Sandy Millin – Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

In the end, I chose Sandy’s session out of my three-way clash: it’s always good to learn better ways of teaching listening! Plus, I didn’t want to miss Sandy speak. ūüôā Stepping away from Academic English for a while, back into the world of regular teaching of an important skill…

Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

Sandy’s presentation will be available on her blog, including the audio she will use AND a recording! She used a “greet three new people” to illustrate some of the difficulties in listening.

“I’ve been studying English for years but I can’t understand anyone” – quote from a student in Newcastle. (Not only Newcastlers – films too, in London…) How can we help students understand English outside of the classroom/course book?

What is the difference between listening to whats in the coursebook/classroom and what’s outside?

In the classroom

  1. What do students listen to?
  2. What type of tasks to do they do?

1.

  • the teacher (if speaking in English – instructions, a story…)
  • – the other students
  • – recordings from the book (get longer as you go up the levels)

2.

  • Comprehension tasks
  • picking out new language
  • testing the level
  • the next thing in the book

In real life:

1. Real people – face to face, on the phone, on the screen etc

2.

  • For interaction
  • because they need something
  • to join the conversation
  • for information (e.g. train station)
  • because they want to (e.g. music/film)

Different!

Sandy played a recording from a course book (NEF – got lots of laughs because of course it sounded *so* natural…!) and then one from real life.

– interruptions, false starts, overlapping, pauses, fillers, you could work out what the language point was in NEF, two men rather than a man and woman (as common in course books until higher levels)

What went wrong?

  • follow up on answers, find out why they got things wrong rather than just telling them it’s wrong.

Could be:

  • speed
  • range of voice types (e.g. age, gender)
  • sound quality (or lack of sound)
  • lack of language
  • lack of confidence

Today will mostly focus on speed and voice type.

Weak forms

Pronunciation of a word changes when within a sentence. The schwas make a difference – the most important sound? With this sound, it’s difficult to draw the line between pron. and listening. “I wanna be a schwa – it’s never stressed!”

Give students some common grammar words which have strong and weak forms; ask learners to create a sentence using these words or a short story and discuss whether it’s a strong or a weak form as used in that context. Learners have to identify when the sounds will be weak or strong, then try to say them. Trying it out in sentences helps learners to be more confident when they hear it. Not expected to speak like this all the time, just a classroom game to build confidence and ability to recognise sounds.

Get students to race to say sentences as quickly as possible to win a point for their team. Weak forms come out as they try to get the sentences out as fast as they can.

Connected Speech

Apples and pears – in the word-blender – becomes:

apple zum pears

Sandy showed a worksheet with tic-tac-toe for explaining sound changes (has it moved? changed? disappeared?)

  • sol tum pepper
  • wom potato
  • frozum peas
  • a loafer slice bread ¬†¬†etc

from the http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/word-blender website

Don’t need to use complicated meta-language: just “the sound moves” or “the sound disappears” is fine.

What about final consonant and initial vowel link? Sandy spent half an hour pulling things out of a sentence, using the rules she had been teaching them. This was with pre-intermediate students and they could produce it at regular speed, feel it in their mouths and understand why the listening might have been difficult if a native speaker had been saying it to them.

Transcripts:¬†With a listening with a very difficult accent (e.g. Irish!) – after the listening, get learners to look at a transcript and identify all the consonant-vowel links. You don’t need to use the whole transcript, just a paragraph, and just look at one rule at a time.

Next, we need something to write with. I shall use this blog post!

Micro-dictations: we hear two sentences and write them down.

  1. Today we’re looking at a lot of listening activities.
  2. I’m here for a conference.

That’s a single sentence, all we had to do was write it down. Easy? For us, yes. Not for pre-int students. Students have control of a sentence recording, they have to transcribe it on the board. Teacher outside of the room so that the students don’t keep turning to him/her.

To clip audio:

  • audacity (pc/mac)
  • wavepad (ipad)
  • mp3cut.net (online)
  • safeshare.tv (youtube – online, also good for cutting out the ads.)

