IATEFL 2015 Fostering autonomy: harnessing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Well, I thought I had better attend my own talk…

My abstract for this year’s talk is as follows:

It is widely acknowledged that language learning requires use of the target language outside the classroom as well as inside it. However, learner autonomy is often expected rather than fostered. This talk looks at what can be done in the classroom to help learners harness the rich resources of language accessible outside, with greater confidence and effectiveness.

The outcome

My talk outline was a simple one:

  • Definitions of learner autonomy
  • Problems with learner autonomy
  • Solutions and ideas (My 7 top tips)
  • Discussion

Being the good old graveyard slot, getting towards the end of the day, I decided to turn my talk into a game: good old-fashioned bingo!

So having looked at what learner autonomy is and involves:

Learner autonomy

Learner autonomy

…and the issues we face in trying to foster it:

Problems problems!

Problems problems!

I asked the audience to pair up and brainstorm their top 7 tips. This became their ‘bingo card’, to compare with my own 7.

My top 7 tips


Tip 1

Tip 1

What I mean by this is, find out as much as you can, as soon as you can, about what your students do and don’t do already. Encourage them to find out as much as they can about what their peers are doing. This is your starting point. How: For example, at the beginning of the course, you could use a Find Someone Who activity (they find out about each other, you listen in and find out about them), followed by writing you a letter (you find out some more). They aren’t empty vessels.

Here is an example FSW I made and used with some of my classes.


Tip 2

Tip 2

In a nutshell, provide ideas. E.g. my experimentation with English handout. With higher levels, encourage them to add and share ideas of their own. There is no such thing as an exhaustive list. (For more information about this, look at my previous related posts! )


Tip 3

Tip 3

Nothing happens overnight…

In fact, the question of time works on many levels. Firstly, give them time to talk about their outside class activities in class. Doesn’t have to be heaps of time. Little and often is good. This provides opportunities to bolster each others’ motivation, spark interest in untried ideas, share victories or issues, celebrate, troubleshoot and so on. It also motivates them to keep going. Secondly, in terms of take up: Don’t worry if they aren’t all enamoured with the project from the get-go. Give them time to get used to it, and to start to recognise the benefits. Encourage discussion of the benefits.


Tip 4

Tip 4

This links to my previous tip, in terms of discussion of benefits. Helping students develop meta-awareness of the learning process is important, as understanding the why behind activities will help them be better able to select suitable activities themselves, independently. This makes them less teacher-reliant in the long run. This contrasts with just blindly doing what teacher tells them. For ideas of how to engage student metacognition, I suggest reading/using:

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Vandergrift and Goh (2012)

Note the free samples also!

Note the free samples also!











Tip 5

Tip 5

Having realistic goals to aim towards helps to break down the mammoth task of learning a language into achievable steps in the right direction. This helps students not to lose motivation and to be more aware of their own progress.


Tip 6

Tip 6 – Forget-me-not!

It’s important not to set everything up and then forget about it. Keep being interested in what the learners are doing. Give them that bit of time regularly, as mentioned before. If you forget about it, chances are they will too. Let them show off! Keep bringing it back into the classroom.


Tip 7

Tip 7

Use some kind of platform that allows them to share and communicate outside class e.g. Edmodo or a class blog or wiki. This immediately increases the scope and variety of what learners can do outside class. More activities become possible. (For ideas of how to use Edmodo or class blogs/wikis in this way, see the posts I have written in relation to this!)


Having shared my 7 tips and so brought the game of Bingo to its end, I shared a bit of feedback from students:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 07.08.15



Then I asked the audience to discuss how they might apply these tips to their own context:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 07.11.10

Discussion questions


And finally offered a list of references/recommended reading:



Thank you to all who attended my talk, it was a pleasure to speak at IATEFL for my second time and I look forward to the next time! 🙂



British Council Videos: ‘Teacher Talk’

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

So far, you can watch short video clips about:

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

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

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

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

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


Motivation is a slippery beast.

