Laila’s Story: the next instalment of my materials (listening, language focus and pronunciation) at last!

Months ago (erm, late September to be slightly more precise!), I started uploading instalments of the unit of materials I made for the assessment component of my Materials Development module at Leeds Met last year. Life, a new job, the IHCYLT and everything else took over, and I didn’t get any further than the reading section. At long last, then, here is the next instalment!

This is the listening section of the aforementioned unit and is based on a recording I made of “Laila” telling me a story about something life-changing that happened to her at school as a child and the effect she feels it had on her as a person. This instalment includes:

  • a listening sequence which uses  Vandergrift and Goh’s (2012) metacognitive approach
  • a language focus on features of spoken narrative
  • a pronunciation focus on contrastive stress

All activities draw out different elements of Laila’s story. You can find the following materials  on the Materials Page of this site:

  • Student book pages
  • Teacher’s book pages (including the transcript of the recording)
  • The recording of Laila’s story (for personal use with students only, not for reuse in other materials or websites)
  • The pronunciation tracks

If you use these materials, I would be interested to hear about how you used them and you/your students’ response to them. So, please do comment on this post or on my Materials Page and let me know! 🙂

Minor achievements, major gains

Last Friday evening (it’s been a busy week!), I took myself out to dinner. It’s become my Friday treat here – a meal out, on the way home after work. It means the weekend has arrived! Usually it involves some degree of stuttering and feeling annoyed with myself, because I just can’t summon up the language I know I have, when I actually need it. (Ten minutes later, no problem – by then I’ve usually got it :-p)  That time, however, for the first time, I did everything smoothly and appropriately! A very minor achievement, ordering a meal in a restaurant, asking for various condiments, dealing with between-course exchanges (I had some rather lovely seasonal fruit for dessert) and post-meal bill-sorting exchanges, but a real confidence-booster. Last night, I went back (it’s my Friday night restaurant, so sue me!) and felt confident – I’ve done it before, so I can do it again! – and upped the challenge: this time I decided to try adding some small talk too and managed to do so. No philosophical discussion, but baby steps, just baby steps…

Dornyei’s (2011)  Motivational Self-System has three components, the third of which relates to the L2 Learning Experience.  This third component draws attention to the role of the learning environment within motivation and within this component, the “experience of success” (Kindle edition loc 1848) plays a role. Motivation, of course, is not static. Part of a dynamic system, as Dornyei explains motivation is now considered to be, it is in constant flux, affected by both internal and external factors (ibid: loc 5013) This theory of motivation makes me picture the classroom as a cauldron, motivation (of various types) AND demotivation (ditto!) bubbling away within. The question then arises of how we can help learners, as a group, to harness all these different positive energies and enable them, in combination, to be stronger than the negative energies, both at that time and outside class, when they are doing various activities using English.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A cauldron of motivation and demotivation, bubbling away… (Taken from Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

One of my learners came up to me at the end of class today, for me to sign her guided study form. The exchange went something along these lines: S: “I finished my book”  Me:”Yay! Did you enjoy it?” S:”Yes my first book in English! So I’m very happy!”  Me:”That’s brilliant! Are you going to read another one?” S:”Yes, definitely I want to!”. (I’m not sure who was more delighted – her or me! 😉 ) Is this a minor achievement? Some might argue it is (not me!). Either way, the gains are massive for this learner, in terms of confidence and motivation, which will hopefully last until the next “minor” achievement. Adam Simpson wrote a very interesting blog post about motivation in the classroom, and how a lot of  it is down to the students, as individuals and as a group, rather than the teacher. I fully agree with his post (and, like him, feel very lucky to have some super groups of learners to work with! 🙂 ); however, I think the teacher can have a positive influence on the evolution of motivation: perhaps as well as scaffolding language learning so that learners can experience – and be motivated by – success in their language use in the classroom, we can also scaffold their development of approaches to learning language out of class-time which enable additional success/achievement outside the classroom. As with my student from the example above. Perhaps part of learner autonomy is enabling learners to find ways of being successful in their own language learning outside of class, as part of their own motivation management, be it in choosing, reading and finishing a book, or in choosing and successfully completing other language use activities, and setting their own goals in doing these things. The teacher doesn’t create/generate or manage the learners’ motivation, but helps them do this themselves.  I believe that what happens in the classroom can play a key role in this, in various ways. Starting, of course, with the learners themselves and what they bring to the table between them, as a group.