Comprehension

Consists of using bottom up skills (using small components – words) and top-down skills (using the wider context) and bringing them together to make sense.

The activities so far have been for bottom up comprehension. The next one should be top-down.

Activity: What’s next?

When I was… younger, a child, a kid, I …. used to go….to scouts/skiing swimming every Saturday

How did you know what would come next? Collocation, colligation etc If you do this activity with students, you can build up their confidence because they see how much of meaning they can construct in their heads.

A range of voices

  • Guests #eltchat “I’d really like somebody to talk about x in my classroom” – you might find someone who could do a skype into your classroom. Or you could use Facebook TeachingEnglish page. Or anybody you know who speaks English and can come into your classroom – e.g. visitors. [Sandy played a recording of when her cousin¬†visited her and came into the classroom and the students had to try and get him to use a way of talking about the past that they might not recognise being used but had learnt about. Dan knew nothing about this] –¬†would. Dan used it 19 times… This audio will be on Sandy’s blog if you’d like to use it with your students! Students said “Oh my God, you actually do use this!
  • Leaving the classroom: to get different voices
  • English language listening library (www.elllo.org) – lots of short recordings and you can search it by accent (how brilliant is this?!) Being added to all the time.
  • Collins English for Life – Listening: A2 pre-intermediate (Sandy got as a sample copy and uses all the time) – natural speed conversations, various accents, tasks graded rather than text. (Worth investing?!)
  • Extended listening: encourage your students to do so from early levels – you don’t need to be able to understand everything. Just getting your ears used to the rhythm of the speech that you listen to. You’d be surprised how many students don’t think about this. E.g. films, tv programmes (E.g. twenty minute sitcoms), BBC – one and two minute videos around the website but on the youtube channel there are more extended pieces (if abroad, there are some 30 min programmes on there), podcasts, TED talks.

Further reading:

Listening in the language classroom by John Field, 2008 Cambridge University Press (recommended to Sandy by me! ūüėÄ )

….Yep! I don’t regret coming to this one!! ūüėĬ†

IATEFL 2014: Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment

My very first IATEFL talk!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.21.10

Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Time: 17.45-18.15

After introducing myself and my three invisible hats (teacher of English, learner of language/teaching, ex-student of the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta – the origin of the ideas on which this talk was based), I provided the following talk outline:

  • Over to you! (A few questions‚Ķ)
  • Student-led interviews (benefits and issues)
  • My materials
  • Using the framework

Attendees then discussed the following questions:

  • What context do you teach in?
  • What materials do you use?

Which led to these:

  • Do the materials exploit the rich resources of language outside the classroom?
  • Do the materials encourage students to exploit it?
  • Do materials scaffold students to exploit it?

Following this discussion, I revealed two quotes by Tomlinson (2008, 2013):

‚ÄúNone of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.‚ÄĚ (Tomlinson, 2008)

‚ÄúLittle[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.‚ÄĚ (Tomlinson, 2013)

One way in which language schools try to encourage learners to engage with the language in the out-of-classroom environment in English-speaking places is to send learners out to interview members of the public. I asked attendees to consider the benefits and potential issues with this activity, before providing some of my own:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.32.42

The question of how to guide learners across the murky waters of the potential issues to reap the possible benefits is where my materials come in. The next part of the talk discussed the influences that informed the development of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.23.56

And then revealed the basic framework I’d created using Task-Based Learning (Ellis, 2003; Willis and Willis, 2007), Language Awareness Approach (Svalberg, 2007) and the Intercultural Approach (Corbett, 2003):

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.41.48

 

Of course this bare frame doesn’t demonstrate how those theories were woven in, and does give rise to possible questions/issues. So at this point I predicted some possible questions that might have been forming in the audience’s mind:

But…

  • Won‚Äôt they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn‚Äôt it a cop out? Mucking about instead of learning language?

