reflections

Evidence and (my lack of) accountability

Last ramble before I’m back to sharing lesson ideas.

I’ve been re-reading Russ Mayne’s blog on evidence based ELT. I remember being quite into it in the lead up to my diploma and agreed with (what I saw as) his main message. We can’t rely solely on our own reflections or those of so-called experts to validate the methods/approaches we use. We need more objective evidence. If there isn’t any then we should be skeptical, and if there is evidence (e.g. from research) then we should ensure that it is reliable.

Perhaps one reason I like Mayne’s stance is because I used to be more science-focused. My MSc was in cognitive psychology and I was working on experiments with large quantitative data sets. I chose that path mainly because my BA involved a lot of qualitative research which I found was often subjective or too easy to manipulate. I felt with quantitative data things were more objective and trustworthy – providing that I didn’t do something calamitous to my SPSS/Excel spreadsheets, which I often did!

The main effect my studies had on me was that I came to question everything. The trouble was, questioning everything didn’t seem to work well in teaching. By questioning everything, I essentially had faith in nothing. When I started out there wasn’t really one teaching method I truly believed in. Coupled with that, I was genuinely a crap teacher, so not only did I lack faith in the methods I was using, I was ridiculously hesitant and lacking in confidence. Jeez, my poor DOS back then. I must have been a nightmare. (more…)

Acoustic blur, soundshapes, speech streams

I’ve been thinking about an interaction I had in class last week. I’ve transcribed it roughly below. For a bit of context, the language point was going to for future plans, and the language had been presented through a listening. This was a controlled practice stage.

Here’s how things played out (well, with real student names obviously!)…

Student A : (quite slowly) What are you going to do after class?

Student B : (quite carefully) I’m going to meet my friends

Me: OK, cool. That’s fine…. *thinks*. OK, Student A – woye.gunne.doowaf.teclass?

Student A: Er…I’m going to eat

Me: weye.gunneet?

Student A: Sorry?

Me: weye.gunneet?

Student A: I don’t… understand

Me: That’s ok. What might I ask you? You said that you’re going to eat…

Student A: Maybe… where?

Me: weye.guneet?

Student A: Oh! Where are you going to eat?

Me: weye.guneet?

Student A: Maybe… Sizzler

Me: Nice. Good steak. (To Student B) Ask me.

Student B: What are you going to /

Me: woye.gunne.doowaf.teclass?

Student B: *laughs* woye…gunnerrr

Me: it’s OK. Try this instead: watcher

Student B: watcher

Me: watcher.gunner

Etc…

I find myself doing things like this more and more in class. I mean, if you were to pick this interaction apart, it’s not particularly good teaching to be fair. The whole interaction is staggered and unnatural, I’m modelling pronunciation with simple repetition, I’m leading the exchanges here too. But hey, I’m being honest about what happens in my class sometimes, I’m not gonna lie. (more…)

Subject knowledge, jargon, learners

This is a post aimed at candidates about to take a diploma course, but is still relevant to all. It also loosely connects to Sandy’s recent post about mistakes you’ve made in class (click here).

There’s a good line in the introduction of Dalton and Seidlhofer’s book, Pronunciation (1994):

‘What teachers need to know is not necessarily what learners need to learn.’

This should be a motto for diploma trainees. It’s far too easy to get bound up in terminology and jargon, or simply so interested in it, that lessons can become very technical and not learner-friendly. What’s more, just because you’ve covered something in an input session on the course, that doesn’t mean you should rush straight into the classroom and try it out. It might not suit your context.

While I was studying for my DipTESOL I fell into a couple of traps related to my classroom practice.

The smug teacher

Looking back, some of the corrections I used to make were cringe-worthy. I can’t remember saying this, but knowing me I probably did…

‘Hmmm, actually I think you’ll find that’s a phrasal-prepositional verb’

No, I couldn’t have. Surely…

The yawn marathon

You suddenly know all the usage rules for the definite, indefinite and zero articles. Like, ALL of them, including every possible country/group of countries that begin with the word ‘The’. Your learners definitely need to know all of these right now! I advise scheduling about 40 mins for a teacher input stage to cover EVERY rule. Just you talking. To complete beginners.

Jargony McJargonface

Progressive and regressive assimilation? Juncture and catenation? Epenthesis? All pretty cool words/phrases if you’re into phonology, and also really good things to chuck into a) something like a phonology interview on your course if they’re relevant, b) conversations with other teachers to make you sound smart. But the learners? Well, teach those terms if you want – I prefer to teach the concepts when relevant and just refer to them in a simpler way. Back in my diploma days though, well…

And you’ve done that because…?

Colleague: What are you teaching today, Pete?

Pete: I’m veering away from the syllabus a bit. I’m gonna teach some binominals

Colleague: Bi…? I can’t remember what they…

Pete: Just, you know, two or more words, linked by a conjunction. Usually fixed. ‘sick and tired, ‘pros and cons’, stuff like that

Colleague: Oh yeah. Cool. So, why?