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

“Motivation is responsible for

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

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

Motivation is fascinating.

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

Motivation is closely entwined with learner autonomy.

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

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

Motivation is long-term.

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

Motivation is problematic.

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

Motivation is inspirational. 

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


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

Helping language learners visualise their linguistic development: growing learning

My learners often struggle to recognise the progress they are making and how much work they do put in to their learning – both seem like a drop in the ocean compared to all the lacks – the “I can’t“‘s and “I have no time“‘s  that are all too clear to them and tend to be their focal point. Time spent on language study and progress made are quite intangible for a lot of the time, to the person using that time and making that progress. This can lead to lack of motivation and tailing off of initial enthusiasm.

Additionally, learners tend to avoid studying unless they have a substantial chunk of time to devote to it. Being busy people, with a range of commitments to juggle, clear hour-long chunks of time do not arise as frequently as they might like. However, what they often don’t realise is that there is value in “little and often” when it comes to language study.

When I started my reading project with my learners, I looked for a motivating way for them to record their reading and goals, but wasn’t able to find something that matched what I was after. This remained the case with the “Experimentation with English” project that came next in my series of initiatives.

With all this in mind, I wanted to come up with a new way of recording learning that would address some of these issues. I wanted:

  • motivating: way for learners to record their out-of-class work that would make them value short periods of time more highly
  • visually appealing: a way to enable learners to see at a glance how they are using what time they do have to dedicate to their language learning/use and to compare this with their own personal learning goals.
  • simple: the learners won’t use it if it’s overly complicated – and who could blame them!

What came about was a handout called

“Growing language skills – how many flowers can you grow?”

…which sounds ridiculous, I know, but, despite this, is a useful non-technological tool for my learners to use. (I’d like to technologise it too, turn it into a “motivation app” of some sort, but I haven’t yet figured out how, so for now it is a simple hand-out!)

The handout - with a flower courtesy of www.openclipart.org

The handout – with a flower courtesy of http://www.openclipart.org

What you don’t see in this image (because I did it manually post-printing and pre-photocopying!) is that I have divided up the entire image into small segments. Each segment represents 10 minutes. The idea is that learners use colour-coding. E.g. listening is blue, reading is red, writing is green, speaking is orange. (There is also space for them to add other things e.g. exam preparation) In this colour-coding example, if they read for 30 minutes, they can shade three segments in red. Of course many activities use multiple skills. In this case, learners need to decide what their goal is in doing that activity – which skill they are focusing on. I also added some instructions to act as a reminder. (See the completed versions below…)

Thus, as well as creating a visual of time spent on learning, the idea is that learners are encouraged to reflect on both their activity purposes and learning goals.

What you end up with is something like this:

Some students piloted it for about a month...

Some students piloted it for about a month…


  • Visual impact: A learner can look at his/her flower and see immediately how much of their time they are spending on any given skill, in comparison to other skills.
  • Motivation: Hopefully, they can feel some kind of satisfaction as the number of shaded segments grows. And if they shade in all the squares, they can have another handout and can start on their second flower. During a course, they can see how many language flowers they can grow. (This I haven’t been able to pilot yet, as I only had the idea late on in the course, so it’s only been a mini-pilot so far…)
  • Metacognitive development: Learners are encouraged to develop a habit of reflecting on their language learning activities, their own learning goals and how the two relate. It would be helpful to support this via in-class discussion around these handouts, both before learners start using them and during the period of time that they are in use. (With the dual purpose of ensuring they don’t get forgotten!)
  • Pride: Hopefully learners will feel proud of all the learning that is represented in their flowers, with the flowers playing the role of making that time and study more tangible and visible.

Feedback from one of my students (one whose flower is pictured above):

I think that the guided study flowers is important for student because he can notice all the activities he does every day and in this way he can know his improving!

