ELT research

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…)

1000 words on… Correcting spoken errors

This is an interesting topic I’ve been revisiting this week. I wrote about it during my diploma (see here) and I like how relevant and applicable this topic is to my classroom practice.

Lyster and Ranta (1997) suggest that there are six common correction techniques used by teachers. That is, when they are correcting spoken errors. These techniques are:

Technique Description Example
Explicit correction clearly indicating that the learner’s utterance is wrong and correcting them. Student: *He’s a sinGER  

Teacher: No, it’s SINGer. He’s a SINGer.

Recast not directly indicating that the learner was incorrect, but reformulating the error to provide correction. Student: *I go to London yesterday

Teacher: Ah, you went to London yesterday

Student: … er, yeah.

Clarification The teacher indicates that the learner’s utterance was incorrect in some way through phrases like ‘sorry?’, ‘What was that?’ etc. This prompts learner to reformulate Student: *I don’t do many mistakes

Teacher: Sorry?

Student: I don’t do…

Teacher: Huh? What was that?

Student: Make! I don’t make many mistakes

Metalinguistic clues Without providing the correct form, the teacher asks questions or provides comments

related to the formation of the learner’s utterance

Student: *He work in an office most days

Teacher: Is that the correct form of the verb? Do we say ‘He work?’

Elicitation Teacher elicits correct form from learner As with above example, something like…

 Teacher: I work, you work, he/she ….?

Student: works

Repetition Teacher repeats the error, using voice/intonation etc to show that an error has been made and prompt reformulation Student: *He not like football

Teacher: He NOT like football?

Student: doesn’t! He doesn’t

Note: some of my descriptions above are from a great overview from Tedick and de Gortari (1998). More on that in a sec… (more…)

Problems with images in ELT materials

Images in ELT coursebooks are often ambiguous. What might seem a fairly obvious depiction of an act or concept to us may be perceived as something completely different to our learners.

In an interesting, small-scale study, Hewings (1991) asked a group of Vietnamese learners in England to interpret various illustrations found in Elementary level coursebooks. For most of the images correct interpretation would require some culturally-specific knowledge, and written text around the images was removed so the learners weren’t given any support.

Hewings found many types of image were interpreted differently from what was intended. One example was with illustrations portraying people in certain roles, where learners failed to recognise certain stereotypes (e.g. rich/poor). He found, understandably, that culturally-specific job roles (e.g. a priest) were misinterpreted, as were situational images.

Maps like this room plan were also confused…

taken from Hewings (1991)

Some learners thought this was a view of a house from top to bottom rather than a floor plan from above. Symbolic representations like thought bubbles were also misinterpreted, and images like the ones below were seen as something different – the first image being a children’s slide, a reception desk, and ‘information’.

taken from Hewings (1991)

Interpretation of graphs also seemed an issue, particularly dealing with keys.

Hewings made some clear points in conclusion (mostly quotes here):

  • ‘we inevitably see illustrations from a culturally based viewpoint…’
  • We assume that everyone perceives images in the same way
  • ‘We assume that students have the necessary skills to make sense of information presented in the form other than a text’
  • Interpretations are unpredictable
  • Images are a chance to make learners aware of visual representations of a cultural group/target language

(more…)

The role of research in TEFL

I’ve been thinking about the role of research in TEFL recently. This was prompted by Dr Paula Rebolledo’s closing plenary on Day 2 of the Teaching for Success online conference, titled ‘How could research inform EFL practice?’ You can watch it here. The talk reminded me of a few things I’ve read by Penny Ur, including this Guardian article in which she questions whether research is directly relevant to pedagogical issues.

Here’s a summary of points made in Paula’s plenary (I hope she doesn’t mind this blow by blow account but it was a really engaging talk):

  • According to her poll, most attendees felt that experience informed their decision making above research (and other resources)
robolledo-jpg

poll from talk by Dr. Paula Rebolledo

  • Research is often inaccessible to teachers (i.e. restricted access journals, costly, etc)
  • A lot of research is incomprehensible – it’s full of jargon and there are different discourses used among researchers and academics compared with teachers
  • Research findings aren’t always relevant to teachers (mentioned by Ur and others)
  • Teachers have different routes to research – engagement WITH research (i.e. reading it) or engagement IN research (doing it). NB: on the latter point – big up our Quircle!
  • Some authors (e.g. Ellis, Ur) have suggested that ‘mediators’ may be useful in helping teachers access, understand and facilitate teacher engagement in research
  • Huw Jarvis did a bit of self-promo in the chat box saying he was such a mediator. His site looks interesting
  • There could be a power imbalance between teachers and researchers. Teachers are seen as being on the receiving end of knowledge. We should rethink this. Perhaps researchers need to better understand teaching, as many may have been out of the classroom for a long time and more used to observing
  • Teachers may benefit from undertaking research or working with researchers in many ways, like these:
talk2

slide from the talk by Dr Paula Rebolledo

  • The idea of ‘teacher as researcher’ needs to be a ‘bottom up, teacher-led enterprise
  • There are practical issues for teachers engaging in research – lack of time, the need for support from schools and society as a whole, etc.

(more…)