This  can create additional work for the teacher, certainly at least initially, but it’s so worth it when you enable students, like the one mentioned above, to read their first book in English or find “a new word: English Lettereture (sic)” (from a student feedback form, different class).  However, I’m going to refrain from launching into an in-depth discussion of exactly what I’ve been doing with my learners and the feedback I’ve had (entailing plenty of food for thought for me!) – for now, anyway! After my I’ve done my British council webinar, I imagine I’ll expand on the simplicity of the reading project (as a follow-on to Extensive Reading Part 2) and other threads of learner autonomy development that I’ve been attempting to weave through my classes. (Disclaimer: There will be nothing earth-shattering!! There is no panacea…)

For now, for a warm fuzzy end to this post, I’d love to hear about your last “makes it all worth it” moment! (I want to bottle them all to get me through the final tests marking/reports/admin hell that comes next week! 😉 )

References:

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman.

My first blog post on the British Council Teaching English Website

How does blogging help you to be a better teacher? is the title of my first blog post written on the British Council Teaching English website. In this post, I consider the following words in relation to blogging and teacher development:

• Reflection

• Metacognition

• Motivation

• Destination

• Connection

In the process, I also decided to re-write the question thus: How does blogging help you to BECOME a better teacher? A minor change but, to me, it better encapsulates and emphasises the on-going process of growth that teacher development involves. “Be” seems more stative and static, somehow…

To find out how I related the above list of words to blogging, please click here.

cropped-img_08411.jpg

“Reflection” (Copyright: Me! Taken in 2002 or so…)

 

Reading in L2, Running (and Yoga…)

When I went home for Christmas, I set myself the target of reading in Italian at least a little bit every day. I succeeded, but it was quite a struggle: obviously there were plenty of distractions – people to see, things to do, places to go… Some days I read only for a few minutes, one or two pages. On the days where I had some relaxation time built in, I managed a bit more, though other books (about learner autonomy and about motivation) also clamoured for attention, as did actual relaxation ( :-p ). I also set myself the target of getting out running as often as possible, to try and get back in the habit of it so that on returning to Palermo, I could kick-start some healthier habits than I had got into by the end of last term. Due to afore-mentioned lack of healthy habits last term, this was difficult. I knew it would be hard work, so I had to really push myself to get out (and stay out!). As the holiday progressed, and the little running outings added up, it became easier and I began to look forward to it again. I’ve only been back in Palermo just under a week but I’ve been running 3 times and have another running outing planned for tomorrow. As for the reading, I’m back to my usual 20 minutes in the evening, plus ten minutes or so during my lunch break, each day.

So what has the one got to do with the other? And where does Yoga fit in?

It’s all about there being no substitution for actually doing it.

  • If you don’t read in L2, run, or do yoga regularly, they all get harder. And it gets harder to motivate yourself to do them because you know it will be harder due to how long you’ve spent not doing them. You also get slower (reading, running) and stiffer (yoga), which again makes it less enjoyable, which negatively affects your motivation to do it next time.
  • Conversely, if you get in the habit of doing them regularly, they are enjoyable, you are able to do enough (succeed sufficiently) that you feel motivated, and they do you good (in terms of language learning or health). That they are now enjoyable also means you feel motivated to do them more often.
  • Setting targets can be helpful in terms of actually making you do any of these activities and it can add to motivation each time you meet such a target. (This week, my running target is 27k – I’ve to do 10k tomorrow in order to meet that target, so I shall see if I can still run that distance! For my learners, setting reading targets has been useful.)

Following my own reflections, I put the question to my Upper Intermediate class, as a warmer:

I divided my learners into in groups and asked them to brainstorm similarities between running and reading, giving each group an opportunity to summarise their ideas for the rest of the class. They came up with some interesting ideas:

  • If you get bored of running the same route, you can change your route, while if get bored of reading, you can change your approach to reading. (We’ve previously discussed different ways of reading and pros/cons of each, validating learners’ approaches and encouraging experimentation with different approaches, so I was pleased to see this aspect brought up spontaneously by them in this discussion, with no prompting from me!)
  • In running, there are many different types of shoes you have to choose the right pair of shoes for yourself in order to enjoy running and get what you want out of it. In reading, there are many different kinds of books and other things to read that you have to choose from and in order to enjoy it, you need to find the kind of material that is right for you. (This made me happy because at the beginning of the term, there was a lot more insecurity re what “should” we read, what is “correct” etc. and we discussed pros and cons of different types of reading material and I emphasised the importance of what they read being what they WANT to read, and now they are much more confident in choosing material that they actually enjoy for their extensive reading)
  • The more you run, the faster you can get and the further you can run. The more you read, the more you will be able to read in a given time (i.e. your reading speed/fluency will increase as well as your stamina).
  • Some people prefer running alone, some prefer running in groups. With reading, some people prefer doing it independently while others prefer the social aspect of being part of a book club and sharing the reading experience that way. Some people like to discuss what they are reading, others aren’t bothered about doing that.

