In the first week of the CELTA, trainees were told to generate as much student talking time as possible by playing the role of the dinner party host or facilitator, asking genuine questions and handing over to students to work in pairs/groups as often as possible, while trainees listened and took notes of the language students produced.
After all, interaction is the key to language acquisition.
As the first session of the second week, I timetabled the second tutor to conduct a session called ‘Personalisation and Promoting Genuine Interaction’, looking further into ways trainees can get students talking.
Amongst Güven’s tips are ‘Remember to sit on the chair’, ‘Be careful with the use of Powerpoint slides’, ‘Ask students genuine questions (and not just display questions) in open class discussions’, and ‘Remember to give feedback on content following pair/group speaking activities’ – and as his tutor, I must say I am absolutely over the moon that he has taken these tips seriously enough to blog about them.
As the observer of these practice lessons, it is evident how trainees applying those tips can dramatically change the atmosphere in the classroom and the behaviour of the learners. Let me explain.
‘Remember to sit on the chair’
When teachers use the chair more, instead of standing authoritatively hovering over students, they instantly put themselves on par with the students and this changes the dynamics of their relationship.
In open class stages, teachers must remember to stay centralized (assuming students are seated in a horseshoe position) and avoid hiding behind or leaning on tables or desks that serve as a barrier between teacher and students.
When monitoring, chairs on wheels enable teachers to ‘roll’ around the classroom checking if students are on task, supporting and helping students and feeding in language they need, and taking notes of the language that emerges for a delayed language feedback stage.
The only occasion that I believe calls for the teacher to stand is when drilling students. The ‘Model – Choral Drill – Individual Drill’ sequence is more effective when the teacher is standing as it focuses the attention on the teacher when he/she is modeling the pronunciation of the target language, and it keeps the drill pacey and snappy.
Of course, the use of the chair is made easier by the fact that we have about 20 students in the classroom and not 50…
Click here to see Naomi Epstein’s response to this blogpost regarding the use of the chair and class size.
‘Be careful with the use of Powerpoint slides’
An overdependence on Powerpoint can turn the lesson into a teacher-centred slide-centred presentation, rather than a student-centred class in which plenty of speaking practice and student involvement is prioritized.
Think ‘workshop’, rather than ‘speech’.
‘Ask students genuine questions (and not just display questions) in open class discussions’
A genuine question is one where the teacher shows real interest in what the student is saying and is asking a follow-up question to find out more.
Here are some examples of display questions:
Student A: I take my camera to Madam Tussauds yesterday.’
“Did you take your camera to Madam Tussauds?’
“So what is the past of ‘take’?”
“And Student B? Where did you take your camera to yesterday?”
Here are some examples of genuine questions:
Student A: I take my camera to Madam Tussauds yesterday.’
“Did you take lots of photos when you were there?”
“Really? And which celebrity did you want to take photos of?”
“Madam Tussauds? Did you like it?”
The result – the student talks more and gets more speaking practice, and because the teacher and the student is communicating real meaning, the other students are more likely to join in and respond to what is being said. Cross-classroom interaction is fostered.
‘Remember to give feedback on content following pair/group speaking activities’
After a freer speaking activity where students have talked or done a task in pairs/groups, ensure you conduct an open class feedback to the content of what was discussed or done. Say, if they were talking about their ideal job, ensure you leave time at the end of this stage to ask them questions like ‘So what was your partner’s ideal job?’ and ‘What criteria did he use to make that decision?’ in open class. React with genuine questions (see above).
Avoid jumping straight to feedback on language (also known as Delayed Correction) before focusing on content. It is feedback on content that makes the task meaningful for students, and the chance to retell what was discussed/done is invaluable speaking practice.
Allow me to add a couple more.
“Personalise and make the topic/subject relevant to the students’ lives’
Ask the learners questions or give them tasks that relate to their lives and their opinions. In other words, don’t just ask them which type of holidays John and Mary in the listening text of Headway Intermediate like. Ask them which type of holidays the learners like.
But personalisation is a two-way game.
If you want learners to reveal something of themselves, it is important that you are willing to reveal something of yourself too.
Tell your learners about the type of holidays that you like and the ones that you don’t. Not only does this personalize the topic, it also acts as a model that helps clarify instructions and show learners how much depth you want them to go into.
But don’t get carried away and end up giving a 10-minute speech about your holiday.
It’s the learners that need practice of their English, not you.
“Ensure that the topic/task are engaging and can indeed generate discussion”
Sometimes, speaking activities fall flat on their faces and we teachers wonder why the students just weren’t talking.
A trainee once tried to implement a freer speaking activity that involved learners talking about the merits of Beethoven versus Mozart for 10 minutes in pairs. No one spoke because no one knew very much about or were interested in classical music.
I’m in no way trying to say that Beethoven or Mozart are not engaging. But consider the interests (and needs) of learners and be careful of creating tasks that reflect your own interests.
In another situation, the trainee asked the learners the controversial question “Do you think that the death penalty should be brought back?” and was surprised that the discussion only lasted for 1 minute or so.
It was a difficult question that when sprung on the students could only elicit responses like, ‘No. I think the death penalty is bad.’
Try out the tasks you are about to give students on your friends, colleagues or family. Ask them the questions you are going to ask students and see how easily and to what extent they would respond.
If the questions are not generating enough discussion, ask yourself if the questions need to be rephrased or supplemented with further questions that can help scaffold the thought process.
And now that Week 1 is over and the trainees have learnt to be the star facilitator, it’s time to look at how language is being covered in Teaching Practice.
Looking at verbs and language in terms of the kind of distance it conveys is not exactly a new concept, but is definitely one that not that many teachers know about.
I have always found it extremely useful to discuss this with my learners as it seems to help them ‘feel’ the language, rather than memorise a list of grammar rules that they might find hard to put into practice.
And I’m certainly glad to read that my trainee Güven, like me, has found the concept quite thrilling and helpful (only a grammar geek like me would use the word ‘thrilling’ with grammar!) and from his post, he seems to have really understood what I was trying to get across to the class perfectly well…so well that it makes me proud, and I can only hope to add some value to his post.
But let me try.
Have a look at the following sentences.
Label the verbs used and identify the meaning they convey.
(a) Can I go with you? (Taylor Swift)
(b) Could I have this kiss forever? (Enrique Iglesias)
(c) If I could turn back time (Cher)
(d) It could happen to you (Diana Krall)
(e) If I was a rich girl, I’d have all the money in the world (Gwen Stefani)
(f) She’s leaving on a midnight train to Georgia. (Human Nature)
(g) I’m winning that race tomorrow! (My imaginary conversation with Usain Bolt)
(h) Farah claims Gold Number 14 for Team GB (Evening Standard, 4th Aug 2012)
(i) The Olympics finishes on the 12th August 2012 (Sandy Millin)
Have you ever been stumped by students who ask you, “Is ‘could’ the past of ‘can’?”
Indeed, ‘could’ is the past of ‘can’ in sentences like ‘He couldn’t understand why”.
In the request seen in (a) and (b), some say that the use of ‘could’ in (b) makes it more polite or more formal than the use of ‘can’ in (a).
And in (c), ‘could’ signals an imaginary hypothetical situation in which the use of ‘can’ would indicate that the situation was possible. (‘If I can turn back time’ would make no sense unless the speaker is Harry Potter or Superman)
The use of ‘could’ in (d) suggests that there is a probability of it happening, but not as probable as if ‘can’ was used.
In (e), the use of the past tense ‘was’ in the first clause and ‘would’ in the second has nothing to do with past time. Instead they make the sentence seem improbable. We often label this the second conditional, which is often defined as indicating hypothetical or impossible situations.
In (f), the tense used is called the present continuous, but it is used to talk about future arrangements.
Yet in (g), the present continuous is used to show determination and certainty about the future.
In (h), the present simple is not used to talk about events that happen regularly, but in a newspaper headline to indicate a past event.
In (i), here the present simple is used again to talk about a future timetabled event.
