IATEFL blog award for best coverage of IATEFL Harrogate 2014!

 To quote from the Teaching English British Council website:

As with recent years, the British Council invited a number of ELT bloggers interested in reporting on the annual IATEFL conference to become a ‘Harrogate Online Registered Blogger’. Over 40 bloggers signed up and did a fantastic job of reviewing and commenting on the conference.

As many of you know, TeachingEnglish has a featured blog of the month award. For April, we also have an additional award for the best blog coverage of IATEFL Harrogate online 2014.

Below is the winner, the shortlist, a selection of recommended posts and special mentions.

WinnerReflections of an English language teacher – Lizzie Pinard

Congratulations to Lizzie, who provided insightful and extensive coverage of IATEFL online 2014. Each post gave a very clear overview of the session and a well-balanced personal reflection. Read their posts by going to the link above or click here

 

Quite chuffed with that! 🙂 Was a big surprise when I had a message out of the blue saying I’d won – I hadn’t realised such an award existed!

 Thank you, Teaching English British Council! And a big thank you, again, to my school, IH Palermo, for giving me the days off work required in order to attend the conference. It was a wonderful experience from which I learnt and gained huge amounts.

To see a collation of all my blog posts from IATEFL 2014, please click here.

Since then, I’ve also summarised the Q and A session hosted by IATEFL, in which Sugata Mitra answered the questions that arose in response to his controversial plenary. You can see my summary here.

IATEFL_blog_award_2014

IATEFL 2014: Q and A with Sugata Mitra – Saturday 17.00 BST: a summary

At 17.00 BST (18.00 Palermo time!), the Q and A session with Sugata Mitra took place. Questions had been sent in advance of this session, and these appeared in turn on the slides, for Mitra to answer. I attempted to make notes during the session and here is what I managed to catch:

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.01.10

Slide one

1)

a)If you look at the paper, which was written in 2005, it describes quite carefully what the measurements are. There *is* more than anecdotal evidence. The paper was peer reviewed internationally and got a prize for the best paper of 2005 from the American Educational Research Association.

 

b)With regards to the second question, Mitra doesn’t have all the answers. What he is going to measure are improvements in reading comp, searching skills on the internet and self-confidence. There are indications, purely anecdotal, that there are, but these won’t be accepted until there are some results.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.02.59

Slide 2

2)

He would love to see State involvement and indeed states across the world, U.S., U.K, India, has shown positive response. He has preliminary results and it would be great if the state as well as the private sector joined in.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.03.56

Slide 3

3)

Mitra is not sure what they mean by wider approach, but likes the first part – 60% out of school factors, 20% teaching, 20% personal – but would like to capture that 60% and bring it into school. One needs to identify what that 60% is, where it comes from and whether it should be brought into school and if so in what way

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.05.07

Slide 4

4) 

a) Of course they would have learnt better from a good teacher but they didn’t have teachers so two options either learn nothing at all or learn by themselves. Nothing great, a smattering of a few words that they could use, but they could read webpages, needs further investigation

b) Parents sent their children to a system which is driven by examinations in almost all countries, so as a parent you want your child prepared for those examinations. The average parent, particularly in India, is more interested in better marks than confidence etc. Until benchmarks change, why would parents want a SOLE? Is for teachers and educators to bring in SOLES, to help children in critical thinking and creative thinking.

c) Financial interests – have been funded by several sources: World Bank, NIT (private company) and a few others. Corporate social responsibility. Mitra’s work shows that you need fewer computers not more.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.08.35

Slide 5

5)

FIrst of all, you must understand that if an experiment result says that children can learn by themselves, that doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t required. These are two different sentences. The two don’t equate. If we have teachers, we can get excellent results. We don’t have enough teachers. When would you use a remote method/self-organised? When the existing method is insufficient or not of good quality.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.10.40

Slide 6

6)

It’s true. I’ve given this kind of talk hundreds of times over, in all continents, so why did Harrogate give such a strong response? Three possibilities. Harrogate mainly consisted of teachers of EFL. So 1) Teachers of EFL are much more inclined to look for hard evidence than all other teachers int he world put together 2) Teachers of EFL did not actually read the scientific evidence and without reading it wanted to hear it, and there wasn’t enough time for this in the conference. 3) Teachers of EFL have a sense of insecurity in their roles and therefore react strongly to any possibility that threatens their role.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.12.38

Slide 7

7)

a) It’s not a question of believing, whoever makes an app tests and measures how it performs against a taught course. If it performs well, then it may be used. If it doesn’t compete well with a good teacher but still produces some learning outcomes then it can still be useful in contexts where a good teacher is not available.

b) Yes of course. (I missed some of this answer!)

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.13.59

Slide 8

8)

The Granny Cloud makes it possible to bring a certain level of teaching to areas where there is nothing else available.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.14.55

Slide 9

9)

If you have a class of 30 children and you were a good teacher, and you taught something, some would learn it well, some wouldn’t at all and some would be in the middle. This applies also to hole-in the walls. The gang-pecking order was sorted out by the children themselves. The older girls would take charge and bring in a certain amount of admin and management, to bring order to the hole in the wall. Everybody does not benefit equally, just as they don’t in the formal system.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.16.44

Slide 10

10)

I’m just one person, and Pakistan is one of many countries which haven’t been included. I want to go to as many as I can and I will try to do that depending on availability of time.

