Delta Notes 2: Teaching Listening

This Delta Notes series has come about because I am packing up all my stuff to move out of my flat and have found my Delta notebooks. I don’t want to put them in a box (got plenty to store as it is plus it’s pointless…) and let them gather dust, so thought I’d write up the notes I’m interested in keeping and get rid of the notebooks instead! I will also add some reflections at the end of each set of notes. Feel free to share opinions, add ideas, argue against any ideas you disagree with etc by commenting using the comment box beneath the posts. (These are just some of my notes from Delta input sessions – I may have misunderstood or missed something: there was a lot of information flying around that semester!)

Here are some of my (written up) notes from a module 2 input session on teaching listening, followed by some reflections/ramblings and a short list of recommended reading:

Listening is:

  • often under-valued
  • often back-burned in favour of speaking and writing (as they are more tangible)
  • often seen as ‘passive’ (due to widespread use of the comprehension approach)

BUT:

  •  Learners need to be able to listen and understand in order to speak.
  • Learners with good listening skills can take better advantage of the multitude of linguistic input available (especially in an English-speaking environment) and so listening better equips learners to learn autonomously.

The Comprehension Approach  

 This consists of:

Pre-listening

  • Establish context
  • Create motivation
  • Pre-teach vocabulary

Extensive/intensive listening

  • General questions on context/attitude of speakers

Post listening

Language focus:

  • Functional language
  • Infer meaning of unknown vocabulary
  • Look at transcript

It is a robust methodology, still featuring strongly since it became popular in the late 80s.

Need to bear in mind:

  • The more we tell learners before they listen, the less they need to listen.
  • Wrong answers could be a reading or writing (of the questions or answers) failure rather than a listening failure.

Listening teaching practice was probably transferred across from reading teaching practice (listening dedicated lessons came after reading-focussed lessons).

 BUT:

  •  A reader benefits from a standardised spelling system and gaps between words on the page, while a listener must cope with speech sounds which vary from one utterance to another and words which blend into one another (because of phonology/position  of articulators)
  • Reading is recursive – you can look back and forth over what you have read, while listening is transient – the information unfolds in real time and you can’t look back over it again.
  •  Both require use of meaning-building processes BUT speech is temporary: the listener must carry forward memory of what has gone before to make sense of what comes next.

Conventional listening does not develop learners’ listening skills/competence in any systematic way. Progress just means harder texts: barriers are raised but learners are not shown how to get over them. After a given point of difficulty, learners may switch off in belief of their incapability.

It is important to note that right answers do not necessary equal understanding:

  •  it could be a guess
  •  it could be use of test-wise strategies
  • it could be identification of an isolated point but no overall understanding of the speaker’s message

Furthermore, an “incorrect” answer might be supported by textual evidence that the listener has noted but the teacher and/or writer has overlooked.

The comprehension approach is very teacher-centred: The teacher intervenes too much, learners tend to be isolated and the whole process is more like a test than a learning process.  This can be helped by doing jigsaw listening or by having learners check their answers in pairs prior to eliciting answers. Especially if you play the recording, allow learners to check in pairs, play the recording again, allow learners to check again and then elicit answers.

Another thing to bear in mind is: If one learner gets the right answer, what about the rest? Have they also understood?

A listener needs to:

  •  Select a listening type that is appropriate to input and task. Goals and types of listening are closely linked.  One might listen and respond, listen and challenge, listen and negotiate, locate and retain main points, monitor for one item (e.g. a train time or news of a particular road in a traffic bulletin), listen for interesting items (e.g. in a news bulletin) etc.

Listening varies along a spectrum from expeditious to careful and from local to global.

Process Listening

 According to this approach, listening is a process not a product.

We have decoding processes:

  •  Turning the stream of speech into sounds, then syllables, then words, then sentences

And we have meaning-building processes:

  •  Using background knowledge, contextual knowledge and co-textual knowledge to help us make sense of what we hear.

These processes interact rather than working in isolation. For example, we use context to help with decoding as well as for global meaning.

Why don’t learners understand?

 It could be lack of vocabulary, but it could also be that a known word is not recognized due to reduction, elision, assimilation or any other feature of connected speech. It could also be a problem of lexical segmentation e.g. instead of hearing catalogue, a learner might hear cat a log.

How can we help?

 Using authentic materials can help learners become accustomed to the natural cadences of the target language. We can also help learners become more used to and better able to extrapolate meaning from partially understood utterances

Teaching listening strategies can also help learners to listen more effectively.

Drawing attention to the way words change, in terms of how they sound, in connected speech i.e. elisions and assimilations etc.

Reflections (or, my chance to waffle and reprocess what I’ve read and learnt 😉 ):

 I learnt a lot about listening from doing my listening LSA: Reading Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom revolutionised my understanding of what’s involved in teaching listening (as opposed to merely testing it!). However, I think I possibly learnt at least as much again as a result of the materials development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT. This is because I discovered and then used theories from  Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action, by Vandergrift and Goh to inform the materials I developed for assessment.

(As far as I can make out) Vandergrift and Goh argue that learners will be able to listen more effectively if they have greater control over the processes they use. As I understand it, developing learners’ metacognitive awareness of the cognitive processes they use in listening helps them become better able to select processes according to text type and task type. So we can help learners learn to plan, monitor and evaluate their listening, rather than just leaving them to listen haphazardly:

  • As well as having learners check their answers in pairs (as mentioned in my notes above), we can encourage them to pinpoint where their difficulties were, evaluate the effectiveness of the listening processes they used (did they use their background knowledge, did they use the co-text, did they use the context, did they try and translate every word etc.) and plan for the next listen through.
  • Before playing the recording, we can engage learners in discussion about the type of recording it is and what they can expect to hear: Different genres follow different predictable macro-scripts. Learners could then discuss what type of listening and what listening purposes match the genre in question. Of course we can also give them some information about the topic and encourage them to predict what kind of vocabulary and ideas might come up too. Reading something related to the topic prior to listening could also be useful.
  • All of these activities contribute to schema activation and planning: Once schemata are activated, learners are better prepared to listen and have more chance of listening successfully, and if learners plan how to listen as well, they can subsequently monitor the processes they use as well as how effective these are, and then evaluate the effectiveness of their plans.

The transcript can be used, after listening for meaning and detail, to help learners identify the problems they had, to help them understand why they didn’t understand:

  • They could circle words they didn’t manage to understand while listening and then use a list of prompts, e.g. “I heard the words but I couldn’t remember the meaning quickly enough”, to help them analyze their difficulties.
  • Activities such as listening and marking pauses and/or stressed words can also be done using the transcript.
  • Drawing learners’ attention to features of connected speech such as elision and assimilation can also be useful as learners often find it confusing when words sound so different as part of utterances compared to how they sound in isolation.

One thing I have noticed, since changing the way I teach listening, is that there is a tangible air of relief in the classroom when you allow learners to check their ideas together after they have listened. Listening stops being threatening because learners aren’t isolated and they know they aren’t about to be picked on when perhaps they aren’t confident of what they’ve heard. As learners are then more relaxed when they listen, they are likely to be able to hear more as anxiety and tension do not prevent them from focusing. Playing the recording again after learners have conferred before eliciting any answers is also useful as they can check what they have discussed and have the opportunity resolve any disagreements and plug any gaps.

Of course, like anything, you can’t do it ALL in one lesson. Over a course of lessons, however, the recording is your oyster…

In terms of the Delta, if you are doing a listening LSA:

  • Do yourself a big favour and read Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom as a minimum. (He has several articles in the ELTJ as well – see below for examples).  I’m biased but I’d say read Vandergrift and Goh as well, if you can: the theory is extremely interesting and it has lots of adaptable, useful, practical activities for you to try out in the classroom too. What I’ve alluded to is only the tip of the iceberg – both books contain such a wealth of valuable information and advice.
  • Try new things out with your learners well in advance of your assessed lesson – you probably don’t want to be springing a whole bunch of new techniques on them all at once while being observed! Also, you yourself may need time to get the hang of using the new techniques effectively (experiment, collect evidence, reflect, fine tune…) This may seem obvious but on the other hand it also requires good time management and advance planning, which are easier said than done, especially under Delta pressure! 🙂

 Further recommended reading:

So, if you’ve read the books I mentioned above and are looking for more material to get your teeth into, or you’ve read the above-mentioned books and are now looking for extra references to beef up your bibliography, or you just incredibly interested in the ins and outs of teaching listening, you might like to have a look at these: 

Field, J. Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in L2 listening ELTJ vol. 57/4 October 2003. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2003.

Field, J. Looking outwards, not inwards. in ELTJ  vol 61/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2007.

Kemp, J. (2010) The Listening Log: Motivating autonomous learning in ELTJ vol. 64/4. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Nation I.S.P, Newton J. Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking Routledge. 2009.

 

 

 

 

Delta Notes 1: Error Correction

This Delta Notes series has come about because I am packing up all my stuff to move out of my flat and have found my Delta notebooks. I don’t want to put them in a box (got plenty to store as it is plus it’s pointless…) and let them gather dust, so thought I’d write up the notes I’m interested in keeping and get rid of the notebooks instead! I will also add some reflections at the end of each set of notes. Feel free to share opinions, add ideas, argue against any ideas you disagree with etc by commenting using the comment box beneath the posts. (These are just some of my notes from Delta input sessions – I may have misunderstood or missed something: there was a lot of information flying around that semester!)

Here are my (written up) notes from a Module 2 input session on error correction:

Errors are evidence of learner development and are made for a variety of reasons. They are something we, as teachers, have to deal with on a regular basis. To do this effectively, it helps to have a clear understanding of why errors might be made and what can be done with them.

If a learner makes a slip, they have the requisite knowledge, e.g. that in the third person present simple, we add –s or –es, but do not produce the item correctly. In this case, they are likely to be able to self-correct quickly. Errors can also provide evidence of learners’ systems – if a learner produces the same error consistently, it is systematic. Learners may also make attempts to say something that they have not learnt how to say, and not quite manage. This provides information about what they are ready for – what they can do and what gaps there are in their knowledge.

From the teacher’s point of view, some errors are covert i.e. learners produce something correct but it wasn’t what they wanted to say and this isn’t obvious to the teacher, while some are overt, i.e. obvious.

Errors can be caused by incorrect L1 transfer. However, it is worth remembering that transfer can often also be positive. Errors can also be intra-lingual, developmental and systematic. These refer to learners’ current awareness of the language and can be a result of over-generalisation or incomplete application of rules. They could also be a result of mis-teaching, where there is lack of clarity, or over-teaching, where some language feature, e.g. –ing, gets stuck in their head!

A breakdown of different types of errors:

Pronunciation

  • Suprasegmental – word or sentence level mistakes e.g. incorrect intonation or stress.
  • Segmental – sound-level mistakes e.g. mixing up consonant sounds /p/ and /b/
  • Combinatorial – mistakes relating to how sounds are linked e.g. producing consonant clusters incorrectly.

