IATEFL 2016 Moving EAP students to metacognition and autonomy (Michelle Tamala)

Michelle has been involved in English language intensive courses for overseas students for about 20 years. She is a regular speaker at learner autonomy events.

This talk is a narrative. She is going to tell us about a journey she has embarked on, originally started as an idea for some action research. With research, once you start… Michelle has come up with more questions than answers.

Students: upper intermediate level, university pathway college in Australia, trying to get their English to move up by .5 of an IELTS band in ten weeks, learning academic skills as they go through. Autonomy is a strong theme in Australian schooling from primary to university, seen as being important. Michelle’s belief is that if we can get ss to use indirect learning strategies (metacognitive) to decide what cognitive strategies to use, when completing a task, they will be more effective and successful learners. Students will move from being taught to actually learning. Requires a big shift for them and for how teachers approach their teaching. Michelle wants to move away from practising for an exam to actual learning.

The starting point for the research was a student survey on student learning – to complement the other surveys that have to complete at the end of a ten week course. She wanted to find out if students at different levels were more less reliant on their teachers to inform what she needed to do.

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In terms of self-assessment, students mostly thought they had improved. Superficial results but a place to start. In terms of problem area identification, the lower level students were teacher reliant, the post-grad students were more able to work it out themselves. One teacher has been quoted as saying “I know what my students need, I tell them what to do”…needs a bit of re-education.

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Michelle’s plan was to get both the teachers and students involved in her action research, through learner journals and through take up of change/meetings/reflective writing for the teachers. Students had two major writing tasks – short report and longer problem/solution essay. She did a learning survey in week 2 and 9, students are invited to join a closed class FB page (generally successful and sought after by ss). The students fed back that they didn’t understand the purpose of the report, they had trouble writing questions…because the task was designed to give them autonomy as to what went into the report and they had to reflect on it on a weekly basis in their journal. Michelle created an FB page for discussion and sharing of ideas among teachers and wanted meetings to focus more on task design, learning strategies and indirect metacognitive strategies used in daily classwork (rather than just administrative stuff).

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The changes made

Another survey showed the following positive changes between early on in the course and late on in the course.

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Their journal entries relating to the various aspects of Michelle’s project also showed positive feedback:

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Teacher engagement during the project was mixed:

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In terms of future directions, Michelle is looking to build on what has been done so far…

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The product to process is because most teachers favoured a product approach due to time limitations but Michelle wants to explore alternatives.

IATEFL 2016 How to optimise EAP tutorial time: introducing the 20-minute fix

David Jay is from Anglia Ruskin University and will talk about EAP tutorial time.

In this 20 minutes, David is going to tell us a story. A story of the last 5 years and insights from that, which will be followed by a ten-minute discussion for adapting the ideas to our context.

The story begins in 2011, when David was asked to look after the in-sessional support service which at that time was a drop-in service that took place 2 hours per week. Any students who needed help with Academic English and skills were welcome, including undergrad and postgrad students from three different faculties.

It tended to go wrong in two different ways. A load of students would arrive at once, all wanting help, from a range of backgrounds and with a range of needs. Meaningful support was difficult to offer. Otherwise, one student would turn up with an essay and ask him to proofread it. He felt he was ending up marking their work but the input was superficial as only surface errors would be dealt with in the time available. It was also too teacher-centred.

The first change was to make it appointment-based with one appointment per week limit. Where possible, work would be sent in advance (with a maximum of 500 words at least 24hrs in advance of the appointment). Student feedback was positive. Not a very original system, he says. (And indeed, yes, we have something similar at Sheffield Uni ELTC!) 

David settled on 20 minutes as a good length of time for tutorial as it provides enough time for 1-1 consultation, in terms of diagnosing problems and giving clear guidance. Crucially, it’s not long enough for it to end up being proofreading. He structured it as follows:

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How does it work in practice? The introductory tutorial:

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The length of time and focus on identifying resources that will be used encourages autonomy.

Good resources:

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Another resource: www.griffith.edu.au/englishhelp

A writing consultation:

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David thinks that 20 minutes is the right length of time as the sessions help develop learner confidence and practical training in personal agency which will help with future using office hours effectively. For tutors, it is enough time for diagnosis and support but maintains focus on autonomy. For other stakeholders, it optimises service uptake.

david.jay@anglia.ac.uk

Twitter: @cambthink

IATEFL 2016 You tell me! Practical ideas for student-led tasks in ESAP (Anne Heaton)

Well, I had been planning to go to the ELTJ debate about teacher training, after lunch, but then my interview slot with IATEFL Online clashed with the start so instead I am attending Anne Heaton’s talk on student-led tasks in ESAP. Anne is Associate Director of Pre-sessional English Courses at Coventry University.

Anne starts by talking about the general to specific continuum. You could use this activity in an EGAP class to get students used to the idea. Start with some gaps in the chart for the students to fill in:

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Thinking more specifically about general to specific in my subject we are going to take “EAP” as our subject. We are going to look at the same activity.

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The best way to do it is using post-it notes which they can then freely move around. This means you can add in different layers/categories to the spectrum/chart. We tried it out:

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These are the principles of the tasks we are looking at today:

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Where Ann works, there are 8 intakes a year and within that 1000 student enrolments. They have two large pre-sessionals, one pre-September and one pre-January. Students have a wide variety of destination subjects (60). As there are so many students, tutors with a wide range of experience end up working there at busy times. Until 2014, the courses were EGAP institution generic courses. There is an even split between postgrads and undergrads. The majority are from China, followed by Middle East. BA in International Business is the biggest subject and B.A. in Business-related subjects make up the majority of students. Same with the post-grads.