It’s not just a question of the mother tongue itself, but any language that you learn. It gives you a picture of another cultural way of thinking which is not there in your own language. If you learn English, you learn a certain way of thinking, if you learn Urdu on top of that, you learn another way of thinking. Three would be ideal – English, mother tongue and another language – but this is not easy to do. On a practical note, if getting a  job is important, in the world today knowing reasonably good English will help.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.18.56

Slide 11

11)

Firstly, SOLEs are not done in computer rooms. Computer rooms are rooms where computers are lined up against the wall and children use them one-on-one. In a SOLE, children make their own groups, can make or break groups, can move from group to group, can answer the question, can play games, can share information between each other. Webquests and SOLEs are different.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.20.15

Slide 12

12) 

Are there children who don’t learn in groups and learn better by themselves? Should you encourage this kind of learning or try to get them into groups? I don’t have an answer to this, but suggest you consult the learner. If they prefer to work by themselves let them, but they don’t reach the same breadth of information as the groups. The individual learner tends to have looked at one aspect while the others have gone all over the place.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.21.31

Slide 13

13)

This is pretty serious stuff. How sustainable is it? As sustainable as the people who make it I guess. Sustainability was not my objective in the first few years, I only wanted to see what children can learn by themselves. I’m looking to see if SOLEs will be sustainable and wonder what the situation will be 10 years down the line, will they still exist?

There indicated results that it could be used at all levels of instruction. Don’t you increasingly turn to your tablet to answer something that several of you are arguing about? SOLE is not about the computer room.

The teacher’s role is not that of content provider. Does it hurt if the teacher has content knowledge? I don’t have the answer. But it can hurt because some teachers have a very fixed opinion of what their subject should look like that it can hurt the process. <Mitra provides an example of this> You have to be a friend, not a guide or a sage.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.26.23

Slide 14

14)

Critical thinking and problem-solving are obviously at the heart of learning, past or future, except for one area: the military. They are understood in a very narrow context in the case of the military. Our educational system has a few leftovers from this and we have to get over that. Critical thinking and problem solving will dictate whether you can fit into a job in the future, it’s as important as that.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.27.36

Slide 15

15)

a) The non-intervention decision was not only for the research. Let’s suppose if I had made one intervention and said “this is how you use the touchpad”. Imagine making that method global. You’d need millions of teachers worldwide to replicate that. And you’d be back to the same problem. I decided to make it intervention free, as then what little it could do, it could do everywhere.

b) It;s difficult to say, when you’re talking about 12-13yr olds, the most important thing is to keep motivation going. I find that if you say surprise me, I think you’re very good, they go very far in trying to surprise you. You have to be careful with duration. I think 45mins is maximum, 15-20 for an easier question. Or interest will be lost.

c) You’re assuming the granny isn’t an expert teacher, but the cloud contains many experienced, expert teachers.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.30.07

Slide 16

16)

We’ve been discussing this quite a few times. The teacher is no longer someone imparting information/knowledge. Mainly because we’ve managed to create an environment where uni-directional export of information is not required. We should be proud of that, that children can find out things for themselves. Should there be someone around? Of course, to encourage them, to admire them, to ask them questions. An adult friend. When negotiating the internet, comforting for groups of children to know there is somebody they can turn to.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.31.33

Slide 17

17)

I, too, have a bit of a confusion about the role of the granny cloud on the one hand and SOLEs on the other hand. This is quite important. You can have a SOLE in a place with no school/teachers or a place with a good school/teachers. The Granny cloud has two different contexts: a place with no teachers and no facilities for learning or in a location where there is a good school/teachers. So four situations. I think that this will give rise to four or five different combinations, each with a different purpose. In a remote area with no school, a SOLE with a Granny cloud, this is better than nothing. What about in England, where there is a great school? I don’t know. Remains to be answered.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.34.05

Slide 18

18.

There are two websites: http://www.theschoolinthecloud.org and http://www.solesandsomes.wikispaces.com. The latter (wikispaces) site came first and is amateurish, while the former site came later and is more professional. What happens is you say you want to be a Granny and you get put in the database. Someone looks and decides whether you should be or not. First level short-listing. Once clear that you have the time/equipment to be a Granny then we talk to you on Skype and go through another level of shortlisting. Once we’ve gone through the second level, you get into a third database and you are a potential Granny. You go and interact with a group of children, supervised by an experienced Granny. Once that’s ok, you can go solo but are monitored for a while till we are happy. That’s the process.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.36.27

Slide 19

19.

a. I didn’t say we don’t need the education system, I’ve said we don’t need schools as they are today – they’re obsolete. The hole in the wall was an experiment to see if groups of children can learn to use the internet in groups with no intervention. Schools are extremely valuable. If you don’t put your child in school, you are taking a huge risk. Schools are extremely valuable, they just need to change that’s all.

b. Have you seen educators around the world? There are many instances where educators stop learning. Yes you need to change teacher training in order for schooling to change. The role of the adult is to bring up the questions, set a puzzle, admire the children. You’re a friend.

c. If you have a good teacher in a good school and you want to do a SOLE, that’s how you should do it.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 18.40.34

Slide 20

20. 

