Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.
IATEFL Day 2
If there was one session that I went to this IATEFL conference that really pushed me to think, if there was one session that I went to that made me want to stand up and cheer by the end of it, if there was one session that I went to that I think no one should have missed, it’s Willy Cardoso’s ‘Dialogue in Teacher Training: A Socio-Cultural Perspective’.
Exploring the way teachers learn to teach and the theories behind them, Willy reminds us that nearly everyone has ideas about what teaching should be like because we all have had experience of being a student at some point in our lives. It is such Apprentice of Observation (Lortie, 1975), alongside theories that show how cognitive development is mediated by social activity (Vygotsky), that clearly point towards the fact that learning (whether learning a language or learning to teach) is a dialogic experience, i.e. I cannot make sense of anything unless I am in co-existence with someone else.
Quoting the following, Willy demonstrates the connection between the socialization process, one’s cognitive processes, and the way they conceptualise teaching and what one does in the language classroom:
‘The socialization processes prospective teachers experience during practicum can have a powerful influence on their conceptions of language teaching and of what it means to be a language teacher.’ (Borg, 2006:57)
‘It is not that social activity influences cognition…but that social activity is the process through which human cognition is formed.’ (Lantolf & Johnson, 2007:878)
‘how external forms of social interaction become internalized psychological tools for thinking.’ (Johnson, 2011)
Teachers are learners themselves, and they should always be constant learners of teaching. Their epistemological stance is therefore important in determining what underpins their classroom practices and even the meta-language used to describe what they do. Take for example language like ‘The learner is slow’ or ‘the teacher is dynamic’. Such discourse has a history of usage in our field and it is vital that we examine what we mean when we use them, and how the acquisition of such discourse fits our social contexts.
Such is the discourse that we export to the rest of the world when we export our teaching methodologies and approaches through teacher training courses. Yet, teachers are clearly NOT contextually isolated technicians. They are not machines that copy techniques they have learnt in one context and apply them without regard for the appropriacy of such practices in a different culture or context.
So if we do agree that social processes and cultures could influence cognition, which in turn could influence the way we learn or expect to learn, surely, reflective practice is the key to continual professional development?
Surely, the deepening of knowledge and understanding of the applicability of the techniques and discourse we acquire can only take place through having space for reflection and examination of our beliefs?
Surely, reflective practice is itself learning how to teach?
If so, then, why do we spend hours upon hours on input and planning in teacher training courses?
How often do we expect our trainees to simply ‘copy and paste’ the techniques and discourse into their teaching practices (regardless of the contexts they will teach in)? Is that why we do demo lessons?
Why do we spend such little time on feedback and reflection?
Why is the feedback session to teaching practice lessons only 30 minutes long?
While Dogme is a way for us teachers to allow for more reflective practice and adapt content and structure to context, what about teacher training?
Do we build upon the prior experience of our trainees as learners and as people?
Do we allow space for them to adapt and reflect?
Are we training them to be technicians? Or reflective practitioners?
Encouraging us to use the following framework suggested by Borg (2006), Willy pushes us to ask the following questions as trainers:
What are the characteristics of trainee’s classroom practices during the training course?
What influences underlie these practices?
How do trainees’ exit mindset, pedagogical principles, and scientific concepts compare to those they entered with?
Without doubt, a session that has left us trainers breathless and inspired.
In the communicative era of teaching, we constantly preach a student-centred approach to teaching. We constantly preach that context is most important. We constantly preach that student talking time is what matters.
Hence, when it comes to teacher training, should we not push for a more trainee-centred approach?
Should we not focus our attention on ways our trainee teachers can adapt what we give them and shape it into what would suit different contexts while making it their own?
Should we not allow for more trainee talking time where they could engage in dialogue with not just their tutors, but their colleagues and their students, to help them make sense of their learning process and mediate their development?
Maybe it’s time for a communicative approach to teacher training.
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 Chaton 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.
He is also an active member of IATEFL, serving as the Social Media Evangelist for the Teacher Development Special Interest Group of IATEFL (TDSIG).
Having supped with the Devil’s Advocate here, he will be giving a talk at the IATEFL 2012 Conference in Glasgow on The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.
Chia: It’s a real honour to finally get the guru of Teacher Training Unplugged on DA! You ready for a grilling?