Lexical

  • Incorrect selection of a word/phrase
  • Inventing a word/phrase
  • Transferring words/phrases from L1 incorrectly
  • Distortions of words e.g. kitchen v chicken

 Semantic

  • Words could be too specific or too general for a given purpose
  • Use of a superordinate instead of a more appropriate hyponym
  • Use of the wrong collocation
  • Production of an incorrect form
  • Wrong level of formality
  • Unintended connotation

Grammatical

  • Covert: a correct form but not the intended form
  • Morphological (but this can be a pronunciation error rather than a grammatical error e.g. not pronouncing the final ‘s’ rather than not using plural)
  • Syntax

Pragmatics

  • Confusion regarding function e.g. Is this ‘Can’ for ability or request – requires interpretation of language in context.
  • Literal meaning could be different from use e.g. “It’s cold in here” literally means the temperature in here is quite low, but it can be used as a request to close a window/put on a heater etc
  • Taboo subjects

Receptive errors

  • Learners may mis-process input and give the wrong response.

How can we deal with learner errors?

If they are overt, we can deal with them instantly or wait till a more appropriate moment.

If we decide to deal with learner errors instantly, how can we go about this?

 This very much depends on the error type and on various contextual factors (what learners are used to, the focus of the lesson phase, how much time is available etc)

One way of dealing with errors:

Ask for repetition: this signals you aren’t sure of what the learner has said and gives them the opportunity to self-correct if it is a slip. It also gives you thinking time! (I.e. time to decide how to deal with the error)

Ask for self-correction: learners may have missed your previous cue or attempted to self-correct but not corrected the error.

Ask the rest of the class to try and help: this engages all learners in what started as a one-to-one interaction and maximizes on the different developmental stages and sub-levels that are present within a single class.

If nobody can help: either give up and provide the answer or give prompts that may help learners to reach the answer. (Worth remembering that you can’t elicit what learners don’t know and considering whether the benefits of laboring over a particular error balance out the amount of time spent.)

If somebody can help: Ask them to repeat their correct form. Get everyone to say the correct form. Then ask the learner who originally made the error to repeat the correct utterance – this reinstates the class as it was, but with the correct form. (Very often, there is no need for a “teacher model”, except for pronunciation – and even with pronunciation, learners will often repeat better from a learner model.)

 It is important to show awareness of errors: If you are not correcting errors, it is important to be explicit about why you are not correcting errors. This might relate to the focus of the lesson phase (i.e. you might be focusing on fluency development and so may be less worried about accuracy at that point) or your plan (i.e. you might plan to do a delayed error correction feedback phase after an activity rather than correct during the activity). However, it is also very important to respond to what learners say, not only focus on how they are saying it.

When a learner produces language, ask yourself:

  • Is this adequate?
  • Can I get more?
  • Do I want more?


Here are some of my reflections on error correction:

Error correction is, I think, one of the minefields of ELT. Learners desperately want it, and may feel they are being short-changed if it doesn’t happen. Teachers may have good reasons for not doing it, or may be doing it in such a way that learners are not explicitly aware that they are being corrected. Teachers might also get into the habit of always using the same narrow selection of error correction techniques, which may not be effective for some of the learners in the class. Of course, what constitutes effective is another can of worms! I think there’s a lot to be said for variety and experimentation, where error correction technique is concerned: Different techniques will be better suited to certain error types, different learner preferences and so on. Experimentation – and, of course, post-lesson reflection on this experimentation – can enable a teacher to build up a range of techniques that he or she will be able to draw on when the need arises.

(For this, I recommend having a look at Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener, which contains many practical ideas, and the reasoning behind them, to try out: Though it is not specifically about error correction, there is a useful chapter on eliciting (p139 -145), which is applicable. Also have a look at his Learning Teaching book, specifically chapter 14 “Toolkit 2: focusing on language 1. Error Correction” p298 -302. (NB link and page numbers refer to second edition, which I have, but I gather there is a third one now…) Finally, there is a very good chapter in Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching, Chapter 8: “Mistakes and Feedback” p137-152, which I’d recommend reading. In terms of the Delta, as far as I understand it, you are supposed to try and demonstrate that you are able to draw on a wide range of techniques, within an assessed lesson, so all the more reason to have a read and get experimenting if you are a Delta trainee – or a prospective one!)

Errors can be a great source of further learning, but only if they are used as such. For example, if you are doing whole class feedback on a listening exercise, and a learner provides an incorrect answer, merely providing the correct answer will probably  not result in much learning. However, if you involve other learners and explore the cause of the misunderstanding, then learning opportunities increase. Some errors may, of course, not be worth spending too much class time on – this comes down to teacher judgement and may be influenced by factors such as the aim of the activity, how it fits into the sequence of activities that make up the lesson, whether you think the error is something that learners should already know/be able to produce correctly and so on.

Finally, I think it can be valuable to involve learners in negotiating how and when error correction should take place. For example, if you are going to do a speaking activity, ask them if they want to be corrected during the activity or to be given feedback once they have finished speaking. Depending on the activity goal, your preference may be the former or the latter, the learners may (think they) want the opposite. Correct those learners who request it while they speak, correct those who request delayed feedback when they have finished, then once the activity has been completed and all feedback given, briefly discuss the pros and cons of each method with them. Elicit their ideas before giving yours, and explain your choice of method isn’t arbitrary but based on what you think will benefit them the most for any given activity. When you experiment with new techniques, involve the learners by explaining what you are doing and asking for their feedback afterwards. Hopefully this kind of discussion and learner involvement will also increase learners’ trust in you, and what you are doing with them, as well as giving you extra evidence to reflect on after the lesson.

Recommended reading:

Lightbown and Spada (2006:125-128) “Corrective feedback in the classroom” in How languages are learned (third edition) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

(Usefully describes different types of error correction – explicit correction, recasts, clarification requests, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation and repetition, giving examples of each)

30 things to enhance your teaching?

In honour of my recent 30th birthday (18th June this year!), I thought I’d attempt to identify 30 things that I’ve incorporated into my professional practice in the past year. 30 is quite a large number, but having spent the last year at Leeds Met, learning vast amounts through tackling my Delta and my M.A. in ELT, I thought I should be able to pinpoint any number of things and that doing so would reinforce them in my mind as well as create a record for me to look back on. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, this is just the 30 things that I’ve been most taken by – including ideas, approaches, tools and techniques. Where possible, I’ve included simple, practical ideas for incorporation of what’s on the list, to make experimentation easier for anyone who should wish to do so. (And the question mark in the post title is deliberate! 🙂 )

I thought it would also be fun for people (i.e. you!) to comment and: 

a) say how many of these already figure in your own professional practice

b) say which of these you particularly like/dislike and why

c) recommend one vital thing for me (and others?) to incorporate that you think is awesome and feel is missing from this list!

So, here goes (in no particular order):

1. Reflective Practice.  This is when, instead of teaching a lesson, then forgetting about it and moving on to teach another lesson, you reflect on the lesson: You think about what went well, what went less well, and why; you think about what you could do differently next time and the effect this might have. You look for the holes in your lesson plan, but you also make a note of any particularly fine moments that you hadn’t anticipated and think about how they came about. You do this systematically, and over time you identify recurring patterns, both good and bad, and make action plans to minimise the latter.

Practical idea for trying this out: You could do what I plan to do this summer, an idea that I had as a result of participating in the #Eltchat discussion on “Learning from your Failures” – at the end of each lesson that you teach, make a note of what you think the 3 best things and 3 worst things about it were. Once a week or fortnight, depending on what suits you the best, get out your notes and reflect on them. Look for patterns, identify weaknesses to address, anything that could be done more effectively, and decide how you are going to address them. This might be a case of making tiny adjustments, doesn’t have to mean massive changes. In subsequent reflections, try to identify if these changes have made any noticeable impact on the best and worst things that you note down.

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2. Audacity. This amazing tool can be used to make listening recordings to use in class. You can record your own voice or you can import sound files – perhaps recordings you’ve made on a dictaphone or similar, or a podcast. You can adjust the speed of the recording if you feel it’s too fast, or insert pauses in it. You can choose from a selection of sound effects to add in. For detailed instructions that tell you how to do all these things, visit http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/audacity1/index.html 

Practical idea for trying Audacity out: Use Audacity to make a recording that consists entirely of sound effects and use this in class by getting your learners to create a story that incorporates all of these sound effects. You could build this into a lesson on developing speaking sub-skills. (For more on skills development, see no. 28 below.)

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3. Concordances and concordancing: Building and analysing a concordance places learners in the role of researcher.  It is often associated with use of corpora, or collections of spoken or written texts, and computers. The ability to notice patterns in language, that analysing a concordance requires, is useful for a language learner to possess, particularly a higher level learner with access to a lot of target language input outside the classroom,  but does not come automatically by dint of studying a language.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: You can help learners to develop this skill by providing scaffolding to guide them through the process. Early on, it is useful to guide learners to make very small concordances, using written texts or transcripts of spoken texts, and prompt them to notice features of it. As time passes, learners can be encouraged to make larger concordances from multiple texts and scaffolding can be gradually removed. Later on, learners could be introduced to larger corpora, such as the British National Corpus, and guided to make use of this – first with scaffolding, then increasingly unsupported. Ultimately, the goal is for the learner to be able to slip into the role of researcher, and use this process of creation and analysis of concordances, independently.

(Adapted from the teachers guide to the set of materials I produced for my Materials Development module)

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4. Awareness of ELF/EIL: English as a Lingua Franca and English as an International language have both been the subject of much debate over the last decade. (However, before I did my M.A. I was completely unaware of this!) Jenkins (2000) advocates for a shift away from imitation of native speakers in pronunciation teaching and towards a focus on intelligibility, identifying a lingua franca core of features which are of importance for this. If you are interested in this, I recommend reading Jenkins (1998), an ELTJ article in which she makes the case for questioning the appropriacy of Native Speaker models in a world where English is widely used as a means of communication between non-native speakers of English. However, ELF is no longer only discussed in academic circles, as illustrated by the recent #Eltchat discussion about it (summary here), which also makes good reading for anyone interested in this subject. For a summary of features of ELF pronunciation, you may also like to read Walker (2001) 

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: I would highly recommend sourcing Walker (2010), as this contains a wealth of ideas for adopting an ELF approach to pronunciation in the classroom, as well as an audio CD with samples of speech by ELF speakers. You will then have no shortage of practical ideas for use in the classroom! 🙂

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5. Metacognition: I discovered the idea of metacognition through reading Vandergrift and Goh (2012). The idea behind developing this in learners is that the more aware learners are of the cognitive processes they use in language learning, the more able they will be to deploy these effectively. Thus, instead of learners blindly following what the teacher tells them to do, learners are encouraged to think about and discuss *why* they are doing things and what benefits may be had in doing them. Over time, learners can be encouraged to reflect on their progress and identify areas to work on. Developing metacognitive awareness in learners goes hand in hand with developing their ability to learn independently.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: After learners complete an activity from their course book, or of your own making, ask learners to think about and discuss what they gained from doing it, what they think the purpose behind it was and whether they can think of any ways in which it could be done more effectively in future lessons. (For a fuller treatment of Metacognition and ideas of how to bring it into your classroom, please visit my post entitled Bringing Metacognition into the Classroom – or if you are especially keen on this idea, you may like to read Vandergrift and Goh, 2012 – a wealth of practical ideas can be found therein!)

