Coursebooks and Cookery

I read this post about the coursebook as guidebook a while back, and found it an interesting metaphor. I wondered what my own metaphor for coursebooks would be, but then forgot all about it amidst the million other things I had to think about… Then, last night, when I should have been falling asleep but instead found myself hostage to a buzzing brain, it finally came to me in spades: For me, the coursebook is a cookery book. A recipe book. I have divided up my metaphor into sections but there is plenty of overlap between them…

asian recipes

A recipe book ready for use! (Taken from Google advanced search: labelled for commercial reuse with modification.)

Construct

  •  Recipe books might be divided up into regions for a book dedicated to the recipes from a particular country or parts of a meal e.g. starters, mains, desserts, or any other, while coursebooks are generally neatly divided in some way, for example “units” (Headway), “modules” (Cutting Edge), “lessons” (Choices). For both, there is generally a handy map to help you find what you are looking for (gravies or pastries, roasts, desserts, reading or speaking, grammar, vocabulary)
  • There are recipe books for everybody – vegetarians, students, people who can’t cook, people who only  have ten minutes to cook, children, people who want to make a multiple-course banquet-esque meal – and course books for everybody – learners of General English (Global; Innovations), EAP, ESP, Business English, learners of different ages and levels and so on.
  • You don’t have to start at the beginning – you can choose the recipe that best suits your/your learners’ needs at a particular time. You can select recipes from different books and combine them to make your own special meal. Or you may go through the recipe book in order but not use all the recipes (there’s only so much rice/grammar/potatoes you need with one meal! And the recipients of your cooking may not need feeding up with grammar/potatoes in all lessons/at all mealtimes).
  • Recipe books and coursebooks both tend to be written by people who know what they are talking about and know (from experience and learning) what ingredients work well together. Therefore, they are a useful tool. Neither are intended to be bibles. (Or their authors would have written….bibles!)

Content/Use

  • Recipe books contain a myriad of ingredients and suggestions of ways to turn these into a tasty meal. Coursebooks contain activities and instructions for how to use these as part of a successful lesson. But the more you use the ingredients, and the more you learn about cooking, the more your understanding of what does and doesn’t work grows. You know that certain things need cooking. You know that certain flavours go well together, while others, well, just not happening.
  • This enables you to experiment – to combine ingredients in different ways not specified by the book in front of you. You may base your concoction on a recipe but substitute various ingredients that suits your tastes/needs/stock at the time. Just because you don’t follow the recipe, doesn’t mean your meal will taste terrible. Equally, just because you don’t follow the recipe, doesn’t guarantee something delicious either!
  • Experimentation is a messy business both in the kitchen and in the classroom. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes your version of the cake recipe just doesn’t rise. Of course, even if you follow the recipe to the letter, sometimes the cake just doesn’t rise either. Ingredients can be slightly unpredictable and you might have the amounts ever so slightly wrong. In the classroom, learners can be unpredictable. What works well in one kitchen/classroom for one chef/teacher may not turn out great in another.
  • Experimentation is likely to be haphazard/hit-and-miss if you aren’t doing it from a principled base. If, like I did when I was 8 years old, you attempt to make hot-cross buns by putting every single ingredient on your list in one big mixing bowl at once, you end up with a goopy mess and your mum isn’t best pleased. In the kitchen, we may think we are being entirely haphazard in what we are doing, but that haphazardness, when successful, tends to be informed with underlying knowledge about what does and doesn’t work. (8 year old me hadn’t learnt that bunging everything into one bowl at once does not a hot cross bun produce…)
  • Sometimes, if your experimentation goes really wrong, and you end up with a pan on fire, it’s best to put the fire out and start again! If an activity goes flop, sometimes ending it and moving on is your best bet. Sometimes, perseverance can lead to results – your recipe may look like it’s going wrong but you try a bit of this and a bit of that and the outcome is tasty! Sometimes, changing things around a bit during an activity can be the difference between success and failure. The trick is to know when to stop. If your pan is on fire, this is probably quite a good time to do so… :-p
  • However, despite the dangers, experimentation is also great fun! And the better you understand the principles of what you are doing, your aims, your learners needs (the cake won’t rise if you keep opening the door, you want to make a ginger and lemon cake not a triple chocolate cake, your guests don’t want a roast dinner when they come round for a cup of tea later), the more successful your experimentation is likely to be. You can also learn from your mistakes/successes if you think about what went wrong/right and why when you’ve finished creating.
  • You can be inspired by your recipe books and throw in extra ingredients of your own: they can make a great starting point but the recipes might need some adaptation for your vegetarians, coeliacs, diabetics, fussy eaters who don’t eat x, y and z… out with one ingredient, in with another. The same applies in the classroom – you have different learning styles to cater for and different personalities, both individual and collective class personalities, which requires careful adaptation.