Pete: What do you mean?

Colleague: Why? I mean… are they relevant to anything you’ve covered recently? Or… I mean, are the phrases connected in any way or something? Or…

Pete: Look, I learnt about them on my course. If I don’t teach them, I’ll probably forget what they are

Colleague: OK… Pete, look. Your students are taking their IELTS exam in 3 days, so maybe you should…

Pete: Teach them about binominals. The speaking examiner will love it.

 

I’ve already dealt with questions from new trainees related to the situations above. Here are examples…

…..

In my language analysis I have referred to the word ‘There’ in the structure ‘There is/are..’ as being a dummy subject, and mentioned (as Parrott does) that this is a type of existential clause. Should I tell my learners this?

…..

I recently learnt that verbs can be transitive/intransitive/ditransitive/copula/etc. Should I tell my learners about this every time I teach a new verb?

…..

I write words in phonemic script on the board, but learners can’t read it. Should I teach the script to them in the few hours we have together each week?

 

My answer is pretty much the same every time:

How do you think your learners would react?

Sure, developing subject knowledge is an important, and necessary, part of the course. You need a pretty good level of subject knowledge to pass the exam and interview, plus you will need to show you understand what you’re teaching through a language analysis (like the ones on the CELTA). But ultimately, you’re learning all this to improve your practice, which you’re doing in order to benefit your learners. Don’t do what I did by letting all this new knowledge go to your head. Always keep your learners in mind. Teach what is relevant, when it is relevant, and in a way that is relevant to them. As always, right?

Aside from that, make sure you bank all this new jargon for a years’ time. They’ll be a whole new set of trainees by then, and it’s great fun to scare them with terms like ‘regressive assimilation’.

(Feature image: Shutterstock)

Article for Modern English Teacher: using Quizlet in teen classes

Here’s my article for the latest Modern English Teacher, April 2018. I did a bit of action research on using Quizlet in class, which I mentioned before in this post. Sorry about the graphs, Scribd makes them look a bit funny. The research was part of a Masters module in tech-assisted language learning through NILE ELT.

This article is copyright Pavilion Publishing.

You can find some tips for writing for ELT magazines in my post here.

How I plan with coursebooks

Coursebooks. Arrgh.

I write and read so many rants about them. Global coursebooks are too ‘catch-all’, they’re not aligned with what we know about second language acquisition, they’re a straightjacket, the images promote certain ideals, the content is too diluted, etc.

Like them or not, many teachers are bound to using a coursebook. Maybe a syllabus is coursebook-driven, the school demand it, the expectation from parents is that they’ve shelled out for the book so it must be completed cover-to-cover. Whatever. It happens. I can rant about it on my blog until the cows come home, but at the end of the day I’ve got to find a way to use it.

My school mostly use their own in-house materials, but we have a coursebook-driven syllabus for the teens (well, until next year). Here’s an example of some of the steps I go through when planning from the book. These are meant for less-experienced teachers. They are representative of my classroom practice but I can’t guarantee they’ll be effective (!). Every class is different.

Here we go. I have a copy of Beyond A2+ (Macmillan). I’m opening it at random… and we got…

Ew…

For my teens? COME ON! Can I start again? No? Right. Ok… (more…)

Edtech exploration

I’ve come across loads of edtech sites/tools recently. I’ll forget them all if I don’t start writing them down. Here’s a random mix of stuff I’ve come across or have been using.

Things I tried in class last term…

Quizlet

I had to do a fairly long piece of action research into edtech for my MA. I chose to focus on Quizlet, you can read about my initial thoughts here. Overall, despite plenty of encouragement, I found that Quizlet lacked longevity. The wow factor died down after a while and the students rarely used the app for self-study towards the end of term. Verdict: Meh… (more…)

Making things up… during observed lessons

Last weekend I had a pretty scary lesson observation…

I’ve been observed more at British Council Thailand than in any other teaching job, which is to me a good thing. There have been formal observations twice a year, observations during training courses like the CELTA YL extension, short management observations during teaching/learning reviews, peer observation schemes, the list goes on…

Personally, I think there are things we can do to optimise our observation procedures. I touched upon one of these in this IATEFL-related post. However, I can’t argue with the amount of opportunities we have to get feedback on our teaching from managers and peers.

Anyway, about the weekend. I’m lucky – my current boss and I get on alright. She was my tutor on last year’s CELTA young learner extension course, and she’s well aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I like her feedback style and I welcome her comments as they are always constructive. She unnerves me a bit during observations with the way she stares, yawns and subconsciously shakes her head, but she never reads this blog so I can get away with saying that.

My rapport with the boss should have put me at ease – so why was this observation particularly scary? Well, because I decided beforehand that I wasn’t going to try and impress anyone. What do people learn about me as a teacher if they constantly see me trying to put on a performance? During peer observations I’m normally just myself, but whenever a manager comes to observe I feel like I’m being judged – like I have to ‘up my game’ or something. In particular, I feel I have to stick to the plan rigidly. (more…)