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6. Language Awareness approach This approach to language learning is based on the following 5 principles described by Borg, as quoted in Svalberg (1997:290-291):

  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.
  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.
  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.
  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.
  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

This encapsulates a holistic, discovery approach to language learning, which can easily be used alongside other methodological approaches such as CLT or TBLT. Rather than presenting linguistic features, create tasks that enable learners to discover these. (For a more detailed exploration of the Language Awareness Approach, take a look at this post of mine)

Practical idea for incorporating a Language Awareness approach: Draw learners’ attention to a feature of language within a text that they have already engaged with at meaning level. Get learners to think about how else the idea encapsulated in that form could be expressed. What effect would the different ways of expressing it have on the text? Why has the writer chosen this form? What might be the intended effect on the audience? What effect does it have on them as an audience?

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7. Consciousness-Raising approach: Ellis (2003: 163) describes the Consciousness-Raising Approach as ““a kind of puzzle which when solved enables learners to discover for themselves how a linguistic feature works”. Like the LA approach, discovery of and discussion about language are important, as is cognitive engagement. Within Task-Based Learning, a CR task could be used as the main task, as learners talk about a linguistic feature but are not compelled to use it. The non-linguistic outcome would be the observations generated. (For a more detailed exploration of the Consciousness-Raising Approach, take a look at this post of mine)

Practical idea for using Consciousness-Raising in the classroom: Identify a structure that you want learners to focus on. Create a set of sentences using the structure – this will be the data that learners use to extrapolate information about the feature in question. Prompt learners to notice how the structure is used and to formulate a rule for expressing this.

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8. Collocations: If words commonly occur together, it stands to reason that it would be helpful for learners to learn them together. Collocations can be divided into lexical collocations (e.g. noun-noun, verb-noun, adjective-noun) and grammatical collocations (e.g. verb and particle collocation). Some collocations are very strong: If I say what goes with “rancid”, you are likely to say “butter” but many are medium-strength and according to Hill (2000:64), “The main learning load for all language users is not at the strong or weak ends of the collocational spectrum, but in the middle – those many thousands of collocations which make up a large part of what we say and write.” The more aware learners become of the company words keep, the better able they will be to produce natural-sounding spoken and written language.

Practical idea for using collocations in the classroom: When you introduce new vocabulary, think about the company it keeps. If forms part of any common collocations, introduce these as well. Encourage learners to record common collocations rather than individual words. You could also create groups of sentences with a word common to all of them blanked out. See if the learners can identify what the word is through looking at the words around the gap.

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9. Phonology esp. the effect of connected speech on listening: “I can’t understand, they are speaking too fast” is a common complaint amongst learners in listening lessons the world over. In fact, often it is not the speed that is the issue but the effect that connected speech has on individual sounds in individual words. Whether it’s weak forms of functional words or elisions and assimilations of sounds at word boundaries, or simply the lack of the clear delineation of one word from another that is typical of written language, there is often a big gap between what is taught (dictionary pronunciation of isolated words) and what is heard in the speech stream (connected speech). Raising learners’ awareness of features of connected speech can help them understand what it is they are finding difficult about understanding the stream of speech, rather than feeling a general sense of failure. (I did my Delta LSA3 on Phonology, specifically helping learners with connected speech and found it a fascinating area of study.)

Practical idea for raising learners’ awareness of connected speech: When learners have already engaged with a text at meaning level, pick out phrases which showcase elision or assimilation or any given feature that you want to focus on, and use them as the basis for a task that helps learners discover how sounds change in connected speech.

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10. Spoken grammar: This was a particularly interesting discovery for me. There is a lot of difference between the way we speak and the way we write, yet we tend to expect learners to speak written English. Of course, it may not be relevant for learners to learn how to produce features of native speaker spoken grammar, but for others learning about this at least on a receptive level could be very helpful in making spoken language less opaque. Spoken grammar is closely linked with how language in conversation is co-constructed and context-dependent. An interesting example of  spoken grammar is the use of “though”. In written English, you may find sentences such as “Though the use of English as a Lingua Franca is increasing exponentially, many learners world-wide are compelled to approximate a Native Speaker model, whether or not this is relevant to their needs.” However, in spoken English it is often used as part of an exchange, e.g: S1: Mmm, lovely food! S2: Bit spicy though. Sometimes it is not even necessary for S1 to produce the first part of the exchange, if it is implicitly understood by both speakers. (After I learnt about how “though” is used in spoken language, from Dr. Timmis, I listened out for use of it, both mine and others’, and found it really interesting because until then I never knew I used it or heard it so often!)

Practical ideas for use in class: Re-write a course book dialogue so that it includes features of spoken grammar, so that learners can compare it with the original and identify the differences. Whether or not learners will then want to experiment with production of such features will depend on context and needs. (If you are interested in this area of language, I recommend reading Timmis (2005, 2012) and McCarthy and Carter (1995).)

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11. Features of casual conversation e.g. storytelling: Analysis of casual conversation is another fascinating area of study (and I would thoroughly recommend reading Eggins and Slade (1997) and/or Thornbury and Slade (2006) – even if you don’t want to use their theory in your teaching, it just makes interesting reading!). Storytelling is a very common feature of casual conversation, used for building and maintaining relationships and constructing identity. Eggins and Slade (1997) divide this genre into 4 sub-genres: narrative, anecdote, exemplum and recount, each of which exhibits different mixtures of Labov’s (1972) six possible narrative stages (abstract, orientation, complication,  evaluation, resolution and coda). Of these sub-genres, anecdotes are the most commonly told. Often forgotten but very important in storytelling is the role of the listener: this involves responding to what is being recounted through use of supportive noises or language called back-channels and evaluating what is heard. We can help learners by teaching them structural features of anecdotes and the chunks of language typically used to realise this, the importance of evaluative language and non-linguistic devices (e.g. gesture, intonation, pace) as well as how to listen supportively.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Jones (2001) describes a very useful activity for helping learners with storytelling. This involves producing two versions of an anecdote, one version should be bare of all structural language, evaluative devices and listener interaction, while the other should include these. Learners can be guided to notice the differences between the two versions and discuss the effect that these features have on a story. Useful chunks can be identified and recorded, and activities devised to enable learners to try using these.

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12. Storyboards: Online storyboarding software offers interesting possibilities for project work with learners. Using software such as www.wevideo.com (which you can access via Google Drive if you have a Gmail email account or register directly on the site), learners can combine images, film, text and audio (including voice recordings) in a single video clip.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Instead of culminating a project with a presentation, get learners to use storyboarding software to present their findings using a combination of images, film, text and audio. (Don’t forget to teach them how to source creative commons images using Google Advanced search or resources such as Eltpics ) You could also take this a step further and embed learners’ creations on a class wiki. 

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13. Learner autonomy: Learner Autonomy is one of those ELT buzzwords which everyone bandies about glibly. However, when you scratch beneath the surface, it’s not as simple as you might like. A range of theoretical perspectives on learner autonomy exist, and even once you’ve chosen which one(s) you agree with, you have to decide what kind of methodological approach you are going to use with it. Different perspectives and methodological approaches will suit different contexts and learning needs, and it is important to be sensitive to these factors. Personally, I’m a fan of the social constructivist theory of learning. Within this theory, learning involves forming connections between prior experience and new information,  and is achieved through collaboration with others. The sociocultural approach to learner autonomy is well-suited to this theory. The goal of autonomy within this approach is participation in a community, and great value is placed on mediated learning. In terms of methodology, I prefer Smith’s (2003) strong methodology, where the teacher works with learners to identify the autonomous learning strategies best suited to their individual needs, rather than transmitting  a set of behaviours in the assumption that learners are deficient in this respect. (For more information about these theories and approaches, see Oxford, 2003 and Smith, 2003)

Practical Ideas for developing learner autonomy: 

(Of course, this may be better suited to learners in an English-speaking environment, unless a specific community of practice has been identified, to which the learners want access.) An idea I’m developing in my dissertation project is a module of materials that equips learners to use the English outside the classroom, by guiding them through the process of researching, designing questionnaires, piloting these and then using them as well as analysing and presenting the data that they yield. The point here is that for learners to learn successfully outside of the classroom, they need to be prepared to do this in the classroom. This might be as simple as setting aside time each week for discussion of out-of-class activities that have been done, problems that have been faced and out-of-class work plans for the following week. Using tools like wikis and blogs is also likely to be more successful if their use is integrated into the in-class programme.

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14. Task-based language teaching: This is a strong form of Communicative Language Teaching, in which the task is the main unit of syllabus organisation. Definitions of task abound, but proponents all seem to agree that the main focus of a task should be meaning (rather than form) and that the main task needs to yield a non-linguistic outcome. The task cycle generally consists of a pre-task phase, the main task and a post-task phase, with the pre-task phase and post-task phase being optional. Willis and Willis (2007) argue that focus on form should only come in the post-task phase, though focus on language (which is learner-driven) can occur at any point. Ellis (2003) suggests that a Consciousness-Raising approach goes well with TBLT, and that a CR task can form the main task of the cycle because learners are not compelled to use a particular structure in order to complete the task – they are only required to discuss it, using language and structures of their own choosing.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Turn an activity that you are planning to use with your learners into a task by adjusting it to ensure that it meets task criteria e.g. a focus on meaning, no explicit focus on form (if there is focus on form, learners should be unaware of this), yields a non-linguistic outcome. For example, instead of getting learners to read a text, turn it into a jigsaw reading, where the text is divided up between learners, who must collaborate, without showing their portion of the text to any classmates, in order to gain the whole story.

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15. Intercultural Approach: Rather than teaching culture as a fixed body of facts, Corbett (2003) recommends developing intercultural awareness and competence through a process approach to culture. Instead of treating the target language culture as a model, learners are encouraged to explore it and use it as a point of comparison with their own and other cultures, and helped to develop skills that can help them with this.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Whenever possible, factor in reflective activities that encourage learners to compare how English is used to make meaning, and the cultural reasons behind this, with their L1/culture. This can often easily be integrated into whatever is being learnt linguistically. Discussing their own L1/culture heightens learners’ awareness of the influence this has on them and comparison with the target language/culture, as well as that of classmates in multilingual classes, increases sensitivity to difference.

