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. 🙂 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! 😀 )

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

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…)
  • 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):

“None of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.” (Tomlinson, 2008)

“Little[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.” (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’t they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn’t 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, “…fostering 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.” (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” (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 Edmodoand 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 – two 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 – they 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! 🙂

“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! 🙂

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! 🙂

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 – scroll 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! 🙂

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.

 

 

 

 

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

Bringing Metacognition into the Classroom

Towards the end of the 9p.m. #ELTchat discussion on Twitter yesterday, @Sandymillin asked for ideas of how to develop skills, rather than just practicing them, at intermediate level – as a means of helping learners get off the intermediate plateau. I piped up with the suggestion of using metacognition. Sandy recommended that I blog about what I meant by this, so here it is…

I’ve spent the past 8 weeks or so developing a set of materials for the assessment (finally submitted on Monday!) of the materials development module on my M.A. in ELT at Leeds Met, and one of the threads of this set was the development of metacognition. As such, it’s been uppermost in my mind for some time now! As far as developing listening skills goes, I would highly recommend reading Vandergrift and Goh (2012): Teaching and learning Second Language Listening, which lays out the theory behind the development of metacognitive awareness, a pedagogical framework for bringing it into the classroom and example activities which demonstrate the practical application of it all. Very inspiring. I do believe, however, that this approach can be useful not only for listening but for development in all four language skills and that if our materials do not reflect this (my assessment materials did attempt to!), then we, as teachers, can compensate for this in how we use these materials in the classroom.

The idea behind developing metacognitive awareness in listening is that if learners are more self-aware, task-aware and strategy-aware, they will be able to help themselves listen better when the teacher is not there to do this for them. Many course materials provide listening practice – you have your readiness activities, your listening text, various activities based on the text, form focus etc, and if you’re lucky, then you’re using a coursebook that does this effectively or you’re free to pick and choose the materials you use, in which case you sequence your choice of materials and activities in the manner you believe to be most conducive to learning. However, what about the learners in all this? They dutifully do the activities, and we, as teachers, often assume our purpose of using them is crystal clear. The reality, though, is that if you ask them why they think you have requested that they do a particular activity or sequence of activities, they will probably reply (as did the group of IELTS learners I put this question to yesterday during a class I covered, in the context of a vocabulary activity) with a mixture of blank expressions or “to help us improve our English, teacher” –type responses combined with a quizzical look that appears to wonder why such a clearly obvious thing would be questioned. If you think about it, learners are not generally encouraged to question materials. Some materials, promoting critical thinking, encourage questioning of the texts therein – for example in terms of writer’s purpose, choice of language and how it affects the reader/listener and so on – but very rarely are they required to question the activities themselves or the approach behind these. Materials are usually the authority, they know best.

I think this is a pity because a lot of time and effort goes into developing learning materials and they strive to combine activities that will promote most effective language learning, and we as teachers put a lot of time and effort into deciding how we can exploit them most usefully. We try to include a varied diet of activities, so as to meet as wide a variety of learner preferences and needs as we can. We know that any given activity will be more useful to some learners than others and vice versa. Different learners are engaged by, enjoy, struggle with, find useful, are challenged by and are bored by very different activities. There is a lot that learners could learn from all this. Perhaps, then, as well as attempting to meet all these different needs and styles within a lesson, we can go a step further: We can encourage learners to think about why they are doing/have done a particular activity, what they have got out of doing it, why they found it useful/challenging/boring/difficult. It could be that if they are convinced enough by the purpose, then they will try harder next time to overcome the negative response they felt towards it this time round, perhaps developing a style of working that isn’t their first choice but may benefit them in the long run. As their understanding of the different activities found in their materials increases, they may be better able to apply the principles behind these to their encounters with language outside of the classroom. Taking this a step further, we could encourage learners to collaborate and create their own activities, based on authentic materials (“the language produced by a real speaker/writer for a real audience, conveying a real message” – Gilmore, 2007. Note there is no mention of the native speaker here, so this can apply to texts produced by any user of English) of their choice, for use by their colleagues. (For any who may be interested, creation of own materials for learning comes under level 4 out of 5 of Nunan’s (1997) levels of implementation [I’m glad I noticed that Word auto-changed implementation – presumably with a typo – to implantation! That could have sounded a bit dodgy!] of autonomy and level five is the highest level, where the learners connect their learning with their language use in the real world). This would, of course require some guidance. Vandergrift and Goh (2012) provide a useful example task scaffolding this process of learner production of materials for use with listening texts.