So, learning and progress become more noticeable, more tangible. It’s only a very small tool, nothing earth-shattering, but can hopefully make a positive difference.


  • It’s a flower. It’s sissy! Perhaps I need to come up with a design that is appealing to male as well as female learners. (Not that all female learners are automatically going to find flowers appealing!) Having said that, although the photographed examples are from ladies, a couple of my male learners did also use theirs. I’m planning to redesign it for my next lot of courses. Maybe there will be multiple design options!
  • What about the learners who do loads? Some of my learners are prolific in their guided study and rack up hours and hours and hours. They might find shading every ten minutes of every activity they do rather tedious. I wonder if I could make it so that learners could decide on how many minutes each segment would be worth.

Future directions:

  • Obviously thus far I have only used this idea with two classes, and only for a relatively brief length of time (dictated by when I had the idea!) so it’s still very much in the developmental stage. I’m currently overhauling my learner autonomy projects and trying to create a course plan (parallel course plan? It’s *not* the main course plan, but the idea is for it to run alongside that, as it has been doing but more systematically) that brings them all together systematically, so fitting this idea into that is one of my (many) challenges.
  • Introducing it needs more thought, as does how it is revisited, in order for it to be most useful to my learners in the long term. This of course ties in with the whole challenge of fitting it satisfactorily into the above-mentioned course plan. For this, more thought also needs to go into how best to mine the potential metacognitive benefits, in conjunction with other activities for metacognitive development.
  • I want to make it into an app. I think it’s a fairly straight-forward concept and wouldn’t be difficult to turn into an app. I envisage there being a choice of designs you can use, all of which would be already divided up into ten-minute chunks (or perhaps the student could specify the length of time, within reason – maybe between ten and thirty minutes). Learners would just have to attribute a skill to a colour, with x number of colours available. There could be some completed models with brief commentaries, to demonstrate.
  • I’d like to try it with my own Italian learning – but that will have to wait until I have access to a printer, since it isn’t an app yet! I’d be curious to see how my Italian learning time divides up between skills, especially as I am using my learning contract to try and bring more variety into my learning. I’m sure reading and listening extensively would dominate, but I wonder how everything else would stack up. Which makes me think that perhaps this idea is more intrinsically interesting when you are experimenting with new ways of learning: if you know that all you do is watch films extensively, then you already know which colour will dominate, whereas if you try a range of different activities over time, then it’s less predictable.

Watch this space…

Learning contracts and language learning

The concept

Have you or your students ever made a learning contract before? Up to now, I’ve mostly encountered the concept in association with teaching young learners/teenagers and it generally includes rules for behaviour, which the student and teachers should follow. The idea is that by involving the learners in decisions regarding what should and shouldn’t be done in class, they will be more invested in adhering to these rules and take more responsibility for their own and each others’ actions. If we extend the scope of these contracts to include language learning behaviours then I think (hope!) they could become a very useful motivational tool. As my students have identified, through the projects I’ve done with them, “making goals and communicating them to others is a good way to gain motivation” (Student Feedback).

There would be echoes of:

  • goal setting theory (Locke and Latham, 1990, in Dornyei and Ushioda 2012:loc 569, in terms of goal difficulty, goal specificity, goal importance and commitment)
  • motivation theory (e.g. Egbert, 2003, in Dornyei and Ushioda 2012:loc 2039, and Motivational Flow, which requires a balance of challenge and skills, opportunities for focus, clear goals, intrinsic interest and authenticity of task and sense of control over the task process)
  • learner autonomy theory (in terms of taking responsibility for own learning, making decisions regarding one’s learning etc. e.g. Benson, 2011).

So, I think (hope!) learning contracts, if the scope were extended to include language learning behaviours rather than just classroom behaviours, could be a very useful motivational tool.