Ann outlined the differences between EGAP and ESAP:

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It is set up as a dichotomy but the two co-exist in reality. In 2014 they decided to make a move towards an ESAP approach. Not to lose the EGAP but to sit ESAP alongside it. Difficulties included establishing collaboration with subject specialists but information is needed from them as we aren’t experts; dealing with ‘odd’ subjects; deciding how to group students when there is a mix of undergrad and postgrads; managing the issue of teachers feeling underprepared to teach.

They have re-named it EIMS (English in my subject) to emphasise it is language not content. This is a typical timetable:

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They use a parallel structure so that the same task type or skill will be introduced across all EIMS groups but it will be tailored content-wise to the specific subject. As much as possible, they get students to generate the ideas, students positioned as experts in their subject. Students can tailor an activity to their specific interests.

Our next task was:

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Different reporting verbs can be used to indicate the writer’s stance in relation to what is being quoted. Agreement and disagreement are introduced and continued differently. In the ESAP classroom students would have looked at a similar activity in their EGAP lessons and might do something like this in relation to their own subject to practice it and make it more motivating. All the teacher has to do is find a contentious view within the specific subject and it can generate a lot of discussion. The teacher can also get the student to come up with the view as well. It works well set as homework so that students have time to think about it. Students within a subject will come from different backgrounds. Students can be allowed to put forward their own views or from the literature. They write it on a piece of paper, teacher collects them all and redistributes so that students respond to the view using reporting verbs.

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One thing that they are looking to do more now from this year is to look at different genres of academic writing. The pre-sessional course focuses almost exclusively on essays because they occur in all disciplines and are the most frequent genre overall. Most EAP lecturers tend to come from a background where they are familiar with essays. Therefore they are easier to teach and to test. But Ann wants to move to a wider genre focus. The approach is to use the students as “chief investigator in their discipline” (De Chazal).

This is what students will have to do:

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Students can look in the British Council writing for a purpose website to find out more and there are activities to help them. They are also encouraged to use corpus tools to help inform themselves, such as Sketch Engine, where searches can be narrowed by text type:

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Student feedback has been positive so far.

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IATEFL 2016 Supporting postgraduate EAP students: teaching tips and technology tools (Angela Smith)

My intention in attending this session was to answer the question that sprang to mind when I saw the title and abstract in the programme: I wonder if  there will be anything that David hasn’t told us yet? (David Read is in charge of technology and technology focused TD at the ELTC!) Then lo and behold, who should turn up at the session but David?! 🙂

This session is focused on teaching tips and technology tools for supporting postgrad EAP students and will be delivered by Angela Smith of the University of Bradford. The room is pretty small and it’s very full too! Angela is an EAP lecturer and a technology enhanced learning coordinator.

She is going to tell us who her learners are, what postgrad EAP learners want and how to meet those needs. The students come from more than 150 different countries (those on campus attending face to face). Mainly Nigerian, Iraqi/Libyan, China, Japan and South Korea.

The extra things that are offered at Bradford Uni are:

  • drop in sessions (6hrs per week)
  • one to one support sessions (for PhD students, advance booking)
  • online support via Blackboard (materials on a shared area and a specific PhD student area in collaboration with academic skills)
  • small group tailored support sessions (faculties have been networked with and when issues arise, they will send small groups of ‘supervisees’ for help);
  • regular timetabled classes in academic skills.

The challenges that postgrad students face cover all four skills within which there are particular issues. E.g. oral/aural – discussing complex subjects with classmates, supervisors, presenting in seminars or at conferences: need appropriate language and levels of formality. With reading, there is the volume of material, the speed required, taking bits out and making valid notes. If students take poor notes, the output will be poor as well (e.g. presentations and pieces of writing). Note-taking and note-making are something that students have had little training in. Writing includes things like articles, literature reviews, annotated bibliographies and lab reports. Students know their subject but can’t communicate it effectively to the wider audience. Self-management is another area, about meeting deadlines and managing time without handholding. They also have to work with a supervisor which can cause a lot of angst. Supervisors are great but may be short on time and can come across as abrupt or not interested even if it is not the case. Students may feel scared to approach the supervisor.

There are some common difficulties that students face:

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Another issue is language appropriacy in emails…

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Students try to be very respectful and polite but wind up being completely inappropriate. This is an example of pragmatic incompetence. They don’t know the words to use with the correct level of formality. They overuse hedging language etc. and it turns out to be waffling:

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What do the students want?

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Well, a lot of it comes from written work e.g. summarising and paraphrasing, synthesising resources from different areas. Cultural misunderstanding can occur. So what do we do?

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Angela gets examples from faculties of what students have to produce. Using this kind of subject-specific model motivates students. She also makes sure that the syllabus matches their needs at various times, again by liaising with departments.

By adopting these kinds of activities, you can help learners become more adventurous.

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Shared note-taking – all students look at the same article and make notes, then share their notes on a platform and then the notes can be compared.

Angela explained that there are a lot of things that are done to help students become more autonomous:

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For example, she has also set up a help desk. Students can post a question in one of the three categories – Grammar, Vocabulary, Assignment title. If one person posts a question, probably a whole other group of students finds it useful, has the same question. It’s grown enough that 2 members of staff are needed. 2 day response guaranteed.

Angela emphasises the importance of the teacher in the role of guiding the students in developing autonomy.

Next, she moves on to the tools they use.

