My ELT Book Challenge (Update 1)

About a week ago or so ago, I invited you all to join me in an ELT Book Challenge. Judging by the number of comments it attracted (much more than I had expected), I’m not alone in looking at my collection of ELT books and thinking “I really should open you more” …!

It’s been a bit of a juggle this week (and will continue to be for a while!), as I had already borrowed two ELT theory books from the staffroom library: Garton, S. and Graves, K. (2014) International Perspectives on Materials in ELT  published by Palgrave Macmillan, and Roberts, J. (1998) Language Teacher Education published by Arnold. I chose the former because it’s come out since I did my M.A. ELT and read All The Books about materials development, which I continue to be interested in, and the latter after being inspired by the Teacher Education Scholarship Circle. However, in order to fulfil my aim to pick up also one of my own books, I decided to continue with Eggins, S. and Slade, D. (1997) Analysing Casual Conversation published by Equinox, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages – since I dipped into it for my LSA4 speaking skills essay, in fact!

Pleasingly, my choice of books spans not only a large time range (1997 to 2014) but a nice spread of topics – materials development, teacher education and spoken language analysis. I say “pleasingly” as it feeds my hunger for variety!

In terms of materials development, so far I have read the introduction of the book, Materials in ELT: Current Issues, which, as you would expect, situates the book, and the first chapter, The ELT Textbook, which was by Jack Richards and opens Part 1 – Global and Local Materials. (This is an edited book, so each chapter is by a different author and on a different topic, making it nice and easy to dip in and out of!) Richards looks at the role of the textbook in language teaching, making reference to McGrath’s (2002) metaphors for describing teacher relationships with textbooks and exploring issues such authenticity and representation (this is something I explored in my research module, as I looked at phonological representation in that well-known course book series Cutting Edge), as well as the process of choosing a textbook, distinguishing between analysis and evaluation (including pre-, during and post-use), and, briefly, adapting it. This was quite a general chapter, and for me was a useful revision of aspects of materials use that I studied in the academic year 2012-2013. I imagine those who are doing the course now would probably find it a good starting point, as it is brief and general, and would be able to use the bibliography to go into greater depth on the various elements explored.

As for Teacher Education, I am still on part one (in my defence, it goes up to page 61!), which looks at theories of learning and teacher education and is titled thus. This is an interesting read, as it revisits the theories of learning that I looked at as part of my Delta and M.A., but relates them to teacher education. So, there is a little bit of revision but also adds something new. So, it considers the behaviourist approach, where trainees are expected to follow a particular model of teaching, with no deviation, so that learning to teach is an exercise in imitation; the humanistic approach where change is enabled rather than directed by other people, giving the trainee more control; the constructivist approach, which draws on Kolb’s theory of experiential learning and draws on a trainee/learner’s existent knowledge and experience, so they are no longer a blank slate but somebody who brings something of value to the table; and finally a socialisation approach, where as well as the trainee’s own experience and background, influences on the trainee are also taken into consideration e.g. the school, the community, the education policies in play etc. According to the contents, the author is going to conclude that a social constructivist approach is the best, but I have not yet read the conclusion (that is the point I have reached!) so I am not sure exactly what reasons he will put forward. (Though, I could probably guess at some of it, as when I was studying, I, too, became a big fan of this approach in language teaching!)

Finally, as far as Conversation Analysis goes, I’ve read chapter 1, called Making meanings in every day talk, in which the authors demonstrate that language is “used as a resource to negotiate social identity and interpersonal relations”, giving examples of conversation and showing how we can begin to guess at the type of speaker (gender, class etc.) based on the language they use. Apparently what’s special about casual conversation is that it seems trivial and yet is anything but trivial. It is carefully constructed even though that careful construction is achieved without the speakers thinking about or being aware of that construction.  Casual conversation is different from transactional or pragmatic conversation (e.g. buying something) in a variety of ways, including length (casual conversation tends to be longer), formality (casual conversation is generally more informal) and use of humour (casual conversation uses humour). In the second chapter, which I have only just started, the authors start to discuss the different approaches to analysing conversation, which are sociological, sociolinguistic, logico-philosophical, structural-functional, critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis. As I have only just started, I can’t tell you the difference between them all for now, but I assume I will have a better understanding of this by the end of the chapter.