How useful? Well, I hope to find out this summer…

The experiment

I’ve just come back to England for approximately three months. During this time, unlike the past 8 months, I won’t be regularly exposed to Italian by default, which means it would be very easy to just ‘not get round to’ working on my language skills and systems. This would be rather a shame as I would inevitably regress fairly significantly in the process. In a vain attempt to maintain my Italian, I am going to make myself a learning contract.

My research questions: 

  • Will making a learning contract help me be more motivated, for a longer period, to keep up my Italian learning while away from la bella Sicilia?
  • Will I actually do what is on my learning contract or will it have more power than that? What difference will it make?

My methodology:

  • Make the learning contract on this blog (therefore communicating it to a LOT of people!); copy it to Evernote as a checklist and check things off as I do them. Then uncheck them for take 2, recheck for take 3 etc. In order to keep track of what I’m doing.
  • Attempt to do what I said I’d do. (!)
  • Be aware of and make a note of when the learning contract influences my language learning behaviour.
  • Reflect on my progress with the language and with regards to the contract at regular intervals. (So the contract doesn’t get forgotten!)
  • See how rusty/otherwise my Italian is by the time I go back to Palermo!

My learning contract:

  1. Read extensively in Italian for at least 20 minutes every day. (I did this in Sicily, so it’s not a huge ask!)
  2. Listen extensively to Italian for at least 20 minutes every day. (This can include radio, podcasts, tv series, films etc.)
  3. Use my Italian graded reader regularly: To include reading it, listening to the audio, completing all the activities, reflecting on the process of using a graded reader for language learning. (I’m very curious to find out what it will be like! Will be a first for me!)
  4. Write on my Italian blog at least once a week. (If I do it more often, great, but a minimum of once a week.) I wrote on the plane yesterday, still need to upload it, so I have done so this week = a good start!
  5. Study grammar at least once a week. (Again, if more, so much the better but at least once is better than nothing!)
  6. Do intensive listening practice at least once a week. E.g. use this site . (Re frequency, as above!)
  7. Record myself (following muttering along to recordings or speaking freely, depending on my focus) at least once a week. (Re frequency, as above!)
  8. Use Quizlet to learn vocabulary at least once a week. Alternate between adding words and playing with words each week. (Re frequency, as above!)
  9. Read something from my Italian magazine at least once a week. (It’s a big magazine, full of lots of articles of varying sizes. It’s sort of science-y, technology-y, news-y in content. I’ve only read about two things so far!)
  10. Send a message to one or more Italian friends on Facebook once a week. (Dual benefit of keeping in touch with people and using Italian!)

Signed: Lizzie Pinard   Date: 4/6/14

Next update on my progress due: 4th July or as near thereafter as work permits!

Wish me luck! Let’s see what happens to my Italian in the next few months…

Depending how things go, I may attempt to transfer what I have learnt through this experiment to my teaching in the autumn! I.e. try learning contracts with some of my learners.


Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation. Pearson Education Limited.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning. Pearson Education Limited.

My latest British Council Associate blog post: RESET – five tips for staying motivated!

My British Council Associate blog post for May was on the topic of teacher motivation. I came up with a cheesy acronym for my tips – RESET! (or: Read, Experiment, Step back, Evaluate, Take a break)

Click on the Wordle below (based on the content of the post!) to be taken to the British Council Teaching English site page where my post can be found.

RESET: 5 Tips for staying motivated

RESET: 5 Tips for staying motivated

I think motivation is a fascinating area of study and that it’s important for both teachers and learners to be able to manage their motivation effectively. It’s a theme I shall definitely be returning to in later blog posts.

Thank you, British Council Teaching English team, for the continued opportunity of writing as a Teaching English associate blogger, it’s a stimulating project that I am very much enjoying! 🙂

To read posts by all the other wonderful associate bloggers that I am honoured to share my title with, please click this link. And do have a look at Rachael Roberts’s insightful blog post that is also on the topic of teacher motivation and avoiding burn-out: in it, there some very valuable tips for all.

