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IATEFL Part 2 – Jim Scrivener on Demand High

Jim’s talk started by looking at a quick definition of demand high teaching.

Demand High is a meme, an idea that gets passed from person to person. It is not a new methodology. The question asked is ‘Am I engaging the full human learning potential of the students in my class?’

 

Modern language teaching seems not to push students to achieve and focuses more on being fun and entertaining.

Starting with the following questions:

 

  • Are my learners capable of more?
    Am I under-challenging my students?
  • Would my students learn more if I demnded more of them? How could I do that?
  • Have the tasks and techniques I use in lass become rituals and ends in themselves?
  • How can I stop ‘covering material’ and start focusing on the potential for deeper learning?
    What small shifts can I make?

 

The evolving manifesto of Demand High

It is okay to ‘teach’.

The word ‘teach’ seems to have got a bad rep over the last few years and learning is expected to emerge. There is value in explicit teaching, which is not equivalent to the teaching ‘yapping’ in front of the classroom.

We need to focus on where the learning is

You have permission to be active interventionist teacher

Learn the classroom management techniques that make a difference

Work at everyone’s pace – not just the fastest few

Risk working hands-on with language

Don’t expect the book to do the teaching for you.

Expect more – Demand High

 

One way of being more ‘demand high’ is by looking at one common stage in many lessons:

When students have done an exercise  (individually and in pairs) and the teacher leads a feedback stage to check answers.

 

What are some things that one could do to extend this stage to last 60 minutes.

 

Here, Jim suggests

  • probing and expanding on the students’ answers e.g. ‘Do you agree with her answer? What do you think?’ and playing devil’s advocate (this blogger likes this!) rather than simply rubber-stamping the students’ answers;
  • exploring what’s behind the answer e.g. ‘Why is that the answer?’ and ‘Why do you think the person said that?’;
  • getting students to listen to you or the speaker is saying it and replay the voice in their heads and ‘Can you hear that voice saying it in your head? Can you change that to a different voice? Maybe a voice of a relative?’;
  • thinking about the paralinguistic features that go with phrases/sentences; working on the pronunciation e.g. stress patterns, speed, intonation etc;
  • practising the target language through drilling and playing around with the phrases;
  • remembering the target language by promoting recall;
  • raising awareness of mistakes;
  • playing with the grammar and lexis e.g. can you change the verb, can you drop a word, change the formality, context, relationship, etc.
  • ensuring that you keep the whole class engaged and pitching the challenges to the individual’s needs, yet avoiding ‘yap’ mode but intervening with authority, etc.

After lots of fun practicing some of these practical techniques with the audience, Jim emphasizes that the presentation stage of a lesson might not really be the most important part, but it is in fact that practice stage that allows students to really internalize the new language.

 

Communicative and fluency activities are fine and good but we should also not forget structured grammatical practice.

 

Fixing mistakes does not lead to insight and awareness. It merely puts paper on a crack. It should not just about collecting the right answers, but we need to start looking further.

IATEFL Opening Plenary – David Crystal

David Crystal officially opens IATEFL Liverpool by first warning us not to trust Wikipedia, which has knighted him for a few days and stated that he has had different numbers of children and wives. He moves on to tell us about he went to school in Liverpool and proudly tells us to listen out to the Liverpudlian influences in his accent.

Introducing us to some popular songs and then focusing our attention on a well-known song by Paul McCartney and Wings, ‘Live and Let Die’, and the much-discussed lyrics ‘But if this ever changing world in which we live in’.

The tune needs two prepositions for it to work and when music calls, grammar blends.

Lexical blends like ‘brunch‘ become part of our everyday language quickly but syntactic blends do not get into our language as easily.

It is however important to note that blends are very common in speech

Here are some examples:

I don’t know to which hotel I’m going to.

For which party will you be voting for in the March 9th Election?

Mentors are for business people, mentors can help you and be your role models, couples to which we look up to.