What would I do differently next time? I’m planning to do this little discussion activity with another group of mine, with whom I have also been doing my reading project, but I think this time, after letting them brainstorm (so that I don’t influence their ideas initially, as I am very interested in what they come up with by themselves), I will feed in a few prompt words e.g. goals/targets, motivation etc, and see if they can also identify some of the ideas that I had. I will also elicit the metacognitive purpose of the activity – reflecting on different qualities of reading in order to compare it with running and raising awareness of the importance of frequency/regularity in order to benefit. I attempted to do this with my upper intermediates, but when they didn’t generate the ideas I was after, I explained it rather than guiding them to it. As ever, room for improvement…

Why am I using valuable class time for this kind of discussion? To encourage valuable collaborative reflection on learning – in this case, reflection on the reading process – which feeds into development of awareness and autonomy (in terms of the choices they make, and how this changes over time, with regards to their reading, which also continues to be collectively reflected on). I would say it was successful to an extent – it certainly brought out some interesting points (including things that I hadn’t thought of, when I had thought about it myself in relation to my own L2 reading), which showed that my learners have gained from everything we’ve been doing in addition to learning all the required content. It’s also interesting, as I have been pondering the issue of collecting useful feedback with regards to my various projects, as the courses are all nearing their end, and this has unexpectedly given me some extra food for thought. However, as mentioned above, I will be making changes to how I do it next time I do it! 🙂

And now a question for you: Would you use this discussion activity with your learners? How would you change/adapt it? …Or do you think I’m just bonkers? 🙂

no running in the library

Nooo…. 😉 (Image taken from Google image search, licensed for commercial use with modification)

Blogging highlights of 2013: me versus WordPress Monkeys!

I received an email from WordPress this morning: Your 2013 year in blogging. I also recently read 12 from ’12: The best of your posts from this year (blog challenge) by Adam Simpson. I had planned to round off 2013 by writing something along similar lines to identify my blogging highlights for this year. This post will be a mixture of that and response to WordPress‘s report on my blog activity this year…

According to WordPress, here are my top 5 posts for this year.

This is based on the number of views received. So, according to their quantitative analysis:

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.05.32

The best according to WordPress!

Though I hadn’t started writing the intended Top 13 from ’13 blogpost before receiving WordPress‘s email (unless you count setting up a draft post with a title as starting :-p ), I had started thinking about what blogposts I would choose:

WordPress and I agree with regards to number 1. 30 things to enhance your teaching? would definitely have headed my list of my favourite posts of mine from 2013. Why?  Because it got me loads of views? No. Because not only did it win me the British Council blog of the month award for June 2013 (which, to be fair, accounts for it topping the “number of views analysis”), but, as importantly, it is also a reminder of the fantastic flavour of learning that I tasted while doing my course at Leeds Met Uni during the academic year 2012/13. I had the time of my life, learnt loads and look back on the experience with great fondness and appreciation.

Of the rest of that list, 4 and 5 would also definitely have made the 13 for ’13 cut. Extensive Reading part 2 is important to me because it came about as as result of my (on-going) learner autonomy development projects and as a result of my own recent experiences of using extensive reading for my own language learning. Bringing Metacognition into the Classroom would have made the cut because I still find the whole area of metacognition and metacognitive awareness development and its role in language learning fascinating. My interest was sparked by Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening by Vandergrift and Goh, which I read in preparation for designing the materials I created for my Materials Development module assessment, having stumbled across it by chance in Leeds University Library (making use of my SCONUL card!). A chance discovery that had a deep impact both on my assignment and my conceptualisation of language teaching and learning.

Delta Tips 6: Resources for Module 1 exam revision would probably not have made the cut, but I would certainly have chosen a post from my Delta Tips series, as representative of the series, which I enjoyed writing because it gave me the opportunity to reprocess all my learning and create a record of it to look back on (we always extol the virtues of peer-teaching in the language classroom and I think as teachers we can benefit as much as our learners by sharing and reflecting on what we learn), and because judging by the number of views the various posts in the series have had, they’ve been at least moderately useful to other Delta trainees.

The final post listed in the WordPress top 5, at number 3, (Elementary Teens (13-15 year olds) Christmas Lesson) wouldn’t have made the cut for my 13 for ’13 list either. I think I would have gone for my Elementary Teens Global Issues SIG challenge materials/lesson plan instead. Why? Because it was a rewarding process making materials to meet the challenge both of Global SIG’s food awareness month and of engaging my teenagers early on in their course.