  • Foxit.reader: can be used to annotate/manipulate texts
  • Scribl.com: You can take a webpage and students can use different tools to work independently or together to deconstruct a text.
  • Mindmeister: a mind-mapping tool. Free and simple to use. You register with an email address and input students’ email addresses and they get access to what you send. Then you can see what students are doing and when in the mind-mapping process.
  • Notes.io: You can make a note then generate a web address which you can give to students and they can see it and edit it. Students can share multiple sets or work on a smaller number in groups.
  • Classtools: You can make a crossword with an associated link. Students create them in class and then work on one created by a peer-group. Good for consolidating knowledge in areas of difficulty.
  • Markin: enables text to  be marked using a code. You highlight and click on the code you want. You can also put comments in. (A little like Turnitin without the plagiarism element, so, the feedback element!) Good for highlighting problems but the student has to do something about it, as vs. proof-reading. So that students have to edit their own work.
  • Padlet: good for brainstorming. Free and easy to use. Generates a link and students can see and post notes. Good for initial planning etc.

There was a handout with all the links to the above on it but it disappeared like snow in sunshine… nevertheless, Uncle Google is your friend!

A.Smith22@bradford.ac.uk

 

 

 

Making general EAP more specific – academic writing

The 10-week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University is an English for General Academic Purposes course rather than an English for Specific Academic Purposes course. This means that students learn general academic skills and vocabulary rather than subject specific. However, even working with a general EAP course book, like Oxford EAP, it is possible to tweak a lesson so that it links in with students’ academic fields, and, in my experience, this has a very beneficial effect on students’ engagement with the (often rather dry) lesson content, as the relevance and usefulness is clearer to them and the content more meaningful. I managed just such a lesson tweak in my most recent academic writing lesson (yesterday). Though far from being rocket science or anything particularly special, a few simple tweaks made a big difference, so I thought I’d share what I did here…

The aim of the lesson was for learners to be better able to write comparison essays, in terms of structure and complex comparison sentences using subordinators. The Oxford EAP spread was logical:

  • dividing a list of ideas corresponding to a given essay title by perspective (e.g. financial, social…)
  • focusing on the overall structure by getting students to match block and point-by-point outlines (with no content) to descriptions
  • matching outlines with content relating to the beginning essay title and evaluating the clarity of each
  • producing an outline for another essay title (using notes given to help)
  • identifying the chosen outline in a paragraph of text responding to another essay title and using this as a springboard for focusing on subordinators (highlighting, analysing, controlled practice)
  • writing a comparison essay (in response to another title)

My students are approximately 50% medicine, 50% dentistry in terms of field, so for this lesson I got them to sit grouped accordingly. Before starting on the above sequence, I encouraged them, in their groups, to brainstorm a list of comparisons they might make in their field. For example, in dentistry, they might compare systemic fluoridation with topical fluoridation (as I have discovered in the course of the project thread of this programme!). Once they had generated their lists, I asked them to look at each item and think of at least two perspectives from which they could compare their items. So, for the above example, it could be from a financial perspective or a health perspective. These are M.A. students to be, so they are interested in what they are going to study. Thus, starting the lesson in this way immediately grabbed their attention because it was fully relevant to them.

Having done that, with relevance of comparison essays established, we moved onto the OUP EAP sequence and worked through it up till the end of the controlled practice activity for subordinators. Then we returned to the information generated in the above-described opening sequence, from which they selected a comparison and produced an outline (choosing a block or point-by-point structure) based on that, thus linking the learning back to their field. They also wrote some complex sentences, using subordinators, comparing their chosen items from their chosen perspectives. This was far more engaging than writing sentences in response to a random essay title that they didn’t really care about. Obviously in an EGAP course these are inevitable, but even on such courses it definitely pays to be on the look out for ways of linking the general content back to the specific disciplines. (Without needing to be an expert in those fields, of course!)

Next week we are looking at problem-and-solution essays: hopefully I can make these as engaging as comparison essays turned out to be!

Yay, writing! ;-)

Yay, writing! 😉 (Image licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Taking auctions beyond grammar

I’ve never been a massive fan of grammar auctions – mostly because I was never quite sure how they were supposed to work. Generally they involve a list of sentences, most of which have mistakes in them, which the learners are supposed to correct and then bid on. It was always the money aspect that confused me! This summer, however, I have decided how they work (for me) and then applied them successfully to pronunciation and vocabulary…

Pronunciation Auction

Aim:

to focus on the pronunciation (especially word stress) of a set of target vocabulary with whose meaning learners are already familiar.

Materials: 

Each team of learners need a list of the words to be used for the game.

Preparation:

None – learners should have the words already, as they are previously studied words. Or if you really want, make another special list of them to hand out!

Procedure:

  • Put learners into teams of 4-6 players and make sure each team has a list of the target words for the game. (Our list happened to have 24 words on it, academic vocabulary which we had looked at previously in the context of a reading text, which worked fine.) NB: The list should be numbered for easy identification purposes. (Actually ours wasn’t but before we started I told them how it would be numbered – there were 4 columns each with six words, so it was 1-6 down column one, 7-12 down column two etc.)
  • Tell learners they have £1000 to spend on the words. How much they spend on each word depends on how sure they are of the pronunciation. (We focused on word stress as we hadn’t introduced the phonemic chart yet – but I can already imagine some variations involving it! Watch this space!)
  • Give learners 5-10 minutes (depending how many target words you have) to decide what the correct pronunciation of each word is and how sure they are of it, and to allocate their £1000.
  • When everybody is ready, call out the number of a word. E.g. number 10. Each team reveals how much they bid on word 10. The highest bid gets to pronounce the word. If correct, they gain the amount  of money they allocated. So if they bid £200, they get £200 in their score board. They can earn bonus cash by then providing the other words in a word family, also pronounced correctly. E.g. if the target word is ‘advertise’, they can gain bonus cash for ‘advertisement’ and ‘advertising’. (This encourages them to think about how, in many cases, when you change word type, the stress changes too.) We decided that providing correct pronunciation for all members of the word family merited doubling one’s money.
  • If the highest bidder gets the pronunciation wrong, the word passes to the next highest bidder. If the next highest bidder gets it correct, they win the highest bidder’s bid total. So if, in the above example, the team who bid £200 got it wrong, and the next highest bid was £150, if that second team got it correct, they would win £200.
  • Once all the words have been pronounced (if any haven’t been bid on by any of the groups, sell them off at £50 a pop to get learners to have a go even if they aren’t sure!), the winner is the group with the highest total of money.