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16. Constructivism and Social Constructivism in language learning: This approach to learning, which I am particularly fond of, is a humanistic model of learning. Beatty (2011:99) describes it as “a process by which learners construct new ideas or concepts by making use of their own knowledge and experiences”. Rather than being an empty page or a blob of clay to be moulded, as in Behaviourist approaches, the learner is considered rich with background knowledge and experience, which should be drawn upon in the classroom. When the learner meets new information, previous knowledge is restructured to accommodate it. The role of the teacher is to facilitate this. Social constructivism adds to this the importance of collaboration in learning, in the belief that learners can achieve more through interaction, with each other and/or with the teacher than they can individually. Vygotsky’s theories on this, including about the Zone of Proximal Development, which is “the idea that the potential for cognitive development is limited to a certain gap, which he calls the ZPD” (ibid:104), which learners cannot reach alone, have been influential.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Think about how you can facilitate learning rather than simply presenting learners with new information. Cognitively engaging collaborative activity represents a means of enabling this. So, incorporating a consciousness-raising task (see no. 7 above) or a language-awareness task (see no. 6 above) offers a means of experimenting with this. Another way is to exploit learners’ experiences and background knowledge in the activities you ask them to do. (See no. 22 below).

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17. Cognitive engagement and affective engagement: To engage learners cognitively is to challenge them mentally by increasing the depth of processing necessary to complete an activity. Some activities require greater cognitive engagement than others. Those that require greater cognitive engagement are those that stimulate use of higher order thinking skills. (See Penny Ur’s IATEFL seminar on this topic, which will be available soon on the IATEFL website members area). To engage learners affectively is to stimulate an emotional or personal response to what is being learnt. This stimulates different areas of the brain and proponents believe that this kind of stimulation is important for effective language learning.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: When planning a lesson, consider what types of engagement your sequence of activities is stimulating. See if there is a balance of cognitive and affective engagement being facilitated. If there isn’t, think about ways that you could adjust the sequence to allow for greater cognitive or affective engagement.

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18. Cuisenaire Rods: I did my Delta Experimental Practice on Cuisenaire Rods – I had met them during my CELTA course and they had intrigued me, but I had never got round to using them in the classroom. Cuisenaire Rods originated in the primary maths classroom, but were introduced into ELT by Caleb Gattegno, through a method known as “The Silent Way”. The rods come in a range of sizes, all multiples of the smallest, and each size is a different colour. They are very useful in eliciting language and ideas from learners and can represent anything from word stress to a scene in a story.

Ideas for use in the classroom: My favourite way of using Cuisenaire Rods, which I used as the basis of my Experimental Practice lesson plan, is to get learners to use them as a storytelling aid. I modelled this process first, eliciting a story from the learners, and then had the learners use the rods to tell the stories depicted in the newspaper articles that they read at the start of the lesson. One thing I learnt from doing this Experimental Practice is the importance of having a clear reason for using the rods and a clear idea of the balance between accuracy and fluency within the classroom (see no. 30 below). Underhill (2005) contains ideas for using rods to help learners with pronunciation and Neil (2006) offers a variety of activities that can be done using rods.

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19. The history of Methods in ELT and Principled Eclecticism: ELT has a rich history of methods, based on various theories of language, teaching and learning and influenced also by theories of psychology. While we often pooh-pooh old methods from our comfortably superior super-modern position, it’s worth bearing in mind that each of them offers valuable elements that can be incorporated into our teaching. So, for example, from the Grammar-Translation method, we might take on board the value of using translation as a learning tool – perhaps as a means of contrasting the target language with learners’ L1 (see no. 29 below). From Audiolingualism, we might incorporate the odd bit of drilling, to give learners a chance to get their mouths around new bits of language. And so it goes on… (For a full account of method in ELT and what the good bits of each might be considered to be, I highly recommend watching @chiasuan’s webinar on the topic) 

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Pick a method and research it. Try to identify if you use any of its techniques in your teaching already and what principles the method is using them to embody. See if there are any other techniques associated with it that you could try out. For example, you might look at the Silent Way and decide to experiment with using Cuisnenaire rods (for ideas of how to do this see no. 18 above.)

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20. The Text-driven Approach: This approach is most heavily associated with Brian Tomlinson (E.g. see Tomlinson, 2008) and draws on an experiential approach to learning. It is based on the idea that for language learning to be most effective, all areas of the brain should be stimulated during the learning process. Thus affective engagement is as important as cognitive engagement. (See no. 17 above for more on cognitive engagement and affective engagement) Materials which embody this approach ask learners to do activities which generate a multidimensional representation of the text in their brains. For example, learners may be asked to visualise, to draw, to share their visualisations/drawings, to develop these in further activities, to respond to the text creatively, and finally to consider the language used in the text. Activities are designed to help learners approach the text in the way that they might if they were reading or listening in their L1.

Practical idea for using the Text-driven Approach: Use a fictional extract or a poem in the classroom, and ask learners to read/listen to it and imagine how they would feel if they were the main character. Get them to imagine a conversation between characters. Ask them to draw up a list of interview questions for the main character and imagine the responses. Get them to imagine the sights/sounds/smells that characters in the extract/poem might be seeing/hearing/smelling. Identify a feature of language and get learners to create a concordance of the occurrences of this within the text. They can use this to look for patterns. (For more on concordancing, see no. 3 above)

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21. Principled use of Multimedia tools: With the proliferation of multimedia tools that can be used in the ELT classroom, the decisions of whether or not to use them and how best to use them if you choose to become very important. There is a need for absolute clarity regarding the pedagogical benefits of use and the requirements – is it a tool learners are familiar with from out-of-school use or is it brand new to them, in which case using it AND learning English through using it may create an overly large cognitive load. If you want learners to use it outside of the classroom, how are you going to ensure that they are able to do this effectively? If you are going to use it in class, is the time that will be spent on it worth the gains that will be had from using it? Could what you are doing with it be done more efficiently without it? If you are interested in how multimedia and theories of learning/language relate, Beatty (2010) is worth reading. (There’s certainly a lot more to consider than I was aware of before I did my Multimedia and Independent Learning module at Leeds Met!)

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Next time you decide to use a multimedia tool, ask yourself the questions in 21. and make sure you are clear on your reasons for use, the potential benefits and drawbacks, and how you will maximise the former and minimise the latter.

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22. The importance of schema and schemata activation:  This is related to the Constructivist theory of learning (see no. 16 above). Schemata are like mental mind maps, which we continually adjust, update, add to and delete from, as we take in new experiences and information. Thus, it is a rich resource to tap. If a learner is going to listen to or read a text, it is likely that they will be much better able to do this if they have first activated any background knowledge they have on the topic. This enables them to make more effective predictions about what they will read or hear, and what vocabulary they might encounter in the process.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom:  Use visual stimuli or verbal/written prompts to encourage discussion around the topic upon which the reading or listening text that you are planning to do with your class is based. Give learners the opening of the text and get them to predict what might come next. Get learners to predict what vocabulary they might see or hear. Learners can then check their ideas and predictions against what they see or hear. New information and language can then be connected to existing knowledge. (For more about schema theory, Beatty, 2010 gives a useful summary)

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23. Effective scaffolding – within a task, within a lesson, within a course of materials: For me, the question at the root of this is “How am I going to help learners to do this better?” Whether this is reading/listening to a text, telling a story, understanding a feature of language, it will be more effective if the answer to this question is clear. Providing effective scaffolding is  a way of helping learners work in their Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky), where what they are able to do is greater than it would be without the mediation of a more experienced other. Over the length of a course, it may benefit learners to be given gradually less scaffolding, as they gain in confidence and proficiency, as the less scaffolding there is, the more independent learners need to be in carrying out whichever activity it is, which will benefit them outside of the classroom.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: It’s as simple as: When planning a lesson, think about and answer the question, “How am I helping learners to do this better?” and make sure that whatever you are planning does help learners do something better  in some way.  (I will confess to not considering this clearly until my Delta LSA2 tutor recommended that I do! Since then, it is has become an integral part of my planning.)

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24. Different methods of error correction: Who knew there were so many?! The most straightforward one is to provide the correct answer when a learner makes a mistake – be it grammatical, lexical, phonological or an answer to an activity question. However, this may not be the most effective in terms of potential learning yield. If you are told something, it is very easy to forget again. Guiding learners to the correct answer, rather than simply providing it, increases their cognitive engagement and makes the learning more memorable. Of course, which method to use depends on the type of error, the context in which its made, the focus of the lesson phase during which it is made (see no. 30 below) how much time you consider it worth spending on that error and so on.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Instead of simply providing the correct answer, give the learner a chance to self-correct (learners often can – and it also gives you time to think about how best to deal with the error if they are not able to!) and then throw it open to the rest of the class, to see if they are able to peer correct. Use elicitation questions to help nudge learners towards the correction. For example, if learners stress a word wrongly, get them to repeat the word and see if they pronounce it correctly this time. Then ask the rest of the class how they think it is pronounced. If they still can’t get it, provide another word that is stressed similarly. Ask them how many syllables it has and where the stress is, and get them to apply this to the original word.

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25. Classroom-based research: This is, or can be, related to reflective practice (see no. 1 above) and refers to systematic experimentation within the classroom. You might want to find out what is causing a particular pattern of behaviour in your classroom, why things are or aren’t happening and try out different ways of doing things that may or may not turn out to be more effective with your learners. You follow a cycle of identifying what it is you want to investigate, perhaps seeing what’s written about it in the literature, decide what you are going to try doing, then collect your data (through observation, eliciting learner feedback, getting colleagues to observe you etc) and analyse it and then reflect on your findings and what they might mean. From this you identify whether or not what you tried was successful/worth doing again and you identify other areas of interest to follow up, and from here you return to the literature to continue the cycle. (I’ve seen it represented visually as a spiralling cycle.)

Practical idea for use in the classroom:   Well I suppose this is obvious enough! – Try out the above process and see what you can find out!

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26. Teaching listening rather than testing listening: Field (2008) suggests that listening lessons are often a test of listening rather than an opportunity for listening skill development. Listening in a second language is a complex business, so it stands to reason that it would be more helpful to teach learners how to do it better rather than simply testing what they are currently able to do. The benefits for learners would include understanding their difficulties and being better able to tackle these, rather than simply finding it difficult and assuming they are incapable. (Prior to doing my LSA 2 on listening, during which process I read Field (2008) amongst other things, I confess that this was yet something else I had no idea about – I just did the usual listening lesson, which consists more of testing than teaching.)

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Rather than simply getting learners to listen to a recording and answer the questions, then providing them with the answers and moving on, try this: Use ideas from Tomlinson’s text-driven approach (see no. 20 above) to encourage learners to use their whole brain in listening to the recording, deploying all their background and contextual knowledge too. Then, after they answer the set questions, have them discuss their answers in pairs and listen again to resolve any disagreements.  Once you’ve finished with the set questions, let learners look at the transcript and check their answers. Then, you can do some work with the transcript – perhaps some awareness-raising for features of connected speech (see no. 9 above), for example. You could also get learners to analyse the problems they’ve had, which can be scaffolded by providing them with a set of problems to choose from and apply to what they weren’t able to understand of the recording. Finally, get learners to discuss this process that you have taken them through. Ask them to reflect on what they’ve learnt, how it benefitted them during this class and how it could benefit them outside of the class. For further ways of helping learners with listening, see Field (2008) and Vandergrift and Goh (2012), from which I learnt about these approaches to teaching listening.