So to sum up,
the past is sometimes used to be more polite,
but sometimes used to talk about imaginary or improbably situations.
Yet sometimes it’s used to talk about something probably, but not as probable as when we use a present tense.
And when we use the present continuous, we could be talking about the future.
And when we use the present simple, we could be talking about the past.
Or maybe the future.
How confusing was that?
Perhaps it’d help if we first knew this:
Long long ago, when the first English grammar book was first written, English was a language spoken by the poor and uneducated. The upper classes and the Royals spoke French, and the academics spoke Latin.
English grammar was first put down on paper most probably by a French/Latin-speaking academic. He therefore mapped Latin grammar rules onto the English language observed at that time. And the prevalence of Latin as the language of the educated over the years made it the standard by which grammar rules were formulated. Even today, rules like ‘Never split an infinitive’ originating from a strong influence of Latin grammar still exists today. (To boldly go where no one has gone before!)
Evidently, when one maps the grammar of one language onto another, it could never really match. And hence the misnomers we see above.
So let’s forget those labels for a moment.
Let’s forget that ‘teach’ is ‘present’ and ‘taught’ is ‘past’.
Let’s say that ‘teach’ is ‘near’ and ‘taught’ is ‘remote/far’.
(1) Temporal Distance
When I say ‘I teach English’, it is something that happens all the time and therefore ‘close’ to me.
When I say ‘I taught Julio in January’, it is a story that I tell, and in order to tell it, I have to transpose my mind to being in January; I have to model myself into the past. That is because the event is far away from my reality.
(2) Social Distance
As with the example in (a) and (b), ‘could’, as opposed to ‘can’ is often used to indicate social distance.
This could be due to the fact that ‘could’ be more morphologically inflected than ‘can’.
Lend me £10.
Can you lend me £10?
Could you lend me £10?
Do you mind lending me £10?
Would you mind lending me £10?
I don’t suppose you could lend me £10?
I was wondering if you could possibly lend me £10?
Hmm…I was sure I had £10 in my pocket. Where did it go? I really need it… *hint hint*
It is clear that the more grammar there is and the more lexis is needed, the further the social distance.
So is that the same as saying it’s more polite or more formal?
Consider the following situation:
A husband says to his wife whom he has been married to for 50 years, ‘I was wondering if you could possibly tell whether I should turn left or right at that junction?’
Or simply sarcastic?
How did we know it was sarcastic?
Perhaps the fact that they have been married for 50 years suggests that there shouldn’t be much of a social distance between them. The creation of social distance through such use of language is therefore seen as inappropriate and in fact, impolite.
It is therefore important that teachers and coursebook writers do not oversimplify and label what is socially remote as polite, considering the fact that politeness is a construct dependent on multiple factors.
(3) Psychological Distance
The most interesting of the four, the use of verbs to indicate psychological distance can be seen everywhere around us.
In example (h), the ‘near’ tense is used in newspaper headlines to create excitement and to make the reader feel like the breaking story is more eminent in some way or other. However, when one continues to read the story, one is moved into the ‘remote’ tense.
‘Farah added a 14th gold medal to Team GB’s impressive haul.’
(Evening Standard, 4th Aug 2012)
When talking about an ex-boyfriend, I might use the ‘remote’ tense and say ‘He was a very jealous person’ despite the fact that he is still alive.
The use of the ‘near’ tense might indicate that he is still ‘close’ to my heart and that I might still be in love with him… (God forbid)
When telling jokes, we often say ‘A horse walks into a pub. The bartender says, “Why the long face?”’ in order to make the joke more exciting.
When reporting a conversation, we sometimes use the ‘near’ tense to create a feeling like the story is unfolding before the listener’s eyes.
There was this woman sitting on three seats.
So I say to her, “Can I sit down?”
And she goes, “No”
And I go, “Come on. I paid for a ticket too.”
And she goes, “I’m taking these seats.”
And I go, “Are you serious?”
And she goes, “Of course I am.”
And I go, “Shut up.”
(If this was a conversation in US English, substiture ‘I go’ for ‘I am like’ and ‘She goes’ with ‘She is like’.)
A football commentator chooses to create feelings of exhilaration by saying, ‘Rooney scores a goal!!!’ instead of ‘Rooney is scoring a goal right now’ or ‘Rooney just scored a goal.’
(4) Hypothetical Distance
A familiar use of the ‘remote tense’, this is seen not only in the so-called 2nd conditional – Example (e)
If only I could keep up with Güven’s blogging everyday.
I wish I didn’t have to do my day job and blog at the same time…
The use of the ‘remote tense’ in the 2nd Conditional and the two sentences above signals a reduced likelihood and a hypothetical situation that is further from reality.
After having read the above, what kind of distance do you think the following is creating?
Give me a 20% discount, I’ll take 500.
If you give me a 20% discount, I’ll take 500.
If you gave me a 20% discount, I’d take 500.
If you were to give me a 20% discount, I might take 500.
Say, let’s just suppose you were to give me a 20% discount, I might consider taking 500.
The instinctive reaction is to identify with the so-called 2nd conditional and say that hypothetical distance is being created…
But is it really so?
Are we not manipulating psychological distance by playing hard-to-get?
Maybe just like everything is life, ‘near’ and ‘far’ aren’t always separate and exclusive, dichotomous constructs, but positions on a continuum…
And maybe the 1st and the 2nd conditional aren’t always that easily distinguishable either…
Or who was it that said that there were actually 32 conditionals in English?
For more about Distance and verbs, see:
R. Batstone, Grammar, OUP, 1994.
M. Lewis, The English Verb : An exploration in structure and meaning, Language Teaching Publications, 1986.
D. Willis, Rules, Patterns and Words : Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching, CUP, 2003.
On Day 5 of the CELTA, we looked at how we can focus on language in a systematic fashion through looking at Meaning, Form and Pronunciation (and Usage too).
In and amongst some genuine interaction happening between me and the trainees about the forthcoming weekend, I got them using the present continuous to talk about their weekend plans, and added a few of my own.
I then boarded,
“My friend is coming from Manchester on Saturday.”
“I’m staying home this weekend.”
“I’m finishing Season 7 of Desperate Housewives”
“Am I talking about the present, past or future?” (future)
“Am I talking about something I have already arranged? Or something I have just thought of doing right now?” (arranged)
“What tense am I using to convey this meaning of an arranged future?” (present continuous)
After writing the form of the present continuous (to be + -ing) on the board, we then established that we had covered the meaning and then the form of the language item. I elicited that we still had pronunciation to look at, and asked what the trainees thought might be pronunciation issues for the learners.
We looked at the pronunciation of the contractions and the pronunciation of the ‘-ing’.
We then agreed that although many people seem to be obsessed with form when dealing with grammar, it was the meaning that was the most important.
I then gave trainees a handout with a dialogue containing the following grammatical structures:
(a) I wish we hadn’t argued.
(b) She’s always complaining.
(c) If I were you, (I’d call her).
(d) If only we didn’t argue all the time.
Several sample CCQs were given with structure (a) and trainees had to decide whether they were useful CCQs or not. Here’s a taster.
Structure: I wish we hadn’t argued
CCQs: (1) Who did he argue with?
(2) Why did they argue?
(3) What does wish mean?
(4) Did they argue?
(5) Did he want them to argue?
And here are the answers:
Questions (1) and (2) are more like reading comprehension questions than CCQs. They do not clarify the concept of the use of ‘I wish + past perfect’ and therefore are irrelevant.
Question (3) features one of the ‘taboo questions’ ‘What does ~mean?’
Taboo questions fall into two categories.
One includes questions like ‘Do you understand?’ and ‘Do you know ~?’
Unhelpful because many students would simply nod their heads when asked perhaps because they are afraid of seeming stupid in front of other classmates, or because they think they have understood but actually haven’t, such questions do not really check for understanding of concepts.
The second category of ‘taboo questions’ include questions like ‘What does ~mean?’ and ‘Can you explain ~to the rest of the class?’