Vocabulary Auction

Aim: 

To review the meanings of previously studied target lexis.

Materials: 

None.

Preparation: 

None.

Procedure:

  • Give learners, in teams, a set length of time to write a list of a given set of target words that they have been studying (in our case it was a set of phrasal verbs). At the end of the set time, do a quick whole class check to make sure all teams have all the target words. (If one team has them all, and the others don’t, you could award some bonus points!) OR provide/point them at a list of the words.
  • Give teams time to discuss the meanings of the target words, decide how sure they are of the meaning and allocate their £1000 (as with the pronunciation auction)
  • The procedure follows as per the pronunciation auction except that learners provide meanings rather than pronunciation. Learners can earn bonus cash by putting the target word in a sentence correctly. (You could up the challenge by requiring the meaning and a suitable collocation, with bonus cash for extra collocations…)

Enjoy!

Sold! (Image taken from www.pixabay.org)

Sold! (Image taken from http://www.pixabay.org)

Phonemic chart review game: Connect 3 (or 4)

As part of the Sheffield University 10 week pre-sessional programme, I have been teaching a Social English class 3 afternoons a week at 1h30 a pop. Last week on Thursday, I introduced them to the phonemic chart, using Adrian Underhill’s method. Today (Monday) I wanted a fun way to review the sounds with my learners, and so Connect 3 (or 4), using the phonemic chart, came about…

Preparation:

None! (Excellent…)

Materials:

  • A phonemic chart projected onto a whiteboard (failing that, an A3 print-out would work equally well)
  • a board pen (more than one would be even better – see my comments at the end of the post)

Procedure:

  • Put learners into 2 teams (or 3 if you have a big class) of 4-6 players.
  • Each team has a symbol. With my learners today, Bing were suns and Bong were stars. (They are always Bing and Bong: borrowed from an ex-colleague of mine at IHPA, these names refer to the buzzer sounds that you get on TV game shows and that the team in question must make before answering in any games where speed to answer is of the essence…)
  • Explain the aim and rules to the learners. The aim of the game is to get 3 squares in a row to score £100 or 4 squares in a row to score £150. (Could also be points, but as we had just done a vocabulary auction, we stuck with the money theme!). In order to win a square, learners must make the sound that corresponds with that square correctly and give an example word with that sound in it. (Number and letter off the squares so that learners can choose a square by calling out e.g. E5. As there are more columns in the bottom half of the chart than the top, there is a special extra column H here. See picture below.)
  • If learners make the correct sound AND give a correct example word, they get to have their symbol drawn in the square and the square becomes theirs. The turn passes to the next team. If learners make a correct sound but incorrect word, the turn passes to the next team, ditto if they make the sound incorrectly. In this case, the square is still open to be won either by the next team, or, when the turn returns to the team who were incorrect, they can try again (or choose a different square if they prefer!).
  • Each time a team of learners get 3 or 4 in a row, write £100 or £150 in their score board column.
  • Towards the end, you will probably end up with a handful of squares that will not help learners gain a 3 or a 4. Sell these off at £50 a pop, with teams taking it in turns to make the sound and give an example word in order to win this money. The same rules re correctness mentioned previously still apply.
  • When everything is finished, add up the money and see who is the winner! You could also add up the number of suns and stars (or whatever other symbols) to see who totalled the greatest number of squares.
The phonemic chart at the end of the game!

The phonemic chart at the end of the game!

Showing also our scoreboard (one set of numbers goes back to the vocabulary auction...)

Showing also our scoreboard (one set of numbers goes back to the vocabulary auction…)

My comments:

  • My learners enjoyed this and it was good to see how much they remembered from last Thursday. Making pronunciation physical does make it much more memorable. (They remembered things like ‘the idiot sound’, ‘like having an orange in your mouth’, for example, trying the sounds out in their groups before giving their final answer.) Understanding way the chart is organised helps too – it helped them remember some of the sounds between the ones they were more sure of.
  • If I did it again, I’d remember all my board markers so that I wasn’t stuck with only black pen. Each team could have a different colour, and any squares that were done incorrectly could be marked in a different colour to flag them up more clearly for some further post-game review.
  • To up the challenge for academic English classes, stipulate that the example word given should be an academic word (and bonus if one of the ones you have studied recently!). To up the challenge in a General English setting, stipulate that it be a word related to a particular set of topics or course book units, depending how your programme works.

Enjoy! 🙂

Snapshots of PS-10 Summer 2015 – the first 50%!