Ok, now that I’ve bored you with my rationale, if you’ve got this far I will reward you with a few practical ideas for use in the classroom:

  • Start building critical reflection into your lessons gradually. So for example, you could start by using a Demand High technique, mentioned by Jim Scrivener in his Classroom Management Techniques book: At the end of the lesson, instead of just bringing the final activity to a close and sending your learners off home, ask them what three things they found most useful in that lesson and, all-importantly, why. Give them time to discuss in pairs and/or groups. Encourage them to appreciate everybody else’s responses and reasoning, which will no doubt be influenced by previous learning experiences and current learning habits.
  • Start encouraging learners to think about the purposes behind the activities you are using, to question their utility. It’s ok for them to think an activity is useless – as long as they can justify it! However, it would be useful to encourage them to think about how it could be useful. Or how it could be adapted to become more useful to them. (If you then in a future lesson, when you have a similar activity planned, allow them to adapt it, then you will be letting them operate on level 3 of Nunan’s levels of implementation of autonomy)
  • Subvert your course book (they tend to follow a predictable pattern so breaking it can spice things up). Or your usual approach to sequencing activities. Skip an activity/a stage that you would usually use to help the learners. (But be nice about it – explain that today you are going to do things a bit differently before launching into a different game plan: get them on board and ready to spot the differences!) Build in time for discussion following your atypical choice of activities/sequencing and get learners to think in what ways the lesson was different, and what impact this had on how easy/difficult they found the (reading text/listening text/speaking task/writing activity etc.). In this way, learners will become more aware of the value of different activities for them, in approaching texts or tasks.
  • Use a listening text as a basis for a text reconstruction activity, then encourage learners to compare their reconstruction with the transcript. Give learners a list of potential difficulties they might have had understanding the text. Have them circle words/phrases in the transcript that they had difficulty with and identify what it was that caused them difficulty. This helps raise their awareness of what they struggle with, enabling them to target these elements in any out of class listening work they do. You could also target difficulties that are common to the majority of learners, for example doing some receptive pronunciation work to overcome difficulties in handling the elisions/assimilations etc. associated with connected speech. (This idea, I must attribute to Vandergrift and Goh, 2012!)
  • At the end of a course book unit, build in a reflection and evaluation phase, where learners look back over the unit and identify what they have learnt, what activities they found most useful and why.
  • At the beginning of a course book section, get the learners to look at the sequence of activities and interrogate the choice/sequencing of activities, to consider whether adding an activity in anywhere, or omitting/substituting an activity might help them.
  • Get learners to work in groups, give each group a reading text and have them create an activity, or sequence of activities, based on this for use by one of the other groups. They will, of course, find this easier if they have a better understanding of the activities used with texts in their course book or provided by you.

As with anything, don’t try and do it all at once – the learners might think you’ve completely lost the plot and run away. Do it gradually, bit by bit. Experiment. Make sure the learners understand why you are asking them to do things they may not be accustomed to doing – like thinking for themselves and critiquing their learning materials/teacher’s activity choices. Don’t over-do it, anything over-done goes stale! Finally, be supportive and open to feedback from them, so that you can also learn from the process.

And let me know how it goes! 🙂

References:

Gilmore, A. (2007) Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. In Language Teaching vol. 40. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Nunan, D. (1997) Designing and Adapting Materials to encourage Learner Autonomy in Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning. Benson and Voller (ed). Pearson Education. Harlow.

Scrivener, J. (2012) Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

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