Other posts that didn’t make the quantitative top 5 but would make my qualitative top 5 (or 13 from ’13) would be:

  • my posts, Part 1 and Part 2, about my Delta and M.A. respectively, because they act as a reminder of the professional and personal growth I’ve enjoyed since September 2012 and a motivator to continue pushing myself to use what I’ve learnt and add to it.
  • a post as representative of my Dissertation Diary series, e.g. this one, which helped me achieve a solid mark for my dissertation materials/rationale and which provides me with a window to look back on that process and remind myself of what I learnt as well as how.
  • In response to Observations of an Elementary Language User as representative of all my posts relating to my experience of being back in the Elementary language learning seat, which has also influenced my teaching and my learner autonomy projects in various ways.
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 17.24.01

Posting a-go-go!

2013 has definitely been a year of blossoming for my blog: The 83 posts mentioned above were all written from May onwards this year, so in the space of about 8 months. Meanwhile, the three previous years of blogging yielded the other 21 – quite a stark contrast! What have I gained from blogging so extensively? Well, my British council blog award and resultant webinar (forthcoming!) on learner autonomy, for starters. But also, a space to reflect and re-process my learning, as well as a record of my professional development over the course of time. It gives me a lot of pleasure to look back over posts I’ve written and recapture the excitement, motivation, inspiration etc that the posts were borne of, while reminding myself what I’ve learnt.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 17.24.41

Countries, countries, everywhere!

That my posts have been read by people from 164 countries makes me feel a sense of connectedness to teachers and the industry worldwide – I feel a part of something. The teachers I communicate with via Twitter, via this blog, via their blogs (I’m planning a post where I list the blogposts by others which have most inspired me in 2013 – stay tuned! Update: That post is now written and can be found here) and other means of online CPD (e.g. participating in webinars) are all part of the big online staffroom that I am lucky enough to be able to pop into on a regular basis and from which I gain and share ideas, creativity, motivation and inspiration.

Blossoming blog (“Frangipani_flowers” taken from Google images search, licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

And finally, to end my last post for this year, a big thank you to everybody who has been part of my 2013 and all my very best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2014. Carpe diem! 🙂

2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival: A Review of “Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Language Learning” (Godwin-Jones, 2011)

For my contribution to the 2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival, whose theme is Learner Autonomy, I have chosen an article by Robert Godwin-Jones (2011): Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Language Learning in Language Learning & Technology vol. 15 number 3. October 2011. I have used Godwin-Jones’ own sub-headings to organise my review. Obviously this is only my interpretation of what Godwin-Jones has to say…

LEARNING TO LEARN

Godwin-Jones begins by highlighting the explosion of interest in learner autonomy that has taken place over the last ten years and the relationship between learner autonomy and developments in technology. He acknowledges, however, that learner autonomy, as a concept, substantially pre-dates the age of computing. Like the majority of articles, chapters and books published on the subject of learner autonomy, Godwin-Jones tips his hat to Holec’s work in the late 70’s and explains that learners plus “appropriate learning material” does not equal learner autonomy: necessary, too, are the skills, mindset and motivation that lead to successful independent study.

Godwin-Jones suggests that the development of effective strategies is insufficient without the willingness to reflect on and improve on these over time, as language learning progresses. He cites learner diaries as a traditional means of cultivating this type of metacognitive awareness and suggests that online writing tools such as blogs and electronic portfolios or online editors like Google Docs. He alludes also to the European Language Portfolio and LinguaFolio, and the role these could play in providing learners with “concrete evidence of achievement”.

THE TEACHER’S ROLE

In the second part of his article, Godwin-Jones moves on to consideration of the role of the teacher within learner autonomy. Within this section, he addresses the cultural aspect of learner autonomy, explaining that in a culture where learning is teacher-centred, both teachers and learners may find the role changes required unsettling. He also explores issues inherent in distance learning and learning management systems e.g. Moodle, in terms of learner autonomy, e.g. that the teacher is usually the sole decision-maker with regards to content presentation, organisation and expectation with regards to progress through a course.

A significant role for teachers as individuals, that he discusses, is that of enabler and motivator: teachers need to offer their learners advice regarding online tools and services. Teachers can also help by enabling learners to discover and evaluate tools themselves.

AUTONOMOUS, NOT ALONE

In the third part of his article, Godwin-Jones addresses the importance of a peer network in the development of learner autonomy. He dispels the myth of the autonomous learner as stuck alone in an ivory tower surrounded by materials and cites the prominence of the “social dimension” of learner autonomy within the literature. (Maintaining Control: Autonomy and Language Learning (2009) is offered as an example of this.). He quotes Edith Esch’s definition of autonomy, from her chapter in this volume, “autonomy as the capacity to exercise critical thinking about learning as a participant in a social milieu”.