From which country does a Lexus come from?

Syntactic blends arise when people are unsure of which to use and so they use both.

It raises because of the clash and choice that could come from formal and informal usage.

In the prescriptive tradition that dominated schools, teachers tend to try and eliminate the informal forms and therefore enforcing rules such as ‘Never end a sentence with a preposition’. Yet, Shakespeare uses end-place prepositions all the time. But the rule appealed to classically-inclined pedants. Winston Churchill even had rules ‘up with which he would not put‘.

So those who try to follow the rules taught to us and place the preposition at the beginning… but the natural pattern of the language takes over and the preposition is put after the verb where it feels most natural, forgetting that they’ve used a preposition already.

The further away the two prepositions, the more likely this is to happen.

e.g. For which of the five candidates in the forthcoming by-election will the people of Eastleigh be voting for?

But double prepositions aren’t the only Syntactic Blend that happens.

Here, Professor Crystal introduces another Beatles song with the lyrics

He won’t do nothing right just in sitting down and look so good‘ (as opposed to ‘looking so good’)

and

I been told when a boy kiss a girl‘ (as opposed to ‘a boy kisses a girl’)

When we leave music behind and listen to spoken English, such blends all the time.

We start sentences, change our minds and end sentences differently from how we intended when we started.

We usually do not notice this though, as we are paying attention to what is being said rather than how it is being said.

Prof. Crystal uses his own lectures as examples of the non-grammatical statements in spoken English:

Within how long did it take for an American English start to grow?

which is a blend of ‘Within what period of time did it take for an American English to start to grow?

and

How long did it take for an American English to start to grow?

Here’s an example embedded in a dialogue:

‘Well, we don’t speak it?’

‘Why don’t we speak it?’

‘Well, cos I was never taught it.’

‘Well, why weren’t I taught it?’

As a result of the constant use of the pronoun ‘we’ at the beginning, the last statement is a blend of ‘Well why weren’t we/you taught it?’ and ‘Why wasn’t I taught it?

These blends of course appear a lot less in written material due to gatekeeping by editors and publishers. Thus, a lot of what is considered ‘standard English’ corresponds to what is published. Yet, with the advent of the internet, these gatekeepers might not be there and most people do not revise and re-read what they write in emails and blogs (especially if they’re blogging simultaneously during a conference plenary).

Here, Prof David Crystal uses examples from the most popular blogs in the UK with blended constructions.

Comprehension is governed by the distribution of weight in a sentence. English is governed by end weight, and speakers tend to put the  most important information at the end, after the main verb, rather than in the beginning. Most sentences use a single pronoun and verb followed by a concentration of content after the verb. One can of course use long adverbials at the beginning of the sentence, but this makes comprehension more difficult and the sentence is more difficult to process…therefore naturally, in spoken English, this does not happen as often.

Note these two sentences:

It was nice of John and Mary to visit us the other day.

versus

For John and Mary to visit us the other day was nice.

We tend to get irritated with the second sentence, thinking ‘Where’s the verb? Get on with it!”

Here, Prof. Crystal uses a random ELT coursebook to make a point.

In a chapter on relative clauses, long noun phrases are featured:

e.g. Salesman who sell books at your door are a  nuisance. The books they sell are often expensive’

A lot of information needs to be processed before getting to the verb, while trying to learn a new piece of English grammar.

This could make it more difficult for students and perhaps coursebooks should use relative clauses with shorter subjects when introducing the grammar point, and leave such long noun phrases for more advanced levels.

e.g I don’t like salesmen who sells books at the door.

It’s often expensive to buy the books they sell.

In ELT, we come across blends often in students’ writing.

e.g. ‘Does it not worry you that the man to whom you will marry might be cruel to you?

It is important to realise that errors such as these blends are signs of growth and not be condemned.

Teachers should try to understand the origin and source of the blend. To condemn them as mistakes would result in students not daring to try out new constructions in the future.