Perhaps more student-centred than the previous category of ‘taboo questions’, these questions show a recognition for the fact that it is better for the answers to come from students than have the teacher get into wordy explanations.
If so, then why are these ‘taboo questions’?
I once saw a trainee ask a pre-intermediate learner to explain the word ‘irony’ to his classmates. The learner froze and looked confused. The trainee assumed it was because he didn’t understand the word.
There is a difference between understanding a language item and being able to explain it. Most expert users and native speakers would struggle to explain a word comprehensively and satisfactorily enough for a class of learners without some teaching experience. They end up feeling put on the spot.
At the end of the day, don’t get your learners to do your job for you.
Instead, use guided CCQs, examples, and step-by-step inductive/scaffolded questions to get learners to the final destination.
(see yesterday’s post regarding CCQs for lexical items)
Questions (4) and (5) get to the meaning and usage of the structure ‘I wish + Past Perfect’ and are the most appropriate CCQs to ask.
Trainees now have to look at structures (b), (c) and (d), and formulate CCQs to clarify the concepts.
Here are some suggestions:
(Please note: I have included the meaning sections for the trainees and am in no way suggesting that we give our students the lengthy explanation within those sections. CCQs coupled with a few contextualized examples should suffice to clarify meaning and usage to learners.)
(b) She’s always complaining.
Meaning: The present continuous is used here not to signify an action that is happening now, but an action that happens with regularity. However, the choice to use the present continuous and not the present simple suggests that the speaker wants to show annoyance and irritation at the action.
Look at the difference between ‘He always gives me money’ and ‘He’s always giving me money’. Can you sense the irritation?
CCQs: Does she complain all the time? (Yes)
Is she complaining right now? (Not necessarily)
Is the speaker annoyed that she complains a lot? (Yes)
(c) If I were you, (I’d call her).
Meaning: The tendency for some teachers is to look at this structure as a 2nd conditional. However, considering the function of the phrase, perhaps it is best to teach ‘If I were you, I’d + bare infinitive’ as a formulaic chunk used for giving advice.
CCQs: Is the speaker giving advice? (Yes)
Is the speaker going to call her? (No) (Note: Students might see the ‘I’d call her’ and think it is the speaker who is going to call her.)
Who does the speaker think should call her? (The person that the speaker is speaking to…in the dialogue, this is Person B)
(d) If only we didn’t argue all the time.
Meaning: The ‘If only + subject + past simple’ is a structure used to show a wish for something that isn’t happening and might even be difficult to happen right now. Despite the use of the past tense, the structure is used to talk about the present e.g. ‘If only you were here right now’. This is one of the examples of how the ‘past simple’ is used to indicate psychological and hypothetical distance.
CCQs: Do we argue all the time? (Yes) (Note: Students might see the negative in that sentence and think the answer to this question is ‘no’)
Does the speaker want to argue all the time? (No)
Is this sentence talking about the past, present or future? (Present)
After looking at the meaning, trainees then had to work in pairs noting down the form of the structures:
(b) – to be + -ing;
(c) – If I were you, + I’d + bare infinitive;
(d) – If only + subject + past simple)
…and the pronunciation:
Focus on the stressed syllables and prominence of each structure;
and also note the catenation happening with ‘If + I’ and ‘If + only’.
Now they are ready for Assignment 2 – Language Awareness.
It is important that the input sessions of the first week starts exposing trainees to how they can focus on and clarify language in the classroom, whether that language be included in their lesson aims or emergent.
This also sets the groundwork for trainees to start including a Language Analysis sheet in their lesson plan (from TP 3 onwards), and gives them a basis from which to work on Assignment 2 – Language Awareness.
With this in mind, I timetabled a session on Clarifying Meaning on Day 4, with a focus on lexis. But before that, I scheduled for the second tutor to conduct a session on giving instructions and language grading with a focus on the use of ICQs (Instruction Checking Questions) and examples/demos to clarify instructions to tasks.
Some tutors prefer to timetable the session on instruction-giving and language grading on the first day of the CELTA, but I have noticed that such a session often could be meaningless to trainees with no experience of classroom management, and have found trainees tend to understand and take on the suggestions given when they have had the experience of setting up tasks and not being fully understood.
Not unlike the belief that students would better understand and be more motivated to learn the lexis/grammar that have emerged from their use of the language and the gaps in their knowledge, it is perhaps easier for trainees to notice the gap once they have actually tried to teach and encountered problems with that particular area.
It is also in this spirit that the session on Clarifying Meaning (of lexis) was timetabled for Day 4 and another session on Focusing on language (grammar and then lexis) for Day 5, and not any earlier.
On Day 4, the session started with me writing up ‘to binge’, ‘to defeat’, and ‘langoustine vs crab’ on the board. I then asked trainees to discuss with their partners how they would clarify meaning of these lexical items.
In open class feedback, we came up with these different ways of clarifying lexis:
Using photos/Google images
Using mime/Acting it out
Giving an example situation
Using CCQs (Concept Checking Questions, e.g. ‘to binge’ – ‘Do I drink/eat a lot?’ ‘Do I drink/eat a lot in a short time?’)
And a combination of 2 or more of the above.
I then gave trainees a handout with a list of the following words and they had to decide with their partners how they would go about clarifying them.
How would you clarify these words?
to pay a fine
to throw a tantrum
to steal vs to rob
to go on strike
to sip a cup of coffee
credit card (n)
suntan vs sunburn
In open class feedback, I then pretended to be a student (and a particularly daft one at that) and nominated different trainees to clarify each of these lexical items for me. ‘To pay a fine’ was an especially good one to start on as it forces some of these issues to emerge:
(a) Spending too long setting the scene
‘I was driving a car. And I needed to stop. So I needed to find a parking space. I couldn’t find one. So I decided to park on the side of the road. This is not allowed and is illegal. I did it anyway. A policeman saw this. So he came up to me and gave me a ticket. I had to pay a fine.’
Such wordy and unnecessary scenario-setting could confuse students, introduce more unfamiliar new words (e.g. parking space, came up to somebody, illegal, give a ticket) and increase unnecessary teacher talking time.
Instead, this would suffice:
‘I was driving too quickly. The policeman stopped me. I had to pay a fine.’
(b) Explaining Explaining Explaining
‘So, ‘to pay a fine’ means to give the policeman money because you have done something wrong, like in this case, you parked in the wrong place and it is not allowed. And so you have to pay a penalty. In English, we call this penalty a fine.’
Like the wordy scenario-setting, wordy explanations often means students are not involved cognitively in the clarification process and might either get confused or simply tune out. And there’s no way of checking if they really understand what you have just said.
Instead, try asking CCQs (see below).
(c) Not nailing the meaning of the language item or asking irrelevant CCQs
‘Does this mean I give the policeman money?’ (Yes)
‘Why did I give him money?’ (Because I parked in the wrong place)
At this point, I feign stupidity and say, “Ah! So teacher, ‘to pay a fine’ is same as ‘give coffee money to policeman’?”
Indeed, those CCQs could easily lead one to misconstrue that paying a fine means to give the policeman a bribe.
One extra CCQ is needed to ensure learners do not misunderstand the lexical item.
‘Who receives the money? Does the policeman keep it? Or the government?’ (Technically, the government)
As for irrelevant CCQs, here’s one of my favourites:
Lexical item: Season (Level: Elementary)
CCQ: What seasons are there? (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter)
Okay that was a good CCQ…wait till you hear the next one…
CCQ: Does this mean I put salt and vinegar on something? (DOH!!!)
On Day 5, I look at the clarification of meaning for grammatical structures, and look at how to systematically focus on MFP (Meaning, Form and Pronunciation).
The first week of the CELTA often tends to be really hectic, both for the trainees and the main course tutor (MCT from here on).
For the CELTA trainee, it’s a case of information overload as they realize what it meant when they were warned in the pre-course interview that it was going to be an intense course.
For the MCT, it’s about ensuring that all the start-of-course administration is actually carried out and sent off, getting trainees acquainted with the format of the course, and writing up a timetable that fits in the necessary input sessions that will get them ready for their observed teaching practice which starts on the 3rd day of the course.