“PS-10” is the short code name used for the ten week pre-sessional programme at the University of Sheffield. This is the second summer I have spent working on the programme, and already the taught component is 50% complete! Time flies when you are having fun… In fact, time flies so briskly that this poor little blog has been quite ignored of late – other than my recent post of a more personal nature,  My first veganniversary.  Previously promised posts -e.g. the one about the pronunciation auction activity I did recently – are STILL in the pipelines and will make it out in due course. Honest. Meanwhile, here is are a few snapshots of life as a pre-sessional teacher at Sheffield Uni (from most recent to earliest), as half-way through a course is as good a time as any for reflection…

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Yay for the ELTC! 🙂

Friday 24th July

1245-1300 Impromptu 1-1 tutorial 

One of my students has had health issues but is back on the course now, managing to attend most lessons. This student already has an unconditional offer, so exam grades are not an issue. If he wanted to, he could stay off classes with doctor’s permission, but he wants the full benefit of the learning opportunity so he is persevering. I love the motivation! Of course I wasn’t going to refuse him a tutorial at the end of the lesson today, even though I had to delay my weekend ever so slightly ( 😉 ). The main focus of the tutorial was his project, and I was able to give the necessary guidance – there was even a bit of a light bulb moment when we talked about using reporting verbs to show stance and structure arguments. Being able to help and the amount of appreciation shown at the end of it was incredibly rewarding. I have to admit, I love my job!

Thursday 23rd July

09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 – Listening Skills for my third group.

Listen! (Image taken from www.pixabay.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Listen! (Image taken from http://www.pixabay.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

I am teaching listening as my second skill again this year – so in addition to teaching my tutor group writing and project work, I teach them and another two groups listening, once a week each, for 3hrs with a half an hour break mid-way.

This morning, the content topic was Leadership and the strategy focuses were using spoken punctuation to identify important information, note-taking using linear notes and using linear notes to reconstruct what the lecturer has said. For the skills work, the key text is Oxford EAP Upper Intermediate. I accompany this with my own materials, which  top and tail my classes with review and reflection, as well as encouraging them to think metacognitively (i.e. about the why of what they are doing) at various points throughout the lesson. It’s week 4 and out of 13 students, only a handful have got updated strategy tables with them. I gave them these strategy tables in Week 1, to help them keep track of the strategies we are learning about each week. This is to avoid out of sight, out of mind syndrome – it would be far too easy for students to forget about previous learning amidst all the new information that is thrown at them from every angle on a regular basis, but the strategies accumulated need to be remembered and used alongside new additions rather than forgotten. Nevertheless, I get them discussing and remembering what we did in the previous lesson, while making a mental note to use some class time towards the end of the lesson for table completion.

The lesson takes learners through recognition and use of spoken punctuation (the latter useful for their presentations) and use of linear notes. I use the final extract as a challenge/progress test. (Not a stressful kind of test, just an opportunity for them to measure their own progress). I also use it to take them through the planning-monitoring-evaluation process championed by Vandergrift and Goh in their fantastic book Teaching and learning second language listening: Metacognition in action. The idea is that before students listen, they decide which strategies they are going to use; during listening, they monitor their use of the strategies and after listening they evaluate their strategy use and take forward what they learnt. In the end, this is something they should be doing independently, but at this point in the course, I encourage discussion and collaboration, to scaffold it. Following the listening, I ask them to discuss again and evaluate their strategy use. Once they have done this, I explain the rationale behind the process. Both this group and my Tuesday group seemed to recognise the value of it and despite the uphill struggle of the strategy tables, I feel – in both lessons – that their response to being taken through the process and discussing the rationale behind it is a little ‘lightbulb moment’. One that has been built towards over the last 4 weeks. I would love to work with students over a longer period – 8 taught weeks is a very short space of time for listening skill development – but nevertheless hope that although students can only improve so much in the short space of time that is PS-10, I can give them the tools to help themselves improve more in the long term.

(I also did this lesson with my tutor group today (Friday) and in the last part of the lesson, following the final listening extract challenge. I again encouraged reflection and evaluation, and once they had discussed amongst themselves, invited them to share their reflections with me. There was a lot of subsequent discussion and comment sharing, and of course I was able to empathise with their experiences because of having attended a presentation in Italian during the academic year, while I was in Palermo. So I know how testing it is trying to take notes in a second language (especially as my level of Italian is definitely lower than theirs of English!). So I reminded them that note-taking is a skill even in your first language, and in a second language there is an added level of difficulty, and shared my own experience of doing it in Italian. They seemed to really appreciate that, and the whole discussion process was a very positive end to the lesson.)

I really must revisit the planning, monitoring, evaluating process with all three groups next week and in the following remaining three weeks of the course too.

13.45-15.15 – Social English

Social English is a class for students who have met their department demands with regards to test scores and so have unconditional offers. Thus, instead of doing USEPT (proficiency exam) preparation classes, they join a Social English class. The lovely thing about these classes is that they are very flexible, so the ‘syllabus’ is negotiated between the teacher and the students. Today, in response to a request last lesson, we did a pronunciation lesson. I introduced the chart to them Adrian Underhill style. (Something I learnt/taught myself how to do during my Delta!) There were some lovely lightbulb moments e.g. when they recognised what their mouths were doing and how it changed between sounds (lips spread to narrow and flat to sticking out, mouth open to closed etc.), as well as how this is reflected in the chart, and when I got them to glide between the monophthongs to find the diphthongs and then showed them the symbol on the diphthong side of the chart. They also really enjoyed taking turns in using the chart to sound out their names (and I got to learn how to pronounce them properly!).

Adrian Underhill's phonemic chart. Click on the pic to go to his blogpost talking about introducing the chart to students.

Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart. Click on the pic to go to his blogpost talking about introducing the chart to students.