Blends tend to occur more often when the speaker/writer is under pressure and has to complete the sentence quickly, and the grammar finds it harder to keep pace with the thought  e.g. football commentaries, family rows, etc.

Blends are nothing to feel guilty. In writing, we try to eliminate them for being labelled as careless and sloppy by readers who have more time to examine our sentences.

Here, Prof. Crystal clarifies that he is not advocating that we teach blends, but more that we not condemn blends in speech when we are likely to use them ourselves.

Ending his plenary with a piece of titbit about his days as a saxophone player, he muses that Paul MacCartney may have earned much more than him, Paul MacCartney never quite had the honour of ending up as the patron of IATEFL.

IATEFL Part 1 – Mike Hogan on How to be a successful freelancer

Mike Hogan starts this year’s IATEFL with one of the three ‘How-to’ sessions just before David Crystal’s opening plenary with the very useful topic – ‘How to be a successful freelancer’.

He first looks at ‘Organisation’. Many of the talks and workshops tends to be about what happens in the classroom and ‘in-training’ ideas, but sometimes there’s less focus on the organisational side of being a freelancer. Essentially, as a freelancer, you are a one-person business, and so it’s important to think about the way you budget your finances. Consider the lifestyle you have now and the lifestyle you want to have and how much that would cost you per month/year, bearing in mind that as a freelancer, you don’t get paid for holidays or sick days. Mike recommends that the freelance teacher learns basic accountancy and the use of Excel so as to reduce the stress levels when dealing with taxes and year-end accounting.

Balancing out when and where the income is coming from also means looking at alternative sources of income, e.g. teaching online, writing, etc. It’s important to know where your most stable income is coming from and to guarantee this ‘bread & butter’ income before scheduling the unlimited holidays that you might think freelancers get. Think of yourself as a company and plan your annual budget and do not just live from day to day/month to month.

When getting work, one must not forget the marketing strategy one employs or intends to employ. Know your product and know what you are selling. Be clear about why clients should choose you over other competitors.Consider how you can get the contract by either offering a lower price or adding value to your product. Find out what your competitors are doing and what the going market rate of what you are trying to sell. And where can your clients find out about you?

At this point, Mike emphasises the importance of CPD (Continual Professional Development) and how the CELTA is merely the beginning of one’s career development. If you are trying to get work, ensure that you professionalise yourself first by looking the part. Find out what everyone else in the company wears and try not to overdress or underdress. Practise the skills that you are teaching. If you are teaching students to present, get as much experience presenting yourself so that you can add value to what you offer. If you are teaching students to negotiate, go out there and try and get some negotiating practice in the shops or with your mobile phone service provider.

When talking to your client, be aware of possible unrealistic expectations and clients who try and treat language training like any other commodity, e.g. wanting the same results with fewer contact hours. You therefore need to be creative when putting together your training packages. Also remember that different people have different needs and so it is important to carry out a needs analysis to tailor the course to suit the individuals and not simply roll out a ‘one-size-fits-all’ course.

Be realistic and do not try to take on every kind of course. Know your specialisation and know how your product differs from the other competitors. Do not be afraid to say no to a client that wants something you can’t offer and do not hesitate to recommend someone else who can do the job. As they say, pay it forward!

This summer, the European Profiling Grid is to be published. A tool for mapping and assessing language teaching competencies internationally might change the way clients buy language training and so it is important to keep up to date with what the industry is implementing.

Finally, Mike finishes off with the importance of reflecting on the relationship between quality and reputation. If someone mentions your name at the coffee machine at work, how will that conversation run? What will they say about you?

 

 

Influencing Second Language Learning – Personality Factors

This is a repost of a previous blogpost I wrote for ELT Knowledge (see here).

I thought it would be good to get a discussion going on the following topic and so here it is again:

A fellow teacher told me about two learners in his class – one, he says, is a better learner than the other. Which one do you think that might be?