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27. Evernote: This is a brilliant tool – for teachers as well as learners! It is essentially a curation tool. For teachers, it is a handy way of saving anything you come across online – journal articles, website links, magazine/newspaper articles etc – or create offline – word documents, powerpoint presentations etc – that could come in handy later on, for use in lessons or as a reference. For learners, the same applies, which could be useful for project work, for example,  but in addition learners can use it as a repository for their work – an e-portfolio (this idea I heard mentioned at a talk at IATEFL 2013, but I can’t remember which – if it was yours, please let me know so I can attribute it!). You can divide things up by creating extra notebooks and index things through use of tags, which makes it very easy to organise what is collected or produced so that it is very easy to navigate.

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: Get learners to create their own Evernote account and use it as described above, putting in anything they feel worth holding on to. You could get them to create notebooks for different things, including one or more for their own work. Periodically you could encourage them to look over what they have done and reflect on their progress. You could also create a class account, for project work. Each group could have their own notebook and use it for collaboration. They could use the note-writing facility to communicate with each other.

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28. Skill development: How can we help learners develop skills? As mentioned above (see no. 26) Field (2008) suggests that listening lessons are often a test of listening rather than an opportunity for listening skill development. In many course books, speaking activities provide opportunity for oral production of a particular structure or opportunity for personalisation of a topic, but what about skill development? One way of incorporating skill development into a lesson is to break something down into its constituent sub-skills and devise ways of helping learners manage these better. Another way is to raise metacognitive awareness (see no. 5 above) of sub-skills. On a simpler level, classroom management can also be used to benefit skill development.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: Rather than just making learners listen/read/speak/write, provide them with tasks that scaffold the process (see no. 23 above for more about scaffolding) and raise their awareness of the sub-skills and processes that listening/reading/speaking/writing require. For example, instead of just getting learners to tell a story, using the narrative tenses you’ve been focusing on in class, help them develop the sub-skills for effective storytelling, e.g. use of evaluative language, structural language, supportive listening, paralinguistic devices and so on. Get them to compare these with how they are realised in L1. Or, instead of just getting learners to read and answer questions, teach them techniques for dealing with unknown words. 

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29. The use of L1 in the classroom: For a long time, use of L1 was frowned upon because it meant less opportunity for use of L2. However, translation is always happening in the classroom – inside learners heads – and it can be put to good use. L1 can be used as a point of comparison with the L2: comparing how different speech acts are realised in the L1 as vs. the L2, for example, can be very useful for raising learners’ awareness of both similarities and differences. This enables more positive transfer, where relevant, and minimises negative transfer.

Practical idea for use in the classroom: After working with a text, or doing a task, get learners to translate some of the language used into their L1 and then compare this with how they would really express those concepts in L1. How much difference is there? Then have them translate the product of that exercise back into English. How different is this from the original English? What effect do the differences have?

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30. Fluency/Accuracy/Complexity: At any given point in a lesson, activities may be geared towards developing learners’ accuracy, or increasing their fluency or promoting complexity of language use, or some combination of these. Factors such as how much cognitive load the activity places on learners, and how much performance stress there is, affect the level of attention learners can direct at each. All requirement development, so it is useful to consider when planning what the focus of each activity planned is, and whether overall there is a good balance of activities.Task repetition may be used to develop fluency and complexity, because these can increase as the cognitive load of the activity decreases through familiarity with content. Being aware of the focus at any given stage in the lesson will also influence error correction (see no. 24 above) – during an accuracy phase, error correction will often be explicit and immediate, whereas during a fluency phase, error correction may be delayed. (This may seem so obvious, but before I learnt about this during the Delta, my error correction was very unsystematic, as I hadn’t considered the relationship between lesson focus and treatment of errors. There may be no hard and fast rules, but I have found it useful guidance.)

Practical ideas for use in the classroom: When planning a lesson, think about the fluency/accuracy/complexity goals of each activity and how this might influence how it is carried out in class. Think about how the activities/tasks/exercises could be tweaked to make it easier for learners to achieve the desired focus. Think about the balance of activities you have planned and make sure you are happy with the amount of focus on each component (fluency/accuracy/complexity).

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References:

Beatty, (2010) Teaching and Researching Computer-Assisted Language Learning. 2nd Edition. Pearson Education Limited. Harlow.

Eggins and Slade: Analysing Casual Conversation. Continuum. London. 1997.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task Based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press

Field, J. (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom Cambridge University Press.

Hill, J. (April 1999) Collocational Competence in English Teaching Professional Issue 11, pp.3-7. Pavilion.

Jenkins, J. (1998) Which pronunciation norms and models for English as an International Language? ELTJ vol. 52/2

Jones, R. (2001) A consciousness-raising approach to the teaching of conversational storytelling in ELTJ volume 55/2. Oxford University Press.

McCarthy and Carter (1995) Spoken Grammar: What is it and how can we teach it? in ELTJ vol. 49/3 Oxford University Press.

Neil, J. (2006) Chameleons of the Classroom. English Teaching Professional • Issue 45 •

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

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

Svalberg, A. (1997) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Thornbury S. and Slade D. Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 2006.

Timmis, I. (2005) Towards a framework for teaching spoken grammar in ELTJ vol. 59/2 Oxford University Press.

Timmis, I. (2012) Spoken language research and ELT: Where are we now? in ELTJ vol. 66/4 Oxford University Press

Tomlinson, B.(2003) Developing Materials for English Language Teaching  Continuum.

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Macmillan. Oxford.

Vandergrift L. and Goh, C (2012) Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening.Routledge.

Walker, R. (2010) Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca Oxford University Press

Dissertation Diary 7

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

The homework I set myself at the end of the last post in this series was:

  • Cross-reference justification to theory (either slides or texts)
  • Synthesise my approach to culture
  • Write a draft rationale

Cross-referencing my framework to the theory was definitely a useful interim stage. Whether it all makes sense is, of course, another matter! Part of doing this involved pinning down the whole culture strand. I haven’t read anything extra since last time, other than  Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspective in Practice Heinle and Heinle and more of Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. This is, I think, because I needed this phase of getting to grips with what I have already read and trying to make sure the theories I’ve selected are embodied in my materials, which was done through the cross-referencing stage.

Here is the updated framework, complete with cross-referencing to theory:

Materials Framework Draft 3

Having done that, I was able to get on and write the 5000 word rationale. This didn’t take as long as I had anticipated, perhaps due to the amount of intensive thinking/note-making/cross-referencing etc that preceded writing it?

Things I’m noticing about the process so far:

  • Where I had anticipated proceedings following a funnel shape i.e. starting very broad and narrowing gradually down into the materials, it has been more of a stacked hourglasses shape (I cannot think of the word to describe this!), so, yes, starting broadly and then narrowing, but then broadening out again to explore and expand on what has been narrowed down, bringing in extra theory, ideas and insights, which must again be followed by synthesising these, making for more narrowing down and repeat.
  • It’s a lot easier to complete the process of going through a task, clarifying each element (pedagogic goal, non-linguistic outcome, language focus etc etc) and cross-referencing to theory in discussion with H (as we did with Task 1), than it is to do it myself, but having gone through the process in the tutorial, it’s only difficult as opposed to impossible (which would be the case without the tutorial to scaffold it because I wouldn’t know so clearly what I was trying to do).
  • Powerpoint is a really useful planning tool. I’m not sure why it should be any more effective than Word, but somehow for me it is. (And this I can thank my Methodology in Context tutor for – she suggested using it to plan our assignment for that module!)

There are probably more but my brain is actually too tired to think of them…

So far, I’ve found it very interesting going through the process of looking at all the theory associated with the approaches I’ve selected (i.e. Task-Based Language Teaching, Language Awareness Approach and Intercultural Approach) and identifying the overlaps, as well as how they complement each other by bringing different things to the materials party, then systematically linking this with contextual factors. I suspect this process will be a useful one to apply to any approaches I might find myself thinking of using in different classrooms, in different contexts.

I won’t be doing huge amounts of dissertation work between now and my next tutorial on Thursday, due to various commitments including my conference presentation in Warwick, but having produced a first draft rationale already at this point, hopefully I will be able to revisit it with a fresh brain and tweak it before I submit it on Tuesday: I’m pretty sure the more work I put into it, and the more complete a document it is, the more feedback H will be able to give me.

All comments etc welcome, just as usual… 🙂

Dissertation Diary 5

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

Having read Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing  Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, and made copious notes relevant to my materials, flicked through Willis, J. (1996) A framework for Task-based Learning. Longman (looks very useful and clear, I will refer to it while making my tasks), and looked at a bit of Nunan, D. (2004) Task-Based Language Teaching Cambridge University Press, I do feel a lot better informed about TBL now than I did before. There is a lot more similarity between Ellis (2003) and Willis&Willis (2007) than there is between those and Nunan (2004). For Ellis (2003) and Willis&Willis (2007), the task is central whereas for Nunan (2004), it comes at the end of lengthy preparation sequence that resembles PPP. I prefer the Ellis and Willis versions, which have a stronger link to SLA theory. I like the principles that Nunan’s version is based on:

  • Scaffolding (to maximise learners’ chances of successful task completion)
  • Task dependency (logical sequencing)
  • Recycling (to maximise learning opportunities)
  • Active learning (active use of language helps learners learn best),
  • Integration (form, function and meaning)
  • Reproduction to creation (not only reliance on models)
  • Reflection

(Nunan, 2004:35-38)

However I think they can be met through the Ellis and Willis approach, keeping the task central. Ellis and Willis both demonstrate how to scaffold the task through the preparation phase, while maintaining the focus on meaning and language (learner-directed – vs focus on form, which is teacher or materials led). Task-dependency is important vertically (within a lesson) and horizontally (across the task-based syllabus) – there needs to be logic behind it all. This can still be achieved while keeping the task central; it’s a matter of selection, grading and ensuring coherence. (In the case of my materials, the coherence is being maintained horizontally by the project thread and vertically by logical sequencing and grading of activities) Recycling can be achieved through giving learners the opportunity to produce similar meanings in different contexts (Willis and Willis, 2007). Active use of language occurs during the main task as well as in the preparatory and post-task activities. Integration is achieved through focus on language and focus on form, all contextualised. Making the task central does not prohibit creativity or limit the learners to following a model. And reflection can be woven in at any point in the task cycle, both vertically and horizontally.