#ELTChat Summary (7/5/2014) – “How we deal with passive learners”

#ELTchat discussions take place once a week, on Wednesdays, at 12.00 or 21.00 each week, on a rotating basis. (To find out more about #ELTchat and these weekly discussions, please visit the #ELTchat site.) On the 7th May the chat took place at 12.00 and the topic was ‘how we deal with passive learners’ – though as @teflgeek pointed out, shouldn’t that be…

the topic for #eltchat is how passive learners are dealt with

Hmmm! (image taken from pixabay.org via google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification)

Hmmm! (image taken from pixabay.org via google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification)

@Marisa_C, however,  suggested that this recast sounded a bit threatening and started the ball rolling by suggesting we start with a definition of “passive learner”. This opened up a can of worms that turned out to be larger than expected.

What is a passive learner?

I think the most important thing is to highlight they do learn, just they are not active in class…as a result they might seem quieter, less ready to participate, but things are still going in. (@ashowski)

Prefer working silently, on their own. No discussion. No group work. DEF no role play! (@BobK99)

Are these not just introverted quiet learners, are they necessarily passive? (@LizziePinard)

I think we can tend to assume wrongly that passive = not learning (@OUPELTglobal)

At this point we started to realise what we had unleashed…

As @Teflgeek pointed out, “there’s a difference between introverted and passive, but easy to confuse the two!” I suggested that “‘passive’ has negative connotations of disengagement and should be distinct from quiet/introverted” but @ashowski) argued the exact opposite – “I’d rather be called a passive learner than introverted – for me ‘introverted’ has more negative connotations” (which I found very interesting! With some words connotations are more fluid than we might realise…).

So, when at 11.14, we still hadn’t really decided just which learners the discussion was to target, I made a suggestion:

Maybe we need to ditch the labels and describe the behaviour we are tackling? 

and @Marisa_C offered us the following ballpark to play in:

I presume then we want to talk about Ss who do not respond/participate/interact ?

@OUPELTglobal suggested that “this lack of response/ participation/ interaction would be not be good behaviour in a language class where the point is to communicate” but I argued that we “need to remember the quiet ones can still be learning, the loud ones aren’t necessarily learning…”, adding that  we “can communicate by writing, communication isn’t by definition noisy”. @OUPELTglobal explained that he/she “wouldn’t equate activity with noisy”  but I suggested that “if learners aren’t communicating when we think they should, then we often consider them passive”  and @robertmclarty chipped in with “I’m being passive but I wouldn’t say I wasn’t engaged in this chat”

However, @OUPELTglobal was not alone in thinking lack of response/participation/interaction could be problematic – @Marisa_C stepped in to argue that the “point of language learning is language using not just exposure – so what would you do about it?”  and then @teflgeek threw in an interesting spanner:

Maybe a passive learner is one who takes more time to process the input and arrive at their own conclusions, thus seem less engaged

and @OUPELTglobal wondered if there wasn’t “a time to reflect (e.g. be passive) and a time to be more active”, with @Shaunwilden concurring: “Agreed, I think sometimes in ELT lessons are too focused on being active”. Meanwhile @ashowski gave us an example of one of his learners who might be mistaken for “passive”: 

I have a learner who gets 100% and writes English like a native but she won’t say a thing in class – learning is taking place…

and continued by arguing that “we wouldn’t a learner to feel uncomfortable by pushing them further than they want”. @Shaunwilden objected to this, asking “but isn’t our job to push them?” to which @OUPELTglobal agreed, making the important point that “we need to offer challenge. That doesn’t have to be scary.” 

At this point, @Marisa_C reminded us all of the many ideas that arose in a previous #ELTchat on team building and cohesion, “to help learners feel easier/less afraid to participate” and OUPELTglobal pointed out that lack of participation “could be fear. Our job is to help reduce it. Also could be cultural?”, and @Ashowski gave us an example of this:

 in Poland the culture is definitely to be a passive learner – teacher does all talking. Nightmare for #elt

I agreed with the cultural issue and the fear issue, suggesting that “we can work on providing a conducive atmosphere, motivation, opportunities etc.”