That’s a good question! What’s a good question? This is how you design a question. Suppose you are a history teacher. You’re walking into class in order to take a lesson on a particular aspect of your subject. Instead of delivery of that subject can you convert it into a question? So this is what you’d do in a good SOLE. Converting curriculum into questions. You need to ask why it’s there in the first place, why it’s important. You need to answer that first.

That was the end of the questions that had been sent in advance. Then there was time for questions that arose during the Q&A. I didn’t catch all of these – the sound cut in and out a bit, and it was difficult to keep up! But I caught a few: 

21.

Do you think there is a political will to spread the idea of revolutionising education along the lines you suggest? Any signs of it?

I wish I had a positive answer, unfortunately I don’t. But in country after country, before the elections, then education becomes important. Then you don’t see much action once the elections are over. The good news is, we don’t need to wait. The system will change anyway because the learners are changing. So there will be no choice but to change. This will happen within a decade, perhaps.

22. 

How have teachers responded to your ideas? (Or something along those lines, I lost it a bit)

Teachers who listen carefully and read the literature are generally supportive. There are some teachers who have used the method very successfully. Others hear what they want to hear and we have many examples of that.

23. 

You say you are measuring reading and comprehension skills, what about other skills?

I had to deliberately restrict myself due to funding issues. I’m afraid I have to follow the approach that I measure just two or three different parameters but measure them well. But maybe others will pick up the same experiment, and repeat it using different parameters.

24.

What do you think of the work of your colleague prof. James Tooley? 

I read what he writes and find his arguments convincing. I visit his schools and I see the point he is making. I’ve seen his model in Ghana, a pay as you go school, and find it fascinating. Are those schools better than state schools? He says yes and he has support what he has said, so I will take it at face value. I want to discuss with him how to put SOLEs into his schools.

25.

Where are the longitudinal studies? [I missed the end of this question]

None designed. Some journalists have followed individual children. The most dramatic is a child from one of the villages, who has said on camera that it is because of the hole in the wall that he developed an interest in biology and it is because of this he went on to do a PhD. [I missed the end of this answer]

It was an interesting session – and lovely to get a little bit more IATEFL 2014 too! – and I think everybody appreciated the opportunity presented by this Q&A, after all the furore that has arisen since Mitra’s plenary on the last day of IATEFL this year. 

One really positive thing, to my mind, that’s come out the controversy he created at IATEFL is that post-IATEFL there has been lots of debate and discussion – through blogs, through the IATEFL Facebook group etc. I think it’s great! As long as we are discussing things and challenging our own and others’ beliefs, we can continue to learn and grow as teachers. 

Mitra said this in one of his answers today:

“FIrst of all, you must understand that if an experiment result says that children can learn by themselves, that doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t required. These are two different sentences.The two don’t equate”

I think perhaps a lot of the furore was based on the assumption that these were not two different sentences. I think there is some good food for thought in the Questions and Answers from tonights session and in Mitra’s plenary at IATEFL as well as his published works and other talks. 

Thank you, IATEFL, for a great conference and a thought-provoking follow up session. 

(Finally, please let me know if you think there are any inaccuracies in what I have noted down in this post, compared with what was said. If there are, it is of course entirely unintentional!)

Fiona Johnston – Write here, write now: Developing written fluency

For my second-to-last talk of the conference, Fiona Johnston of International House in London

Fiona has always been a great believer of bringing writing into the classroom rather than treating it as an add-on. She says students think they are doing less writing these days but in fact they are doing more. A survey she did showed that there is some asynchronous writing going on e.g. comment on youtube, not expecting response. Email was excluded as everyone said yes to that. But lots of people also use Facebook, Twitter, Whats app etc.

Writing is changing. Is it speaking? Writing? a new skill?

“Netspeak has far more properties linking it to writing than speech.” (Crystal, 2001)

“Are instant messages speech? No, even though there are enough speech-like elements to explain why these are conversations” (Baron, 2008)

“selectively and adaptively displays properties of both [speaking and writing]” (Crystal, missed the year]

“People are communicating like they are talking but encoding it in writing” [missed the reference]

Areas of overlap between speaking and writing include:

  • communication takes place “live”, in real time
  • there is time pressure, we have to respond quickly
  • there are fillers e.g. well, right, you know, sort of, kind of, well anyway, etc.
  • incomplete sentences
  • slang (though a question of register)
  • you can’t see your audience/target reader – messenger programmes are like speaking on the phone

Bridging the gap between writing and speaking

We use a variety of ways:

  • emoticons (a bit passe now!)
  • emoji is more current (some move, some culturally specific)
  • stage directions (lol *sigh* *shakes heads in belief*)
  • abbreviations (OMG btw IMO/IMHO)
  • … (leaves it open)
  • All. The. Time. (annunciating punctation to emphasise slower, emphatic delivery)

What do students say?

photo (3) copy

What Fiona’s students say…

Fiona says there are areas we can definitely help with e.g. “I can’t write fast” or “People get upset when I don’t reply fast”

Fluency vs. accuracy

For speaking skills, we tend to focus on fluency. But why, with writing, do we focus almost exclusively on accuracy rather than fluency? There’s a place for fluency focus for writing as well, or should be.

Possible activities

  1. silent discussion
  2. silent shrinking dialogue
  3. silent timed dialogue
  4. paper forum

1. Silent discussion

  • Flip-chart size paper with topics written on e.g. Italian food is better than English food, and coloured pens
  • Put learners ideally in groups of three
  • The idea is they contribute in no particular order, interrupt by twisting the paper around or walking around.
  • To ask the T a question, also needs to be in writing

Can be done as a lead-in to a unit. Takes about 15mins. Some music (without words) in the background is a good idea.

