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.