So we seem to have moved to ideas for helping learners be more confident? (@LizziePinard)

Plus participate/interact more, yes (@Marisa_C)

The remainder of the talk was a glorious brainstorming of ideas, which took in various elements of teaching – how we structure activities, teacher role in the classroom, dealing with errors, generating motivation, providing scaffolding, ensuring learners feel supported, the importance of planning time and readiness…and more…:

  • “Could look at role of mistakes in learning and raise awareness of value of making them n learning from them. in supportive atmosphere” (@LizziePinard)
  • “Appreciate their character and encourage participation” (@ashowski)
  • “It would very much depend on the age for me  – more play and chances to shine for YL’s show areas of strength” (@Marisa_C)
  • “It also depends when in the course, if early on could be initial shyness. Edmodo etc could help build confidence/rapport” (@LizziePinard)
  • “Maybe find ways to participate that fit their personality. EG if not groups, then 1:1” (@OUPELTglobal)
  • “With adults i usually end up talking about L2 acquisition and how it works best” (@Marisa_C)
  • “Extensive reading helped a quiet learner of mine to blossom – she’s much more confident now…more self-belief – she’s done well with the reading, done lots, never thought she could before” (@LizziePinard)
  • “One of mine won’t speak unless she feels comfortable/forced. I let her speak she wants but I do encourage it *no force” (@Ashowski)
  • “I usually use Tic tac toe choice board .Ss have the right to choose the activity first that fit their character” (@SalehiHosna)
  • “I had a student who barely said a word, but took a lot in. He barely said a word in his own lang, too. felt more felt more comfortable with online chat and discussion boards” (@OUPELTglobal)
  • “Can position ‘peer push’ too, maybe less ‘forceful’; ultimately more fruitful if we want passive L to take models for active ness” (@NewbieCELTA)
  • “I found one of my Pass Ss responded well to online platforms. Maybe it helps having a different online ‘persona'” (@GarethSears)
  • “I ask learners to talk to themselves, record it, and self-correct. Confidence goes up and class participation improves!…I bring in class audio clips of me talking to myself! When they understand that it is ok, they do it all the time!” (@angelos_bollas)
  • “I would say then help them discover things they *can* do in English – e.g. extensive reading, listening, sharing on Edmodo etc to help build up their confidence.” (@LizziePinard)
  • “Teacher personality can draw students out of shell, too. strict but fair and encouraging. also willing to admit when wrong or make mistakes” (@OUPELTglobal)
  • “Also create a balance in the class of reflective activities and active ones. Experiential learning (Kolb cycle) requires both” (@OUPELTglobal)
  • “Maybe better to focus on ‘passivity’ as condition/response not ‘passive’ as trait” (@NewbieCELTA)
  • “Let them teach you something in their language, and try it, be willing to make mistakes and have fun with it, so they see it’s ok” (@LizziePinard)
  • “Create balance between collaborative tasks and individual ones to suit different learning styles.…” (@OUPELTglobal)
  • I think we try to push learners to THEIR line of challenge, not ours. also, I focus on ‘result active motivation’ rather than intrinsic/extrinsic: motivated by recent, felt success learning = desire for more, implicated more metacognition & knowing what/how learning is happening. (@NewbieCELTA)
  • “Students are often afraid of making mistake. For building confidence I prefer to start with Tiered activities.”(@SalehiHosna)
  • “I have also found that talking about how important making mistakes is changes Students’ attitudes – we need to ENCOURAGE mistakes” (@Marisa_C)
  • “Students I’ve had in mind during this chat rarely join in spontaneously but do when given planning time.” (@mattkendrickelt)
  • “Ensure that group work is more structured sometimes, so that students have clear roles” (@LizziePinard)
  • Students are often unconfident, because teachers don’t take into consideration the readiness level of them (@SalehiHosna)
  • With regard to mistakes I find language ‘play’ helps, e.g. have Ss pick and repeat 1 mistake in conversation and until the other finds it. (@GarethSears)

Thank you to all who participated, it was a most interesting discussion! I hope I have summarised it reasonably accurately – please let me know if you feel I have misrepresented anything you said, so that I can make appropriate changes.  