Anthony: You do me too much honour, I think, but I’m happy to get a grilling now and perhaps a roasting from your readers later…
Chia: I’m sure any grilling and roasting will all be done in good humour and in the name of CPD…
Many teacher trainers often tell their trainees that one should always start preparing for a lesson by first stating one’s aim…for when we know the aim, we can then go about planning a logical procedure that would help us achieve the lesson aim.
However, you seem to have a rather different take on this issue, I’ve been told…
Anthony: I’m not so sure about that. I think that having a clear idea about what it is that you are setting out to do and what you hope to achieve by that is generally a good idea.
What I perhaps have a problem with is how this basic common sense gets done in practice – or rather, how trainees get told to do it.
For example, ask any number of trainers (or trainees) on initial training courses what a lesson aim should be like and they will almost certainly say something like “By the end of the lesson, the learners will have improved their ability to (add communicative function, e.g. talk about their current habits) by using (add lexical/grammatical item, e.g. present simple).”
Sounds OK? After all, it outlines the language area being targeted, thus enabling said trainee to research it, and it’s communicatively oriented, thus making it potentially useful for the learners in real life, and it is developmental, as it aims for “improvement”. Problem is, in many respects, it’s meaningless.
For example, does the trainee really know that their learners need this lesson on this piece of language? Even if they do need it, will this aim lead the trainee to an appropriate procedure for the level and needs of the group, or will they simply operationalise one of the “lesson “shapes” that they may have encountered on the course? And how is one to measure improvement? Here are some problems for a start.
Chia: Trainees on initial teacher training courses often come from a traditional background of teaching, which often involves a ‘chalk and talk’ style of ‘transmission of knowledge. Getting trainees to articulate their lesson aims forces them to think about what they hope to achieve (with the level and needs of the group in mind) before embarking on planning the lesson procedure. It also demonstrates to the learner that teacher has thought about what is needed and has prepared for them).
Without formulating aims, trainees are likely to just be going through coursebook exercises one after the other (Turn and Burn) without any thought as to why they are doing it or how it helps the learners.
Anthony: The alternative to these sorts of aims is not “no aim at all”, as I’m sure you are aware – but to go back to your starting point…
If trainees come from a “chalk n talk” background, an aim formulated in a specific manner won’t change their behaviour – and it might in fact act as camouflage for their teacher-centred tendencies (i.e. the observing TP tutor is lulled into a false sense of security while reviewing the lesson plan by the superficially learner centred aim format, but under the hood in the procedure, there is something more transmissive brewing.) This often goes unnoticed until during the lesson, incidentally, as procedures might be so thin on detail as to obscure what is really going to occur.
In short, lesson aim formulas may facilitate and disguise lack of reflection. The trainee might have been better off simply stating in their own words what they wanted to achieve – they would understand it better, and the tutors would be less likely to fall for appropriately phrased but vacuous aims of the other type.
Chia : But Anthony, the way a trainee formulates his aims are often telling of their beliefs and attitudes towards teaching and language learning…There’s a reason why the ‘given pattern of phrasing’ aims exist. It ensures that the trainees ask the following questions:
Is the context included? (Because teaching language out of context is not only meaningless but can be detrimental to retrieval);
Is the aim achievable or is immediate production expected (Language acquisition is not linear and to expect immediate production is foolish);
Is it clear from the aim that the trainee understands the need for practice (Simply presenting the language without allowing practice of it is not going to help the learners)…etc.
Not only that, ‘it reflect teacher’s planning decisions, as well as the teacher’s understanding of the principles of lesson design…and a reliable indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise’ (Thornbury, A-Z of ELT) Wouldn’t you agree, Anthony?
Anthony: Not entirely, Chia. Firstly, requiring a lesson aim in a certain form of words in no way ensures “trainees ask themselves (important) questions”.
I do agree that a better teacher will be able to formulate lesson aims that more accurately reflect what they intend to occur in a lesson, and I agree that if aims are formulated in a way that implicitly poses useful questions to the teacher, this may make them more mindful of whatever tacit theories of teaching/learning are being inculcated. However, I would question deeply whether this use of a “given pattern of phrasing”, as you put it, actually leads to heightened awareness in trainees in itself.
So what I suppose I am actually concerned about, or against, if you will, is less the formulation of aims as such (which I do see a point to), but rather the issue I see with a trainee potentially adopting aims formulation of a certain type simply in order to match whatever they believe their tutors want to read.
If we ask our trainees to work within a given framework, however we justify it, we create the danger that less able candidates will simply conform without really engaging with the task usefully, in order to do what we want.