As is usual at the beginning of a project, excitement and motivation were sufficient to allow me to not only do the theoretical reading but also use one of my more practical/methodological books. I had planned to use two, but ran out of time and cut my use of the second one, though I think it will fit nicely into next lesson.

The first book I used was part of the Delta Publishing Teacher Development series: Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. The Autonomy Approach. This is a book that I discovered at IATEFl last year, and was delighted because it reflected and extended the approach I had been using with my learners in Palermo, in terms of helping them become more autonomous. The great thing about this series of books is that they combine theory and practical ideas for implementing it. In my case, I had gathered a lot of the theory during my M.A. and set about trying to implement it once I returned to teaching. I’m quite glad I didn’t discover this book until after I had tried to do that, as it was a really interesting and rewarding process to go through, but would nevertheless recommend this book to anybody with an interest in learner autonomy and its development (which surely should be most, if not all, of us!).

I chose an activity for reviewing resources, as I have been encouraging my learners to choose different activities each week to try. This activity can be found on page 67 of the book. The heart of the activity is a set of questions that encourage reflection on the use of a set of student-chosen resources. In my case, it was student-chosen activities rather than resources, but there is some overlap, as the activity tends to specify the use of a given resource. I decided to do it as a speaking ladder activity, as I wanted it to be reasonably fast-paced and I wanted the students to talk to as many classmates as possible. Why? Well, students had chosen different activities to try, so hearing about what classmates have tried could sow seeds of interest and inspiration for future weeks. I did the activity at the start of the lesson, and it certainly lifted the energy levels in the room, ready for the rest of the lesson. There was potential for chaos, as the questions didn’t explicitly ask students to tell each other WHAT activity/resource was under discussion (the activity assumes sustained discussion with the same group of people) but students are not stupid, and indeed they quickly explained their activities to their partner before launching into the discussion of the particular question at hand. There were enough questions that they spoke to some people twice, so then there was familiarity with partner’s activity and a bit more depth was gone into via the additional question.

The second book I chose to use (but didn’t get round to using) was The company words keep, another Delta Publishing special. However, as I didn’t get on to using it, I will save it for a future post!

Have any of you started the challenge yet? Have you blogged about it? If so, either link to your blog post below, or use the comments to share your thoughts on what you have read or tried. I look forward to seeing what you have all been up to! 🙂 Not sure when my next update will be – hope to strike a balance between too often and not often enough, though!

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#ELTChat Summary for 18-09-2013: How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday, casual conversation?

For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #Eltchat is a Twitter hashtag which offers Twitter-based discussions that take place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the ELT industry, are listed on the  #Eltchat website, together with some background reading, a few days in advance of the discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.

On 18.09.2013, the 21.00 BST discussion was on the topic “How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday casual conversation”. (I was busy finishing my dissertation at the time, so couldn’t take part, but volunteered to do the summary when it was offered on the #ELTChat Facebook page!)

The suggestions were many and varied. (I’ve divided them into categories and expanded abbreviations to make it easier to process!):

Authenticity and Input

  • Authentic materials help a lot!  I use “Real Lives, Real Listening” series a lot. (North Star ELT -now Collins) (@elawassell)
  • I encourage watching soap operas – in English – lots of natural exposure, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (@elawassell)
  • The thing that needs to be most authentic is the reason for their communication – it has to mean something to them. (@theteacherjames
  • By using listening that contains natural talk rather than ‘model dialogues’ (@Marisa_C)
  • Get involved in social media communication…find real friends to speak English with. (@HanaTicha)
  • Role of input via listening also quite important #eltchat and types of activities which focus on chunks of language (@Marisa_C)
  • Ask sts to repeat what you’ve just said now and then.  See if they’re noticing these natural language chunks. (@ljp2010)
  • Use typescripts etc for them to identify useful chunks. (@Shaunwilden)
  • Teach them discourse analysis i.e. do  conversational analysis – moves, politeness rules, coherence etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Record an authentic conversation on video and use @dotsub to transcribe and share with Ss. Using authentic models are helpful (@ESLhiphop)