As far as I can make out, Ellis (2003:163) believes that Consciousness-Raising (CR) Tasks, “a kind of puzzle which when solved enables learners to discover for themselves how a linguistic feature works” are tasks in their own right, with the non-linguistic outcome being awareness of the feature in question, while Willis&Willis (2007) believe in explicit form focus only featuring in the post-task phase, with implicit, learner-directed focus (language focus) able to arise at any stage. For CR tasks, Ellis (2003:163) identifies 4 main characteristics:

  1. There is an attempt to isolate a specific linguistic feature for focused attention.

  2. The learners are provided with data that illustrate the targeted feature and they may also be provided with an explicit rule describing or explaining the feature.

  3. The learners are expected to utilize intellectual effort to understand the targeted feature.

  4. Learners may be optionally required to verbalize a rule describing the grammatical structure.

Heightened cognitive engagement, in the discovery element, should make the forms learnt in this way more memorable. So, this is materials and teacher-driven discovery of elements of language, where the task consists of discovering whichever structure it is. (Now I begin to see why H was emphasising the need to clarify exactly where the overlaps and differences are between this and Language Awareness, and which elements I am using of each…) 

Language Awareness, then. As I discovered early on (see Dissertation Diary 2), Borg’s description of LA is cited thus in Svalberg, 2007 (emphasis as in original):

  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.

  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.

  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.

  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.

  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

Comparing Ellis’s CR features and Borg’s LA features, exploration and discovery of language are common to both. Talking about language is common to both, if the CR task is collaborative. Recognition of the importance of cognitive engagement is common to both. The aims, I think, differ slightly. I think LA is wider, embracing the affective level, the learner skills, as well as the dynamism of language. I think Borg’s first point almost seems to be contrasting LA with CR. Ellis (2003:166) claims that CR tasks are “an effective means of achieving a focus on form while at the same time affording opportunities to communicate” but warns that they are not “an alternative to communication activities, but a supplement” (ibid:167). I think LA is similarly effective with similar caveats, but allows greater breadth of focus, perhaps more holistic. I.e. language is more than “a puzzle” (it’s dynamic, it’s socially situated – if Critical LA is included), learning is more than cognitive engagement (includes “learning skills” and the “affective level”). Bolitho et al. (2003) stress the importance of affect in LA and in language learning – unsurprising, perhaps, given that Tomlinson is part of the ‘et al.’! – and this seems compatible with TBL, provided task design takes this into account. How? Presumably by allowing for personal response, using engaging texts and providing learners with the opportunity to engage emotionally as well as cognitively.

TBL and LA make good bedfellows on the level of theory and principles: Bolitho et al. (2003) explain that LA approaches “like Task-Based Approaches, reflect the research findings that, in both L1 and L2, language acquisition occurs when, and only when the learners are ready” whereas LA approaches “do not typically exploit a syllabus based on a prescribed inventory of language items”, again much like Task-Based approaches. In terms of theories of language, “Pedagogically […] Language Awareness is seen as inseparable from text awareness, and the emphasis on language and use and in context entails a view of language as a social and cultural medium”; the importance of use and context echoes in TBL. So, it seems logical to agree with Ellis in terms of the validity of CR tasks within TBL but expand such tasks to reflect LA principles too. I think if a set of materials can successfully embody this (as mine will aim to…!), learners will benefit from a task-based approach that is enriched by the LA principles of language and learning.

For an LA approach, Tomlinson in Bolitho et al (2003:257) recommends that “some lessons are experiential, with the learners unaware that they are developing implicit awareness by focusing on features of a text in order to achieve an intended outcome” while “other lessons are both experiential and analytical, with the learners being helped to begin the exploration of features of a text which they have just experienced.”. To me, this parallels with the focus on meaning and focus on form elements of TBL. He adds that other lessons could be “analytical with the learners being asked to articulate and refine discoveries they have previously made” (ibid) – I think part of other lessons could, and this would be in keeping with the idea of recycling language in different contexts to refine awareness of how it is used, which Willis and Willis recommend. Tomlinson also recommends that “in all lessons learners are asked to think for themselves, and are encouraged to become more aware”. Within TBL, reflection is described as “a natural conclusion to the task cycle” (Willis 2006), though Willis (2006) emphasises the outcome of the task as the primary focus, while Ellis recommends that learner performance of the task and how they might improve it is equally valid. I think awareness of the reasoning behind the tasks is important too: metacognitive awareness. According to Vandergrift and Goh (2012), Self-awareness, task awareness and strategy awareness, elements of metacognition, are important in language learning. I think all of of these may be implicit in Tomlinson’s recommendation for learners to “become more aware”.

Ok, so now:

  • I am clear on how CR and LA are similar and how they are different: that’s one piece of homework addressed.
  • I’ve read Willis and Willis, and mined it for relevant, useful information in relation to my materials: another homework tick.
  • I’ve thought intensively about the organisation and labelling (with regards to what constitutes a task etc) of my materials and made a diagram to illustrate this: I’m clear in my head with regards to the vertical and horizontal progressions that I want. This is the beginning of the diagram:

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 09.19.24

So, each vertical pod is a task cycle but these task cycles sit in the macro-task cycle, which is the horizontal pod. So there is vertical sequencing and horizontal sequencing to think about. *NB The right-hand side of the horizontal pod should really be open, only closing right at the end of the very last vertical pod. But, I’m using power point to organise my thoughts and I don’t know how to make it do that, with only two vertical pods fitting per slide. 

I need to:

  • Address the culture issue
  • Continue mapping my skeleton back to the theory/principles and fleshing it out/pinning it down: doing day one was easy, having discussed it with H during the tutorial – the rest will be more challenging! But at least having talked through the process for one sequence, with H, and knowing what questions I need to ask and answer, I am in a good position to have a decent crack at this.

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 09.10.41

This is what I am attempting to do for all of my vertical sequences, as a starting point: identifying exactly what each part is and what it is trying to do. Once I have done this for all vertical sequences and made sure they cohere horizontally towards the main task of the horizontal cycle, I can then flesh them out more in terms of exactly what steps each task will entail etc. Part of identifying this information for each vertical sequence is the cross-referencing to theory and seeing if what I am trying to do matches with my rationale for doing it. My rationale for doing it is based on TBL and LA theory in interaction with my context. Obviously a massive omission in the above example, which is the only one I’ve done so far, is timing. Timing is still on the list of things to do…

  • Once I have mapped out the vertical sequences as above, and fleshed them out, including deciding how much time to allocate to each vertical sequence and therefore the complete duration of the horizontal sequence, I need to combine that with my diagram. The combination will then be the map of my materials.
  • Then I need to draft a rationale.

So, progress is being made….!

References:

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing  Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press

Willis, J. (1996) A framework for Task-based Learning. Longman

Nunan, D. (2004) Task-Based Language Teaching Cambridge University Press

Bolitho et al. (2003) Ten questions about Language Awareness in ELTJ vol. 57/3 Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task Based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Of course, thoughts/criticisms/suggestions etc all as heartily welcomed as usual. 🙂

Dissertation Diary 4

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

Yesterday (a day earlier than planned, by necessity, but it worked out well in the end, happily!) I had my second tutorial with H. It was fantastic! Much better than the previous meeting (which was also really, really good, don’t get me wrong!), because I’d done some proper work on the project, so there was something to properly pull apart and get our teeth into. So, this post will summarise what we covered in 45mins of tutorial as well as the next set of goals that have emerged. Boy, do I ever have my work cut out for me now! (Both in synthesising that little lot AND implementing the resulting plan of action!)

(But a quick aside before I start: I think doing a dissertation project like this, with an experienced supervisor whom I trust implicitly (important because it means I feel comfortable discussing my [often questionable] ideas), a.k.a. a “more experienced other”, means exactly working in my own “Zone of Proximal Development” (a la good old Vygotsky) – I’m being scaffolded to work beyond my current capabilities and produce something that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to produce, acquiring valuable skills/learning in the process. Socio-constructivist learning in action. And I LOVE it! :-))

Right, to business…

We began with a somewhat timid “What do you think of my ideas?” from me, and the first thing addressed was a glaring gap in my reading thus far. So, next on my list to read is:

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing  Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press.

Or it might be…

Willis, J. (1996) A framework for Task-based Learning. Longman.

Ach, why not both! Basically, there is a Willis (and Willis?)-sized hole to be filled! I don’t have to follow the Willis framework but it can be a starting point, even if it becomes a case of simply rationalising why it isn’t there or using it as a point of comparison when discussing Ellis’s version. Not unreasonable – a dissertation project based on TBL with no mention of Willis OR Willis might be rather questionable!

H likes the combining the Language Awareness work with Task-Based Learning idea, so that was a good start. I need, though, to clarify exactly what the cross-over is between Ellis’s Consciousness-Raising and Language Awareness – if I claim they are similar, I need to be very clear how they are similar and how they are different.

Regarding the culture element, for the rationale I need to be aware (and state) exactly what my approach is:

  • what cultural content am I including?
  • what exactly is it that I am aiming to do AND aiming not to do in terms of culture? E.g. I’m not trying to get them to learn about the Queen/parliament!, it’s a different kind of culture and a different approach, an enabling approach.
  • what exactly are the materials doing and not doing with culture?
  • what about intercultural capability?

We discussed how I am approaching the syllabus. My task cycle is preparatory tasks, the main task (exploiting the ESE), then tasks using the information gathered, then ending up with it on the wiki and then reflection. I need to think about/justify in the rationale my approach to language focus (in terms of selection).

Then we moved onto the (somewhat half-baked) framework I produced yesterday (just in time for the meeting!) and spent the rest of the meeting pulling it apart in great detail, which was very useful (genuinely!).

Here is the framework as it was: Framework Draft 1  

One of the criteria for calling something “task” is that it must have a non-linguistic outcome. (NB: A non-linguistic outcome needs to be tangible e.g. for the task “Find 3 pieces of dirt under your table”, the outcome would be the three pieces of dirt!) “Page 1” involves scaffolding use of the self-access centre. However, that may be the pedagogical goal of the sequence but it isn’t an outcome – as far as the task goes it’s a means to an end. The leaflet that the learners are going to produce is an outcome but it’s an outcome of the post-task element rather than the main task. In the end we established that the data collected through use of the self-access centre (scaffolded via a worksheet which will be a photocopiable resource in the teacher’s book) was the non-linguistic outcome of the main task. Getting from the outcome of the main task (the data collected) to the outcome of the post-task (the completed leaflet) will require more scaffolding for the learners. Another task…

And herein lies a major flaw in the current framework: The word “task” is repeated so many times that it becomes at best confusing and at worst meaningless. I need to decide what I am going to label a “task” and what I am going to label an “activity” and I need to be careful in applying these labels.

  • What I call things needs to be principled and thought out so that it is clear when the big task is coming, which will have all the qualities specified in the literature.
  • Avoid the trap of calling everything a “task” and then not knowing what is meant anymore. It will make things seem more sensible.