 

Liliana is a university student from Argentina. She is shy and insecure about her English ability. She feels stupid when she speaks English, and is afraid of making mistakes. She loves travelling and meeting people from all over the world but prefers speaking English to ‘native speakers’ from Britain or America because they speak ‘correct’ English. For Liliana, the ultimate compliment would be if someone asked her if she were English.

 

Jochan is a manager of an important department in a multinational company based in Germany. He is talkative and confident, and used to being in control. A good team player, he enjoys participating in group activities. He has had a few bad experiences with some of the Americans and Brits, and so have his friends in Germany, and Jochan has decided that he does not like the American or British culture.

So, who do you think is the better learner?

(a)   Liliana – Her love and respect for the British/English culture and native speakers would propel her to learn the target language and she would seek out opportunities to speak English to ‘native speakers’, whereas Jochan’s status in his company might mean a lesser ability to relinquish power and therefore be more resistant to correction and being adventurous with language. In addition, Jochan’s distaste for the American and British culture is bound to affect his motivation levels as well.

(b)  Jochan – He’s confident and therefore would not be averse to taking risks. This should mean that he would be adventurous with language and not be afraid of making mistakes. His talkative nature also means that he would get lots of speaking practice. He’d be motivated because he can see how useful English is at his workplace. Liliana, on the other hand, is shy and this would lead to her not wanting to practise speaking and using the language.

(c)   This is just silly. I can’t decide based on the above descriptions. Doing so would be stereotyping and putting people in boxes. People’s personalities and behaviours change and evolve depending on the situations they are in. After all, Jochan’s confidence in his job does not mean confidence in language learning, and Liliana might just be shy in the classroom but not when she’s with her friends.

If you picked Jochan (b) as your answer, you perhaps believe that the personality of a learner has a large part to play in one’s success in language learning, and that these innate characteristics are biologically determined, and therefore some people make better language learners than others. It’s all in the genes.

If you picked Liliana (a) as your answer, you might think that one’s culture and experience of life moulds the way we learn to see the world, and that our view of the target culture of the language we are learning can largely affect our motivation, and therefore, our success rate. Loosely categorised as social structuralist or constructivist in outlook, you see external influences, such as social variables, as shaping the language learning process.

If you picked (c) as your answer, you probably are balking at this blogpost right now and wondering how anyone could make sweeping statements about issues as complex as Second Language Learning abilities and learner identity. Taking a more post-structuralist stance, you know that we play different roles and display different personality characteristics depending on the situation and community we are in, and the people we are talking to. And you are angry that some teachers blame the learners’ personality for failure in language learning.

Theories about how different factors could lead to success in the second language learning process have been a core part of studies into second language acquisition for decades. This is a series of blogposts attempting to categorise and summarise research that have been done in these different areas, and we start today with more biologically deterministic approaches, with a look at the different characteristics of a learner’s personality that are said to influence learning.

Individual differences among learners, such as personality variation, have long been seen as the cause of different learning abilities, and researchers like Gardner and Lambert (1972) have focused principally on the individual’s internal influences on Second Language Learning. There have been disagreements over the categorisation of affective variables, and although some might admit that personality variables are abstract concepts that are difficult to define, and that the validity of psychological tests that attempt to measure them are often challenged and criticised, their categorisation is still necessary to understanding the Second Language Learning process.

Self-esteem 

An important variable included in much SLA research, high self-esteem, or self-confidence, is believed to be an important construct for success in Second Language Learning. Often taken to be relatively stable in adults and resistant to change, a person is seen to either have high self-esteem or low self-esteem, regardless of the situation they find themselves in.

However, Malinowski (1923) provides a different view of ‘self esteem’ seeing it as the reflection and acceptance of oneself in interactions with others, which presumably vary depending on the different interlocutors and social networks.  Self-esteem was thus divided into three types: global, situational/specific, and task (Brown, 1994).