Not suitable for vegetarians – whatever the French may say! (Taken from Google advanced search: labelled for commercial reuse with modification)

Learning potential

  • Some cookery books reflect the idea the people using them don’t know everything about the ingredients/origins/meals in question. Such books contain useful additional information to guide the users or just to broaden their horizons. For example, a book of Indian curries may contain background information about the different spices, rices, chillies, specific origins of different types of curry etc. Some coursebooks are accompanied by teachers books that help the teachers to understand the background/origins of the activities the coursebook writers have used in the student book or background to useful elements for teaching and learning. E.g. Global Advanced has some essays for teachers about things such as developing learner autonomy.
  • Some people who cook may not be able to go on cookery courses to develop their cooking skills. For them, the recipe book (and especially the more informative ones that weave the theory into the procedure etc.) may be the biggest source of learning. We also learn by watching more experienced others cook and seeing what they do/what results.

Creation

  • Some people who do a lot of cooking may start to make their own recipes and recipe books, to share with others – initially through forums/websites etc. and maybe one day being published. They enjoy the process of experimentation, evaluation and creation, they enjoy sharing what they create. Teachers, too,  may enjoy making their own materials and sharing them – on a blog, on a website that curates materials/lesson plans e.g. Onestopenglish and may or may not end up getting published one day.

We all have our favourites… (Taken from Google advanced search: labelled for commercial reuse with modification)

  • There is no limit to the number of recipes it is possible to create. New ways of combining ingredients and, indeed, new ingredients, are always being coined/discovered. People study the art of cooking, the science of tastebuds and their response to different flavours – which are most effective? – and they also study the art of teaching and learning, to discover new ways of doing this more effectively.

Finally, you never really know if a recipe will work FOR YOU/YOUR LEARNERS until you roll up your sleeves and get dirty! There is no substitute for experience. But you could equally spend 20 years making the same recipe, using the same ingredients, in which case, you are living one day of experience 20×365 times… So the trick is to try out new recipes, as well as learn from recipes that are known to be reliable, experiment, reflect, evaluate and broaden your repertoire of what you can do in the kitchen. That way, you will discover many, many tasty dishes that you wouldn’t otherwise have known about. And that keeps life interesting! 🙂

I’ll finish off with a current favourite recipe of mine:

Take 1 helpful, friendly, supportive DoS

A handful of helpful happy colleagues

A few cups of fun

A dollop of creativity

A pinch of inspiration

A large cup of conscientiousness

Lashings of hard work

A tablespoon of rest to be added every so often

Season with regular CPD

Stir vigorously and allow to simmer in a lovely school 🙂

Delta Tips 11: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the needs analysis section

This is the eleventh in a series of blog posts I’m doing in response to the number of Delta-related searches that bring visitors to my blog. Each post in this Delta Tips series will deal with a different element of the Delta, based on my experience of doing it (and surviving to tell the tale! ) at Leeds Met

 The module 3 extended specialism essay is a very special beast. If you thought Cambridge were demanding in their criteria for Module 2 LSA’s or perversely picky in how they want you to answer Module 1 exam questions – you’d be right! But, it’s nothing compared to what they demand you fit in to a measly 4500 words for Module 3…

  • For an overview of what’s required and tips for starting out, look at Delta Tips 9
  • For information about writing the first section of the essay – the introduction – look at Delta Tips 10
  • The focus of this post will be the second section – the needs analysis.

Now that you’ve done your secondary research and written your introduction, it’s time to think about your needs analysis section. This is where you focus on a specific group of learners and devise a needs analysis assessment, with the purpose of informing your course design (the focus of the third section of the essay).

There are several things you need to keep in mind when designing your needs analysis tools:

  • what you learnt from your secondary research and the implications this generated.
  • the principles of needs analysis, which should inform the design of your tools.
  • what you want to achieve with each of the tools you choose to use, which will also influence the design and delivery of the tools i.e. exactly what information you want to get.
  • where you can get this information from (the learners themselves, previous teachers, other stakeholders such as parents, management etc.)