But what are these necessary input sessions?
What would you include when introducing the basics to teaching?
Should these basics be a representation of your fundamental beliefs to teaching?
I used to expose trainees to lots of demo lessons, giving them standard lesson shapes to emulate. This perhaps reflected an underlying fear that trainees would not yet be able to know how to respond to students appropriately, deal with language, and deliver a 40-minute lesson so soon into the course as these skills come with experience (and an accumulation of knowledge over time).
Demo lessons therefore act like little nicely packaged ready-to-go lesson shapes in the form of a situational presentation, a Present-Practice-Produce, a typical listening/receptive skills procedure, a Language from a Text, etc.
I have absolutely nothing against these traditional lesson shapes although they tend to be adapted and modified sometimes beyond the point of recognition especially when in a Business English (or ESP) or coursebook-less Task-Based Learning classroom. In fact, I do believe that they could act as a useful hook when trying to understand the principles of language teaching and seeing the logic of how lessons flow.
But perhaps the logic of that flow might be buried in and amongst the confusion and overload of information of Week 1, and a lack of belief in the trainees’ ability (both by the trainees and the trainers). Behaviourist-style ‘make sure you copy the following’ type demos seem safer and less demanding of the trainees.
But could this be part of the reason for the prevalent belief that there is a ‘CELTA method’ to teaching that fails to take into consideration the different sociocultural contexts of different teachers?
In an attempt to shift the focus from a ‘Just Copy Me’ demo, I went straight into Day 2 of the CELTA with a session called ‘Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer – PPP’.
The session saw me giving trainees pages from 3 different coursebooks, all containing variations of the Present-Practice-Produce, or Present-Controlled Practice-Freer Practice stages. In the style of a jigsaw reading, trainees explained the stages of the coursebook page they were given to their group mates, focusing on why the coursebook writer had chosen to shape the lesson in such a way.
Trainees were not told that all 3 pages contained a similar lesson shape.
But my trainees soon figured it out.
They also figured out that language was often presented in context, that the earlier practice stages were more controlled than the latter ones and discussed the justifications behind them. Some even noticed that the language presentation in 2 of the coursebooks chose an inductive guided discovery format as opposed to simply explaining the grammar rules, insightfully commenting that students would remember it better if they discovered the rules for themselves.
Trainees were then asked to look at the coursebooks that they were using for their teaching practice and to find an example of such a lesson shape. Most did this very quickly and were immediately able to spot the PPP format used to focus on both grammar and lexis. One trainee even cleverly noticed that sometimes the ‘practice’ stage came before the language focus stage, and when pushed for a justification, she said, ‘It is so that students are pushed to notice the grammar pattern!’ and then later, ‘This practice stage is actually a revision of the grammar they had previously learnt in a previous level!’
With some trust and belief in the trainees’ ability to use their logic and instincts, perhaps we can get them to not just emulate what we do, but to use this ability of understanding the rationale behind the ways a lesson can be staged and the principles they are based on, and adapt them to suit their future teaching contexts.
As Güven said in his post, it was not an easy task.
But the trainees certainly rose up to the challenge.
And although it was tiring, I hope in the long run, it was worth it.
I discovered that my CELTA trainee and experienced teacher Güven Çagdas was blogging about his CELTA experience. We decided that it would make a great archive if I blogged in parallel to him. In his first post, Güven blogged about his response to my foreign language lesson – a session that I have found crucial to helping trainees put themselves in the shoes of the learner and establishing the basic principles of teaching. (Click here for the lesson procedure and rationale of my foreign language lesson)
And here are the ‘maxims of teaching’ that this month’s trainees’ came up with.
1. Be friendly, active and animated.
It encourages learners to be relaxed and feel at ease, thereby reducing their affective filter and enabling them to better make use of the learning opportunities.
2. Invite learners to practise and to make mistakes
It’s almost impossible to learn a language if one is unwilling to be adventurous and make some mistakes. I often tell my learners, ‘Mistakes are good. If you don’t make mistakes, I don’t have a job!’
3. Build your learners’ confidence
Echoing the first two points, it is important that the learner is not made to feel stupid or lost. Offer praise to the learner and make them feel good about themselves. But be careful because too much praise can render your kind words insincere and meaningless.
4. Use body language, mime, visuals, realia, and ANYTHING that will help you convey meaning
Meaning is king and no amount of work on Form or Pronunciation is going to matter if meaning is not successfully conveyed. But meaning clarification does not have to be boring or teacher-centred. Get students involved in discovering the meaning to language.
5. Keep the pace up
A slow pace can really bore the students and cause them to lose their intrinsic motivation to learn. However, going too quickly and not giving students time to think things through, to make notes and to formulate what they need to say could also be detrimental. It is a fine balance that the teacher has to manage.
Which brings me nicely to the next point.
6. Allow time for students to think and to produce language.
7. Use pair and group work as often as possible
Putting students in pairs or groups ensures that increases the opportunities for students to practise speaking, allows them to learn from each other, promotes authentic cross-classroom interaction, and avoids putting shy individuals on the spot in front of the entire class.
8. Nominate students and do it randomly.
Nominating ensures that all students get a chance to participate, and not just the confident and louder ones. It also allows you to get a better idea of who really knows the answers and who does not. Nominating students in order of their seating arrangments often means that students can predict when their turn is about to come and be thinking about what they are going to say instead of listening to their classmates.
9. Provide step-by-step support
Scaffold the language input and the difficulty of tasks so that learners are not thrown into the deep end too quickly. Whether it be drilling, or guided discovery, or controlled-to-freer practice, provide the support and slowly remove each supporting beam, while ensuring that the ‘+1’* is always provided.
See Krashen’s ‘i + 1’ theory.
10. Think also in terms of lexis and don’t get too obsessed with grammar.
Many trainees starting the Celta, especially those unfamiliar with English grammar rules, often feel overwhelmed by the amount of grammar they are expected to learn. Considering the amount of information overload, the intensiveness and the pressure experienced on a typical Celta course, this obsession with grammar can cause more unnecessary stress. Grammar can be learnt. But don’t forget that lexis is important too.
11. Monitor and take note of emergent language
Always ensure you have a notebook or scrap paper with you so you can take notes as you monitor. And remember not to get too drawn in to particular groups when monitoring and neglecting to listen to what is happening with the other groups as a result. Avoid making eye contact so that students are less tempted to draw you into their conversations. But be ready to support and help when asked.
12. Do not overwhelm students with too much language!
Too much input can make students feel lost, insecure and overwhelmed. Limit the language input and do not expect them to produce all of it successfully just because you have ‘covered’ the language points. Language learning is not linear.
I fully intend to print this out on A3 size paper and stick it up in my input room…and hold the trainees to these maxims they have come up with!
Meanwhile, did I mention that this is my 100th post?
Blogger and experienced Turkish university English teacher Güven Çagdas has been blogging about his reflective practice online.
He gathers a following, some of whom are in my PLN.
Güven decides to come to International House London to do his CELTA.
Of the 5 different CELTA courses running at IH London at the moment,
Güven is allocated to mine.
Güven blogs about his Day 1 on his CELTA, Vicky Loras reads it and realizes the tutor he is talking about is me.
Vicky is in both our PLNs.
Vicky RTs the post with me in cc.
Coincidence number 3
Güven tells me he intends to blog daily about his CELTA experience.
I feel tremendously lucky to have a way of getting daily feedback on the teacher training I do (instead of having to wait till the end of the CELTA for course feedback).
I write a long comment on Güven’s post regarding the first day of his CELTA.
The comment gets lost in the ether and neither of us knows where it’s gone.
I realize that I could blog alongside Güven about the CELTA course I’m running.
And that this could be an amazing resource and archive of a trainee’s and a trainer’s diaries of the same CELTA course.
I post the lost comment as a blogpost here on my site.
And so here it is…my lost comment… (Do read Güven’s entry before reading this)
And the start of The CELTA Trainer’s Diaries – Part 1.