Benefits: 

  • Mimics instant messenger/chat rooms with multiple threads
  • Some students feel less inhibited
  • Can be used as a lead-in, but also to recycle topics, ideas and vocabulary
  • You can take it away after and look at some of the errors but emphasis should be on fluency
  • A good way to settle the class
  • Easy to eavesdrop unobstrusively

Silent Shrinking Dialogue

  • Pairs
  • Each student writes an exactly 12 word question
  • Set some rules re contractions counting as one word or two etc.
  • Reply [in writing] with exactly 10 words and so on
  • Generates a very positive atmosphere and positive energy

Benefits (at higher levels)

  • forces students to manipulate language by omitting words, using contractions/full forms, voice (Active/passive) and different sentence structures [to fit the criteria i.e. word number]
  • personal, genuine communication albeit in an unnatural format
  • mimics the way digital conversations often taper [e.g. start long and end just with a smiley face!]
  • linguistically challenging

Silent timed dialogue

  • Like silent shrinking dialogue but with a time limit and no word number restrition
  • agree a length of time so that they have to take turns at the time limit
  • reduce the amount of time for each interaction

Paper forum posts

  • Students write a short “forum post” (having looked at examples in class)
  • “Post” these on A3 pieces of paper, so that there is space to write underneath, and displayed gallery-style around the classroom.
  • Other students can add comments
  • Students can grab their own and see what’s been written
  • Can be adapted to be like BBC “Have your say”

Speaking? Writing? A new skill? Or a new genre? Open to questions…

Some audience members thought a new genre, some thought it a new skill. There was no “right answer”.

Q: An audience member queried contrast between English and other languages?

A: Fiona told us that “How to laugh online in many languages” generated a lot of classroom discussion:

photo (4)

Different ways of laughing online made us laugh! 🙂

It was an interesting talk with some nice take-away ideas.

ELT Teacher 2 Writer: Training teachers to be writers

Excited to be at this talk as I missed the ELT Teacher 2 Writer talk at Liverpool last year… More materials writing-related larks! 🙂 And it’s clearly going to be a good one – we have exciting task handouts on our chairs and key-rings being given out! 

Training teachers to be writers

Sue and Karen are going to talk to us about how ELT Teacher 2 Writer can help teacher materials writers.

  • the database: established writers and people interested in writing can all be in the database

Publishers can search the database when they are looking for new writers but also when they are looking for people to pilot materials/write users reports/answer questions for market research. There are a mixture of publishers national, international and independent.

  • the training modules: developed by ELT Teacher 2 Writer

Where does materials writing feature in a teacher’s professional development?

Within the British Council Framework puts it at stage six (specialist) but teachers do it from day 1, with their own learners.

ELT Teacher 2 Writer did some research into existent writing courses and tried to learn lessons from these. (All non-ELT related) e.g. journalism, creative writing… They discovered that the only common ground that all of these course had was a module that urged users to know their market/know a little bit at the industry. So they had a look at ELT materials writing to see what was involved in writing materials.

They broke it into 3 main categories:

  • core skills
  • market-specific (e.g. ESP materials)
  • component-specific (e.g. writing a teacher’s book/grammar summary/worksheets

There are now 30 titles on the website. All written by experienced authors and they share the lessons they learnt in their own process of being published. All available for download on Amazon/Smashwords (special IATEFL discount ends tomorrow!) These are relevant for people writing for developers, teachers writing for their own classrooms and teachers wanting to self-publish.

Task 1: How ELT publishing works  – time to do a task! (T/F statements about publishing)

  • True: publishers DO decide things well in advance. They have 5 year plans, which they check at intervals to make sure they still make sense. They use market research to inform this.
  • False: the best way to get published is NOT to send a complete manuscript to a publisher!
  • False: you don’t need an M.A. or a Delta to write materials. Relevant teaching experience is essential. Delta/M.A. can be positive but publishers may fear an overly academic manuscript.
  • True: lots of investment goes into publishing, it is expensive, so publishers DO want to make sure everything works and DO do a lot of market research to this end.
  • False: You *do* have to meet deadlines! In publishing, there are many people writing to the same schedule. If you don’t meet it, there is a huge negative knock-on effect.

Task 2: What makes a good rubric? (or direction line in Am. E!) i.e. instruction to the students within a piece of materials.

This is an important skill to learn and is thus included in several ELT Teacher 2 Writer modules.

Rubric checklist

  • Rubric language should be less complex than the language point being addressed.
  • Use small sets of words
  • Use the same rubric for all similar activity types
  • Be careful with staging – sometimes better to break things down into two activities rather than one.

We had to apply these criteria to some sample rubrics. We saw one that was too long and in which it wasn’t clear what was required. We saw one where the language used was too complex for the learner level aimed at – here it would be necessary to simplify the language and helpful to include examples. The third was too complex and needed breaking down. The fourth was rambling and dense, requiring major surgery to sort it out!

Task 3: How to write a graded reader?

Graded readers are great to write – they combine fiction and education! The answer to the task question? Can be found in Sue Leather’s module.