And then explored how I used the approaches I’d chosen, to address these issues and to maximise learning and learner engagement, and how I’d addressed issues that critics have raised with regards to the theories. The result was this framework:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.42.00

(F.L. stands for functional language and S.E. stands for students’ experiences.)

 

The final part of the talk dealt with using this framework and exemplified this with a task from my own materials. The initial steps of using the framework have much in common with a genre-based approach:

  • Think about how you want your ss. to use language
  • Find texts produced in that genre/those genres. (Or make your own with your colleagues!)
  • Identify common generic features (language, structure, organisation, appearance etc)

To this I add:

  • Pinpoint interesting/engaging non-linguistic outcomes.
  • Consider scaffolding.
  • Pick out linguistic and cultural dynamism.
  • Build in reflection.

Obviously the first bullet point of part 2 of the list is in keeping with TBL tenets. The second refers to how the tasks are going to feed into each other, how the activities within each task are going to feed into each other and how the whole is going to enable learners to be able to do something by the end of it. The third is in keeping with the Intercultural Approach and the Language Awareness approach. The final bullet point, opportunities for reflection, is crucial to all three approaches as well as being the key to turning experiences into learning, and connecting learning to experiences.

To exemplify this, I used the third task of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.03.44

 

I discussed how content generated by students in the second task fed into the pre-task activity, in which students collaborate and exchange information, in preparation for the main task of this third task. The main task requires learners to synthesise the information they’ve collected between them, and use it as the basis for their question preparation. They are then helped to analyse ¬†these questions by considering cultural and pragmatic issues, before moving on in the post-task activities to engaging with input in the form of a real interview, which leads to language focus and speaking skills development. Throughout the task, learners are encouraged to reflect and connect their own experiences and knowledge with what they are learning, and to identify similarities and differences between their own culture, other learners’ cultures and the target language culture.

Being a twenty minute talk (plus ten minutes for questions), I had to bring it to an end pretty swiftly by this point, by thanking International House, Palermo, for allowing me to attend IATEFL 2014, and the Leeds Met M.A. ELT department (and especially Heather Buchanan, who was my supervisor for the dissertation project in which I made these materials) for all the guidance and support that I was given in my learning and in realising my ideas, because without the course I most definitely wouldn’t have been giving this talk today. And the final thank you, of course, to everybody who attended!

Here is a list of references for my talk:

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language Awareness and Language Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. Cambridge Journals

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice Heinle and Heinle. Canada

Murray, N. (2012)  English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence in ELT Journal Volume 66/3 Oxford University Press

Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. Clevedon

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

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

Tomlinson, B. (2008) English Language Learning Materials: A Critical Review Continuum London

Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (2013) Survey Review: Adult course books in ELT Journal Volume 67/2. Oxford University Press Oxford

5 ways of using Edmodo with language learners (part 2)

In part 1 of this series, I shared 5 ways of using Edmodo with language learners to make homework more interesting. In this post, I will focus on ways of using Edmodo with language learners, to support the development of their language learning autonomy. This post extends what I spoke about in my webinar on developing Learner Autonomy, offering a similar mixture of initial theory followed by practical ideas for using Edmodo.

Introduction

In my current context, learners are obliged to do ten hours of private study over the duration of the course, in order to pass. With classes that only happen twice a week, in most cases, out-of-class study is vital for good progress to be made and I am fully in favour of this component of the languages courses here. However, I would argue that this obligation¬†requires autonomy rather than scaffolding it. Indeed,¬†‚Äú‚Ķfostering autonomy does not mean simply leaving learners to their own devices, but implies a more active process of guidance and encouragement to help learners extend and systematise the capacities they already possess.‚ÄĚ (Benson, 2011:91) ¬†When faced with the requirement of private study and left to their own devices to fulfil it, some learners may just default to doing language practice activities online or watching films in English. This may be particularly true of those who are new to language learning and do not yet know many different ways of helping themselves learn outside the classroom. Of course there is nothing wrong with either activity in the above example, and learners may find that these work best for them. The important thing, I feel, is that this be an informed decision based on awareness of alternatives rather than a default position.