Thank you, Güven, for journaling your experience on the CELTA.
This would no doubt be a invaluable resource for those who have done a CELTA, are doing a CELTA, or are thinking about doing the CELTA.
It’s amazing how the 30-minute Chinese lesson, in and amongst the 5 hours you spent with me on the first day of the CELTA, was the part you remembered most.
I suppose that it goes to show the fact that no matter how experienced we are, we must never forget what it feels like to be a language learner all over again.
As for the issue with the use of L1 in the classroom, I won’t go out of my way to avoid it. There are times when the use of L1 is either unavoidable or could actually be beneficial.
Although I know that some teachers feel that any amount of English in the classroom would mean extra exposure to the language, there is also an argument stating that L1 could be useful in the classroom.
In Vivian Cook’s Portraits of the L2 User, he gives some good reasons for the use of L1, including:
Learners are going to translate it into their L1 anyway, even if you don’t.
Telling learners off in L2 just doesn’t carry the same weight.
Instructions, especially for lower level learners, are more effective when given in the L1.
Using L1 for contrastive analysis e.g. comparing the tenses between two languages, can prove helpful.
Using L1 for translation exercises can help learners develop a valuable skill that at some point of their career, they’ll need to use. They may not become professional translators but they might be asked to translate an email or an excerpt from English. We mustn’t be put off by the shadow cast by the Grammar Translation era. We are no longer talking about random meaningless translations here.
Using L1 and L2 concurrently can help learners develop the skill of code-switching (i.e. switching between two languages when communicating). This is becoming a more and more common phenomenon we see amongst learners who speak English but share another language. What fun!
Sometimes the use of L1 could just be the sensible thing to do.
After all, why spend 20 minutes trying to explain and concept check the verb ‘happen’ to a group of Elementary learners when you can spend 2 seconds translating it and getting it across perfectly.
Evidently, many words or lexical chunks do not have a direct translation and these are the times I might concept check in English and give examples of usage instead.
Then there are times when the use of L1 helps the learner to get a feel of the phrase/sentence.
When getting learners to get their tongues around phrases like ‘It’s none of my business’ or ‘What has ~got to do with ~?’, I’ve found it helpful to get my multi-lingual classes to say the phrase in their own language (with the accompanying gestures) and then again in English, so that the emotions attached to the phrase is transferred to the English phrase.
I suppose, like most things in ELT, it’s all about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The BESIG Paris Summer Symposium (in association with TESOL France) might have only been a day long, but it was certainly one of the best conferences I had ever attended.
It was well-organised. – From the moment the speakers’ proposals were accepted to the day of the conference, key information was disseminated in good time, queries were answered before they were even asked, and the speakers were even sent photos of the rooms that they would be presenting in.
It was well-programmed. – Like many conference goers, I had become used to attending conferences where inevitably there would be talks that might make one feel like the opportunity cost was little high, to put it diplomatically. This conference had no such talks. Every single session I went to either gave me useful ideas to implement in my teaching or brought up certain issues that made me think. And from what I heard, the sessions that I was unable to attend due as they clashed with the sessions I went to were just as good (Eric Halvorsen, Vicky Loras, Michelle Hunter, Adrian Pilbeam, Nick Robinson, Ian McMaster & Deborah Capras: Sorry I couldn’t come to your sessions, but I have been hearing so many positive things about your sessions!) So kudos to the selection committee and to the presenters for that.
It was well-attended.– There were about 160 delegates at the conference venue attending the talks, but there were also some 70 delegates that had congregated in Argentina, Serbia, and Croatia, watching some of the talks simulcasted live into their conference rooms. On top of that, there were those who were watching the talks live from the comfort of their own homes through the Adobe Connect rooms. This meant that talks like mine which had the privilege of being simulcasted were able to engage not just the live audience in the room but also the audience in Argentina, Serbia, Croatis, and those online, involving them in the workshops and the discussions.
However, by well-attended, I’m not simply talking about the large numbers in the audience. I’m also talking about the ‘quality’ of the conference delegates. The BESIG Summer Symposium was attended by some of the most influential people in the TEFL industry, from the iconic Business English book writers and speakers like Evan Frendo, Pete Sharma, Marjorie Rosenberg, to the intercultural experts like Barry Tomalin and Adrian Pilbeam, to the online celebrities like Brad Patterson and Vicky Loras and the new generation of TEFL movers and shakers like Nick Robinson, Mike Hogan, and Bethany Cagnol (conference organizer and speaker).
For me, this conference was also about finally getting to meet up with some of the Twitter PLNers and Twitteratti in person (Christina @RebuffetBroadus, Eric @ESHalvorsen, Sue @SueAnnan, Vicky Loras @vickyloras, Brad Patterson @Brad5Patterson, Mieke @mkofab, and Carolyn @kerrcarolyn) and they are as marvellous if not more than their online presence!
Adding his own take to a mix of the dimensions and frameworks of Hofstede, Trompenaars and Richard Lewis, Barry creates the RADAR profile that helps us to learn about ourselves, before comparing our styles to others. Following some effective explanations and relevant examples, Barry had the audience first measure their expectations of business relationships by reflecting upon the following dimensions:
1. Are you more quality driven or cost/finance driven?
2. Are you more risk embracing or risk averse?
3. Do you prefer close contact or distance?
4. Are you more relationship driven or task driven?
We then measured our communication styles through the following:
1. Do you tend to be direct or indirect?
2. Do you often state your objectives before the reason or the background to a task before the objectives?
3. Do you tend to be formal or informal?
4. Are you more likely to be emotional or neutral?
Our organisational styles were measured according to the following:
1. Do you prioritise efficiency or effectiveness more?
2. Are you more time tight or time loose?
3. Do you tend to prefer top down or delegation?
4. Do you prefer individual decisions or team decisions?
Using framework provided by Barry, we marked out our answers to the above questions and then mapped it against the perceived styles of someone we work with, and considered the areas in which most gap was seen. Giving us the useful tip ‘Change 20% of your behaviour to get 80% of a change in the attitude towards you!’, Barry ended the session by encouraging us to think of a problem that we might have with another culture by going through the procedure he had taught us:
Identify your style;
Compare your style;
Manage your skills;
Judging from impressive attendance and the high levels of engagement, this session was certainly a resounding success. After a 15-minute coffee break, I managed to get a seat next to Christina Rebuffet-Broadus in one of the simulcasted talks, Pete Sharma ‘App-tivities for Business English’. Pete began by alerting us to several basic questions that we should ask ourselves about apps. Are they for the right platform? (Apple iPhone? Android? etc) Are they ELT apps or authentic apps? Do we need to pay for them? Is the app free-standing or does it need an internet connection to work?
He then went on to give us plenty of useful and exciting suggestions for teachers who own smart phones and iPads and would like to exploit their use more in the classroom. Here are some of them:
For listening practice, TED or BBC iPlayer.
For reading practice, newspaper apps can come in handy.
For pronunciation and familiarizing one with the IPE chart is Macmillan Sounds. The paid version comes with multiple activities for students.
Presentation tools like Brainshark or Prezi can be useful for the Business English Classroom
Prezi Viewer can help students to organise complex subjects like ‘culture’, ‘online learning’ or ‘the environment’.
Camera apps like Acrossair for geo-tagging, or Android apps like Google Goggles can provide information of one’s surroundings.
Screenchomp can turn our iPads into IWBs (Interactive White Boards)
Mindmapping software like Simple Mind can help our business clients with their tasks.
Fun and games like the British Council apps can motivate our learners.
Flashcode Reader reads QR codes. Using a QR code writer, a teacher can make treasure hunt clues, web quests, or simply send a students to an IELTS practice website.