“Page 2” – With regards to the vocabulary focus, I need to think very carefully about how to focus on form in a) Task-based learning and b) Language Awareness approach. Is this going to be teacher and materials led or is it going to be students finding what they find useful? Need to link back to the theory – look carefully at what L.A. says about how much it should be teacher/materials-led and how much it should be open to students to look for examples of x and work out the rules for yourself. Need to think about exactly how I am going to do this.

  • Will the students be able to work out the rules?
  • What happens if they can’t?
  • Are the resources there for the teacher to guide them?
  • Is the L.A. approach suitable for everything? Or suitable only for some language points?

For the materials-led form focus, I can have a language reference in the book as well as the L.A. stuff, but I need to justify why I am combining these approaches. Now is the time where I need to go backwards and forwards between this initial draft framework and the theory, it’s a good stage to do this. And keep asking for every step of it:

  • Is this compatible with the theory or am I just trying to shoehorn something in for the sake of it or something that doesn’t quite fit with the ethos of what I am doing?
  • What am I going to put in my rationale to justify this?
  • Is the world ready for this?! Or might I want to include something a bit more traditional (e.g. the language reference vis-a-vis Language Awareness approach) to make it more palatable?
  • What are the non-linguistic outcomes for each of the tasks in the task cycle?
  • What exactly is the purpose of each main task?
  • Exactly which part of the task is the main part? (It is from this that the non-linguistic outcome must emerge.)

“Page 3” – It starts to become clear that I am taking the students through a process, almost like a research process, some input at the beginning and preparing them for the main task (exploiting E.S.E.) through making questions/a questionnaire and then exploiting the data collected. So each of the stages is a mini-task but the whole thing is also one big task cycle.

To make it easier to understand:

  • I need to make a framework of the macro task cycle, divided up into stages, A/B/C/D etc however many stages.
  • That framework then should be reflected in the mini-tasks that go on in each lesson so that each lesson is going to take on a task cycle.

It’s a matter of the labels and the language I use around it that will make my pattern transparent.

  • I need a formula that will be followed for each mini task and for the overall task.
  • A diagram in the rationale would be good.
  • And I must pay attention to the headings for everything and the language used to describe everything (very important!).

That’s what will (hopefully!) make it understandable for me/H/teachers and students who use the materials/to anyone who looks at the materials: They would be able to look at the pattern, understand it, see how everything fits in. That will also make it fit what I say it’s doing, vis-a-vis the theory (Ellis and Willis and so on), which will be important for the rationale: bringing it all together in perfect harmony… (ah, can you just imagine it…somewhere wayyy up the dissertation mountain…)

So, next goals:

  • Address all the above bullet points/questions
  • Think about how long each mini task cycle is going to take and therefore how long the macro cycle will take as well. (This is important because if it’s a 20hr cycle, then I only need to make one but if it’s a 10hr cycle, then I need to make two)
  • Make sure the task sequence that is followed each lesson is clear (in terms of non-linguistic outcome, duration etc)
  • Maintain the inclusion of different kinds of tasks.
  • Map out the the materials – an outline (what is each task going to be, what is each stage in each lesson going to be, that kind of thing)
  • Draft a rationale if possible (or headings and notes and references otherwise)

There’s no one way to structure the rationale, but I do need to consider and include:

  • Description of the context
  • What theories I’m drawing on (methodology, SLA, materials design…) [this is the biggest part of it]
  • Main principles behind what I’ve chosen to do.
  • Make an argument for the design of the materials in the way that I’ve done it (why I’ve chosen the methodologies/principles that I’ve chosen )
  • Why TBL? What task cycle am I using? What kind of tasks? How are the materials organised? Exemplify it.

Essentially it’s a whole justification of what I am doing. So I can make a diagram of the task cycle, relate it back to the theory and justify why it is that students will be learning from this task cycle in that context better than they would if done in a different way. It answers the question: “Why are my materials like this?”

At this point time ran out (I reckon we could easily have gone on for another 15mins or half an hour if H hadn’t had back to back appointments all afternoon – we only talked through the first two pages of the plan and touched on the third!). Next meeting will be at the end of June. Plenty to be getting on with meanwhile… So many questions to answer, so much thinking to do, so much to produce. I think I might still be in the foothills of this dissertation mountain!

First things first, time to go to the library and dig out the Willis collection…

As ever, any thoughts/criticism/comments etc all very welcome! 🙂

Dissertation Diary 3

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.
    Having spent the last 24hrs reading and grappling with the theory behind Task Based Learning, what does and doesn’t constitute a TBL task, how to design a Task-Based Syllabus, how to grade tasks in terms of their complexity and the different criteria that need to be considered in order to do this, how to sequence tasks to maximise learning and so on and so forth, (the beginnings of) my plan (well, plan A anyway – no guarantee that this will actually be implemented, more than likely it will just be the first to be discarded!) is slowly emerging. In fact, according to Ellis (2003:229), I may just about have started to establish my “starting point” – “the determination of the goal(s) of the course in terms of its pedagogic focus (general or specific purpose), skill focus (listening, speaking, reading, writing, learner training) and language focus (unfocused or focused)”…
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Dissertation Diary 2

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

Delta module 1 exam is over, all semester 2 assignments are in: time to focus on this dissertation now. My next meeting with H is on Wednesday (assuming I’m ready), so I’m in the process of responding to everything that was raised for consideration in the first meeting. As well as getting my head around all those questions that emerged, I need to prepare a possible framework for my materials. So, here goes…

So far, since my last dissertation meeting, I’ve read (in order):

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3.

Ellis, R. (2009) Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings in International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol 19/3. Blackwell Publishing.

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Bolitho et al. (2003) Ten questions about language awareness in ELTJ vol. 57/3. Oxford University Press.

Next on my list to read: 

Van den Branden, Bygate and Norris ed. (2009) Task-Based Language Teaching: A reader John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press.

My context:

Private language school in Leeds

Upper intermediate learners

Multilingual classes

Continuous enrolment (students arriving and leaving regularly, some stay for a number of months, others as little as a week or two)

Big mixture of learning goals (some want to study in the U.K., some want to improve their English because it will help in their job back home, some are on holiday and want to improve their English at the same time, for some it’s a hobby).

They study General English in the morning and in the afternoon the sessions are more skills-focused and for those that want it there is the possibility of joining an IELTS preparation class or having one to one tuition.

Students can also use the self-access room, which has a suite of computers, some graded readers and other resources. This is supervised on a daily basis by different members of staff, for 2hrs on a Monday and an hr Tuesday to Thursday, who are on hand to help the students find something suited to their needs/wants.

The majority of the students particularly want to improve their speaking and listening, but there are some whose speaking/listening are already pretty good and whose writing lets them down. These tend to be the students who want to study in the U.K. and choose the IELTS afternoon classes. Students also tend to have learnt English at school in their home countries, usually with a heavy grammar focus.

I want to make materials for the morning classes, so systems and skills needs to be integrated and content suited to General English learners.

The teachers at this school are all pretty experienced and used to preparing weekly schemes of work based on the course books in use. There are also regular CPD sessions. They do, however, make good use of teachers books in their planning – whether or not they then elect to adhere to what the teachers book says. So, a good set of teachers notes to accompany my materials will be a must. Ideally, these notes will have a lot of flexibility built in, rather than being didactic.

Theory:

Having (re)read the articles listed above, I think a well-designed set of TBLL materials, using elements of the Language Awareness approach would work well for this context:

  • Although usually associated with speaking tasks, Ellis (2009) points out that tasks can be input-based too. Apparently in a book of his, he has a chapter on the use of listening tasks in TBL – I will be reading that! I believe it should therefore be possible to design materials, using this approach, that ensure focus on all 4 skills, as well as grammar/vocabulary/pronunciation – Ellis (2009) explains that focus on form is not limited to grammatical form and cites studies that show focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. So it’s possible, the challenge will be designing materials that promote and enable this.
  • Tasks can be focused or unfocused. A task-based syllabus can be purely focused, purely unfocused, or a mixture. I would go for a mixture, as I can see benefits for both task types.
  • Language Awareness can be deductive or inductive, but inductive is most common. According to Borg, cited in Svalberg (2007), there are five main features of an LA methodology:
  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.

  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.

  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.

  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.

  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

(Svalberg, 2007:291, emphasis here as per the article)

  • (Continuing from the above bullet point) As is mentioned in this article, there is a crossover here between LA and Ellis’s Consciousness-Raising approach to grammar, which he believes is compatible with his TBLT framework. I’m inclined to agree with Ellis on this one, I think his TBLT framework and elements of the LA approach could complement each other nicely. I would add a further metacognitive element, so that learners are helped to understand this non-traditional approach and not feel threatened by it.
  • Combining the two approaches would enable a greater variety of learning styles to be catered for: LA is very analytical BUT, as cited above, aims to involve learners affectively too. Affective engagement could come, for example,  through use of engaging texts, to which learners respond, in input-based tasks as well as through use of input or output-based tasks which draw on learners’ experiences and backgrounds.
  • Using tasks which generate written output would enable learners who are keen to improve their writing the chance to do this, while those learners who are most interested in speaking would still benefit from the task process, which would involve collaboration and therefore the opportunity to speak. Speaking skill development, meanwhile, could come through form focus in speaking tasks, by focusing on features of spoken discourse. In keeping with the LA approach, awareness of how and why these features are used, and to what effect, would need to be incorporated.

Other features that my materials will include:

Development of intercultural awareness

This, I believe, would be helpful for learners, whether they stay long term in the (multicultural) UK, e.g. to study, or whether they return to their own countries and use English as a language of wider communication. Nault (2006:323) recommends that more attention be focused on “issues such as cultural misunderstandings, cross-cultural pragmatics, stereotypes, non-verbal communication and culture shock”. Of course, the question is quite how to go about this. I think one immediate resource would be the diversity of learner backgrounds within classes in my context. Another interesting resource would be recordings of learners’ own interactions with each other during tasks. These could be compiled into a corpus and learners could look for patterns. (This needs further thought with regards to how it would work on a practical level!)

Use of the English-Speaking Environment

This is a valuable resource for these learners, so it would be beneficial for materials to exploit it. I think this would work well as a project thread. So it could be that tasks prepare learners to undertake the project, then scaffold them through the process of undertaking it, after which it could be used as a basis for further tasks. Then the cycle would begin anew. For this element, I am also considering use of a wiki. The non-linguistic goal of the wiki would be to create a resource for incoming learners to access, which would help them better understand and negotiate the ESE of Leeds. In terms of dealing with the constant flow of new learners, new learners would join existing groups (as these lost members) and existing group members would then explain what they have been doing and what they intend to do. New learners would also access the resource, once established, and begin to participate, helped by their group.