Nevertheless, it is usually assumed that global self-esteem is an intrinsic personality trait that improves proficiency, and not much focus was given to situational- or task-based self-confidence.

Inhibition

Learners with low self-esteem are believed to display more inhibition, leading to the building of defences and alienation from the target culture, as they are less able to tolerate threats to their existence.

The process of Second Language Learning could pose internal threats, such as learners judging themselves harshly for their mistakes, and external threats, where learners perceive others as judging them.  However, the emphasis on what learners ‘perceives’ seems to suggest that threat was not necessarily real, thus making learners wholly responsible for their learning.

Thin ego boundaries are believed to allow learners to be open and tolerant of ambiguity, and therefore more creative when learning a second language, and it is commonly believed that by lowering inhibition in the language classroom, we can promote freer communication and a willingness to learn from trial and error.

However, this call for learners to simply ‘remove their defences’ suggests that inhibition is purely intrinsic and does not take into consideration the social factors that perhaps contribute to a learner being inhibited.

Moreover, learners of far-eastern backgrounds might value the judgements of others highly, and might be brought up to believe that mistakes are detrimental to learning. Such cultural factors are often neglected when considering individual affective variables.

Risk-taking

A fear of ramifications of mistakes made could deter one from taking risks with the language. Although some assume that good learners are high risk-takers (Ely, 1986), Beebe (1983) finds that highly-motivated learners are often moderate risk-takers, preferring to make intelligent guesses. It is widely assumed that learners with high global self-esteem take more risks, that fossilization is due to unwillingness to take risks, and that teachers should encourage risk-taking behaviour (Brown, 1994).

However, such overgeneralisations do not take into account that the willingness to take risks, especially outside the classroom, depends largely on what the individual stands to lose from being perceived negatively by his interlocutors and the costs of making mistakes.

Anxiety, Extroversion and Empathy

Anxiety, or the tendency to worry, can be seen as either a personality trait or a state due to a prevailing situation or event. Anxiety caused by a competitive environment can be facilitative or debilitative to success in Second Language Learning, but it is unclear why different effects are produced or what the optimal level of anxiety is in promoting Second Language Acquisition.

As abstract as the concept of anxiety is that of extroversion. Debunking the myth that extrovert learners are good learners, Brown (ibid) states that extroverts need their self-esteem reaffirmed by others and tend to have thick ego boundaries and less empathy.

Empathy is the ability to make accurate assumptions about state of the people one is talking to, thus leading to effective cross-cultural communication. This, again, makes the learner accountable for understanding the culture of the target language and interpreting non- and para-linguistic cues, on top of having to cope with interacting in an unfamiliar language.

Krashen (1981) mentions these personality factors as affecting learners’ affective filters, stating that a confident, secure and outgoing person who lacks anxiety would have low affective filters, thereby allowing comprehensible input to reach the language acquisition device, resulting in acquisition. However, there has been much disagreement about Krashen’s understanding of how these variables interact with social contexts (Norton, 2000).

Ultimately, the learner should not be made solely responsible for his or her learning.  Putting the onus on the learner to be motivated and to find opportunities to increase their exposure to the target language can be just as extreme and as unhelpful as blaming their failure entirely on the people around them.

Bibliography

Beebe, L. (1983) ‘Risk-taking and the language learner’. In H. Seliger and M. Long. Classroom-oriented research in second language acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, pp: 39-166.

Brown, D. (1994) Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (3rd Edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Ely, C. (1986) ‘An analysis of discomfort, risktaking, sociability and motivation in the L2 classroom’. Language Learning, 36, pp: 1-25.

Gardner, R. and W. Lambert. (1972) Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Krashen, S. (1981) Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Malinowski, B. (1923) ‘The problem of meaning in primitive languages’. In C. Ogden and I. Richards. (eds.) The Meaning of Meaning. London: Kegan Paul, pp: 296-336.

Norton, B. (2000) Identity and Language Learning: Gender, Ethnicity and Educational Change. Essex: Pearson Education.