Flashcard apps are widely available and can be used for vocab review
Pete’s book App-tivities is now in the labs of The Round, so we can go to www.theround/labs for a free sneak preview! Next up was Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol’s ‘Managing Your Brand as a Trainer’, where the freelancers and school owners in the audience were made to seriously think about their business plans and how much they invested in themselves and their brand. Asking the key question, ‘When people hear your name, what do they say? What does your brand say about you?’, Mike and Beth takes the audience through the different aspects of managing one’s brand, from professionalizing oneself by thinking about our niche markets and how we appear to our clients, to considering our online presence when a client or employer ‘Googles’ our name, to taking part in our clients’ conferences and courses/workshops, and even specialized training, so as to understand the environment our clients operate in.
Reflection clearly has a huge part to play when examining our brand. Amongst many other useful tips, the audience left the talk with the following questions resonating in their heads:
Are we able to present and negotiate our services with our clients?
Are we adapting to the changes in the market?
Are we investing in ways to boost the quality of what we offer?
Are we getting referred by our clients? If not, why not?
My talk was scheduled for the slot straight after lunch, so a few of us went to the nearby sandwich shop and I bought myself a ‘Skipper Sandwich’ with a chopped-up beef patty and fries between two chunks of bread, just to ensure that I would be as sleepy as my audience during my presentation.
As I often feel uncomfortable summarizing my own talks and presentations, let’s just simply say that my ‘Myths and Controversies in BE Teaching’ was largely based on the discussions that were had on the Devil’s Advocate interview here on chiasuanchong.com (see I’m trying to manage my brand! Mike and Beth would be so proud!). Polls were conducted both with the ‘studio audience’ and those watching from Argentina, Serbia and Croatia, and those at home, and we were able to get some very interesting discussions going. Thanks for participating, everyone!
The video of the talk will be up on besig.org soon! Another talk that was also simulcasted was Evan Frendo’s ‘Using Corpora in Materials Development’. Introducing the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English and the Enronsent Corpus for written corporate communication, Evan encourages us to get Wordsmith Tools, a concordancing tool that will enable us to analyse the corpora data using word lists and frequency lists. Keyword lists can also be another useful tool for ESP teachers as it helps us to find words that are significantly more frequent in a corpus when compared to another corpus. Demonstrating some possible uses of the corpora, Evan shows us the common collocates used when discussing a CNC machine, something guaranteed to be quite foreign to the lay person, highlighting the usefulness of a corpora to help us teachers become more familiar with the language our students’ need.
But using the corpora is not just for ESP teachers. The answer to the question “What is the difference between ‘going forward’ and ‘looking forward’?” can be found by simply looking up examples of use in the corpus data, therefore avoiding precarious situations that might arise from teachers guessing the use of certain lexis by using their instinct. Evan then ends his talk with an optimistic ‘Isn’t this what we do as Business English teachers? We analyse the language, and then we teach it.’ If only all BE teachers were this conscientious, Evan… Just before the closing plenary, Divya Brochier and Brad Patterson provided the audience with an interesting and useful way of encouraging speaking in the classroom with their presentation ‘Using Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to Boost Conversation Classes’.
Illustrating the fact that some students are simply not very motivated to talk through a hilarious roleplay with Brad and Rakesh Bhanot playing bored business students (Bravo for that French accent! It was so real I almost forgot that you both weren’t French!), Divya and Brad that goes on to show us how the use of the Six Thinking Hats could solve this problem.
The White Hat: Unbiased fact
The Green Hat: Creativity and Growth
The Red Hat: Emotions
The Black Hat: Problems. The Devil’s Advocate.
The Yellow Hat: Optimism and solutions.
The Blue Hat: Organisation
So the next time your student says something to the tune of ‘I don’t know’ when you ask them to comment on Global Warming or some topic in a reading text, try move around the six hats instead: What are the facts? (White) How do you feel about it? (Red) What are some of the problems with this? (Black) What are some of the advantages/benefits? (Yellow) How can we move forward from here? (Green) How would you summarise what’s been said? (Blue)
The fantastic conference then came to an end with David Crystal’s closing plenary ‘Language and the Internet’. David sets the tongue-in-cheek tone of the plenary by asking if we were addicted to the Internet and whether we check our emails when we wake up at night to go to the toilet? Surveying the audience with the questions, ‘How many of you here blog?’, ‘How many of you here tweet?’, and ‘How many of you here are tweeting right now?’ (I had my hand up to all three questions), David jokes about the fact that there now exists Twitter Scores that indicate how many people are tweeting in your talk. Clearly, the more people who tweet, the more important you must be!
What was known as Computer Mediated Communication in the 1990s no longer seems to be an appropriate term as the distinction between phones and computers blur. We now talk about Electronic Digital Communication. In fact, the mobilization of the internet means that by 2020, 80% of access to the internet will be through mobile phones.
While adults criticize text messaging and text speak as the way young people are harming our language through abbreviations, David Crystal debunks this myth, stating that text messages are NOT full of abbreviations as only 10% of texts are abbreviated, and we are now seeing abbreviations die away in text-messaging perhaps due to the fact that the novelty has worn out. (One Twitterer tweeted as a response to this, saying that this could be due to the dominance of predictive texts…but I’m not sure if this applies to smartphone users).
Interestingly, using ‘U’ for ‘you’ and ‘c’ for ‘see’ have been around for at least two centuries, and the very parents that criticize today’s teenagers for abbreviating were probably just as guilty doing the same with acronyms like ‘SWALK’ (Sealed with a loving kiss) at the back of envelopes. More interestingly, the earlier one gets their mobile phone, the better a speller one turns out to be. Text messaging is upping our literacy and not harming it.
Defining the difference between electronic communication and the spoken language, David Crystal highlights that electronic communication features successive feedback as opposed to simultaneous feedback. But we can be rest assured that there has not been many changes to the lexicogrammar of our language even with the advance of the internet. Perhaps the most noticeable change is in orthography, i.e. spelling and punctuation, but even so, this is a marginal feature.
Moving on to Twitter, David shows how the move from asking ‘What are you doing now?’ to ‘What’s happening?’ has made tweets less introverted and less about ‘I’ and more about ‘they’. Twitter is now used for business and for reporting on the things that are happening around us.
Ending his talk with a bit on blogging, David entertains the audience with a little skit on ‘blue bottles’, demonstrating how the internet and blogging has led to the start of many romantic relationships between the online users who share a common interest. The one and a half hours flew by with David Crystal telling anecdote after anecdote that the audience could engage with and relate to, and making his points loud and clear, all without the help of any slides or notes. It was certainly an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable presentation, and a great way to end the BESIG Summer Symposium.
Here’s a fascinating interview David Crystal himself by the BESIG Online Team.
All that is left is to congratulate the winners of the BESIG first-time presenters’ Award Vicky Loras, Eric Halvorsen, and Luke Thompson and Andy Johnson, and it’s off to the nearest restaurant for some escargots and frog legs!
(For more photos of the BESIG Paris Summer Symposium by Mike Hogan, go here)
The elective sessions at ELF5 are grouped into blocks of 2/3 speakers, each with about 30 minutes to present their research.
For the first elective session of the day, I chose 3 sessions on Teacher Education and ELF.
First up was Marie-Luise Pitzl’s talk – Preparing teachers for an ELF future: What we CAN tell them. Having read quite a few articles by Marie-Luise Pitzl, I found myself quite star-struck to sitting in front of her.
Quoting Dewey (2007), Pitzl reminds us that we can no longer regard language norms as fixed, pre-determined, and tied to a particular geographical or cultural centre, and that teachers should adopt a different approach to ELT, reassessing the way we select materials, methods, and approaches to testing, and promoting a pluralistic approach to competence and a flexible view of language.
On one hand, you have a global phenomenon,
And on the other, local contexts and local conditions.
And it is thus important to raise awareness amongst teachers and teacher trainees of this sociolinguistic reality and its teaching implications.
Here, Pitzl outlines the ELF component of here teacher training course.
Familiarising sts with core concepts (ENL, ESL, EFL, World Englishes, ELF, lang variation, variety, speech community)
Intro some descriptive ELF findings and linking them to ELF local contexts.
Raising awareness of what an ELF perspective might mean for ELT – shifting perspectives
Giving sts the opportunity to try out diff cooperative teaching methods.