Sue (presenter) read from Sue (writer)’s module to comment on this. Here are couple of quotes:

“An idea is the story’s essence”

” It should include a vital issue that needs to be resolved one way or another”

Skills are needed for the following:

  • language and story
  • drama and premise
  • high stakes
  • conflict and choice
  • action
  • character
  • dialogue

We applied this to three story ideas, deciding that two had wheels and one was dull – the two with wheels are in fact in print! The other, not so much…

Task 4: Writing a critical thinking activity 

What is a CTA? What does a good one look like? Equally importantly, and what may shed some light on this is, what is it not?

  • It is NOT a pure comprehension question.
  • It is NOT a do you agree/disagree discussion.
  • It is NOT a T/F statements activity
  • It is not a question about the literal meaning of vocabulary in a text

In a general comprehension activity you find:

  • identify ideas
  • vocabulary meaning-related activities
  • agree/disagree discussions

In a critical thinking activity you find:

  • Why does the author present the ideas like this?
  • Why are these vocabulary items chosen?
  • Does the author support the ideas? How? What evidence is there?
photo (3)

Some critical thinking activity types

We looked at some sample activities and decided whether they were CT activities or general activities.

Finally, we learnt some more about the ELT Teacher to Writer website:

As well as the database, it includes a resource section for writers.

The Writer’s Toolkit

  • style sheet: publishers have in-house ones of these – if you are working independently, this  will help you to be more consistent.
  • template: example template for styles for rubrics/body text etc. and layout/order/structure
  • permission grid: a grid that lays out the information that is needed in order for an editor to apply for permissions to the copyright holder. It is very important to get all the permissions needed e.g. for different platforms etc.

You can find out more about ELT Teacher 2 Writer by:

Liking their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ELTT2W

Following them on Twitter: @ELT_T2W

My last talk for the day and like all the others I’ve attended: super-interesting and worthwhile! 🙂

 

Sandy Millin – Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

In the end, I chose Sandy’s session out of my three-way clash: it’s always good to learn better ways of teaching listening! Plus, I didn’t want to miss Sandy speak. 🙂 Stepping away from Academic English for a while, back into the world of regular teaching of an important skill…

Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

Sandy’s presentation will be available on her blog, including the audio she will use AND a recording! She used a “greet three new people” to illustrate some of the difficulties in listening.

“I’ve been studying English for years but I can’t understand anyone” – quote from a student in Newcastle. (Not only Newcastlers – films too, in London…) How can we help students understand English outside of the classroom/course book?

What is the difference between listening to whats in the coursebook/classroom and what’s outside?

In the classroom

  1. What do students listen to?
  2. What type of tasks to do they do?

1.

  • the teacher (if speaking in English – instructions, a story…)
  • – the other students
  • – recordings from the book (get longer as you go up the levels)

2.

  • Comprehension tasks
  • picking out new language
  • testing the level
  • the next thing in the book

In real life:

1. Real people – face to face, on the phone, on the screen etc

2.

  • For interaction
  • because they need something
  • to join the conversation
  • for information (e.g. train station)
  • because they want to (e.g. music/film)

Different!

Sandy played a recording from a course book (NEF – got lots of laughs because of course it sounded *so* natural…!) and then one from real life.

– interruptions, false starts, overlapping, pauses, fillers, you could work out what the language point was in NEF, two men rather than a man and woman (as common in course books until higher levels)

What went wrong?

  • follow up on answers, find out why they got things wrong rather than just telling them it’s wrong.

Could be:

  • speed
  • range of voice types (e.g. age, gender)
  • sound quality (or lack of sound)
  • lack of language
  • lack of confidence

Today will mostly focus on speed and voice type.

Weak forms

Pronunciation of a word changes when within a sentence. The schwas make a difference – the most important sound? With this sound, it’s difficult to draw the line between pron. and listening. “I wanna be a schwa – it’s never stressed!”

Give students some common grammar words which have strong and weak forms; ask learners to create a sentence using these words or a short story and discuss whether it’s a strong or a weak form as used in that context. Learners have to identify when the sounds will be weak or strong, then try to say them. Trying it out in sentences helps learners to be more confident when they hear it. Not expected to speak like this all the time, just a classroom game to build confidence and ability to recognise sounds.

Get students to race to say sentences as quickly as possible to win a point for their team. Weak forms come out as they try to get the sentences out as fast as they can.

Connected Speech

Apples and pears – in the word-blender – becomes:

apple zum pears

Sandy showed a worksheet with tic-tac-toe for explaining sound changes (has it moved? changed? disappeared?)

  • sol tum pepper
  • wom potato
  • frozum peas
  • a loafer slice bread   etc

from the http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/word-blender website

Don’t need to use complicated meta-language: just “the sound moves” or “the sound disappears” is fine.

What about final consonant and initial vowel link? Sandy spent half an hour pulling things out of a sentence, using the rules she had been teaching them. This was with pre-intermediate students and they could produce it at regular speed, feel it in their mouths and understand why the listening might have been difficult if a native speaker had been saying it to them.

Transcripts: With a listening with a very difficult accent (e.g. Irish!) – after the listening, get learners to look at a transcript and identify all the consonant-vowel links. You don’t need to use the whole transcript, just a paragraph, and just look at one rule at a time.

Next, we need something to write with. I shall use this blog post!

Micro-dictations: we hear two sentences and write them down.