Theories of, and perspectives on, learner autonomy abound (for an overview of different perspectives, see Oxford, 2003). ¬†The sociocultural perspective is the one I have chosen to use in my work with my students, with its “central interest in¬†the roles of interaction and social participation in¬†the development of learner autonomy” (Borg and Al-Busaidi, 2012:5). In terms of methodology, I prefer Smith’s (2003) “strong” approach, which works on the assumption that learners¬†are¬†autonomous to different degrees and¬†attempts to work with them to “create the atmosphere and conditions in which they will feel encouraged to develop the autonomy they already have‚ÄĚ (Benson, 2003:305). This contrasts with a “weak” approach (Smith, 2003), which is based on a deficit model in which learners are viewed as lacking certain behaviours, which must be transmitted to them. Autonomy within this perspective, then, is a product of instruction and a deferred goal (ibid). A “strong” approach starts with what learners bring to the table and addresses issues, raised by critics of the concept of learner autonomy, with regards to its appropriateness in different contexts. By developing an approach¬†with¬†the learners, the methodology is what Smith (2003) describes as a “becoming appropriate methodology”.

But where does¬†Edmodo¬†fit into this? Well,¬†Edmodo,¬†as a collaborative space for learners,¬†can be used in conjunction with giving them a handout with range of ideas for them to try, some of which entail using¬†Edmodo,¬†and providing opportunities in class for learners to reflect on and discuss what they have tried, how useful they found it, as well as why, and what they would like to try next, setting personal goals along the way. These discussions needn’t last for too long (for those who are anxious about using class time) and provide a valuable opportunity for building motivation, by enabling learners to help each other with any difficulties met along the way (group trouble-shooting!) and sparking interest in terms of trying ideas that classmates have tried. In my experience, learners are proud to share what they have achieved and interested in what their classmates have done, as well as generally able, between them, to resolve problems met by a member of their cohort. The metacognitive element inherent in reflecting on one’s own learning and discussing it with others is also invaluable in the development of person, task and strategy awareness (Vandergrift and Goh, 2012).

Here are five ways that learners could use Edmodo, within the framework described above, to further their own learning, in doing activities that are not set for homework and to complement other activities, using English, done in their own time.

5 ways of using Edmodo

1) Article sharing and discussion

This activity gives learners the opportunity to express their thoughts, opinions and ideas related to a newspaper or magazine article and see what others think. This uses both receptive (reading) and productive (writing) skills, and enables authentic, communicative use of language between students outside of class time.

  • A learner finds an article that he or she thinks is interesting and posts the link to Edmodo, along with a short paragraph explaining why they think its interesting and an opinion related to the topic.
  • Other learners in the class can then read the article and respond to the original poster with their own ideas and thoughts.
  • The discussion continues until it has been exhausted.
  • (Optional: Learners are allowed 5 or so minutes at the beginning of a lesson to discuss the article[s] in small groups.)

Benefits:

  • The opportunity to share opinions provides a purpose to reading that may be motivational for some learners.
  • Sharing opinions about an article requires a greater depth of processing than just skimming the article for an overall meaning and moving on. The learner has to engage with the ideas contained in the text in order to form an opinion.
  • For learners in contexts where there is not a lot of opportunity to use English outside the classroom, a genuine communicative situation is created.
  • The teacher can look at the exchanges to see what language is missing, that the learners need to express themselves better, and provide this in the classroom.
  • If this is done at intervals, learners can look back at early discussions and compare these with more recent ones. This enables them to see progress in their ability to express themselves.

Of course, the same activity can be applied to a podcast or video clip.

2) Listening task generation

This activity is adapted from Vandergrift and Goh (2012). They call it a “peer listening task” (Vandergrift and Goh, 2012: kindle loc 3923), whose goal is to facilitate extensive listening. The idea is that learners create a listening task for their classmates to carry out.