Triggering reflective processes (on predominant NS models, own experience, own ideals, goals and standards discrepancies, challenges)
Into and organizational matters
The roles of English today – past and present developments, models for international English
World English : Basic notions
The ownership of English : From ENL, ESL, EFL, to ELF
ELF description 1: Phonological characteristics – Intelligibility, the Lingua Franca Core and suggestions for teaching
ELF Description 2: Lexico-grammatical characteristics: Processes of language variation and change (Jigsaw method)
Implications for the conceptualization of ELF – variety
Implications for ELT – Teaching ELF?
ELF Pragmatics and Basic notions
ELF Pragmatics : Negotiation of meaning and strategies for achieving understanding
ELF Pragmatics: Correctness, effectiveness and multilingual repertoires
ELF Pragmatics: Idioms, metaphors and metaphorical awareness
ELF, teacher identity and communities of practice.
Activities used include Jigsaw activity (lexicogrammar, Interviews (teacher identity), Roleplays, etc.
Next up was Lili Cavalheiro on Bringing New ELT Policies and ELF to Teaching Training Courses.
Aims for teaching ELF
To challenge the appropriateness of the NS model
Reconsider the inner circle as no longer providing the only adequate cultural content and the need to include materials from one’s own source culture
Critically analyse the cultural content and reflect on one’s own culture in relation to that of others as a crucial exercise.
While emphasizing the NNS teachers’ advantage of sharing common cultures and common goals with their learners, Cavalheiro reiterates Tim McNamara’s point made at the opening plenary about the inappropriacy of CEF descriptors, giving the following example:
C2 – Appreciates fully the sociolinguistics and sociocultural implications of language used by NSs and can react accordingly.
She then goes on to remind us of Seidlhofer (2011) paper on CEF’s lack of differentiation between the study of modern languages and EFL and ELF.
Still referencing Seidlhofer (2011), Cavalheiro then suggests that on a macro-level, teacher training courses should not only look at the nature of language and communication through language awareness, but also through communication strategies, intercultural communication, and sociolinguistics.
On a micro-level, we should take our teacher trainees’ context into consideration and develop a curriculum that fits into a more general framework of communication.
Last but not least, we should help trainees develop critical thinking of materials, and help them with not just what materials are being used, but how they are used.
The third presenter was Lucilla Lopriore speaking about ELF and Early Language Learning: Multi-lingualism, Language Policies and teacher Education
Early introduction of English to YLs mean plurilingualism. This means that classrooms will no longer be monolingual.
Parents want a NS teacher because they think it means their kids would pick up the ‘right’ pronunciation.
Multilingualism in Europe
The primary classroom population in Europe is mainly multilingual and multicultural.
The realities of early language learning implementation vary widely due to variety of factors:
National language policies
The assumption that earlier is better
New media (access to foreign lang through the internet)
Emerging new literacies
(Hoffman 2000, Edelenbos et al 2006 etc)
She appropriately draws the 3 sessions to a close with a quote from Henry Widdowson (2012):
‘The first step is to raise awareness of teachers that there is an alternative way of thinking about the subject they teach, based on an understanding of English as a lingua franca. We need to overhaul our descriptive systems and deconstruct our established concepts…and this involves quite a radical re-thinking about the relationship between what we know about the language and what we do with it…between the teaching and learning of the language as a subject.’
This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).
The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.
So the seventh victim on the hot seat is Marjorie Rosenberg.
Marjorie Rosenberg has been teaching English in Austria since 1981. She has worked in a variety of settings in adult education and currently teaches at the University of Graz as well as working with corporate clients and doing teacher training.
Her interest in making business English fun and accessible to a large group of learners prompted her to write the photocopiable business English activity book Communicative Business Activities which is now available on English 360 http://learn.english360.com. She has also written In Business, two Business Advantage Personal Study Books and is a regular contributor to Professional English Online, Cambridge University Press.
Marjorie’s work with NLP brought her into contact with different models of learning styles and she is currently working on Spotlight on Styles, Delta, which is due out some time in Autumn this year.
Chia: Hi Marjorie, it is such an honour to have you on the DA hotseat today!
Marjorie: Good to be here.
Chia: I hear that you are quite the NLP expert and that you have a book coming out soon about learning styles?
Marjorie: Right. I did my Master Practitioner and Trainer’s Training in NLP with Robert Dilts in Santa Cruz, California where it all started.
Chia: Wow…that’s impressive! I know we talk a lot about learning styles in our teaching and even in teacher training, but could you give us an overview as to what we are talking about here?
Marjorie: Sure, NLP and learning styles are actually two separate things. In NLP we look at what has been called ‘representational styles’ meaning how we ‘re-present’ the world to ourselves. These are basically the visual, auditory and kinesthetic modes. …
They also include gustatory and olfactory which are more important in some cultures than in others. That’s why it is sometimes called the VAKgo model. …
These representational systems are used in NLP to help us establish rapport and have some idea of ‘how’ another person perceives the world but certainly NOT what they are thinking.
Chia: But learning styles are often considered part of NLP, aren’t they? Could you perhaps give a quick definition of NLP just so our readers could understand the subject at hand and see the difference between the two?
Marjorie: Learning styles are a much broader field as they include the sensory modalities of the VAK model but they also go on to include cognitive processing which deals with how we think and process information – either globally or analytically) as well as the models which deal with our behavior.
These models include our preferred style of learning something new for example. One way to look at this is a model I use, which is divided into four parts depending on how we perceive and then organise the information we have received. This is based on research done by David Kolb and Anton Gregorc but reworked by April Bowie in the US.
To explain the four types in Bowie’s model, I usually give an example of instruction manuals: some people write them, some use them constantly, some have no idea where they have put them as they just push the buttons till something works and others just need to know someone who has read the manual and can explain it to them. These are four distinct styles.
Chia: That, I am assuming is the general definition of learning styles. What about NLP?
Marjorie: I realised I didn’t answer your question. NLP began as a short-term therapy and then quickly moved into the business world as a communication model and eventually into the classroom. …
NLP makes use of the representational systems as I mentioned, but in order to improve communication, not necessarily to teach someone something new.
Chia: Okay, for the purpose of today’s DA debate, let us focus on learning styles then, shall we?
Marjorie: No problem.
Learning styles were around before NLP but I actually learned about them in an NLP for teachers’ course.
Michael Grinder, whose brother John was one of the founders of NLP, runs classes for teachers where his aim is to help educators find out how their students perceive, store and recall the information they receive. Michael says that school success is actually based more on where we have information stored, rather than what specifically we have learned.
What he means with this is that once we have received information, we need to have access to it and if we are auditory for example, we remember best what we hear or say but if we got the information in visual form we may not be able to access it easily. This is a bit like a computer, data is useless unless we know where we have saved it.
Chia: Surely that must depend on the type and nature of the information at hand? If we are trying to learn about the geographical location of Sao Paulo, it clearly would be easier to use a visual way of teaching than an auditory way?
Conversely, if one is trying to get their learners to produce the phonological chunking of a text and the correct placement of the tonic nucleus, it would be easier to drill and do it the auditory way?
Marjorie: That depends on your style and how well you have learned to adapt. Michael also talks about teaching – which is teaching to all styles in the VAK model – and ‘re-teaching’ which means breaking down a lesson into one of the three (VAK) modes in order to make it accessible to someone whose primary system is not the one which was addressed in the original presentation.
An auditory learner may still need to say the places on the map aloud whereas the visual learner probably just needs to look at the map. And the kinesthetic learner may actually need to draw a map or move bits around to really understand it.
Chia: But saying the places on the map out loud isn’t exactly going to help the learner know its geographical position though…and draw a map and moving bits around just to figure out that Sao Paulo is in Brazil seems like an awful waste of time…
Marjorie: It may seem like a waste of time to someone who understood it right away but for someone who didn’t, this may be the only way to really learn the material.