As far as their onward study is concerned, this will help them when they come to look up words in the dictionary, as they will be able to use the phonemic script to understand the pronunciation. We have done a lot of vocabulary work recently, academic vocabulary, so in future lessons I want to forge links back to that.

As usual, they thanked me at the end of the lesson, and told me how useful it was. They tell me how much they like these Social English lessons and how useful they are fairly regularly, which is nice! I suppose that is part of the joy of a student negotiated ‘syllabus’ that doesn’t need to cover all four skills etc because they get that in their morning classes.

Sunday 19th July

Home!

Yes, it’s the weekend. A lovely relaxing one too. Over the course of it I come across my Cusenaire rods which had been in storage and start wondering about how I could use them in EAP. My ideas so far include using them as part of a pronunciation review game, for the learners in my Social English class to quiz each other on the word stress of the academic vocabulary we have been studying and also as a means of illustrating the given-to-new structure that much writing takes and that I touched on with my tutor group last Monday in Writing class. Watch this space…!

figures

Cusenaire rods! 🙂

Wednesday 15th July

09.15-10.45; 11.15-13.15 Project Class

1280px-Stipula_fountain_pen

Well actually we use computers, but… 😉

I have my tutor group once a week for Project class, every Wednesday for three hours (with a half-hour break mid-way as usual). Over the course of 8 weeks, this course strand guides students through researching and writing a 2000 word project. This year, we gave them titles while last year they had to write their own, saving a good chunk of time that could usefully be used on other things! On the 15th July, in the first half of the lesson, I started by plugging my laptop into the project in order to briefly show them how Evernote works as a note-taking/organisation tool (and offered help between now and the end of PS-10 for if they ran into difficulty using it). Then, I had them sharing the sources they had had to find, read and highlight useful elements of for homework. They had to justify their highlighting, explaining why the article and in particular the highlighted parts were useful for their project. The idea is that this process of explaining what they have read, in their own words, requires deeper reflection and understanding to take place first, in the reading process. They knew that they would be doing this, of course, to encourage that focused reading to take place.

reading glasses pixabay

It also paved the way for what we focused on after the break, during which class I would be observed. While they shared and discussed sources, I went round and spoke to them individually, in order to see the project outlines that they had also produced for homework and talk through these with them. This enabled me to make sure they were on the right track and set up for the next stage of homework – producing detailed outlines where their arguments were matched to the supporting evidence/sources they had found to back them up.

After the break, we did a lesson on in-text citation. This started with the students creating mind maps of what they already knew and then looking at some definitions and filling in the missing terms – i.e. review. (Being continuing students – i.e. students who have already done some studying at the ELTC and so they have had some exposure to much of what we look at -the ideal scenario is to build on existent knowledge as much as possible.) The terms were things like paraphrasing, quoting, reference list, bibliography, plagiarism. Then, we looked at some example use of a source and they identified if it was appropriate use or not and why, and if not, how to make it appropriate. Having done all this, we were ready to turn back to their sources, which I used as a means of looking at use of reporting verbs and how they can show writer stance. (E.g. if I use the verb ‘claim’ to introduce something a source says, chances are that not long afterwards, I plan to refute it with another piece of evidence, one which supports my stance.) This involved a process of identification/underlining and discussion (is this fact or not, what does the author think about it? etc), with me going round and working with pairs, ensuring they understood what they had found. Once we had done this, I got them to summarise a chunk of text that they had highlighted as useful for their project in one sentence in their own words – paraphrasing to capture the meaning rather than paraphrasing word for word – and then choose a reporting verb that reflected what the evidence was and how they felt about it.

At the end of the lesson, I asked them how they felt about their projects and they said they felt a lot happier at this end of the lesson than they had done at the beginning of the morning. So, for me, although not a perfect lesson by a long way, it was a successful one. This was reflected in the observation feedback pertaining to the second half of the lesson, where in the overall comments, the suggestions for improvement were prefaced with “A few minor points in an otherwise excellent lesson: …” . It is nice to be appreciated, by my students and the people I work with alike.

Wednesday 8th July

13.45-15.15 Project Standardisation

Normally we don’t have anything scheduled on Wednesday afternoons – we finish after the morning class. This is time we can use to catch up on marking and planning, but also the time in which developmental workshops and standardisations are organised. The students, meanwhile, attend a lecture (which forms part of the discussion at the beginning of my listening classes, as part of homework is to take notes during the lecture and practice using the strategies…).

In this standardisation session, we are taken through the new criteria for grading projects and then look an example with grades given, followed by discussing in groups and giving grades ourselves. This is vital, of course, as then we are all on the same page when 26,000 – odd words of projects rain onto us in week 6 (first draft) and week 8 (final submission) of the course.

We will have further standardisations for presentation assessment and USEPT assessment in forthcoming weeks on Wednesdays.

29th June 

09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 Writing Class (and first meeting with new tutor group)

The first meeting with a group of new students can be slightly nerve-wracking on both sides. This year, I have returners so I start teaching directly on Monday. (New students do registration on the Monday and only start classes on the Tuesday) They turn out to be a lovely bunch of people. Mostly Arabic speaking, from various Middle Eastern and North African countries, as well as one Chinese and one Japanese student. (Interestingly, this is a completely demographic to last summer, where I had all new students and all but about 2 were Chinese!) Once the ice has been broken through some getting to know you activities, there’s no looking back and we get stuck in to analysing essay titles. Having taught the material in last year’s pre-sessional course, I already feel a lot more comfortable using it (as a springboard). The lesson goes well and seems to augur well for what lies ahead.  🙂

22nd June – 26th June

09.15 – 16.15 (with half an hour morning break, one hour lunch break and 15 mins afternoon break, daily Monday – Friday) Induction

EAP Essentials - essential in name, essential in nature...

