we talked too much, and the rest were “yes”‘s.

Transferability: 

It’s different in a General English environment, as courses tend to be organised around grammar structures. However, what I want to try and do this year at IH Palermo is help students see how they are building on what they have learnt and be more systematic in how I approach my lessons in terms of review and reflection. Of course, being 1hr20 minute lessons rather than 3hr lessons limits the amount of time available for this. Nevertheless, working with the time available, a similar ratio could usefully be applied.

  • Strategy tables

Strategy tables kept and updated by the students over the duration of the course.

Strategy tables kept and updated by the students over the duration of the course.

I made these between week 2 and week three of the course, following the blank stares that emerged in the initial review section of week 2. The idea was to help students build up a reference/resource, where at a glance they can see what strategies they have learnt and how to use them. This means they should be more likely to use them independently, rather than systematically forget about them, as new strategies are encountered. I completed the first strategy as an example, gave the students a little bit of time at the end of the class in week three to start updating them (so as to ensure they knew what they were doing) and then sent them off under instructions to bring their tables up to date. An important thing that emerged from this was the fact that it was not an instant success. The following week, not all students had updated their tables. However, by bringing it back into the classroom each week at the beginning of the lesson (students would compare their tables), an expectation of autonomy was created. In due course, all the students did live up to that expectation. This coincides with the recognition of the value of what they are doing and the behaviour becomes truly independent rather than purely response to expectation.

Result: 

Students finished the course with a record of what they had learnt, a resource to take away, and a more independent approach to their listening skills development. Out of 36 responses, 35 were “yes” and one was “no”, who thought that there were too many strategies to juggle. This student hadn’t yet reached the point of being able to select strategies independently. With 8 weeks of teaching, expecting all students to reach that point may be a little over-ambitious. Many students commented that the strategy tables were useful for reviewing what had been learnt in previous lessons and made remembering the strategies and how to use them easier. I was particularly pleased with comments that cropped up regarding the utility of the strategy table beyond the end of the course. If learners can see how something is going to be useful to them long-term, they are likely to invest more in using it, and be more independent in their use of it.

Comments on the strategy table.

Comments on the strategy table.

Comments on the strategy table (2)

Comments on the strategy table (2)

 

Comments on the strategy table (3)

Comments on the strategy table (3)

 

 Transferability:

I think use of a strategy table would transfer nicely to exam preparation classes, where exam strategies are key to success. It could also potentially be useful in terms of accumulating a record of learning strategies met and experimented with, or resources. In the past, I have given learners a handout with different resources for them to try. I wonder if getting them to create this handout themselves, collaboratively perhaps, might be even more effective…

  • Listening logs

Listening log in action!

Listening log in action!

These were made and introduced alongside the strategy tables. The idea was not by own but based on what I’ve learnt by reading about teaching listening. I adapted it to this context. As with the strategy tables, I started the learners off with an example. The goals were to encourage independent listening, to help learners develop metacognitive awareness and to avoid the scenario (much bemoaned by listening teachers) of the question “What have you listened to since the last lesson? Which strategies have you practiced?” being met with blank stares. Again, as with the strategy tables, learners compared their logs at the beginning of each lesson.

Result:

Some students thought the log could be improved by including space for their actual note-taking. Others thought it wasn’t for them. Those that used it, however, did find it useful, as a means of structuring and tracking their out-of-class listening and tracking their progress.

Listening log comments (1)

Listening log comments (1)

Listening log comments (2)

Listening log comments (2)

Listening log comments (3)

Listening log comments (3)

Listening log comments (4)

Listening log comments (4)

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 20.39.30

Listening log comments (5)

Transferability: 

As I have learnt through my own language learning this summer, as well as through these students’ experiences, logging is an incredibly useful thing to do. I think it is very transferable to the General English classroom. Students¬†can log their out-of-class study and in the process create a record of their efforts, achievements and progress. Personally speaking, I’ve found it a useful way of maintaining motivation. I think learning logs could be also usefully used in conjunction with something like a learning contract.¬†I think it needs careful thought though, as to how valuable it’s going to be. For example with these students, it wasn’t just what they did that they recorded, but how they went about it (in terms of strategy choice) and reflections on that¬†experience.