Chia: Fine, so we both agree that planning and formulating lesson aims can be good? So what would you suggest as an alternative in order to overcome the dangers of hoop-jumping which a formalised certification process often presents.
Anthony: There is a lot of potential on intensive teacher training courses for hoop-jumping, and a lot of it is connected to lesson planning. I agree that preparing for a lesson is an important thing for teachers, experienced or newbies, but there is a difference between having a plan and being prepared.
One thing you could do straight away if you wanted to reduce the potential for “hoop-jumping” is get rid of TP points (note: TP points = Teaching Practice points, lesson ideas given to trainees by their TP tutors, with more or less detail about content and approach). Another thing you could do is reduce the amount of paper documentation that a trainee needs to submit for formal assessment in the early stages of the course. Another thing centres can do is become more flexible in the format that lesson plans take.
Chia: Can I first address your point about planning and being prepared? I think we should remember that we are not asking trainees to plan for planning’s sake.
The point of lesson planning, I always tell my trainees, is that through the process of sitting down and writing up the plan, trainees are forced to think through what they want the learners to achieve and how exactly they are going to go about doing it.
It also focuses trainees on the language that needs researching before they enter the classroom. Although teachers might not go in and execute the plan in the exact way they have planned it, the careful thought that has gone into the lesson will ensure that teachers have a direction even when they divert off plan.
And although trainees might never have to plan in such detail in real life, the process of writing lesson aims and lesson plans gives them a foundation on which to base their classroom decisions, and it gives them the structure upon which they could improvise and be flexible with dealing with the learners needs in a lesson.
e.g. If during a lesson, it becomes obvious that all the learners have issues with using ‘for’ and ‘since’, the teacher will be able to instantly formulate on the spot new aims in his/her head, followed by a clear logical procedure that would help learners with their issues…improvising a ritual that he/she has honed through the practice of lesson planning….
I suppose, it’s like learning to play the scales when you are learning music. You are never going to perform the scales in a concert, but the scales, although seemingly restrictive, actually give you a foundation upon which to improvise and be flexible.
Anthony: Lots there, Chia, so I’ll proceed carefully….
Of course we are not asking them to plan for planning’s sake, but how do they see it? And what might we be doing which might be contributing to their view of it? What I mean is, by asking trainees to submit work in a given format (i.e. a centre specific lesson plan template) we are asking them to shoehorn their thinking and way of thinking into a rigid framework which may simply not make sense to them in their terms.
There are alternative ways of laying out thinking about a lesson on paper – mind maps, for example, but how often do trainees do that? And why do you suppose they don’t? Based on conversations I’ve had, I think it’s because, contrary to what we may say to them, they feel that they “should” do it the centre’s way, for whatever reason. And by the way, it doesn’t matter what we say they are free to do; what matters is what they hear they “should” do.
Now, I see no meaningful correlation between the ability to formulate explicit lesson aims of a specific type and the ability to notice an emergent need in the classroom and work out a way of serving it on the fly. On the contrary, the fixation of pre-determining everything which is to occur in a lesson and forming an aim which condenses this is arguably more likely to lead to such emergent moments going either unnoticed or ignored for fear that their treatment would get in the way of the plan (how often have you heard that?)
This is one reason why I suggested getting rid of TP points earlier: it isn’t forming lesson aims that trains a teacher to become flexible and responsive in class – far from it, I would say. Instead, it is listening to learners with an open mind and responding freely to that.
And just so in music: a musician is not made by running scales – they are made by learning to listen and by exploring the range and limitations of their instrument unfettered by scales (ask Evelyn Glennie, world-class deaf percussionist, and she’d confirm this, by the way!)
So in short: lesson planning is not the key to developing a great teacher; developing listening skills, data gathering skills and the ability to see needs within the data – all this must be in place before formally assessing lesson planning has any added value.
Chia: Every good trainee should know that they should not be teaching the plan but their learners. It’s a well-known maxim that trainers often tell their learners.
To quote Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT again, he says, ‘”Despite the apparent inflexibility of planning a lesson in such detail, most observers allow for the fact that no lesson is entirely predictable. They will not expect the teacher to follow the plan slavishly. In reality, most lessons are a dynamic mix of the planned and the unplanned, and it is often during the unplanned moments that the most rewarding learning opportunities occur… Nevertheless, it is generally felt that the exercise of planning lessons in detail is a useful training practice, and a relaible indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise.”