EAP Essentials – essential in name, essential in nature…

We get a whole week of induction before starting work on PS-10, so it is pretty thorough! One of the authors of EAP Essentials, Jenifer Spencer, does input sessions on teaching EAP, then of course there is all the nuts and bolts organisational stuff (syllabus, timetables, overview of course components and assessment) as well as a fair smattering of tech sessions, where we set up our accounts and learn how to use things like MOLE (Sheffield Uni’s branded Blackboard) and Google Drive. As a returner, there are some sessions where I have the opportunity to join a break-off group, where we discuss the same topics as in the main room, but with more emphasis on reflection and discussion than input. These are really motivational and useful, and help me get back into the EAP zone after an academic year of general English. I think maybe the best thing about being a returner is that instead of EVERYTHING being new, there is so much more familiarity. It makes life SO much easier.

On the final day, the Friday, we see where we will be teaching and our temporary staffroom. This year, I have actual classrooms rather than lecture theatres – yippee! We aren’t required to stay on site till a given time, so we can go home to use the remaining time for long-term lesson preparation. (The added bonus of this is that home has windows! 😉 ) It’s nice being treated like a professional adult in this sense, being trusted to do what needs to be done.

Closing comments

(What a relief! I hear you say… 😉 )

I am really enjoying this summer and, being a returner myself (just like my students – except it’s the PS-10 I’ve done before rather than other courses during the year!) I feel a lot more confident with what I’m doing. This, in turn, gives me the confidence to be a lot more hands on with the students and more responsive to their needs. My students are appreciative and think I’m doing a good job, the people above me are supportive and think I am doing a good job, and my colleagues are lovely and friendly too. Week 6 and 8, when we have all the projects to feedback on (6) and grade (8) will be a bit stressful, but that’s ok – it’s temporary rather than the norm so it’s manageable. One thing I am also enjoying is being able to have a genuine work-life balance. I’m able to get out on walks, do yoga, play my clarinet, see friends, relax and read, as well as work. I don’t finish the week feeling utterly destroyed physically and mentally. I can cook at home during the week. I actually feel rested by the end of the weekend and ready for the week again. Really lovely. I will make the most of it while this summer lasts! 🙂

IATEFL 2015 – Academic Writing Forum

I’m only staying for the first half of this, as I want to head to the MaW SIG open forum, but hopefully the first half will be the best half! 😉 I think I actually wanted to be in the Forum on Different Perspectives on Feedback, but at 2 minutes before start time, I am actually too exhausted to try and start finding the appropriate room in this absolutely vast building. So EAP writing it is! 

15 minutes per talk then questions, so I should catch just under 2 talks.

Integrating simulations in a seminar based approach to EAP writing

Learning the context and conventions of writing in another language is a great challenge for students (Hyland, 2003)

The advantage of a content-based approach is providing a more focused background and vocabulary for students’ writing. However, non-native speakers may be reticent in seminar situations. A simulation enables students to participate in a real-life like situation by assuming real roles. It is a reality of function, as participants have to act according to a role. The environment is simulated, life-like but not real. It is structured.

4 stages to a simulation:

  1. Briefing (readings and discussion; at the end of the stage, instructions, handing out roles)
  2. Preparation/group work, depending on the type of simulation. Debates work well, so students are on one side or the other.
  3. The simulation stage is where the debate takes place, so students give persuasive speeches and discuss.
  4. There is finally a debriefing for some cooling off.

Advantages:

  • Learners are motivated and gain opportunities for meaningful practice.
  • Creativity is encouraged.
  • Realism and relevance are injected into the classroom.

How about in EAP writing? 

Readings and discussions can give students background/information about essay topics.

Sample simulation 1: Endangered languages

image6-1

  • Students are given the above situation. They receive roles for the hearing. Readings are assigned too. Journal articles and newspaper articles. Videos are watched.
  • Students spend a class period and time outside class preparing. Then in a subsequent class, the hearing takes place.
  • Several writing assignments can be integrated into this: summary responses to the readings, journal entries describing the simulation role, argumentative essay, different topics possible.

Why do students like this?

By the time they write about the topic, they are primed by all the background information. They gain an opportunity to be creative in developing their roles. Most students enjoy debating.

Some students felt shy in role, some felt the roles were too restrictive, some thought too much research was involved. Some students were too dominant.

Conclusions:

Simulations provide an effective framework for thinking about the topic of the essay and lots of background information. More in-depth reading and discussion is promoted. 4 skills are integrated.

Jennifer Macdonald: Beyond the 5 paragraph essay

This refers to the formulaic “McEssay”/IELTS essay – intro, three body paragraphs, conclusion; based on personal opinion/experience. Not based on external sources/research.

It shouldn’t be the sole genre of writing classes, as  it only really exists in writing courses. Corpus data suggests that other genres of writing are more common for undergrads and postgrads at university. So to prepare them for what awaits them, they need something else. They need to be able to refer to source texts, for example. Many students’ English training focuses on preparation for a standardised test e.g. IELTS so they think 5 paragraph essay is all there is.

How can we break this mould?

  • Teach concept of genre. Get students to think about it before and during writing.
  • Unpack the genre. What is the purpose, what is wanted?
  • Provide resources on genre that students can access independently
  • Assign (For reading and writing) a variety of texts (explanation, definition, methodology, recount, case study etc.)