Thank you for your support!

Thank you note

First of all, thank you for nominating my post ‘Things students say that break my heart‘ for the Most Influential Post for the Eddies 2012 and making it one of the finalist entries.

Special thanks to Brad Patterson, Aysun Günes, and several other wonderful PLNers for nominating me for Best Individual Blog and Best Teacher Blog.

TESOL France 2012 Closing Plenary

TESOL France 2012 Closing Plenary

Also, thank you for being there for my closing plenary both at the English UK conference, and TESOL France 2012.

Some of you have been so kind as to write a summary of my plenary talk.

Here are the links to some of them (if I haven’t included yours, please feel free to contact me and let me know):

Chia Suan Chong on Principled Eclecticism – by Hancock McDonald.

The Principles of Principled Eclecticism according to Chia Suan Chong – by Leo Selivan

My TESOL France Review – by Sue Annan

Thanks for playing along with me during my plenary talk!

Thanks for playing along with me during my plenary talk!

Most of all, thanks for voting…(mwa hahahaha)

And if you haven’t, here’s the link!

http://edublogawards.com/vote-here/

Select the category ‘Most Influential Post’ and vote everyday! ; )

Hope you’re having a great December!

Once again, thank you everyone!

Things students say that break my heart Part 3

This was first published on the ELT Knowledge website.

In the last two blogposts, I looked at some of the statements that I have heard students say, and the reasons and beliefs about language learning that lie behind these statements.

In the process of writing up these posts, I started to ask the questions, “How much time do we devote to exploring learner attitudes towards language learning in the classroom?” How much do we know about their beliefs? Do we know enough about the language acquisition process ourselves to help our learners become better learners?

I was then reminded of these heartbreakers:

.

What students say: They say I have an accent. They say I need to get rid of my accent.

What’s really happening: The ‘they’ in the above statements could be previous teachers, native speakers that they have encountered, or even fellow non-native speakers who speak English better than the student does.

‘Accent-less English’ does not exist. Everyone has an accent. What ‘they’ mean is ‘You have an accent that is not like that of the standard native speaker’.  But this opens up a new can of worms. Who is the standard native speaker? Even BBC newscasters can be seen speaking in a variety of accents, ranging from Scottish to Mancunian to Estuary English from the South East parts of England.

‘But what about RP?’ I hear you say. RP, or Received Pronunciation, characterised the BBC’s programmes in the 1970s, and was considered by actors and broadcasters as the most ‘colourless’ and ‘stripped of regional influences’, and therefore the most ‘standard’ of all British accents. But search for any BBC clip from the 1970s and listen to the presenter speaking RP, and I am sure you would agree with me that it is hardly ‘colourless’.

So, is there such a thing as a neutral accent? I’m afraid not. What ‘they’ really mean is ‘You have an accent that is not the norm to me,’

An accent often denotes one’s geographical and family background, and even one’s social class, and is inextricably tied to one’s identity.

Telling someone to get rid of their accent is as prejudiced as telling someone to change their skin colour, yet it is still considered acceptable when under the guise of helping someone improve their language skills.

A focus on being intelligible, however, can help our students become more communicatively competent. Robin Walker’s book ‘Teaching the pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca’ highlights the pronunciation features that teachers can help students to work on in order to improve mutual intelligibility in a world where English is now a global language.

 

What students say: I feel afraid that people would laugh at me when I make mistakes.

What’s really happening: Speaking in a foreign language often leaves one feeling like a child again, defenceless and susceptible to criticism. For those who are used to being secure in their own language or those who are intolerant of ambiguity, being plunged into an environment where one is stripped of control of the ability to express oneself can be confusing and frightening, leaving one feeling vulnerable.

The teacher has the capability of making the classroom a safe and friendly environment where everyone in the learning process feels comfortable making mistakes and therefore less likely to judge each other’s language errors.

I often tell my students this:

Mistakes are good. Mistakes are important. Mistakes help you learn.