  1. Today we’re looking at a lot of listening activities.
  2. I’m here for a conference.

That’s a single sentence, all we had to do was write it down. Easy? For us, yes. Not for pre-int students. Students have control of a sentence recording, they have to transcribe it on the board. Teacher outside of the room so that the students don’t keep turning to him/her.

To clip audio:

  • audacity (pc/mac)
  • wavepad (ipad)
  • mp3cut.net (online)
  • safeshare.tv (youtube – online, also good for cutting out the ads.)

Comprehension

Consists of using bottom up skills (using small components – words) and top-down skills (using the wider context) and bringing them together to make sense.

The activities so far have been for bottom up comprehension. The next one should be top-down.

Activity: What’s next?

When I was… younger, a child, a kid, I …. used to go….to scouts/skiing swimming every Saturday

How did you know what would come next? Collocation, colligation etc If you do this activity with students, you can build up their confidence because they see how much of meaning they can construct in their heads.

A range of voices

  • Guests #eltchat “I’d really like somebody to talk about x in my classroom” – you might find someone who could do a skype into your classroom. Or you could use Facebook TeachingEnglish page. Or anybody you know who speaks English and can come into your classroom – e.g. visitors. [Sandy played a recording of when her cousin visited her and came into the classroom and the students had to try and get him to use a way of talking about the past that they might not recognise being used but had learnt about. Dan knew nothing about this] – would. Dan used it 19 times… This audio will be on Sandy’s blog if you’d like to use it with your students! Students said “Oh my God, you actually do use this!
  • Leaving the classroom: to get different voices
  • English language listening library (www.elllo.org) – lots of short recordings and you can search it by accent (how brilliant is this?!) Being added to all the time.
  • Collins English for Life – Listening: A2 pre-intermediate (Sandy got as a sample copy and uses all the time) – natural speed conversations, various accents, tasks graded rather than text. (Worth investing?!)
  • Extended listening: encourage your students to do so from early levels – you don’t need to be able to understand everything. Just getting your ears used to the rhythm of the speech that you listen to. You’d be surprised how many students don’t think about this. E.g. films, tv programmes (E.g. twenty minute sitcoms), BBC – one and two minute videos around the website but on the youtube channel there are more extended pieces (if abroad, there are some 30 min programmes on there), podcasts, TED talks.

Further reading:

Listening in the language classroom by John Field, 2008 Cambridge University Press (recommended to Sandy by me! 😀 )

….Yep! I don’t regret coming to this one!! 😀 

Julie Moore: How do Engineers say that? Encouraging academic independence in ELT (Session 1)

This is my first academic English session for the conference! I had intended to attend more, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, the best-laid plans of mice, men and conference participants… It is also the first talk of the day for the ESP SIG Day. We are shown the timetable and I realise I may  be back in this room again after the coffee break! That’ll save getting lost… 😉 Apparently they are also being recorded…

How do Engineers say that? Encouraging academic independence in ELT

Julie starts with thank-you’s and asking the audience to complete the feedback form at the end, and introduces herself.

She is going to talk to us about dealing with mixed-discipline classes and how to encourages students to be more independent. She asked us who are practising EAP teachers and most hands went up except mine – yet! She also asked about management roles and materials developers. Still not me… 😉 She acknowledges that we all want to get different things out of the day. (For me? to learn more about EAP!) She compares us to a mixed-discipline EAP class – going on to different things, with different objectives. The teacher/presenter has to (try to) keep all happy.

She shows us a wordle (word cloud) of the different subject areas of students on her courses. Some are more heavily represented than others, but there is a huge range. The course coordinator often doesn’t know till the last minute who will turn up. Institutional constraints mean they can’t be split up but must be taught in the same class, all with different needs, wanting to learn different things.

Principle no 1:

Identify key, transferable academic principles, features, skills and language: things that will be useful in any discipline. What will be useful to all of my students?

Principle no 2:

Give the students a clear rationale: explain to the students why you have chosen these things and why they are useful. This is a step that often gets missed out but is very important, as students may  not see the relevance. Materials writers should make it clear to teachers and students, teachers to their students.

Principle no 3:

Encourage students to apply general classroom ideas to their own discipline via independent study. We will see an example of how we can encourage students to do this.

E.g. 1 OUP Advanced writing module: A sequence of tasks leading to a writing task

Looking at the task of writing a critical response. Traditionally we teach essays, and essays do come up across discipline, but less common in hard sciences, but the other genre that occurs across disciplines is a critical response/critique/review. When Julie thinks of a critique she thinks of English literature, but students can critique all kinds of things, especially at advanced levels.

This activity presents students with examples (five in the book, three shown on screen), short examples of critique writing from different disciplines. Students asked to think about which discipline they are studying, topics discussed and stances taken. Within the examples, some of the language is in bold.

The first example is a science-y kind of subject. The review is a bit critical, a bit supportive – “significant uses”  but them it expresses limitations “not entirely consistent”: so this is getting students to think about how we evaluate.

So students start to see here that this style of writing occurs across disciplines. This is the very first task. You are showing them upfront that this something that all disciplines need to do. All the examples won’t be directly relevant to the student, but they can see the relevance of the activity. So this is an example of engaging the students upfront.