A few years ago we helped out the son of friends of ours who couldn’t learn English vocabulary. He did the usual, writing a list and trying to remember the words but as a kinesthetic learner it didn’t help him. I suggested he write the words on flashcards and move them around. He immediately started tearing up pieces of paper, played with the words, his English grades improved and in the end, he went on to study English. His parents were also surprised at this fairly simple solution. Another young person recently told me that she doesn’t like having to learn everything from books and would really prefer it if someone would just read everything to her. I have known her since she was four, she’s now 22 and has always been auditory.
Chia: But are we really either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners? Aren’t most of us just a mix of all of the above?
Marjorie: To some extent, we are a mix. But the latest brain research is actually showing that we are born with one stronger tendency. We learn to adapt but tend to go back to our strong channel in stress situations. It could be that ‘stress’ is the important word here, when we are relaxed we have access to all our channels but when faced with an exam or answering a question, it is exactly then that we need to tend to rely on our strongest channel.
However, learning styles are NOT an excuse. We still have to put up with whatever is done in the classroom, we just have to find the best way for ourselves to deal with it.
Chia: You use the phrase ‘put up with whatever is done in the classroom’, which seems to suggest that most teachers are not very attentive to their students’ learning styles. Do you think most teachers do not take this into consideration?
Marjorie: I think a lot of teachers don’t have the time to try and accommodate all the students they have. When a teacher has a group of 20 – 30 students, it just isn’t possible to do activities in three different ways. And most of us tend to teach in the way we learn.
I co-train with a friend who is auditory – kinesthetic (motoric) and I am visual and kinesthetic but emotional. We once started a training session and there was no flip chart, which didn’t bother her at all, but I insisted we find one. She goes running at lunch and I find someone who I can talk to who I like.
Chia: I can see the benefit applying our knowledge of different learning styles and varying our lessons so that most of the students feel motivated and catered for. But don’t you think it is a bit essentialist and categorical to say ‘You are visual’ and ‘You are kinaesthetic of the emotional sort’? Surely, everyone reacts and learns well when what they are presented information they can connect emotionally too and can discuss that with a partner?
Marjorie: Not everyone connects emotionally to material, this is also dependent on type. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do a book on learning styles. The idea is to give teachers more insight as to the different styles in their classroom and expand their repertoire to try out activities aimed at specific styles. As a non-auditory type, I don’t do a lot with listening comprehensions I have to admit, even though I used my guitar for years in class. But CDs were not at the top of my list of teaching tools. Pictures and photos were, however!
Chia: I don’t think I’m a visual learner at all, considering the fact that I tend to think in words rather than pictures, I can never remember faces and I always dream in black and white or sepia tone. But I see the words, rather than hear them. And although mindmaps don’t work for me, I often have a photographic memory of lists and paragraphs with words. So I’m visual only when it comes to words. Does that make me a visual learner or not? It’s all so ambiguous!
Marjorie: This still sounds visual to me. However, you may be an analytic learner as well rather than a global one, which would mean that the individual words are more memorable than a picture. VAK is only part of the mix – we have to look at the whole picture. …
Having said that, however, I never analyse my students unless they are having problems learning something and ask for advice. Then it may help them to suggest that they approach a task in a different way and that just may do the trick. However, using a variety of tasks taking these different styles into account or allowing groups to organise themselves when it comes to completing a task gives them the chance to make us of their individual strengths.
Chia: That’s interesting that you say that because on the CELTA course, one of the criteria states that trainees have to show an awareness of different learning styles in their assignment ‘Focus on the Learner’. This means that most CELTA tutors deliver an obligatory input session on learning styles, coupled with multiple intelligences and the different kinds of motivation, just to fulfil the criteria. But CELTA trainees never seem to know what to do with this information, and neither do the tutors, to be honest. The end message, of course, is always ‘VARY YOUR LESSON AND METHODS’ but that message can be delivered without mentioning learning styles at all. Do you agree?
Marjorie: Yes, I do agree. It would be good to actually teach the background of VAK which means that teachers can determine the input and output of the information but not the storage. That is up to the individual.
Then if someone is more global and needs the big picture or more analytic and prefers details, that also makes a difference in how they learn/remember information, for example.
Then we can look at David Kolb’s model of those who perceive concretely but reflect on the information or need to actively experiment with it and those who prefer abstract concepts and then reflect on it or experiment with it – these are the four styles April Bowie worked with which I mentioned earlier.
Chia: …or we can also talk about learners with more organic learning styles and those who prefer systematic approaches, couldn’t we? There are just so many…
What then should we teach on CELTA training courses, if any of these models…?
Marjorie: Good question. I am concentrating in the book on the VAK, global-analytic and the model of the four styles April researched. In my opinion, these are the models which come up most often and include academic research. I haven’t touched multiple intelligences as they are more talents for me although some of the categories overlap with the other models. …
Visual-spatial, for example, is similar to visual but the standard visual model does not include the spatial aspect. This means that although I recognise a house on a street I still get lost because my spatial orientation is not very acute.
Chia: My spatial orientation is terrible! Ask anyone who knows me! I could walk into a shop on the high street and by the time I walk out of it, I would have no clue which side I came from!
Marjorie: I understand as I have the same problem. However, to sum up some of this discussion, I would say that what is important for me in the whole learning style debate is that it is important for teachers to recognise their own preferred modes and to be able to stretch out of them from time to time in order to reach more of their learners. We also need to be tolerant of someone who does something in a different way. We criticise students who mouth words while reading, for example, but auditory learners may actually need to do this.
Since I began working with styles I find my students to be fascinating as I observe the way they do things when left to their own devices. There is a jigsaw puzzle game with phrases on it in one of the photocopiable books. I gave out the game to two groups – one read the phrases aloud and put the puzzle together based on the phrases which matched and the other group simply looked for the pieces which went together and looked at the phrases at the end. That was really interesting to watch!
Chia: I love doing tests that help me know my learning styles, etc. But a lot of the time, these tests are so obvious to the people answering them that I wonder if they are really testing my learning style, or what I THINK my learning style is and reaffirming my assumptions about myself…in a placebo effect sort of way? Also, doesn’t categorising people and letting them think they are a visual or auditory learner close them off to other ways of learning? I know people who would say stubbornly, ‘That just won’t work for me because I’m not auditory!’ before even trying things out.
Marjorie: I was just thinking about that. One possibility is to have students or learners observe themselves in relation to any learning style survey before actually ticking the answers. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is really important to remember that this info is most important in a stressful situation. I can listen to the radio in the car when I am not stressed but the minute I have to park, it goes off. My partner, however, is auditory and the radio is on non-stop as it relaxes him. I collect photos – he collects CDs. But again, styles ARE NOT an excuse. In order to be successful we all have to learn to accommodate to the world around us.
I would say that the goal of the teacher is to help a student (who is having problems) to learn how to stretch out of one mode if that is what is holding him / her back and learn to work in other ways which are necessary for the task at hand (looking at a map for example or learning chunks of language).
Chia: And will your soon-to-be-published book be showing us teachers how to do that?
Marjorie: That’s the plan. The first section deals with the general information about styles, then there is a transition part with surveys, learning characteristics and learning tips and the middle part is full of activities for the different styles including ideas on adapting the activities to suit more than one style …
Chia: That sounds brilliant! What’s it called and when can we expect it on the shelves?
Marjorie: It is called Spotlight on Styles, being published by Delta and is about 3/4 done. Hopefully out in the late fall this year.
Chia: I’ll definitely be looking forward to getting a copy!
Thanks so much for taking time to be subjected to the DA grilling today.
Will you still sign my copy despite me playing DA with you today? : )
Marjorie: Thanks for asking me. I hope that some of the ideas I presented will help teachers to work with types who are different than they are. It takes patience and tolerance but the end result is worth it. And yes, I will sign your copy, no problem.
Epilogue: Marjorie’s views are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was mainly playing DA but did have some genuine doubts and queries about the topic in question. Marjorie hasn’t kicked Chia out of IATEFL BESIG yet, so that must mean that they are still due to have those few drinks together at the BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris in June.