Genres are like footwear, need to use the right one in the right context. Not the end of the world if you don’t but it’s “kind of weird” if you don’t e.g. snowboots on the beach. Inappropriate.

Most likely you teach mixed disciplines/backgrounds so you probably can’t teach a genre with full authenticity but in the assignments you give, aim for as many aspects as possible. You also need to find work-arounds for research as much isn’t practical.

Look at the British Council LearnEnglish Writing with a purpose website.

Explanation: descriptive account, written to demonstrate understanding of the object of study and the ability to describe and explain systematically how it functions.

-> Can be a paragraph (topic sentences, paragraph-level skills can be introduced)

What to describe? Anything! Draw on web etc.

(Within academia this would be part of another genre.)

Definition: structures used in this genre are of particular interest.

Methodology recount: description of procedures undertaken by a writer – methods, results, discussion.

At this point it was nearly time for me to leave and I also ran out of steam! Though corrected now, I kept making typos because my fingers (and brain?) were so, so tired!! Anyway, it’s ok because Jennifer’s slides are available here. And the upshot of it all was that there is life beyond the 5 paragraph essay and lots of it! I will definitely be having a look at her slides when my brain is functioning better… 

IATEFL 2015: Academic Reading Circles – Tyson Seburn

Time for another EAP-related talk…

This is something that heretofore has existed only on Tyson’s blog, but a book is coming out on the Round – watch this space…

The main roles of Academic Reading Circles:

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This project was developed and implemented at the University of Toronto by Tyson on a reading and writing course. The goal wasn’t to improve the reading speed but rather the deeper level comprehension, so that they are able to talk about it intellectually and use it in their writing. His students are undergraduates, and there are 16 per class, predominantly Chinese with a few Russian and Ecuadorians. Tyson has them for 24 weeks over the academic year.

Problems that Tyson noticed with his students:

They need to engage deeply with course texts in order to demonstrate understanding in their written work. The problem was, they were not. They were only doing superficial reading, which became evident when they were asked questions about the text or asked to discuss it, they stayed at a lexical level. Applied understanding was rare. They needed to synthesise content from a variety of texts, which requires deep understanding.

Tyson decided to try the idea of literature circles, which has been adapted to ELT. However, traditional style didn’t work. Literature circles are more about fun and don’t have a connection with writing, while academic context requires something more serious and robust. So not new, but adapted for a new context.

Start with a common text, usually teacher chosen, these materials are going to be used for writing. Students are given different roles (as pic above and detailed descriptions below) and work specifically within that role on the text outside of class. In class they work in a group and co-construct knowledge/understanding of the text.

1. Leader:

situate text and gauge group. Finding out things like the purpose for reading (not the teacher said so!), the text source, the target audience, bibliographical information (also see the first couple of steps of the 12 steps approach discussed by Barbara yesterday). Create basic comprehension questions to use in their group to check their understanding. To do this, they need to identify the statements that represent key points. So, for our example:

Which statements represent key points:

1. Cyclists once influenced Jarvis Street’s lanes.

etc – 5 ish statements, some of which do and some of which don’t represent key points.

2. Contextualiser:

Pick out the people, places, events, pieces of research in texts and identify them as research opportunities. They go to the internet and find out more about these contextual references. To be able to tell the group why the research may have referenced these. E.g. “as a cultural corridor with an emphasis on its historical significance” (useful)  or “city cyclists declared victory (not so useful). They could look up “the mayor” and “Ford”.

3. Visualiser

Find things in the text that could be graphically represented e.g. as videos, images, timelines, infographics etc. E.g. in this text, a google map showing where Jarvis street is situated, as we don’t know Toronto; a photo of Jarvis street showing the bike lanes; political/satirical cartoons with relevance. By bringing this in, a new element for understanding the text is added.

4. Connector

Causes transferability (of skills)  between courses. When you force them to make connections in a text, it builds up this ability. Make connections to other studies, other events, other experiences. A couple of questions that might come up as the connector for this text:

  • “Have there been other asinine government decisions?”
  • “Does this situation remind you of anything from your other classes?”
  • “Does the configuration of Jarvis street remind you of a street you know?” (This can help to visualise/understand the argument

Give prompts e.g. make a connection to another event; make a connection to other classes; make a connection to somewhere you know

5. Highlighter

Focuses on lexical items to facilitate meaning. But not only unknown vocabulary (NB not only words but phrases). There are 3 types: 1. unknown, yes, of course e.g. corridor; short-lived; had their day. How frequent is this vocabulary?  2. topical vocabulary – used within a particular discipline. E.g. in this case related to transportation. When we force them to notice this topical vocabulary, the process – exploring it etc. – makes them better able to use it in their own writing. 3. tonal language – that shows author feelings and attitudes towards what they are talking about. e.g. “quite costly”   “just 18 months later” (not a significant amount of time) “included mere painted borders” (mere – shows it is not sufficient)

Specs

  • One common text (it is a required text)
  • There is indivudal work that you give to the students, they need to go away and do that work in order to do the subsequent group work in class. Follow up/talk about what is happening in the text as a whole class.
  • Rotate roles, so students are taking a different role each week. So 5 weeks to get through all the roles. The first time they do the roles, they are not that good at them.
  • Leads to deeper comprehension and better use of texts in writing.

Another reference to De Chazal…really need to read that book… 😉 Really interesting talk, great to meet Tyson finally, and I also bumped into a Sheffield Uni colleague from last year, who is keen on these reading circles so will be picking her brains over the summer for a context (very) specific perspective and useful hints/tips. This kind of thing is what I love about IATEFL and ELT!