Within the part two essay section (a whopping 900 words you have at your disposal here!), certain things need to be covered:

  • a brief profile of the group of learners that you are focusing on for this project. (Just so we are clear, these are the learners you do your needs analysis on!! :-p)
  • a brief description of your chosen needs analysis tools (what did you use? why those particular tools? why not any different tools?). This should include tools for identifying learner profiles/needs (e.g. questionnaires; interviews) and tools for ascertaining their language level/needs (e.g. diagnostic tests)
  • a brief outline of the results your tools generated and how this information helped you identify what you needed to know and what you are going to prioritise when you design your course (as well, of course, as why these priorities and not others)

In doing this, you need, of course, to demonstrate awareness of the theory and principles related to needs analysis. As you will be using diagnostic tests, then principles of testing/assessment come into play here: issues such as practicality, reliability and validity are as important in the needs analysis section as they are to the assessment section (part 4), so start reading up on these now!

Tips for successful completion of section 2:

  • Be concise: (Yeah, yeah – same old, same old, but worth repeating!! It doesn’t get any easier as the project progresses!) You have to cover a lot of ground in 900 words, so redraft and cut words down, think about how you can say things super-succinctly!
  • Be clear about how the principles of needs analysis have influenced the design of your tools: If you list a bunch of principles and then briefly mention your off-the-shelf placement test, you won’t be demonstrating awareness/understanding of the principles, only ability to regurgitate information…
  • Read about testing: Andrew Hughes Testing for Language Teachers is a good, clear read for getting the basics down. As mentioned above, principles of testing are very relevant. But look also at articles written specifically about needs analysis and diagnostic testing, as these will cover other related issues (See the bibliography at the end of this post for examples).
  • Read PAGE 72 of the handbook! Then read it again and make sure it went in. Why? Because it has your all-important guiding questions and advice. Worth re-reading both before you start and during and then after to check back and see if  you have done more-or-less what they require. Probably initially you won’t have! Don’t despair, it’s normal, just keep redrafting (both tools before you use them and the write up) – you’ll get there.
  • Show off: Yes, the whole terminology issue applies throughout the assignment – use the terms, reference the terms.  Just a reminder, like! (See my post about the introduction for more information about this! – Bullet point 6 under “Tips for doing this successfully”: Use and reference appropriate terminology)
  • Really think about what it is you are trying to find out with your tools: It isn’t practical to test every single thing under the sun, is it? No. So what are you going to test? Why? How will the information you gain from testing this help you design your course? The same questions go for your questionnaires/interviews – how will finding out this information help you? Whether you find and adapt a test or create one from scratch, be very clear about why you are including each question and what you hope to gain from it.
  • Look at examples and then get creative: In Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching, for example, you can find an sample needs analysis questionnaire. There are also examples in Kathleen Graves’ Designing Language Courses. Look at them, both in terms of content and layout. Imagine a student completing one and handing it back to you. How would that information help you? What information would still be missing? How could you get that missing information? When you’ve thought carefully about that, design your tools.  Remember that your answers should be influenced by what you’ve learnt, and the implications you’ve identified, through combining your secondary research with your experience in section one of the essay. When you’ve designed your tools, pilot them. (Get a colleague to complete the questionnaire/tests etc. and see if they find your questions clear!)
  • Analyse and evaluate don’t just describe: You will give your learners the questionnaire or interview them, you will give them diagnostic tests. How did you try to ensure that the results were as reliable as possible and would generate as useful information as possible? Whatever tools you use will have pros and cons – that’s ok: nothing is perfect. BUT make sure you show awareness of this. Why are your tools the best compromise in your circumstances?
  • Make clear links: How did you get from your implications in section one to your tools in section two, to the priorities you have identified from your results? One thing should lead clearly to another:
  1. You may want to refer back to the implications you laid out in section one.
  2. You may want to refer back to your results or to your appendices (where you will put an example of all the tests/questionnaires etc that you used and evidence that you have synthesised the information e.g.charts, tables etc.) when you identify priorities.
  3. This doesn’t need to take a lot of word count: putting A1 in brackets i.e. [statement e.g.”The majority wish to improve their employment situation and integrate socially – their priorities in doing this course”] (A1.vi [Appendix 1, part vi – which in this case was a chart showing reasons for learning English])  is a concise way of cross-referencing.
  • Spell it out! Use sub-headings. And I mean very specific subheadings. I know I already said this in the post about the introduction but it bears repeating. Really make it easy for the examiner to know that you have included everything that you are supposed to. You could, for sure, very cleverly weave everything in together in one body of writing, but then the examiner has to hunt out everything they are looking for. I would say, therefore, don’t bother. Keep it simple. Sub-headings all the way. It helps you keep track of what requisite information you have included and helps the examiner find it. It also makes it clearer for you to see if you have missed something. So, for example, if those are your implications for course design, label them as such. Bullet points are good too. Bullet point your implications and it becomes very clear where one implication ends and the next begins. Examiners like very clear.
  • Remember the importance of context: To an extent, a tool isn’t good or bad in itself – how effective or not it is depends on the context you are teaching in. A given test could be ideal for an exam prep class diagnostic but useless for a general English class diagnostic. A detailed test focusing on only one skill may be great if that skill is implicated as being a priority in your secondary research/implications but hopeless if your course needs a more general focus or a specific focus on a completely different skill. Equally, a questionnaire may suit one group of learners and generate really useful information in that context but produce irrelevant, unhelpful information in another. This is why you don’t just use an off-the-shelf tool without thinking it through and adapting it to meet your requirements first.
  • Don’t make things too complicated: Don’t use any tools for the sake of using them, don’t write reams about principles, that you then proceed to completely ignore in the design of your tools. Identify key principles, apply them to your tools. Demonstrate that you have done this by making it very explicit in your 900 words how you have used the principles to help you make the tools as effective as you could in your context.
  • (This may sound silly but) use colour! It doesn’t take (very) long and makes it easier on the eyes. I’m talking about headings, sub-headings, references to appendices/other essay sections. (Colour is also very useful in the course design section when you do your course map – but more on that later…) NB I don’t mean turn your piece of writing into a rainbow, but if you make all headings/sub-headings/references to appendices or other essay sections/bullet points a colour, e.g. navy blue, rather than black, they stand out better. This really hammers it home to Mr/Ms Examiner that you have, in fact, included what you are supposed to include and cross-referenced it…
  • Don’t forget to include the following: marking schemes for your diagnostic tools – these go in your appendices. Sample completed questionnaires and diagnostic tests as well as some evidence of synthesising/analysing the data. Colourful pie charts and bar graphs are handy for this. Tabulating information and your analysis of it may also be useful. (Exactly what you choose to do with it will depend on the nature of the information, your purpose in seeking it and the evidence you believe it offers.)
  • Remember your project should be comprehensible to a colleague – use this to your advantage: Get a colleague to have a look at your needs analysis section and your tools, to see if your section 2 makes sense to them. (It’s easy, when you spend so long staring at/working on a piece of work, to know *exactly* what you mean, where everything is and precisely how it connects. To an outsider, however, it may be a mystery. Of course, if it is a mystery to your colleague, it may also be somewhat mysterious to the examiner. This is generally not a good thing…! Also, if you can, write a section (and get your feedback, redraft etc etc) and then put it aside for a while. When you come back to it fresh, you may read through it and think, “huh? what on earth did I mean by that?” – in this case, you may want to make a few changes too…