Drama

  • Acting out whether playacting (rehearsing) or roleplaying (producing more freely) can help  (@Marisa_C)
  • We’ve been using scenarios for our students..Today is Thurs..your essay should be in by Fri..you are not ready..you have to chat with your tutor.. (@shaznosel)
  • One activity I have used with monolingual classes – act out scenario in L1 then listen in L2 and compare – language/attitudes, style.  Have them prep their improvisations in groups or pairs – act out THEN listen or watch video – it’s fascinating to watch. Often they don’t [end up with similar things] – which is interesting – the cultural element is interesting as this raises awareness of that. (@Marisa_C)  I do something similar by asking students to look at video with no sound and working out conversation from gestures (@Shaunwilden)
  • For freer activities I keep a set of situations which Ss improvise as a skit and class spots roles, setting, relationship etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Drama can include relaxation, trust building and fun, can lead to role-plays and that… with less anxiety (@Marisa_C)

Identity

  • I’ve seen the suggestion that the use of masks can help learners become more uninhibited – they adopt the character of the mask (@pjgallantary)
  • What about props? small things to lend credibility to the new identity?  (@Marisa_C)

Small Talk

  • I think small talk starts with the teacher. It can settle a class and it produces natural language (@SueAnnan)
  • It’s really important to engage students in normal conversations outside of class time, while waiting, break time etc. Helps them relax (@theteacherjames)
  • Finding out about students usually produces natural speech too (@SueAnnan)
  • @sandymillin shared her lesson on #smalltalk here:http://t.co/Yg205gQlGv my Ss found it useful (@Ela_Wassell)

Methodology, Approaches and Techniques 

  • Rehearse and then revisit, all too quickly teachers move on (@Shaunwilden)
  •  How about some good old-fashioned drilling then? (@ljp2010) yes why not? Not necessarily old fashioned but well conducted, snappy oral practice can help a LOT! (@Marisa_C)
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. ALM is not “stylish” today, but it has its merits (@ESLhiphop)
  • Speaking’s like tennis practice: you need to intensively practice a single stroke, but you also learn by playing games. You need both. (@ESLhiphop)
  • As a variation sometimes you could ask Ss to define the topic and stage manage a CLL lesson where they learn and eventually record new chunks (@Marisa_C)
  • How about getting them to create their own personalised phrasebooks – with functional headings (@Marisa_C) Or a voice memo one should they wish to hear it instead? (ljp2010). Nice idea, phones help with that too as they can record the pronunciation (@Shaunwilden) or make their own recordings on something like Vocaroo and email it to themselves
  • Learning a language again: what sparks our classes are topics we care about, then we make effort even with minimum vocabulary (@annabooklover)

Some potential pitfalls were also identified:

  • When I lived in Brazil, everyone told me watching soap operas was a good way. I’d prefer not to learn the language!! (@theteacherjames)
  • If someone asked me to wear a mask I’d feel about 10x more self conscious! (@theteacherjames)
  • The problem students have with natural talk is ‘performance anxiety’ – in sports parlance, some sudents end up ‘choking’ (@pjgallantary)
  • I think it [new identity] can go too far, e.g. giving Chinese students Western names (@pjgallantary)

Meanwhile emerged some other questions that need to be pondered:

  • It does raise issue of what is ‘identity’ – many students feel like different person when speaking in English. (pjgallantary)
  • Personally I have observed that lack of fluency in any given area is often caused through the teacher’s reluctance to ask students to rehearse (@marisa_c)
  • Do you think teaching language chunks more could help? I think it’s important for fluency (@elawassell)
  • I’m not keen on the new identity, but being forced to temporarily be someone else can be useful (@theteacherjames)
  • But here’s a question: do you feel like a different version of ‘you’ when speaking in different languages? I do! (@pjgallantary)
  • The question is how to scaffold a speaking activity…  (@marisa_c)
  • Does improvisation work that well esp. at lower levels? (@Shaunwilden)
  • Control vs freedom always a worry but teachers need to intervene when needed – either facilitating or providing language needed (@Marisa_C)
  • How do you raise awareness of what is natural and what isn’t? (@Marisa_C)  Aye this is quite tricky, was thinking that listening to people in London today, nothing like we expose students to (@Shaunwilden)
  • Can drama activities help? (@Marisa_C)
  • What do confident,fluent, but not necessarily accurate speakers do that grammatically accurate but reticent speakers don’t? I suspect that confident,but inaccurate,speakers actually don’t give a stuff for the lang. ‘target’ and get lost in the performance (@pjgallantary)
  • How else can one practise a variety of language functions unless some kind or role activity – new ID or self in other contexts? (@Marisa_C)

So plenty of ideas and plenty of food for thought – what more could you ask from an #Eltchat?! 🙂