He goes on to discuss computer mediated communication (CMC) tools such as Second life and tandem learning networks, explaining that teachers may provide initial guidance but ultimate success, in terms of utility, is dependent on the learners themselves. Allusion is also made to peer-scaffolding, in helping learners to become more confident and independent. Godwin-Jones also points out issues with CMC, such as exclusive focus on content at the expense of focus on language, while suggesting that a balance of focuses may be important in language development through CMC.

SELF-DIRECTED STUDY

In this section, Godwin-Jones moves on to consider CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and its role in promotion of learner autonomy, flagging up the issue of getting learners to take full advantage of what is available and the importance of metacognitive knowledge in enabling this. He also discusses tools that enable experimentation with concordancing and the potential effects of such tools on learning.

He also explores mobile devices e.g. tablets and the effect these have on language learning choices, wondering whether the development of these will mean a shift from favouring print materials to preferring multimedia options.

OUTLOOK

In this final section the idea of personal choice is discussed initially in relation to mobile devices and then in relation to examples of learner autonomy that hold a socio-political significance. Godwin-Jones also reminds us again of the effect of culture on learner autonomy, stressing that it will “look different in different cultures”, and the importance of adaptation to these differences by the teacher. He concludes by identifying further areas of potential interest for research (as he does throughout) and expressing “a hope that more emphasis on autonomous language learning results in empowering learners, not sacking teachers”.

References:

Esch, E. (2009). Crash or clash? Autonomy 10 years on. In Pemberton, R., Toogood, S. & Barfield, A., (Eds.). Maintaining control: Autonomy and language learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

NB: A particularly useful element of this article is the inclusion of hyperlinks to the various tools discussed as well as a list of resources as an appendix. 

My own reflections:

Immersed, as I currently am, in learner autonomy directed projects, both as a teacher and as a language learner (currently learning Italian) I have found it interesting to return to this article and re-read it, contrasting it with other articles and book chapters that I have read. He seems to present the influence of culture as a potential barrier to learner autonomy, though he does make up for this by identifying that learner autonomy “will look different in different cultures” and that teachers need to adapt to this, which is more in keeping with Smith (2003), who outlines a strong version of learner autonomy that doesn’t view learners as deficient, lacking certain behaviours associated with a ‘successful autonomous learner’ but rather focuses on helping them develop their own ways of being autonomous. I think this strong version of learner autonomy has a lot going for it.

Returning, to Godwin-Jones, I do appreciate the dedication of a section of the article to the teacher’s role within learner autonomy: I agree, based on my own (albeit limited) experience, that the teacher does play an important role in enabling autonomy. Learner autonomy does not only exist outside of the classroom: what happens in the classroom plays an important role in the promotion of it. Equally important, also discussed in this article, is the role of learners’ peers in development of autonomy.

Godwin-Jones makes a brief allusion to the importance of motivation in independent learning. In some ways it seems obvious that the two are linked. However, obvious though it may seem, it may still be very useful to consider theories of motivation (e.g. Dornyei, 2013) when considering how to scaffold the development of learner autonomy.

It was also interesting to read about the issues with distance learning, as I am currently doing a blended course so can empathise with the issues from a learner’s point of view.

All in all, it is a succinct article, freely available, offering a lot of ideas to experiment with.

References:

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Ed Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Extensive Reading (part 2)

In this post, I wrote about my own experience of extensive reading and reflected on the idea of getting students a) reading extensively and b) benefitting as much they can from it. Following on from this, I have attempted to start the ball rolling and get the pages turning (at the hands of my learners, of course!).

page turning

Let the pages turn! (Taken from advanced google image search filtered for “labelled for commercial use with modification”)

My experimentation thus far is informed by:

  • what I have learnt about learner autonomy (as well as the role multimedia can play in facilitating this).
  • what I have learnt about motivation.
  • what I have learnt about the relationship between these.
  • what I have learnt about theories of learning (particularly drawing on social constructivist ideas).
  • my own experience of extensive reading (as language learner and teacher) as well as others’ (e.g. the experiences related during a talk at a MATSDA conference this year).
  • reflection on the relationship between the implications all of these and the learners in my classes.

My goal is:

To get my learners reading regularly, over a substantial period of time (not a one-week wonder) and reaping the benefits of this. However, it is important that it comes from them, that they are doing it of their own volition not because it’s forced on them, not because Lizzie said so. Ideally, it should also be something they can enjoy. Of course, pleasure is multi-faceted…

For example, this could be pleasure that results from:

  • relaxation.
  • discovery/satisfying curiosity.
  • achievement/success.
  • overcoming a tough challenge.
  • finding something really difficult but persevering nevertheless.
  • feeling a sense of progress – linearly through the book and/or in terms of language learnt from it.

And the type of pleasure experienced, if any at all, is likely to shift regularly.

Why is pleasure important? I think because it is then more likely to be something they do long term rather than just this semester. (I read in French for pleasure still. And it keeps my language ticking over.)