Some useful sources relevant to the needs analysis section:

Davies, A. (2006) What do learners really want from their EFL course? in ELTJ Vol 60/1. Accessed: 22nd September 2012.

Cotterall, Sara.(2000) Promoting learner autonomy through the curriculum: principles for designing language courses. In ELTJ vol 54/2. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Accessed: October 11 2012.

Graves, K.(2000) Defining the Context in Designing Language Courses Newbury House Teacher Development. Heinle and Heinle.

Hughes, A. (2003) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Nunan, D. (1997) Getting Started with Learner-Centred Teaching in English Teaching Professional issue four. Pavillion. Accessed: 15, October, 2012.

Perrin, G (2009) Diagnostic Procedures in Language Learning MET vol 18 no 4. Pavillion. Accessed: 14 October 2012.

Seedhouse, P (1995) Needs Analysis and the General English Classroom  in ELTJ vol 49. Accessed: September 22, 2012.

 ***But remember***: New stuff is being written all the time; I’ve used some stuff that I haven’t listed – this is a selected list of references: This list is far from exhaustive!!! So use your search tools (see previous Module 3 posts) to find other books/articles too. Also, if you do get hold of sources from the above list, look at their reference lists (at the end of the article/book) and do the treasure hunt thing: Run your eye over the list, looking at dates and titles, think “hmm this recent and looks interesting, or this was referred to a lot in the book/article, so it might be worth a look” etc. and try to source them through your centre library. 

To see tips for the course design  section: click here.

If you think I am wrong in anything I’ve said or that I’ve missed anything useful from this section, then please comment and I will add whatever is missing to this post!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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… 🙂