IHTOC (International House Teachers Online Conference) May 2014

At 14.20 CET (12.20 GMT, 13.20 BST) I took part in the International House Teachers Online Conference (a.k.a IHTOC). Each talk in this conference is ten minutes in length, with talks being divided up in to 50 minute sessions. In my session, I had the honour of talking in the same session as David Petrie of IH Coimbra (with whom I’ve been discussing the future of language teaching, on our respective blogs) whose topic was “What I did on my holidays – six things from IATEFL 2014“; Emma Cresswell from IH Santander who gave a talk called “From conference to classroom“; Anya Shaw who hails from IH Buenos Aires Belgrano and spoke on the topic of “Homework: rethinking our routines” and last but assuredly not least, Sandy Millin, the DoS at IH Sevastopol who shared “Five ways to raise your professional profile“.

My own talk title was “From teacher to enabler: stimulating acquisition outside the classroom“. Those of you who have read my blog before will know that I am very interested in the prickly issue of Learner Autonomy and exploring ways of enabling language acquisition during the many hours learners spend outside class. Little wonder, then, when I was invited to submit a speaker proposal, this interest came to the fore.

In my ten minutes, I discussed why the step from teacher to enabler is important to make and suggested 3 simple ways to do this.

  • Encourage experimentation
  • Get learners goal-setting
  • Keep talking!

The rationale behind the first point is that learners, myself included when it comes to Italian, tend to stick with one or two “safe” activities, if they do any work at all outside class time. In order to broaden their range of activities and help them remain motivated to try new things, scaffolded experimentation can be very effective. However, giving learners a bunch of ideas and then leaving them to it is not helpful in terms of maintaining motivation. Chances are they will file away the handout and quickly forget about it, reverting back to their mainstay activities.

This is where points two and three come in.

Setting challenging yet achievable intermediate, mid-term goals can help learners maintain their motivation by breaking down the monolithic task of learning a language into more manageable chunks and increasing the chances of success: t

The experience of success, especially that which is hard-won, is one of the motivational factors that Dornyei (2013) includes the third channel of his L2 Motivational Self-System – the language learning experience.

Regular discussion, in which learners communicate their goals and discuss their learning experiences gives rise to the benefits of heightened commitment to the goals, greater satisfaction in attaining goals as they share their achievements, and less isolation when they are in a learning slump – indeed, during these times they can ‘feed off’ the motivation of others and regain the desire to have another go; and then be the ones that give faltering classmates that extra push.

I suggested that this recipe was not limited to the handout I shared, but could also be applied to extensive reading or anything we want learners to do outside the classroom.

My ideas drew on goal setting theory (Lock and Latham, 1990), motivation theory (Dornyei, 2014) as well as the idea of motivational flow (Egbert, 2003) and, of course, learner autonomy theory (e.g. Benson, 2011, Oxford 2003, Smith, 2003)

10 minutes is not a long time, so I had to wrap it up pretty quickly, having elaborated on my three-step plan and hand on to the next speaker!

Here is a copy of my slides and here  is a link to the recording.


Benson (2011) Teaching and Researching Learner Autonomy Pearson Education. Harlow

Egbert (2003) in Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and researching motivation Pearson Education. Harlow

Dornyei, Z. (2014) Plenary talk, Motivation and the vision of knowing another language in the Warwick Postgraduate Conference, June 26th 2013.

Lock and Latham (1990) in Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation. Pearson Education. Harlow.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

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





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.


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! 😉 )


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