All the teaching skills that you mentioned (developing listening skills, responding appropriately to learners, gathering data from what is happening in the classroom, etc) all point towards the fact that you believe in learning by doing.
But arguably, Celta trainees are going to go on to teach and practise their teaching skills after the Celta and they will be able to hone those skills in their own time. Having said that, many Celta trainees come on the course, not just to get a certification to teach, but also to learn by being given a structure to follow. Providing a basis using lesson aims and procedures can guide more systematic learners as they will have something to fall back on – a hook, if you may, to lean on, before being thrown into the deep end…
And you must agree that we should train our trainees in the way they are best able to learn, and not in the way that we want to teach. If our trainees find that giving them a structure can help clarify their doubts, why are we insisting on taking that away from them?
Anthony: Why? Simple: because that is putting the cart before the horse, however easy it may be to use the “we’re serving our trainees by giving them structure, a hook, a recipe, etc” argument to cover up the fact that this leads, wittingly or not, to an industrial, production line model of training, and – and this is the truly nefarious bit – outsourcing the real learning to after the course!
You talk about honing, but you can only hone what you have in hand – and as these things are core to teaching and are hard to get to grips with, are we doing our trainees a service or a disservice by saying that “you’ll have time to hone that after the course; focus now on getting these recipes down pat”?
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen that many trainees who are put at ease by having to complete formal lesson plans – on the contrary, they are a source of stress, regardless of learner background. As I said earlier, this is linked to squeezing one’s thinking into a given format.
Chia: You speak of recipes…Jamie Oliver is famous for experimenting and creating amazing fusion dishes, but did he not learn from having recipes at the beginning before going on to become the master that he is today.
Our trainees need building blocks before they can start to go solo and improvise, and this is not ‘squeezing your thinking into a given format’, but rather giving them good habits they will need and the thought processes that will underline the decisions they will make in the classroom.
Anthony: I know you like the analogies that can be drawn between teaching and cooking, as do I, but we should be careful! I am not arguing here against “lesson recipes”, if you will, but against the products which we ask trainees to submit as evidence that they have internalised these recipes – the paper-based plan itself.
Taking your cooking analogy further: what is the better indicator of a chef’s aptitude – a paper-based description of a recipe that they have conceived, or the ability to get in the kitchen and turn out something edible in real time?
Let’s face it, lesson plan documentation (as opposed to recipes), especially when linked to a given “helpful” lesson plan template, is an administrative convenience, nothing more. It enables the quick assessment of the outcomes of a trainee’s thinking about a lesson – but the question that concerns me is: how much is not revealed by these partial documents?
And they are partial in both senses. They require trainees to think and express themselves in the terms of the plan, not in their own. This is likely to have a limiting effect on their ability to express their ideas, and it may even hinder them in their thinking from the start: if you spend any time talking to trainees about the process of planning, you hear this a lot.
And I doubt that Jamie Oliver ever had to produce the kind of “meal plans” that you can read and replicate from his cook books in his time as a chef – he learnt by watching an experienced chef and by getting stuck in.
Thus suggesting perhaps that writing a clear and useful lesson plan – like a clear and useful meal recipe – is something to aim for towards the end of training, not the beginning?
Chia: What then do you suggest we as trainers do to help trainees hone the necessary skills and develop a systematic thought process that would enable them to deal with skills and language work in the classroom effectively?
Anthony: Well, passing over the danger in your use of “systematic” (whose system?), I think one thing that could be done is ease up on when and how much documentation needs to be submitted for assessment, and also easing up on the format this takes. As I said earlier, another thing you could do is reduce the amount of materials and concrete guidance provided early on, in order to allow for trainees to invest themselves more fully in the planning of their lessons from as early as possible.
A final thing you can do is stagger the need for formal assessment of their lesson planning ability by not asking for fully featured plans from day one, or even during the whole of weeks one-three on a typical initial 4-week course. But I’ll leave it to your readers to take these discussions further.
Chia: Thanks for your time, Anthony. You’ve provided us with lots of food for thought there!
Epilogue: Anthony’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. However, Chia is still waiting to be convinced to lighten her focus on lesson aims and plans on her CELTA courses, and so Chia and Anthony are planning to carry on this discussion in Lubeck, Germany. Interested parties ought to leave their comments here.
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). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views and justify them.
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.
Second on the hot seat is Dale Coulter.