My classes:

For now, I am focussing on adult classes. (Perhaps when I have done my IH Young Learner training certificate, which I am starting soon, I will think about how to set about this project with my low-level teenaged learners…!) I teach a mixture of levels (currently pre-intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced) and I am using a similar approach with all of these levels. I’m keeping track of what I’m doing with the learners and how they are responding over time by recording anything of interest/relevance in a 50-cent notebook. (The same notebook that I’m using to keep track of my experimentation with various multimedia tools for developing learner autonomy, as I think extensive reading can be an important tool for autonomous learning and autonomy is important in extensive reading.)  It’s early days but it’s already really interesting! (I think so, anyway :-p)

My approach (the beginning):

I started the whole process by putting the learners in small groups for a brief discussion about extensive reading (scaffolded by some simple prompt questions).

This enabled me to gauge:

  • their attitude to reading
  • what they already know about the benefits of reading for language learning
  • what approaches they have used and how well (or not) these have worked for them.

At both lower and higher levels, the learners had experience and ideas to share. Unsurprisingly, a mixture of approaches were discussed. Of course, they then looked to me to tell them “the magic way” but that was not to be…

I responded that:

  • all the approaches they had discussed were equally valid
  • all the approaches had different benefits/drawbacks.
  • varying the approach used could be the best way to gain the most benefits in the long term.

I think this was important to discuss, because there is a danger that learners may think there is only one “right way” of doing things (“I must read x type of book in y time using z approach, if I don’t I won’t learn anything”), and if the perceived “right way” doesn’t work for them, they may give up altogether, feeling that their way is wrong and therefore not worth doing. Whereas, there are, of course, any number of ways to skin a cat/read a book/learn a language.

They also wanted me to tell them what to read, so we discussed the benefits/drawbacks of:

  • reading a book that you have already read in L1 vs. a book you’ve never read before.
  • graded readers vs. authentic texts.
  • books vs magazines/newspapers.

I then gave them the task of finding something they wanted to read in English. The only stipulation was it had to be something they could read over time. So, a book, a book of short stories, a newspaper/magazine that they would read regularly (as vs. a single article). I encouraged them to find something that they want to read.

This, of course, is very subjective:

  • Some learners welcome the challenge of an authentic text (like me and Harry Potter in Italian – it may seem a ridiculous prospect, an elementary learner trying to read Harry Potter written for Italians, but it’s working! And, as it happens, one of my level 3’s has picked Harry Potter in English – which he says is difficult but he is enjoying it and wants to persevere – so far! 🙂 )
  • Some prefer the security of a reader graded to their level and will benefit more from this.
  • In terms of subject matter, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

I think that whatever learners choose to read, if the desire is there, they can gain something from it. Why? Because it will add to the all-important motivation to persevere. And perseverance = exposure to language in use.

The learners themselves had ideas of where to get hold of English reading material:

  • local bookshops
  • the library
  • online sources, for those with kindles
  • I also posted a link to the Gutenberg project on Edmodo for added inspiration.

My approach (further information):

Compulsory?

I did not make this project compulsory, but explained that once a week we would use ten or so minutes of a lesson to discuss progress/difficulties/approaches used etc. As we had already discussed the benefits, they understood why I was introducing this into their course and were receptive to the idea. I’m not forcing this on them, I’m offering it to them as a potential learning tool and scaffolding their independence in using it. A couple of students in one of my classes don’t want to read. So they are going to listen extensively instead. They are going to watch series/films in English with English subtitles on (so, a bit of reading too!). That’s fine. We’ll see – perhaps as the course progresses and the other learners who are reading share their experience of it and how it’s helping them, these learners may be tempted to experiment outside of their comfort zone. Meanwhile, any exposure to English is better than none!

Level?

With the lower levels, this discussion came the lesson after we had done a lesson of which part had focused on learning new vocabulary and the kinds of things you need to know about a word in order to learn it. This tied in quite nicely: Their homework was to find three words/phrases that were new to them, find out the type of information that we had looked at in class (collocations, prepositions, examples of different meanings of a single word where relevant etc. etc.) and post this on Edmodo, to share with the other learners. I put a link for the Oxford Learners Dictionary onto Edmodo for them to help them with this.

With higher levels, I have some other tools up my sleeve to try out with them, but meanwhile the project levels itself by choice of reading matter.

Autonomy potential?

Subsequently, I have told learners that I won’t set this vocabulary work as homework anymore but it is still something they can continue to do. It can also count towards their 10hrs guided study (learners at IH Palermo need to complete 10hrs of independent learning – any time they use English outside of class of their own volition i.e. not homework). Soon, I want to introduce Quizlet as a way of reviewing the vocabulary they accumulate. Over time, I hope to help them build up a range of ways to use reading material and any vocabulary they choose to extract from it. (I’m not dictating when or how often they should look up words, but between them there is a range of approaches in use, which I am encouraging and will continue to encourage experimentation with.)