  • Learners find a youtube clip or podcast in English. (This will require listening closely to a number of such clips, in order to find a suitable one)
  • They post a link to this clip on¬†Edmodo,¬†along with some questions about it.
  • The teacher checks the questions to make sure they are correct and clear, making any suggestions/corrections by responding to the post.
  • The learner can edit the questions according to the teacher’s feedback.
  • Other learners then watch/listen to the clip and answer the questions.

Vandergrift and Goh (2012) provide a template for this activity, which can be adapted and used, or you, the teacher, can create your own brand of scaffolding, if you wish. Obviously, in order to make suitable questions, learners need awareness of suitable question types for listening tasks. By taking a metacognitive approach to listening in class time, you can help learners to increase their task knowledge, which can then be applied to to this activity, with support from you.

Benefits:

  • Edmodo¬†provides an easy means of sharing the clips and questions, creating a repository of listening tasks for learners to do in their own time.
  • To decide on a clip, learners need to listen closely to a variety of such clips.
  • A bank of listening material is built up, which learners can use at any time. (I did this with my learners in advance of their end-of-course listening test, as a means of enabling them to do extra listening practice!)
  • Making questions for other students to answer may be more motivating for some students than just listening, particularly if they don’t understand enough first time round: rather than giving up and moving on, they are encouraged to persevere.

3. Time for a chat!

This is a very simple activity but potentially a very beneficial way of recycling language met in class in a communicative, meaningful way.

  • Any learner may start a conversation on Edmodo, on any topic,¬†by posting a conversation opener. (In Headway Pre-intermediate, there is a lesson on keeping conversations going. You could model this activity by setting it as follow-up homework to that, or a similar, lesson and then encourage learners to do it independently when they see fit. Learners may be more inclined to do it if they have had a go and know that it is not complicated, whereas they may shy away from doing things they haven’t tried before, as it is easier to stick with the known.)
  • Other learners respond and the conversation develops.
  • The conversation continues until learners run out of things to say.

Benefits:

  • Learners use language communicatively outside of class and are able to experiment further with language that they have studied earlier in the course.
  • Quieter learners may feel more comfortable expressing their opinions in writing and doing so may help build up their confidence to increase spoken production later on.
  • The teacher can see if learners have understood how to use this language and troubleshoot any misuse.

When recommending this activity to learners, suggest that they try to incorporate language that they’ve been using in class: this then becomes an opportunity to experiment with that language. It doesn’t have to be from the latest lesson, it could be from any lesson or combination of lessons earlier on in the course. It could be grammatical or lexical, ¬†most likely a combination of the two. Of course the emphasis is on communicating meaning rather than using specific forms, but if learners have in the backs of their minds that this an opportunity for recycling, they find ways of bringing in some of the language naturally. If it sounds stilted or is used inappropriately, the teacher can use this as the basis for some analysis in a subsequent lesson. Research demonstrates that

4.¬†Let’s Cook!

This activity will not appeal to all learners, but that’s fine. Those to whom it does appeal can try it and may benefit from it…

  • Learners write a recipe for a favourite dish. (Not an easy task, but you can direct them to recipe websites, particularly those with lots of pictures, for them to see example recipes)
  • When finished, they post it on¬†Edmodo.¬†
  • Learners may then try and cook friends’ recipes and post pictures of the finished product on Edmodo.¬†They can tell their friends what they think of the recipes and find out what their friends think about their own recipes.
  • Variation:¬†For lower level learners (one of my pre-ints managed this very nicely!), direct them to a recipe website, where they can search for a recipe in English that they want to cook. Once they have cooked the recipe, they can post a picture on¬†Edmodo¬†and/or (depending perhaps on what it is!) bring a sample to class! (My pre-int did both!)
  • Variation:¬†For higher level learners, they may like to compare an L1 recipe and the English version (i.e. a recipe for the same dish but written originally in English) and see what similarities and differences there are in structure, lay-out, use of language etc.