Dale currently finds himself in Rome where he is an English teacher. He specialises in Dogme and reflective practice in teaching, both of which he has spoken about at ELT conferences in the past year. You can find out more on his blog here. Or follow him on Twitter here.
Chia: Hi Dale, are you ready to be DA-ed?
Dale: Hi Chia, great to be speaking to you, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for a DA-ing.
Chia: It is a well-known fact that you are a Dogmetician who have been practising Dogme ever since you finished your Celta. Many would argue that newly-qualified teachers (NQs) should not be attempting Dogme. What would you say to that?
Dale: Interesting point, Chia. As a teacher trainer what would you say are the reasons why you’d be skeptical about your trainees attempting Dogme?
Chia: Answering a question with a question…very cunning, Dale… Well, there are several reasons for the CELTA trainers’ skepticism.
For starters, NQs are not experienced or skilled enough to be dealing with emergent language and reacting to spontaneous and specific needs…
Dale: True, the teaching practice element in CELTA courses does not provide enough classroom time to prepare a teacher thoroughly to react to emergent language. Mind you, attempting a Dogme lesson doesn’t mean throwing the book out the window and unplugging your whole course. For instance, my first Dogme lesson was a 1 hour 15 minute slot as part of a three hour lesson. I think that somewhat minimises the the risk of ‘failure’, wouldn’t you say?
Chia: Not really, because you could still have a 1 hour 15 minute flop, which could lose your credibility and destroy your confidence…something that NQs don’t need. NQs need confidence-boosting experiences, don’t you think?
Dale: Definitely, a complete flop using any teaching method or approach is a big dent in the confidence of any teacher, not just an NQ. You need to be prepared for the lesson. Emergent language doesn’t just emerge on its own; the teacher needs to know how to exploit language opportunities in the classroom. It is also about the language the teacher selects to deal with, and how it is dealt with. I was definitely reassured by the fact that I had some experience of being guided towards learning to deal with emergent language from my teaching practice on the CELTA. We can’t underestimate the importance of knowing what ’emergent language’ is and what it means to deal with.
Take an experienced teacher who tried Dogme, for example. What if their lesson was a failure and they failed to react to students’ emerging needs and the language they were producing? I don’t think this is a criticism that can be soley aimed at NQs.
Chia: On a CELTA, one can get experience of dealing with emergent language through teaching practice, but they are mostly lexical items. What about grammar? Most NQs don’t know their grammar well enough to be able to deal with the questions or the emerging reformulations that are needed.
You said so yourself in a post on your own blog on November 12th (reflections on Tesol France) that NQs often think, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about grammar, I am terrified that my students might ask me questions’. This is from your blog.
Dale: I knew that one would come back and bite me one day. Jokes aside, what’s to say an NQ can’t pick up a grammar book and read it? Take a proactive approach to it by dealing with the lack of knowledge. Obviously you can’t read up on the grammar of the English language in one week, which is something I realised too, so I chose to do Dogme with a class that is least likely to throw up difficult questions: an intermediate level. After all, when teaching Dogme, you can always guide the conversation towards areas that you know students may have difficulties with – to make your life easier, and secondly, research those areas and make sure you feel confident to answer questions about them.
You know they don’t know X or Y and you can guide them towards that, almost like leading them towards a cliff then when they reach the edge, building them a bridge to the other side
Chia: Is that then not really Dogme? It sounds more like a planned lesson where you have manipulated the needs…
Dale: In that case, I guess I’m not a Dogmetician then, I just manipulate conversation driven lessons around the needs of my students and work with the language they produce. Guilty as charged…hahaha
Chia: Stop acting cute, Dale. But in all seriousness, conversation lessons can sound like a chat. As many opponents have said, Dogme could be seen as ‘winging it elevated to an art form’… Couldn’t students get that from sitting in a pub? Where’s the structure?
Dale: Of course, I’ve heard that one a million times before… for me Dogme has always been a manifestation of principled eclecticism in the classroom. It’s not like you’re hashing a lesson together at random, you’re providing the most suitable solution to what has emerged, which, obviously a NQ would have some difficulty with on a long-term basis, but generalising that all of them couldn’t I think is a bit of an insult to the ability of an NQ.
By the way, I remember one of my trainers saying that to me “a speaking activity should give students something more than they could get in the pub” …
Chia: And how do you give them that extra that they can’t get in a pub?