The school/context has a social programme, which learners can take part in. This would be a resource that could be tapped in the course of these projects. Additionally, learners stay in residences with other non-native speakers or in host families. This, too, could be exploited by the materials. For example, activities could include surveys and interviews about what people do for fun in Leeds or the types of films they like and why. Learners are keen to interact with people in their environment, so giving them a purpose and scaffolding the process through use of pre-, during- and post-project tasks would be helpful for them and may also motivate and help those who are keen but uncertain about how to go about it or perhaps shy. The collaborative element would provide additional support.

Information gathered, e.g. what people do for fun in Leeds, could be compared with learners’ own countries/cultures, but also in terms of different-subcultures, such as different ages, different social backgrounds etc. A task could be used to scaffold this process, the outcome of which could also go on the wiki. Thus, as well as information about Leeds and the people who live in it, either temporarily or permanently, there would also be information about how this compares with other countries in the world. Newcomers to the class could add their perspective to such tasks at any time, if their country wasn’t represented in a particular task, or they wanted to add to the representation of their country, as well as participating in whatever the current project was.

This will be where the “originality” of my materials comes in: Because they are designed specifically for the E.S.E. rather than as a global course book, they will scaffold the use of this environment as a learning tool. (In fact, Tomlinson, 2008, complains that “none of the books [that he reviewed for this volume] seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere”.)

Use of multimedia

As well as the wiki/project element, it would be useful to scaffold learners’ use of the self-access centre computer suite, to enable them to benefit more fully from this resource. In order to do that, tasks could be used which require grouped learners to use the suite initially during class time and then outside of class time, with subsequent in-class discussion/reporting/presenting/reflecting/evaluating based on this.

And now it’s time for me to go away, get more books out of the library and work on a unit framework and an organisational framework within which units will sit. For it to be task-based, the task needs to be the unit of organisation, but also to consider is the task-as-plan vs task-as-process, sequencing of tasks to maximise their yield for learners, and how this will fit together with the ESE project and intercultural awareness threads…

References:

Ellis, R. (2009) Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings in International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol 19/3. Blackwell Publishing.

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3.

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Tomlinson B. and Masuhara H (2008)  Materials used in the U.K. in Tomlinson, B. (ed.) English Language Learning Materials: a critical review. Continuum. London.

Hopefully progress is being made…  However, I would be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on what I have explored in this post – be as critical as you like! 🙂

Materials Development – What is it that makes learning materials better than good?

This subject is uppermost on my mind at the moment, as the final lesson of my materials development module will be this Friday. Next Friday, we will be doing “Dragon’s Den” presentations, where we have to speak persuasively for 12 minutes justifying and “selling” the materials we have been designing for the module assessment. Hopefully our materials will be principled, workable, suited to the chosen context and we will show evidence of the application of theory to practice – with a splash of creativity thrown in!

The materials I designed are aimed at upper intermediate students studying at private language schools in the U.K. It’s been an interesting and rewarding experience developing them from random sparks of ideas into a coherent 6-8 hour unit. I do like the idea of the module assessment being something which is not only practical and will be useful in the long run but also generates learning rather than simply testing it. The group has had 3hrs a week of input for the module this semester, in which we’ve systematically worked through different aspects of materials design from picking out theories of language, learning, acquisition and teaching,  principles in existing materials and identifying what theories and principles we believe in, to evaluating and adapting materials for a particular context, and looking at things like visual impact, clarity of instructions, how to integrate effective systems and skills development into materials, as well as issues such as how to develop intercultural competence. I expect I’ve probably left something out, but I’m sure you get the general idea.

Anyway, my question for anybody out there who happens to find this page is this:

What, in your opinion, separates the wheat from the chaff as far as materials are concerned?

What principles/theories etc influence your materials writing or teaching the most? 

And finally, How important do you think enjoyment is to language learning and why?

I shall post my presentation/powerpoint on here after I’ve delivered it, which will provide a good idea of my own views, but meanwhile what about all of yours? I’d be very interested to hear.

Feel free to answer as few or as many of the questions as you like – any and all responses are welcome!

Summary of #Eltchat 6/2/2013 “How can we help colleagues new to edtech without doing all the work for them?”

Greetings all – after another long absence from the blogosphere! – and welcome to my summary for the #Eltchat discussion that took place in our little corner of the Twitterverse on the 6th February 2013 at 9p.m.! (For more information about #Eltchat and how to participate, please click here.)

We all came together to discuss, aptly enough, edtech (or technology used for educational purposes) and, more specifically, how to help colleagues who are new to it without being, as @ciocas put it, “the girl who can’t say no”, and doing it all for them. (You know who you are, you motherly and fatherly types who can’t resist swooping to the rescue like knights in shining techy armour!)

In order to best figure out how to help colleagues become more autonomous with edtech, it was important understand why they are reluctant. Here are the varied and insightful reasons that were suggested:

Fear (related to the technology itself or, indeed, the scary evangelical users of it!):

– a key problem with getting new Ts on board the Tech Wagon is basically fear – they’re afraid of something going wrong in class. (@pjgallantary)

– I think the trouble with encouraging edtech to newbies can be OVERenthusiasm-coming across as a bit obsessed doesn’t get people on side! (@lauraahaha)

Time and the easy way out:

– For some Ts I think it’s a time issue, but others would rather me give them fish than teach them how to fish! (@cioccas)

– I think both colleagues and trainees can smell out a mother type who will always come to the rescue. (@Marisa_C)

Obscurity of purpose:

– It’s tricky with real technophobes-but I think the major obstacle is the “why” not the “how” – teachers need to see the benefits first. (@designerlessons)

Not enough presence in Initial Teacher Training:

– My CELTA course in 2008 had zero tech – I’ve always been a techie, and twitter inspired me more. (@Sandymillin)

– My course has a multimedia module but it’s an M.A. My  CELTA only taught a bit about the IWB iirc (@LizziePinard) [Disclaimer: my CELTA course may have had more, but the IWB is the only bit I can remember, so based on that I assume that tech wasn’t a major feature or I would remember more about it! And this was in 2009-2010 so it may be different now, of course.]

Context/Experience:

I suppose it also depends on work experience – i’ve yet to work in a tech’d up school (IWB etc). So have forgotten how to use IWB… (@LizziePinard)

Having thus considered the “why”, we were ready to tackle the “how” [Disclaimer: with ideas flying around at high speed, of course the “why” and the “how” was not quite so separated in the transcript, I just thought it would be a convenient way of organising things here!]

Here are the suggestions that were generated:

– My 1st thought is get them to watch things & then come to you with questions.  Easier to make one screencast than explain 20 times.(@ljp2010)

– More effective to do hands on training rather than just show and tell. (@Shaunwilden)

– Make a deal – ” I have time for two half hour tutorials – record me; take notes; etc but then you’re on your own”: be firm. (@Marisa_C)

– Perhaps get some peer teaching happening? (ljp2012)

– Is there a list of very basic literacies that we could make with links and all lead Ts there? (@Marisa_C)

– We have found also that a printed guide of some basics helps at start – we are used to online stuff doesn’t mean OK with new people (Marisa_C)

– I use things, then people ask me about them. When a few people have asked, I do a seminar. (@Sandymillin)

– Also wrote introductory blogposts for students that I can point teachers too as well, like http://t.co/EDdT6RIx for Quizlet. (@Sandymillin)

– I do a short session after our Monday lunchtime meeting. One task, or website per week … It isn’t always a new site- just a new way to use something sometimes (@SueAnnan)

– Best idea I have ever had though was to ask each one to undertake to research & PRESENT a tool – works wonders. (@Marisa_C)

– I actually think fewer sites the better – really get to know them (@Shaunwilden)

– I think a webquest that you create or a guide like the ones we made for facebook twitter & nings might be a good idea (@Marisa_C)

Then, of course, it was also important to consider a few principles for teaching teachers to use technology with their learners and, indeed, for using it ourselves:

– Teachers who are new to tech also need to focus on the pedagogical outcomes – is it useful, or is it tech for tech’s sake? (@lauraahaha)

– I think using #edtech always has to emphasise the WHY – for teachers as much as for students…eg.WHY should you bother investing time learning to use a tool? is the time invested worth the return?

– Tech MUST have clear pedagogical reason, not just because it’s brand shiny new (@pjgallantary)

–  Important to be able to teach without any tech? Never know where in the world teachers will end up (@idc74)

– There’s plenty of here-today-gone-tomorrow tech – in which case, best to be a discerning techie (@designerlessons)

– My 1st rule for tech use: can student access it? eg some smartphone app: if st doesn’t have smartphone, he/she is disadvantaged (pjgallantary)

–  I think in ITT, have to ensure trainees not dependent on tech to teach (@LizziePinard)

– Tech is ubiquitous and as useful as the teacher’s imagination allows it to be. Just so long as that objective is always clear (@designerlessons)

– Ts should always remember that the 1st bit of tech they have is pen and paper – new tech is a bonus…. (@Shaunwilden)

–  Ts should think “why” not just “what” for tech tools. (@LizziePinard)

– As somebody or other said about course books, tech tools make great slaves but terrible masters – something to that effect! (@LizziePinard)

“Where’s your back up plan?” should be written on every classroom computer. (@designerlessons)

The next question to be considered was: “So, which tech tool would you introduce first? which do you think is best/most important to start with?”

– Quizlet/Edmodo good – little effort required for lots of return, student engagement, and educational benefits too. (@Sandymillin)

– pen and paper – plan HOW you’re going to use tech first, and Why! (@pjgallantary)

– I find it best to work with what they [teachers] want to do with Ss, then show them tool to wrk with. (@cioccas)

– Microsoft Word. I was amazed at the teachers who didn’t know how to use it efficiently 🙂 (@SueAnnan)

– I’ve been pretty successful in pushing everyone in the department to use Moodle, and it has shown some very positive results (@MajorieRosenbe)

There’s a limit to how much can be covered in a hour, but we certainly attempted to push that! Nevertheless, time, as is its wont, finally ran out. So to conclude this summary, here is a list of all the useful links that were thrown up in the course of the discussion:

– For using Edmodo, @Sandymillin’s blogpost and @Naomishema’s blogpost

– Useful techy blogs:

@Grahamstanley’s blog

Russell Stannard’s website

Nik Peachey’s blog

– For using MS Word effectively

– A demo of blended learning by @pjgallantary

– A list of basic computer skills by @ljp2010

– @Sandymillin’s summary of an ELTchat discussion on webtools, full of useful links.

Using Technology in ELL Instruction | ColorΓ­n Colorado | (suggested by @yya2)

– Introductory blogposts for students that I can point teachers too as well, like http://t.co/EDdT6RIx for Quizlet (@sandymillin)

– My ‘a little and often”  post for edetch on courses (and staffrooms I guess) (@Marisa_C)

– the aPLaNet (Autonomous ‘Personal Learning Networks’ for Language Teachers) Self-Access Piloting Website – example of a web quest (shared by @Marisa_C)

Thanks to all contributors and to anybody who reads this, I hope you find this summary useful.  And: ** If you have any more ideas to add, useful websites/tools to share etc, please add them in the comments section!!** 🙂