Monday, 26 November 2012



A quick entry today about a lesson I delivered on Thursday with an ESOL Level One (CEFR B1-B2; approximately Upper Intermediate) class.
This group consists of 19 students of a variety of backgrounds, with a significant group of older Sudanese learners. This class is unusual in that they almost all come from a very well- to highly-educated background, although there are several in the group with less school experience, including one with a highly-disrupted education in Afghanistan, although this particular student is highly intelligent and has successfully adapted to life in the UK.
The college is running cross-college themes: last week was anti-bullying week, and I felt it would be a useful class to do with this class, as I feel that ESOL students who are here long-term in the UK are significantly more likely to be bullied or discriminated against in a variety of contexts, all of which cause further problems for how they live, work, and study. Here's how the procedure went:
I introduced the issue of bullying through an anecdote of mine (in fact, an incident involving a pedestrian who attempted to assault me the previous day!) and checked what the learners though bullying was. I then put them into groups, and, using the whiteboards in the Rubber Room, wrote down the different kinds of bullying people might face, and where. The learners were highly engaged, actively discussing the subject and using their mobile phones to check for vocabulary and sources. They wrote up their ideas in thought clouds, then after that the groups moved around the room, looking at the other groups' ideas. We sat down together and had a brief discussion about the different types of bullying, and concept-checked any new vocabulary or ideas, asking the learners who had written the new vocab to explain it.
I then gave each group a short dialogue each, all based on different scenarios where bullying can take place. These included bullying someone because of their accent, and a racist scenario. I gave the groups enough time to memorise and practise their dialogues, then they performed them to the other class members. The rest of the group had to say what type of bullying was being demonstrated.
Following this, we had a whole class discussion about the kinds of bullying they had experienced while in the UK, and what could be done about it, and who in the college could help the learners if they experienced it.
Finally, during an IT session, the learners read about the college policy regarding bullying and commented about their experiences in an online forum.
Overall, a very satisfying lesson.
*I've decided to add a theme title at the beginning of entries to make it easier to decide if you feel it's worth reading or not. :)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Doing it Methodically.