Identifying skills and features

Julie shows us a lesson sequence, with task headings that are focused on transferable features/skills rather than topics. This draws out skills and language, and how to use abstracts for writing and research. This may be from looking at examples not related to their discipline but then the final task is an independent research project where they are encouraged to find examples related to their discipline and focus on those abstracts. Which features studied in the lesson occur in the abstract and identify the language for describing aims.

But will they really do it? Maybe some of the conscientious ones. But the others won’t bother. Julie says that the important thing is to require students to report back. “Next class bring back what you have found, so you can report back” – that stops it being a throwaway task. (This fits right in with my thoughts/feelings/approaches re autonomy!) 

In a class of 14 students in Julie’s class, there were a total of 23 abstracts, ranging from law, business, electronic engineering, film studies, TESOL – quite a range. What they found was 12 used personal pronouns “I” and “We” – interesting as we often tell students not be personal but in this context, talking about aims, it IS common: important for reading and writing as well. 10 examples of reference to the text itself – “this article” and “this paper”. They also found some verbs for describing aims, some overlapping with what had been discussed in the above sequence from OUP and some new. E.g. examine, discuss, analyse etc

It got the students thinking about similarities and differences between theirs and other disciplines. With all these tasks, the discussion is more important than anything else, giving students time to explore their own discipline in relation to others, giving them the skills to start doing this themselves: transferable skills, helping them to move towards a more autonomous position. You help them develop the skills to explore and analyse for themselves.

(I love this!! So inline with my beliefs!)  

Five minutes for questions: (paraphrased…)

Q Are your students mostly post-graduate students? A lot of my students probably wouldn’t have that sense of their own discipline. 

A: The book we were working on was for Advanced level, so aimed more at post-grad students. You could do it a little bit. One of the reasons we focused on abstracts is that they are freely available, so even if they aren’t attached to a uni yet and don’t have access, then it’s still possible for them to start to explore a little bit. They can still explore texts from their own area.

Q: Presumably you as the teacher could bring in a pile of abstracts to help them, as they may not have the skills to find these themselves. 

A: Yes, you could absolutely.

Q: I was just reflecting on what you were saying about throw-away tasks – I think I’m guilty of this – I think a lot of that comes from nervousness thinking that we need to know about all the disciplines. I’d get nervous that I’d get all these abstracts back the next time and none of them would fit together etc. Any advice for setting up that second task?

A: I think for me it’s just about having confidence in what you do know and being perfectly happy to admit what you don’t know. E.g. this law student who brought in bizarre abstracts that I didn’t understand because of the legal language. All I could say to him was “that’s interesting” but other law students had brought more conventional ones and we explored the reason behind the differences and we came to the conclusion that it was a specific journal with a specific style. Release control, not worry too much and be able to admit that you don’t know. I don’t think you always have to have an answer. You just deal with the things you can deal with.

Audience member comment: Students enjoy explaining at a higher level what they know to students from a different background, when you put them in groups to discuss.

Students are a wonderful resource!

 

 

Plenary: Michael Hoey – The implications of a corpus linguistic theory for learning the English language (and the Chinese language too)

According to the introductory speaker, Michael’s talk draws its data from corpus linguistics…what a shock… 🙂 

 What Michael wants to do today is look at two old approaches to language teaching and learning, and bring a new perspective to bear on them. Both approaches have had a great number of adherents and critics, both are very much alive.

The Lexical Approach

He starts by showing us a slide of key works within Lewis’s Lexical Approach, which is now just over 20 years olds, saying there is still work going on but it is now an old approach though very much still alive. According to Lewis, the successful language learner is someone who can recognise, understand and produce lexical chunks. Learning the grammar and slotting other words in doesn’t work in a world where language doesn’t work like that. Rather than learning vocabulary in lists and focusing on grammatical structures, focusing on the actual words that can be used to communicate. When someone learns vocab in context, they pick up grammar naturally, but it doesn’t work vice versa – you don’t pick up much useful vocab when learning grammar separately.

He cites his language learning with regards to Chinese, where he has learnt to talk about his father’s tea-drinking habits while his father is actually dead, but can’t ask for a beer, is not useful – a learning grammar and then pieces of vocabulary. Whereas if you learn vocab relevant to your needs, the grammar comes along.

The lexical approach has been criticised for ignoring how language is learnt, that there is no theoretical underpinning and that it trivialises the role of grammar. There is also the question of whether it is limited to the Indo-European languages.

Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model

Another old approach but very much alive. Also known as the input hypothesis. Michael thinks it should be called the input theory but will refer to it as the Monitor Model. It is now 30 years old. He showed us some key works related to this as well. According to this model, comprehensible input is the key element needed for language learning to take place. It needs to be slightly above learners’ level and is a subconscious process. Michael illustrates this with his own experience of Chinese learning.

It has been criticised for ignoring how language is learnt, having no linguistic underpinning and trivialising grammar and the role of the teacher.

Michael’s 3 arguments for today:

  1. These two approaches are entirely compatible with psycho-linguistic evidence.
  2. Both of them are supported by at least one carefully worked out linguistic theory – his! (Puts them on shaky ground?! he wonders.. 🙂 )
  3. The characters that both approaches assign to the language learning process are equally true of non-Indo European language.

How do we learn language?

Michael is interested in the psychologists doing language work rather than the linguistics pretending to do psychology work. Psycholinguists identified two things: semantic priming and repetition priming

Semantic priming – informants shown an image or word (the prime) and then shown a second word/image (known as the target word). Speed of recognition is measured. Some primes slow the recognition of target word, while others speed it up.