Benefits:

  • It’s a fun way of using English outside of class.
  • It exposes learners to English used in a different way from what they may be used to.
  • It’s practical and hands-on, using language rather than just learning about language: this will hopefully be motivational for learners, as there is a concrete outcome of using the language.

Obviously if a learner has no interest in cooking, then it’s a non-starter. But the beauty of out-of-class work is that learners can choose what they do…

5. Reporting a conversation

Many schools offer some kind of conversation club or guided (to a greater or lesser extent) speaking opportunities, that learners may attend outside of class time. Edmodo allows students who attend these extra-curricular sessions the opportunity to benefit more from them.

  • Students attend conversation club/pub night/guided speaking opportunity of whatever description.
  • Subsequently, learners write about it on Edmodo:¬†What was discussed? What new language did they learn? What did they find most interesting? What was the silliest/funniest/cleverest thing that was said?
  • Other learners who were not able to attend can then read about the session and respond to the content of the post in any way they wish. A further discussion on the topic may arise!

Benefits:

  • Students who attend the speaking occasions gain from revisiting and reprocessing the content and language of these.
  • Students who did not attend may be tempted to attend at a later date when they are able to and¬†may learn something new from the posts written by students who did attend.
  • The teacher can see what their students have picked up from a speaking occasion and clear up any linguistic misunderstandings that may have arisen.
  • If further discussion arises in response to the post, this creates another opportunity for meaningful language use. For the original poster this may offer chances to recycle newly learnt lexis.

Edmodo and Reflection

In addition to activities such as these, of course,¬†Edmodo¬†has potential as a reflective tool. You can encourage learners to write reflective pieces regarding past language learning experience, progress they feel they’ve made on a course so far (perhaps at the mid-course stage), goals, and what they’ve learnt when they reach the end of a course. Reflection is arguably an important factor in the development of learner autonomy: “only experience that is reflected upon seriously will yield its full measure of learning” (Kohonen, 1992:17). Obviously this shouldn’t be over-done – learners may get tired of it if you try and get them to do it all the time! Written reflection of this type, done at reasonable (what is “reasonable” will depend very much on the length of the course, the frequency of the lessons etc) intervals, can, however, complement the discussions alluded to earlier in this post. The added benefit of using¬†Edmodo¬†as a means of doing this is that learners can read each others’ reflections and gain from their colleagues’ insights, which may differ from their own, and it’s also very interesting for the teacher to see what the students think and how aware they are of their learning, learning processes and learning progress, and what they take away with them at the end of a course.

Student feedback:

As I’ve already shared student feedback from completed courses in the webinar (see my slides in the recording) and in part 1 of this series of posts about Edmodo, I thought I would use feedback from my current semi-intensive course who are now just over half way through their level. At the half-way point, I find it useful to give learners the chance to evaluate¬†Edmodo¬†and come up with ideas of their own for how it could be used. A class of heads plus mine is better than one! In addition to fresh ideas arising, it gives learners ownership of the page, and this ownership motivates them to invest more time and effort into using it. My semi-intensive gang are pre-intermediate and focus on the first 6 units of a 12 unit pre-intermediate course book. Therefore at this point, they have looked at 3 and 3/4 units.

I gave my learners the beginning of six sentences to complete Рtwo about the reading project, two about Edmodo and two about the course as a whole. The two about Edmodo were:

Edmodo is good because… ¬†and¬†I think Edmodo would be better if…

This didn’t give me any statistics but those 6 questions gave the learners the opportunity to critique different aspects of the course and the course as a whole, and me the opportunity to negotiate the onward path with them. Between us, then, we benefit in terms of the course becoming better-suited to learners’ needs.

Here are the students’ answers:

Edmodo is good because…

  • Edmodo is good because is useful to exchange and train our English. It is also good to propose topics for discussion and creates team spirit of classmates.

  • Edmodo is good because….. I think that it’s a very good way to exchange some informations not only about homework but also about topics we chose discussing on.