But most importantly, if you don’t make mistakes, I don’t have a job.

 

What students say: How long does it take to learn English?

What’s really happening: The student is seeing the process of language learning like that of learning to drive a car: where there is a definite end point – the moment where you say ‘I can drive’. And in order to arrive at this end point, the learner must master different skills e.g. learning to use the clutch and coordinate that with the use of the accelerator, learning to brake, learning to reverse park, etc. An accumulation of these separate skills collectively results in the ability to drive.

So it seems that many students (and some teachers) think that if they are able to master each grammar point and learn all the words, it would collectively result in the ability to ‘know’ English.

Although the use of language does include the automatic motor skills that are similar to those of driving a car or playing a piano, it doesn’t stop there. The acts of listening, understanding, formulating responses, and taking part in the fluid and dynamic process of conversation involve social and intellectual skills that go beyond the repetition of mindless formulae, and can vary from interaction to interaction.

A similar question I sometimes get from students is ‘How many words are there in English?’ When I tell them that it depends on how we define a ‘word’, and how if we included phrases and collocations, we would then have quite a large number, the student sighs and says, ‘How can I ever learn them all?

So I tell my students that learning a language is not like learning to drive a car, and that one never stops learning. I remind them that there are many words in their language that they don’t know, and probably do not need to know. I emphasize the fact that language is a tool for communication, and they will need the language to effectively communicate in the situations they will encounter.

Most importantly, I remind them that learning a language is not like running a race. There is no goal of reaching a fixed finish line, as such. Just the goal of becoming better communicators with every single day.

____________________________________________________________________________

The first day of my courses have always focused on conducting a detailed needs analysis and a negotiation of the course syllabus. On my recent courses, included in the needs analysis is now a chance to discover the learners’ beliefs about second language acquisition through discussions about their learning preferences and an exploration of how languages are best learnt.

For learner training and the promotion of learner autonomy is as much about giving learners the tools that can facilitate better language learning, as it is about providing them with a better framework through which they can better understand their learning process.

Their beliefs and attitudes is what will affect their intrinsic motivations, and after all, motivation is crucial to successful language learning.

TESOL Greece Blog Challenge : Playing the Devil’s Advocate

TESOL Greece Blog Challenge

As a celebration of the launch of the TESOL Greece blog, a blog challenge was launched.

We were asked to answer the following question:

‘During an economic crisis, resources (books, budgets, infrastructure) are limited, but high standards and qualifications are required so that learners can survive on the job market. Can the use of technology help learners and teachers overcome this problem? If so, how?’

 

This ‘technology versus anti-technology’ debate has taken place on multiple platforms repeatedly over the last few years, and will again be had at the TESOL France conference this November. Reading the excellent posts written by the bloggers that have responded to TESOL Greece’s blog challenge, I’ve come to realise that it is far easier to think of the advantages that technology can bring to the classroom and to the students’ learning process than to bask in negativitiy.

And I’m sure the very fact that we are bloggers, and therefore eager users of online tools, has nothing to do with it at all.

But seriously, what’s there not to like? One only needs to take a look at the multiple posts on Twitter and in the blogosphere about M-Learning, the Flipped Classroom, Digital Storytelling, and the use of social media, wikis, class blogs, computer games, online corpuses, Youtube videos, etc that could provide the practitioner with hundreds, if not thousands, of new lesson ideas.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against learner autonomy and learner choice.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against having a wide range of free, but well-thought-out and professionally-presented resources.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against ways of helping our learners increase their exposure to the target language and getting involved in communities of practice outside the realm of the classroom.

In short, to argue against technology online would be courting death in the online TEFL arena.

But surely someone needs to play the Devil’s Advocate in this?

Here are some counter arguments against English teachers being expected to use technology in the classroom:

  1. Some teachers feel that they don’t want to have yet another new thing to learn.

    They have spent years learning about the language and dealing with the different designer approaches and fads in ELT. And now, they are being told that all the knowledge and experience they have accrued from teaching English is not enough if they are unable to get to grips with the latest device or online software.