Being a thorough geek when it comes to ELT, one aspect of doing my DELTA that I enjoyed was looking at the weird and wonderful world of Approaches and Methodologies that our industry has spawned over the years, from Grammar Translation to The Silent way, from TPR to CLL, from (de-)Suggestopedia to Dogme. Reading through them, I realised that I had, in my career, incorporated techniques and ideas from all over the place, creating a motley weft of Approaches to different skills and systems in class. This presented a problem when it came to teaching a lesson using an unfamiliar technique, then writing a review for my portfolio. In the end, I plumped for CLL, which I'm pleased to report was almost, but not quite, an unmitigated disaster. However, seeking to adhere to its stricter rules as I circled a classroom of nervous students, some of whom would timidly proffer a piece of language for me to pounce on, I was afforded an opportunity to reflect on the efficacy or not of a particular method, and consider my own practice. CLL certainly has its redeeming features, not least of which is the way in which the class is entirely learner-centred, and in my post-lesson evaluation, I said that I would incorporate some of its features into my future teaching. And of course, I ,er, fully intend to. At some stage.
But here's an issue - I will incorporate it into my teaching practices, not run wildly into its outstretched arms, joyously weeping at what could be a Universal Panacea for language learning. In other words, I'm not totally convinced of it as a methodology. I have been teaching now since October 1993, and should be up for parole soon have been raised, as it were, within the wide realm of the Communicative Approach, but I have never found one particular Method to which I would willingly adhere entirely. So why is this?
I did some further digging during my research, and do you know that there is not a SINGLE piece of empirical research I can find that suggests that one method or approach in language teaching is actually more efficient or effective than another? There is nothing that says CLT is any better or faster at getting students to learn language than, say, Audiolingualism. There are lots of claims, yes; There is lots of anecdotal evidence, yes; But there is absolutely nothing that proves that one method or approach is any better than any other. You will find all sorts of studies that look at motivation, or teacher talk time, or ideas about language learning or acquisition, or how literacy is the key to learning, but you will not find a single thing that says, for example, 'Grammar Translation works better than Dogme. F.A.C.T'.
Why is this? Well, the obvious answer is that it would be incredibly difficult to run an experiment that directly compares different ELT methodologies. I mean, it's possible - I've calculated that it could be done by kidnapping sets of twins at birth, raising them in their birth languages under strictly controlled conditions with other sets of identical twins, then separate them at a certain age and teach them using two different methodologies, ensuring, of course, that they are regularly subjected to MRI scanning and Tomography to measure changes in their brains. Once they have reached a pre-determined level of proficiency, we should then be able to determine which method is more efficacious. Unfortunately, we would then also have to put down our subjects and dissect their brains, in order to ascertain whether there have been any true physical changes to the lobes that deal with language and vocabulary. And that wouldn't be the end of the matter: we'd also need to do tests on twins at different age profiles to see whether different methodologies are more effective in children or adults, plus double-blind trials in order to avoid the risk of statistical bias. Since we would, sadly, have to vivisect many of our test subjects, I suspect that we may run into one or two ethical and legal issues. We may also run out of money to conduct the experiment to its natural conclusion
Putting all that to one side, there is little enthusiasm to test a method rigorously - instead, an awful lot of time is spent on observations about how we believe people learn, which then leads to assumptions about how a method should work. There has been work done on ascertaining students' attitudes towards various class techniques, but again, these end up as essentially anecdotal and highly subjective - if the student had been taught the same thing in a different way, would he or she have learnt it to the same degree? Clearly, it's impossible to investigate whether someone who has, say, learned how to talk about daily routines via the wonder of Dogme could have learned it better had I been just shouting randomly at them while beating them with a cattle prod - after all, they've already learned it!
I sometimes wonder whether methodology is really about the student at all - instead, some of the things we do in class appear to be about keeping the teacher happy, simply because Stuff Is Happening. Quite simply, we believe this technique or this method works because we are using it, ergo it is good and effective. Let's face it, we teachers need a lot of audio-visual stimulation, and we get that in spades from watching happy student faces bellowing at each other 'You? What you job? Is good?' while running round with little bits of paper.
Here's a challenge for you: Pick a technique, or even better, make one up, and stick to it religiously for a week, keeping a reflective diary, and see if it has an effect on the learning and teaching in class.
As for me, I'm eyeing up the local Orphanage for Foreign Baby Twins........

Sunday, 18 November 2012

blending the trad and the techy....

Right, back to using a bog standard netbook for this entry. It's faster. Much as I love the look and feel of the ipad and my shiny new SII, they just can't beat the click of fingers dancing over a keyboard.
Though I'd do a quick entry about one of the ways I combine using the iPad in class with using our VLE, Moodle, plus some online software to produce a rounded lesson.
My class (an ESOL Level One group) have been looking at narrative tenses and storytelling. I started off this particular session using 'The £2000 Jigsaw' a listening and speaking exercise from Headway Upper Intermediate, 3rd ed, Unit 3. The listening is actually a genunine text from BBC R4's Today, featuring John Humphries interviewing a girl who found £2000 in ripped up banknotes. Students begin by trying to reconstruct the story from prompts, then listen to check, followed by some more detailed questions. Following this, students are encouraged to speculate why the money had been ripped up in the first place. For this phase, I split the learners up into groups, and asked them to make a storyboard of three scenes for the situation. Each group had a large whiteboard each, and spent time debating what the back story could be, and using their mobile phone-based dictionaries to check vocabulary ideas.
After a while, each group had come up with something like this:
I swapped groups round and they then had to try and tell the story of the other group's picture. While they did this, I took pictures of each story on the iPad and placed them on Moodle. We then went to one of the IT rooms, where I got the learners to log on, view their pictures and comment on them, and read the task assignment, which was to use Dvolver to make their stories come to life in a simple animation.
By the end of the session, each group had produced a  short movie, telling the backstory of the missing £2000, for example:
Overall, a fun, instructive lesson that everyone enjoyed.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A short techy one.