  • Reprocessing information/strategies

As well as using listening logs and strategy tables with the students, I also used classroom activities to encourage them to reprocess what they were learning and really internalise it. For example, mingles in which the students played strategy guessing games or simply recalled as many strategies (and what they involve) as they could in a given time frame, swapping partners frequently and repeating (generally also collecting and taking with them information/ideas from their various partners – enabling them to benefit from a collective understanding of what they were learning).

Another effective activity was getting students, in groups to create mind-maps of the strategies, which they then presented to their classmates:

Mind-maps (1)

Mind-maps (1)

IMG_0674

Mind-maps (2)

IMG_0673

Mind-maps (3)

Result:

This encouraged deeper processing both of what the strategies involved and how they relate to¬†each other as well as to¬†the task at hand. We did the activity in a lesson subsequent to one in which the focus of the lecture extract was on categorisation (e.g. Aristotle’s classification of the world) and using diagrams in note-taking, so this task also developed that theme by requiring students to categorise the strategies and present their ideas visually.

Transferability: 

Activities like this obviously have great transferability potential, and, ¬†as well as encouraging deeper processing of lesson content, give students opportunity to use language meaningfully and benefit from each others’ knowledge and understanding.

  • Systematic introduction of out-of-class listening resources¬†

At the end of each class, I gave students¬†a new resource to try (e.g. Oxford University podcasts, UCL lunchtime lectures¬†etc.) and at the beginning of the next class, they had to report back to their classmates regarding what they had done with the resource and an evaluation of it. This was done in conjunction with using the listening logs described above. Again, uptake wasn’t instantaneous, but perseverance meant students did use the resources in due course – and develop their listening.

This was a more directed version of my Experimentation with English project. It seemed logical as EAP is more directed too: goals are very specific, and specific needs relating to these require specific resources. I think there is something to be said for for introducing resources piece-meal, in terms of not overwhelming students. Having said that, my students at IH loved the handout with all the different resources.

Transferability:

I wonder about using this approach in conjunction with my EE project. So, as well as giving learners the resource, going through a more directed process so that all the learners end up trying at least some of the resources. Then, those who are more independent will inevitably try more besides, but perhaps the gap between the more and less independent might be lessened by the extra direction.  I think this could also be transferable to exam preparation classes, in terms of encouraging students to use different exam preparation resources to prepare, and sharing what they learn with each other.

Conclusions:

It was a very interesting summer, and, I am happy to say, my three groups performed very strongly overall in the listening component of the listening proficiency/entrance exam. Importantly, they also felt they had made progress, thanks to the concrete means of measuring it (e.g. strategy tables and listening logs), which helped maintain motivation and encourage a feeling of all the hard work they were putting in being worthwhile. Equally importantly, they were equipped to continue to develop their skills independently and apply what they had learnt in the new context. (Encouraged by frequent pushing from me to reflect on the relevance of what we were doing to what they would be doing in the future Рi.e. their university courses!).

I now look forward to trying to transfer what I have learnt to my current context and help my new students to be develop as effectively as possible over the short duration that they are studying with me.

 

 

Learning contracts and language learning (Part 3): the end of the summer and beyond

It’s been quite a while since my last update on my¬†learning contract shenanigans. It was due on the 4th September, but…life has been rather attention-seeking since then! As you may remember, on the 4th June this year, I decided to make and attempt to stick to a learning contract. Month one saw me off to a positive start albeit taking a while to get my resources organised, month 2 was up and down motivation-wise, but the contract kept me on track when I started veering towards complacency on occasion. And now here we are at the end of month 3.5, meaning I’m heading back to Palermo! In fact, I am writing this on the flight in a final desperate bid to round up my summer of learning before I’m thrown headlong into the next phase.

This is my learning contract, dutifully copied and pasted into Evernote.

A reminder of my learning contract, which lives in Evernote, in my Italian notebook!

Did I stick to my contract in month three? Yes. Despite mega-commitments to fulfil concurrently! Since then? No. There are only 24 hrs in a day and seven days in a week. Between visiting people to say cheerio and packing my life up, not much time remained. However, I’ve done my best and, I would say, done more than I would have done if I hadn’t had my contract pestering me! So, failure or success? Depends on which view you take. I’m leaning towards success, as I used what time I did have rather than focusing on what I couldn’t do. Also, just because I couldn’t do as much as I would have liked, I didn’t stop altogether in response to that, which would have been the easy way out.

Anyway, what about my progress?

  • Well, last month I vowed to get my percentage on the conjugation app up from low sixties to 80. Took a couple weeks but I got to 83% with no individual tense scores below 80.
83%!