I have also asked two levels (so far) – pre-intermediate and advanced – to set themselves mini-goals for their reading over the next week. It was their choice what their goal was, the only stipulation was that it should be small enough to be a realistic aim for one week of reading. Next week’s ten-minute discussion will enable them to share what progress they have made with their goals and consider how realistic they were in light of this. Hopefully, success with the goals will be motivating, in terms of the reading, and if any learners don’t achieve their goals (there are bound to be some), collaboratively (and with my help if necessary) they can work out why and adjust their goal-setting for the next week to make their goals more achievable while still challenging. This will hopefully avoid demotivation by guiding learners towards a way of enjoying a series of meaningful mini-successes rather than becoming dispirited because the end goal (the usual, vague “improve my English for xyz reason”) doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer. I’m doing this because I think motivation management is important for the development of learner autonomy and perseverance.

Conclusion

So, it’s early days but I would say a positive start: the learners are on board. For me, the next step is to help them sustain this motivation rather than get bored/lose interest/give up. Additionally, of course, I want to help them become more autonomous learners. This extensive reading project is one strand of that. I have a handful of ideas up my sleeve (in relation to this project and the larger learner autonomy project) and time this weekend (a three-day weekend, hurrah!) to reflect and formulate the next phase of my plan of action.

What’s next?

Well, if you want to know the results of these experiments (what worked, what didn’t, evaluation at the end of these learners’ current course/level, what else I did to try and make these projects successful i.e. the afore-mentioned ideas lurking up my sleeves), I think you’ll have to wait till my British Council webinar on learner autonomy which will take place in February next year, as conveniently enough my current adult classes mostly finish towards the end of January next year (except for one that finishes in December) – just about in time to round up what I learn, and package it suitably for sharing with others… 😉

Your thoughts?

Meanwhile, as usual I would be very interested to hear from anybody with any thoughts on all this. As I mentioned in my previous post, I would love to hear anybody’s experiences of trying to get learners reading extensively and independently, as well as of being a language learner and using extensive reading as a learning tool.

“Itchy Feet!” (Some *more* new materials…)

Recently, Sandy Millin published a blogpost, in which she shared an audio recording, made on request shortly after arriving in Sevastopol, Ukraine, and described a lesson that another teacher (not the one who had made the original request) had made based on this recording after finding it on Twitter.

I listened to the recording and felt inspired to create some materials to go with it. You can find a link to these materials (a student handout and accompanying teachers’ notes, as well as a brief powerpoint quiz about Sevastopol, including introduction to Sandy, and a transcript of the recording) here. (Scroll down to number 3, “Itchy Feet” )

Conveniently enough, the topic links in with a reading text that my learners will shortly be looking at in New Headway Upper Intermediate. I plan to use these materials to spice up the lesson a bit. At higher levels, we have more time to work through the book content, so there is room to do this. Though it isn’t written into the materials, because it would be overly specific for materials to share, I also plan to have them compare Sandy’s experience, and the language she uses to talk about them, with the experiences written about in the reading text and the language used therein. The title of the materials was actually inspired by NHUI, as the phrase “itchy feet” features in a vocabulary activity within their reading and speaking sequence!

For homework, I’m planning to get my learners to pretend that our Edmodo group (http://www.edmodo.com) is a travel forum that they use, and through which they have got to know each other, and have them post from the exotic destination of their choice, to say they’ve moved there to work/study, describing how it’s going so far – positives and negatives. As well as language and content related to this lesson, this will also recycle the informal language usage that they looked at earlier in the unit, in the context of informal letters and emails between friends.

No doubt I will blog to share how it goes after I’ve used these materials. I’d be interested to hear how you get on with them too! 🙂

Some materials – at last!

Finally I have added some materials to my Materials page!

The materials are some of what I produced for the Materials Development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT at Leeds Met. The linked page contains further information about them and links to the materials themselves. I’d be interested to hear what you think but understand that this may not be possible until I’ve uploaded the whole of the unit! (I have only uploaded the first section so far…)

🙂

ELT Blog Carnival – Listening: “Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners” by Christine Goh

The ELT Blog Carnival on the theme of listening has inspired me to “interact with” the following article: Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners written by Christine Goh and published in ELTJ vol. 51/4 October 1997 by Oxford University Press.

In this article, Goh reports on a diary study that she carried out in China, with a group of learners whose average age was 19. Learners sent her one diary entry a week, in which they reflected on specific occasions on which they had listened to English, problems they had experienced and how they had helped themselves to listen better, as well as thoughts on learning to listen in general and ways of practising listening. They did this for ten weeks.