OK, I don't think that this will be the longest post ever, seeing as I'm writing it on my shiny new Samsung smartphone. However, following in the spirit of my posts on using the iPad, I thought it would be expedient to try doing a post with a mobile phone.
I've spent the last few weeks watching how my students use mobiles in class. I'd say just over half of them have smart phones, and of those only half actually make use of them to help on the classroom. Only a handful have anything more than a dictionary installed, and while they seem to show genuine interest in the apps I suggest, they don't seem to be very forward on using the things.
In fact, the only people who do download the apps, or use Moodle on a regular basis, are the students who work on their English outside the class, who go to the library and take out readers, who keep vocab records - in other words, all the students one would expect to do well anyway. So, what on earth do I need to do to make Mr. Joe Average student into a good learner? Because it seems to me that shiny new tech may be helpful, but it doesn't turn anyone into a language learning genius by itself.
And this has just taken 20 minutes to write.


Motivation (12) ESOL (11) Methodology (8) Acquisition (7) Learning (7) Portfolios (5) Dip TESOL (4) blended learning (4) dogme (4) EFL (3) FE (3) language citizens (3) language commuters (3) language denizens (3) language tourists (3) learner attitudes (3) linguistic hierarchy (3) marking (3) technology (3) #eltchat (2) English (2) Hierarchy of needs (2) L1 (2) Maslow (2) Natural Approach (2) SATs (2) SLA (2) Silent Way (2) Speaker and listener roles (2) The Language City (2) Turkish (2) VLEs (2) attitudes (2) differentiation (2) elt (2) handling and manipulating (2) iPad (2) language and depression (2) language at intermediate level (2) language city model (2) lesson (2) lesson planning (2) moodle (2) phonology and phonetics (2) smart phones (2) speaking (2) teaching (2) ALTE (1) Arabic (1) CEFR (1) CLL (1) Cadbury's Creme Eggs (1) Classroom activity (1) Communication (1) DTLLS (1) ELT Unplugged (1) ETS (1) French As An Evil Language (1) GLAW profilies (1) Higher level students (1) L1 context (1) Language Interaction (1) Observations (1) P4C (1) Steve Krashen (1) Syllabus (1) TPR (1) actuive vocabulary (1) advice (1) affective filter (1) ambiguous language (1) approaches (1) apps (1) articulator (1) aspect (1) blockbuster (1) boardwork (1) bullying (1) childhood acquisition (1) citizen (1) citizenship (1) city guide (1) classroom techniques (1) cognitive tasks (1) conjunctions (1) copyright (1) creating content (1) curating content (1) diagram (1) digital literacy (1) dimension (1) disruption (1) distance learning (1) e-learning (1) easter (1) encoding (1) english uk (1) examiner (1) experiments (1) failure (1) fossilization (1) future forms (1) grade scales (1) grading (1) grammar (1) group work (1) handedness (1) holistic learning (1) integration (1) interlanguage (1) l2 (1) lesson ideas (1) lexis (1) listening (1) literacy (1) manager (1) meaningful interaction (1) mindfulness (1) mondays (1) neologism (1) online content (1) page o rama (1) passive grammar (1) passive vocabulary (1) podcast (1) politics (1) power law distributions (1) presentation (1) problem solving (1) provider (1) register (1) research (1) resolutions (1) routine (1) sentence structure (1) silent running (1) skills and systems (1) stereotypes (1) style (1) suggestopedia (1) teacher talk time (1) tense (1) tenses (1) total bloody genius (1) tutorial aids (1) tutors (1) twitter (1) using IT (1) validity (1) varieties of English (1) web profiles (1) world englishes (1) writing (1)