83%!

Been slack on it lately though – once I met that goal, my interest dipped hugely! What I should have done at that point is make a new goal…so there we go, a demonstration of the importance of goal management in terms of motivation!

  • I’ve persevered with Quizlet, and text-mining. I now have two sets of text-mined language,with 80 and 61 terms respectively. Two, because 80 terms was unwieldy enough! I’ve become better at text-mining while listening now, and also at hearing and clocking variations on them. I’ve noticed the importance of context: the phrases I’ve mined from texts or conversations are much more ‘mine’ than those I’ve picked out from language learning resources. Additionally, I try to use my new language productively, when writing or chatting, either on FB messenger or with myself! With the latter, I silently articulate whatever phrases match the situation I’m in and the emotions that go with it.
All my sets for the summer! (Except the two you can't see at the bottom, called 'phrases with fare/avere/essere/voler/potere/dovere ' and 'verbs and prepositions'

All my sets for the summer! (Except the two you can’t see at the bottom, called ‘phrases with fare/avere/essere/voler/potere/dovere ‘ and ‘verbs and prepositions’

This combination of techniques has been central to my learning this summer, and definitely something I want to pass on to my students.

  • Another effective approach has been my focus on two areas of grammar – prepositions and pronouns – and combining learning about these, learning examples of (using Quizlet) them, and actively looking to notice their use in texts. It was, however, also very helpful to have a friend simply explain how they work, which I then reinforced with use of learning resources (grammar book, websites…). This applies equally to things I have noticed but couldn’t explain/understand e.g. Pronouns and past participle agreement. It was useful to be able to say ‘I’ve noticed x – what gives?’

This reminds me of this blog post published a little while back, which dichotomised “the deliberate teacher way” and the “power learner way”, i.e. bite-sized chunks vs. all at once. In response, I will be controversial and say I want and like both! Again and again, for me, variety is the spice of life and the interaction between approaches and techniques is as important as the approaches/techniques themselves. It could be argued that it’s in this interaction that the language catching web I mentioned in this post about text mining is built and works most effectively, in my own admittedly limited experience.

  • I’ve been grappling with my audiobook of¬†Cime Tempestose, finding it useful to go back and listen again periodically. Partly because of dipping in and out meaning that it’s easy to forget what’s going on, partly to deal with the speed (it’s faster than The Secret Garden!) and partly because I haven’t read or listened to it in English previously, so that ups the challenge. I’m on disc 2 and understand the majority of what is going on now. I stil go back and listen again periodically as that also enables extra text-mining and noticing.

What next?

Well, very soon I shall get to test my italian by speaking it! Actual speaking rather than typing! I’m super curious to see what will happen. I know I have a much wider vocabulary and a better command of basic grammar than I did at the start of summer, and my listening is much improved, but will being faced with actual Italians reduce me back to the stuttering wreck I was at the beginning of June? Time will tell.

I need to get into a study routine here too. Maybe I need to make a new contract, which bears in mind the resources available in the TL environment. There’s also my course book that remains unfinished…

One thing is for sure, I plan to use the language as much as possible and enjoy it! (I must remind myself of this in gibbering wreck moments!)

Conclusions

Learning contracts are a useful motivational tool, which can encourage use of a range of activities. Of course, like anything else in language learning, there are pitfalls to be aware of and try to avoid. They are certainly no panacea (of course), and how effective they are will vary from learner to learner. It is important to manage motivation and sub-goals carefully, to avoid complacency or loss of interest! However, the existence of the contract does¬†help in this department.¬†I plan to¬†try and keep using one myself, and will try to use what I’ve learned through this experiment to help my learners develop their autonomous learning skills.

Post-Script

In order to get in to my temporary apartment (where I can finally upload this post!), I had to deal with the Italian owners. Once they sussed I could speak Italian, that’s what we did. And…I understood everything (give or take an occasion of asking for a repetition) plus was able to communicate reasonably competently, able to say what I wanted to say. A far cry from when I arrived this time last year and failed to get myself any food to eat¬†(in a bar),¬†soon after I arrived! I¬†think¬†that now I have enough language for there to be more language than gaps in familiar situations, meaning that I can make myself understood and, I hope, when I’m stuck for a specific word/chunk, paraphrase around it and elicit it from my interlocutor so that I can learn it! That is the approach I want to use…time will tell how it works out for me!¬†

Stay tuned… ūüėČ