The methodology she used is one that any language teacher could follow: she takes three categories of awareness – drawn from Flavell (1979): Person knowledge, Task knowledge and Strategic knowledge. She then broke these down into several sub-headings, each of which contained multiple entries. So, for example, Task knowledge was broken down into “Factors that affect listening comprehension”, “Input useful for developing listening (and reasons given)” and “Nature of second language listening”, each containing a list of factors. Goh then classified the students’ observations, as taken from the diary entries of forty diaries, using the categories she had developed. She didn’t have a colleague to cross-check her classifications, but repeated the exercise again 4 months after completing it the first time round, then comparing the initial classifications with what she had done after her 4 month break. Where there was a discrepancy, she looked at it again and chose what she thought was the most suitable category, with some categorisations being cast aside in the process.

What Goh discovered is that learners reported at length on elements of all of her categories, demonstrating varying degrees of metacognitive knowledge. She exemplifies her findings by showing extracts from various learners’ diaries, cross-referencing the extracts to her sub-categories. The diaries showed that learners were aware of their cognitive processes and were able to verbalise them. Goh believes that keeping a listening diary provided the stimulus for this to happen and recommends that listening journals become a teaching tool rather than just a research tool. In terms of implications for teaching, she explains that discussion in listening classes tends to be limited to the content of the listening text being used – be it brainstorming in advance, or discussing the content further after the listening exercises and that the focus is on helping learners understand that particular text – but that it can really benefit learners for discussion of factors relating to person, task and strategy knowledge, what she calls process-based discussion, to be included too. Goh provides ideas for how development of task and strategy knowledge can easily be incorporated into a listening lesson – for example, learners can discuss the appropriateness of particular strategies for the task in question, share what strategies they used, perhaps try out different strategies either later in the sequences of activities, or in a similar task in the future, and evaluate the effectiveness of the different strategies they try. She suggests that in doing this, learners gain a better understanding over what contributes to their listening successes and failures.

This kind of process-based discussion can also be based on listening diaries – learners can share their reflections, prompted by similar titles or questions to those responded to in their journals e.g. “How I practice listening outside of class”, giving learners the opportunity to learn from one another. Some learners have more metacognitive awareness of their learning processes than others and it is worth drawing on this valuable resource so that all learners can benefit from it, potentially increasing their speed of progress. Learning how to listen more effectively, developing person, task and strategic knowledge, also helps learners become more autonomous, by giving them greater control over development of their language.

My thoughts:

I have used listening diaries in class on a couple of occasions, having discovered this article and another by Jenny Kemp (The Listening Log: motivating autonomous learning, also from the ELTJ – vol. 64/4 October 2010), while doing my Delta, but I’ve not yet had the chance to use them for an extended period of time (e.g. the ten weeks that Goh carried out her project for). Nevertheless, the results of using them even for the short periods of time that I have done, have been positive: In my (albeit thus far limited) experience, learners welcome the opportunity to discuss such things as are recommended in Goh’s article. I’ve also read Goh’s (and, of course, Vandergrift’s) book,  Teaching and learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action and am very much a fan of her/their metacognitive theory. Additionally, I think that, as well as giving learners the opportunity to learn from one another, this approach gives the teacher a chance to learn from the learners – you can gain an insight into what your learners are doing to help themselves listen better and what they are struggling with. Furthermore, if learners have developed successful strategies for themselves, that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you previously, you can remember these and share them with future learners. (Or use them yourself if you begin learning another language!)

Finally, kept over a decent length of time, I think these listening journals could also be used as a way for learners to measure their own progress – by turning them into an awareness-raising tool: If learners are becoming frustrated and don’t think they are progressing, encouraging them to compare recent entries with older entries (with suitable prompt questions to help them) could be a way of helping them see that they are progressing after all – both in terms of the content, i.e. in terms of their awareness, and the development of the effectiveness of their person/task/strategy knowledge over time, and their writing, i.e. over time they are likely (we hope!) to become better able to express themselves at greater length and with greater complexity/accuracy.  Of course, a journal is not limited to pen/paper/notebook – there could also be a role for blogs/other electronic tools, with the possibility of generating learner interaction outside of the classroom. But that is another blog post!

All in all, I found Goh’s article greatly interesting and I particularly liked how straightforward – although obviously very time-consuming! – the methodology is. That said, as she has already created all the categories, that helps us all a bit! We could all try it out and would stand to learn a lot in the process. I would definitely recommend reading the article and hope to try out Goh’s methodology myself in due course, by having learners keep a listening diary over a sustained period of time and then analysing their entries using the categories she laid out. How about you? 🙂