  • Edmodo is good because we can talk with the other classmates and when there are some homework we can compare together.

  • Edmodo is good because, through the app, I can read and post topics and homework from everywhere…

  • -Edmodo is good because allows all the students to comunicate each other not only for the homework but on everything we decide is useful to improve our english

  • Edmodo is funny even though I hate FB. This exercise of writing would be better if we read and checked our written in classroom all together.

Edmodo would be better if…

  • Edmodo would be better if we use it more and if we continue to use it after the course.

  • Edmodo would be better if…. I don’t know, I find it useful enough as it is !¬†…..Perhaps if everyone could choose a topic of conversation on which we have to prepare from the next time and on which we will discuss for improve our ability in conversation.

  • Edmodo would be better if it was possible connect it with the student’s personal mail addresses So when a student writes something or a post, all the recipients could automatically receive notice or, if possible, the whole contents of the edmodo’s posts

  • Edmodo would be better if is possible have a private chat like facebook because I think that if I can talk with someone for a thing the private chat is more useful than the notice-board ( ? )

  • Edmodo would be better if?

2 students have yet to respond (this is hot off the press homework!) and one conflated the questions, as you can see in the first set of answers above.

This class didn’t wait till the half-way point before taking ownership! They are the first class which I introduced¬†Edmodo¬†to straight away at the start of the class. They are also the first class who got the activity ideas handout for the Experimenting with English project straight away. (Straight away in both cases means lesson 2, when we did the Self-Access Centre tour) However, on the strength of this evaluation, we have decided to use the beginning of the lesson on Monday to bring¬†Edmodo¬†up on screen using the projector and do a quick collaborative error correction slot. This will focus on the posts that are generated by the other idea to arise, which was to choose a topic each week, share links to relevant articles/information and discuss it on¬†Edmodo,¬†then use a small amount of class time to share ideas in class too. So again, learners benefit from rehearsing language, followed by feedback and task repetition (although changing the medium from written to spoken) and all based on something of interest to them as a group. With regards to the student who wants email notifications every time something is posted, I have looked into that using the¬†Edmodo¬†community support forum and got a link for him to set it up.

One similar thing to come out of this feedback and the feedback from the end of my previous courses, is that learners may not be keen on social media but still like Edmodo and recognise the benefits of it. The feedback from these learners clearly demonstrates their recognition of it as a tool for supporting their learning and for using independently Рthey like the fact that it is not just for homework. It is important to emphasise from the start that it is their space. Using it for homework, to model activities and to encourage communication, is great but at the same time, if they know it is theirs, they will find even more innovative ways of using it.

Finally, being a semi-intensive class, they are likely to have a good rapport anyway, due to the frequency of classes, but having¬†Edmodo¬†enhances that, too, as one student above recognises explicitly. Therefore, while autonomy may be a major goal (at least as far as I am concerned!), the benefits are not limited to that. I ¬†think, on the whole, that this group of learners is getting a lot more out of their course than 4hrs a week of language study. As well as becoming more autonomous, they are getting what they want out of their course (despite the fixed learning goals/curriculum/assessment, there is still room for negotiation, if one enables that) and enjoying lots of opportunity to use language collaboratively, communicatively and meaningfully outside of class time, as well as the “team spirit” that arises from this.

Conclusion

It is important to differentiate between expectation of learner autonomy and fostering learner autonomy. In order to do so, it helps to be aware of different perspectives on learner autonomy and methodologies for bringing it in to the classroom. Edmodo is a collaborative tool, which allows greater scope for language use outside of the classroom, and used in conjunction with a supportive framework, which helps learners to experiment, reflect on their experimentation and become more aware of different ways of developing their language skills, can, I believe, play a role in helping learners become more autonomous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low-level Teens and the Global SIG Food Issues Month (some more materials!)