    They feel that the ability to use technology has got nothing to do with learning English per se, and if such high standard and qualification are needed for learners to survive in the job market, then these learners should be taking classes in IT, and not be relying on their English teacher to provide them with such training.
    .

  2. Teachers are not paid enough to spend all their free time learning to use new digital tools and implementing them.

    It takes hours to moderate a wiki or Moodle account, to respond to comments on a blog, to find appropriate games and video clips, to maintain the students’ interest in class chats on Twitter or Facebook, and to read other teachers’ blogs for more ideas and development.

    And most schools do not pay teachers to do this.

    I constantly get told, ‘You must not have a life outside TEFL. I treasure my private life and I am certainly not sacrificing it to do more work’.

    I don’t blame them for thinking that at all.
    .

  3. Not all students want to participate in the use of online tools.

    There could be several reasons for this. Some of my teenage learners equate the use of social media and blogging with something that is done with their friends, and not something that is done with their teachers as part of the curriculum. Making them use the same tools for learning might just turn something fun into something repellent. Just like the use of text speak. It’s just no longer cool among teenagers.

    Some learners from less-privileged backgrounds might feel left out and inferior. They might not be as familiar with certain online platforms and styles of games because they do not have easy access to a computer or a game console at home. They might not have a smart phone and have to share a classmate’s.

    Some learners simply don’t have the time to participate outside of classroom hours. This is especially true when teaching Business English or doing cultural training. These clients not only have a busy work schedule, but might not see the teacher any more than once a week, or even once a month. Class participation is extremely hard to maintain under such circumstances.

    So we know that we can’t force students to use or participate in the use of these digital tools. But how then can we cater for those students who choose to opt out?
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  4. Some schools cannot afford to invest in the latest technology.

    The bigger schools and the more profitable chains are keen to invest in this move towards an E-Learning and M-Learning environment by purchasing the latest computers, Interactive White Boards, newest programmes, subscriptions to the fancy online tools, and iPads for every student enrolled. They advertise this fact and this helps their marketing efforts.

    Meanwhile, the smaller schools that offer perfectly student-centred classes that cannot afford such luxuries are seen as not keeping up with the times.

    What are these times we live in? Times where the bigger co-operations drive out the smaller ones?
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  5. Many educators who talk about the use of technology in a classroom often assume easy and available internet access.

    Those who are involved in ‘in-company’ training would identify with the fact that wifi access is often blocked and the use of firewalls is not uncommon so as to protect company secrets.

    Essentially, this means that you can’t bring up a picture on Google images to explain a word away easily. It means that you can’t connect to Youtube or any video streaming sites for your listening activities (unless you download them illegally…and you don’t want to do that). It means that you can’t use social media, chat rooms, or any backchannelling software.

    Of course, there are digital tools that do not require an access to the internet, but your hands are pretty much tied if you are providing training in such a context.
    .

As many have mentioned (Christina and James, among others), it is not about being anti-technology. It is simply about being judicious in its use and not letting technology dictate what happens in the classroom. And perhaps an awareness of the issues that face teachers who are wary of the exponential increase of technological tools might help us be less evangelical in helping them utilise technology in the best way for their learners and their teaching context.

At the end of the day, perhaps the issue is not whether to use technology in the classroom or not.

That would be like adamantly saying, ‘I’m not going to learn to use the photocopying machine coz it’s just too much hassle.’

Neither is it about whether to help our students use technological tools as part of their learning process.

That would be like stubbornly saying, ‘I’m not going to teach my students how to write emails because I don’t use the internet.’

As modern technology and the internet becomes more and more part of our everyday lives, we ought to move pass the ‘technology versus no-technology’ debate.

For what really matters is the way we use it, the context that we use it in, and the learners who we use it for.

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