E.g. “wing” followed by “director” – “wing” won’t alter the speed. If it is followed by “dog”, it will infinitesimally slow down. But if swan, then it will be speeded up slightly. It’s about linguistic knowledge rather than world knowledge.

It is old and uncontroversial work. What does it mean for language learning?

It gives us proof that words are closely linked in a listener’s mind. Words that are closely linked can be recognised more quickly together. So it encourages fluency. It doesn’t fit in at all with grammatical frames and words that slot in. This notion (the grammatical frames one) is not supported. It does, though, fit in very well with the lexical approach, which fully supports it.

Repetition priming

E.g. a listener hears the phrase scarlet followed by onion, then a few days later hears the word scarlet, it will speed up the process of recognising onion. So your brain remembers the co-occurrence and that speeds the recognition up.

Michael shows us some works related to this and says it, too, is uncontroversial.

Repetition priming explains collocation. If a listener/reader encounters words in combination, then they are stored as such and recognition is speeded up. When we encounter words in combination, we link them in our minds without there being any conscious learning. Doesn’t fit in well with  the grammatical framework notion but it does fit in with Krashen’s acquisition vs. learning.

So that takes care of number 1 for todays talk.

Now for number 2 – are these supported by another theory?

<slide>

Any account for collocation has got to be central to how language functions. The lexical priming theory is a psycholinguistic theory based on corpus linguistic evidence. It claims that whenever we encounter a word, we subconsciously note the words it occurs with – the collocations.

<He shows use lots of combinations with “hard”> All of these are part of collocation.

Once a priming is created, it is subject to further priming. “ears” collocates with “eyes”, which as a group becomes something that will be primed to collocate with “act as” as in “act as someone’s eyes and ears” So collocations can collocate with something else.

Michael quotes Hill regards to the density of unknown collocations that are the difficulty for learners. But the lexical priming theory goes beyond collocation. It is also about semantic association.

E.g. ears collocates with eyes, but also co-occurs with other parts of the body in a semantic set. All of this is part of that semantic association – “ears” likes to collocate with parts of the body. 23% of all instances of “ears” in Hoey’s corpus collocate with part of the body.

“consequences” tend to be negative – grim, bleak

“results” tend to be positive – great

We also note the grammatical patterns that a word or combination of words tend to take – the colligation.

“consequence” tends to be indefinite e.g. “a consequence of”; “result” tends to be definite e.g. “the result of..”

We are primed for this by recurrent occurrences of these combinations.

We also subconsciously note textual features. This goes beyond the oft-talked about that we have considered so far. We are primed for other things when we encounter language. We recognise whether a word is typically cohesive or not. We know, when reading or listening, whether this word or phrase is going to turn about again. So we know whether we need to hold on to it or can forget it.

Michael shows us an extract from The Guardian and picks out that president occurs three times in the course of three sentences. Not an accident. In Michael’s study, of 66 independent occurrences of “president”, 76% contributed to the cohesion of the text. So we are primed to expect that. We also notice how it is likely to be cohesive e.g. by simple repetition, or pronouns or with a name (co-reference), in the case of “president”

Back to the text – “frankly”, however, was only responsible for 5 instances of cohesion out of 50, and some of them were a stretch. So we are primed to expect avoidance of cohesion, with “frankly”.

Just reading a text, you get lots of experiences of those words that are repeated within the text.

We also are primed for semantic relationships within a text. Every lexical item – word, phrase – may be positively or negatively primed to associate with various items. Texts prime our vocabulary for us and our vocabulary primes us with regard to the organisation of the text. We are also primed to notice position e.g. is it typically used at the beginning of a sentence or the end of a sentence. E.g. “it was announced yesterday” is typically found at the end of the first sentence in a newspaper article. So very precise positioning.

Michael tells us a lot about what we know about “According to” in relation to newspaper texts in terms of collocation, colligation, pragmatic association, semantic association etc. Very interesting.

This all wholly supports Michael Lewis’s view of the centrality of lexis. Everything he was saying in the Lexical Approach book is backed up by psycholinguistic and corpus linguistic research. It must be true. If you want to argue it’s not, you have to argue against ALL the sets of research. All the textual features are central to Stephen Krashen’s claim. You couldn’t expect to teach/learn consciously all the textual properties of every word in the text. But it is the case that the fact that we reproduce these things when we write/speak means we learn from frequent encounters. So he is right that we need to be exposed to naturally occuring data.

Like me with Italian, Michael can’t speak but can read Chinese! The textual features of lexis can be acquired.

Time for number 3 – does the Lexical Approach apply to Chinese? i.e. not only applicable to Indo-European languages

Michael contrasts English and Chinese and then looks at the Lexical Priming claims in terms of Chinese. He shows us collocations of “hao” in Chinese. And then points out that “houhui” is associated with negative colligation. Then shows us that houhui has a semantic association with unhappy action taken and pragmatic association of making a suggestion (a third of instances in the corpus), but only the negative forms.

In terms of significance, sensible to build on the common ground between languages rather than the differences.

Michael has shown us how both Krashen’s and Lewis’s theories have been falsely criticised, and are in fact safe to use. The two researchers have come up with very compatible positions.

hoeymp@liv.ac.uk