When Lindsay Clandfield posted a comment on my blog, bringing my attention to the IATEFL Global SIG’s Food Issues Month, it immediately grabbed my interest. For the month of October, teachers around the world are sharing ideas, lesson plans, materials, resources, projects – anything and everything they are doing with learners that is of relevance to this event. (You can read more about how to get involved here.)

Background:

In order to participate, I decided to make some materials to use with two classes of mid-Elementary level teens.

This would be my second lesson with both classes, taught back-to-back with just ten minutes between them. The first lesson was a ‘Getting to know you‘ lesson, and in classes to come, we will be getting stuck into the second half of Pearson’s Choices Elementary course book. Part of the introduction to the unit we will be starting with involved review of vocabulary related to jobs, so I had this in mind when I planned the lesson and materials. Outside of this, I had no idea what I wanted to do.

A lot of brainstorming and googling later, having realised just what a massive content area is covered by the Global SIG’s event, I fixed on the issue of child workers on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. I must admit, I hadn’t realised how prevalent child slavery still is in the chocolate industry. I think it’s something that gets swept under the carpet a lot, in the interest of ¬£¬£¬£.

I thought/hoped it would work well to take something very well-known, well-liked and very part of the average western child’s life i.e. chocolate and use this as a starting point/springboard for an exploration of the lesser known, darker side of it i.e. child slavery on cocoa farms as part of chocolate production. The progression from known to unknown is also present in moving from familiar jobs to unfamiliar jobs i.e. baker, farmer, waiter etc. to chocolate taster and cocoa farm worker.

In Practice:

The lessons were 1hr20 mins each and we did not manage to complete all of the activities in either class. I think I possibly spent too long on the lead-ins. However, the learners were engaged by the materials, and learnt some new vocabulary (which they did then proceed to use receptively in reading the text and productively in speaking and writing about it! Yay, teens!) as well as doing some reading, speaking (so therefore listening too, though this wasn’t the skill focus) and writing. I pre-taught a bit of vocabulary for the reading text, and elicited possible content based on this, so when they came to read the text, it was manageable for them.

The chocolate quiz was, of course, much enjoyed by the learners, and served to highlight the contrast between the sweetness of chocolate in rich, western countries and the bitterness of life on the cocoa farms, echoed in the contrast between the job of chocolate taster and the job of cocoa farm worker.

I found that when they worked together in groups, for example when I asked them to discuss their response to the text/gist question, they would say a few words in English, then lapse into Italian with chunks of English woven in, then worked together to attempt to reformulate their shared ideas in English. I was happy with this, because they were discussing their understanding of what they had read in English, related to a very meaty issue. It was also very obvious that they were not being lazy! ūüôā

It was interesting using the same set of resources with two classes in a row. Even though I had little time in between the classes to reflect, I did make several changes in how I used the materials in the second class: I felt the first time round that the lesson had been too teacher-centred. I think this had a lot to do with it being my first time to use the sophisticated technology that IH Palermo is endowed with – i.e. interactive e-beam whiteboard, projector – in combination with this being a level/age group combination with which I also have little experience. So I missed a few tricks in terms of involving the learners. Live (or teach) and learn!

The materials consist of:

  • A powerpoint-based chocolate quiz
  • A handout for the learners
  • Teachers notes

(These can all be found here Рscroll down to number 2.)

To this I added a few e-beam scrapbook pages – one with a picture of a chocolate taster ¬†(an ad-hoc ‘flashcard’ to introduce this job – which the majority of learners expressed a certain keenness on doing in future!) and one with the pictures I used for pre-teaching the vocabulary (those pictures included in the teachers notes) plus one with pictures and words, which I got the learners to join up after I had elicited the vocabulary.

Note:¬†I see one class again on Friday, the other on Monday. I plan to review what we did today and finish off the writing task before moving on to the course book. It will be interesting to see what they remember, i.e. what they took away with them, from today’s class… <watch this space!>

If you use these materials or adapt them for use for a different age/level, I’d be very interested to hear what you did and how it went! ūüôā

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? ūüôā