Dale: Well, firstly I think there’s a difference between conversation-driven and a conversation lesson. The former implies that conversation is the vehicle with which learners and the teacher arrive at their destination, the latter is like conversation as a road to learning, which is where some cynics have their doubts.
It’s a teachers’ job to pick on thematic or linguistic elements of conversation-driven time and use them for lesson content, that way what is taught is immediate and contextualised.
Chia: Yes, but NQs will not be able to differentiate between conversation lessons and conversation-driven lessons, needless to say have the confidence or ability to pick out linguistic elements to use as lesson content simultaneously and spontaneously.
Having linguistic aims prepared and how these aims are to be achieved in each stage of the procedure does not only provide structure for the NQs but also for the students. Jeremy Harmer said that Dogme is like ‘jungle-path teaching’, i.e. a lesson with no plan and structure, and therefore no continuity…
Dale: So you are going to quote Harmer at me, are you? Let me quote one of my classes back to you. They said they believed I prepared more than any other teacher and that my lessons were very structured and organised. Doesn’t that pay tribute to the fact that Dogme is a form of principled eclecticism working on a materials-light level. Didn’t you yourself call it Improvised Principled Eclecticism?
Chia: Sshhh, don’t tell anyone, Dale. I’m trying to play Devil’s Advocate here.
Dale: No, you’ve raised a good point there about the perceived lack of structure. I think it’s a criticism levelled at Dogme very frequently.
Chia: So what do you do in your Dogme classes that helps students to feel that they are well-prepared and well-structured?
Dale: I have always applied a lot of what I learned in CELTA and then subsequently in DELTA. You see, lesson stages, as such, still exist: there is still a stage in which you check meaning or form, practice, review, drill, feedback, practice. The difference is that they are not rigid in a Dogme lesson; stages are at your disposal when they are necessary, if they are necessary. Students feel like it’s structured because it is structured.
Chia: Are you therefore saying that it is important to teach CELTA trainees to write lesson aims and and execute the procedures and lesson stages they have planned? Isn’t that contradictory to Dogme principles?
Dale: Well, the teaching of linguistic aims, lesson plans, lesson procedures, achievement of aims etc is easier to teach directly to trainees, in the sense of transferring information from A to B.
By the same token it’s easier to assess and benchmark to decide on a general standard. Is this contradictory to Dogme? Without the foundational backbone that lesson aims and procedures provide, a lesson lacks structure, which is why I consider them to be important as a foundation to build on.
However, identifying positive teaching behaviours in trainees like dealing with emergent language, building on them and reinforcing them with positive feedback corresponds more with the demands on a Dogmetician. I’d say a lot of the cynicism about Dogme and NQs stems from the fact that training does not cover these areas. The ability however is there, it just needs pulling out.
Chia: The thing is Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared. NQs often are still struggling with these aspects and are not going to be as able to cope with combining them in a flexible and improvised manner.
Dale: Exactly, it takes a long time to become an expert in these areas, which required years of practice, positive models to follow and experience in the classroom, so why are we not focusing on these things right from the beginning, to give trainees a better start?
Chia: You sure you’re not digging yourself into a hole there, Dale? You’re right, it takes lots of years of experience honing the skill of dealing with emergent language. If done badly, it could either result in all talk and no language work, or even worse, teacher-centred explanations and lectures that are contradictory to the communicative approach to teaching.
Dale: But Chia it takes time to refine the skill and the road is a long one. Which comes back to my point that why aren’t we starting the journey straight away?
And on the topic of communicative language teaching… many teachers work under different definitions of ‘communicative’, and there’s disparity between their ideas and what others consider it to be…but that’s another topic for a sequel to my first DA, perhaps?
Chia: So you’re enjoying this grilling enough to come back again then? ; )
But, honestly, a common point made by CELTA trainers is the fact that many coming on courses like the CELTA already think that teaching English should be relatively easy simply because English is their native tongue. Introducing NQs to Dogme and dealing with emergent language at such an early stage of their teaching can mislead them into thinking that chatting with their students in English is all they need to do…into mistakenly believing that Dogme is easy.
Dale: A very good point. You could also say that trainees may be misled into thinking that following the instructions in the teacher’s book, doing the practice exercises in the back of the book and teaching from page 1-100 is all they need to do. Coming back to Dogme though, I think in these cases the better-judgement of the trainer is needed. As I’m sure you know, each group of trainees is different from the last; some groups are stronger, some are weaker. Introducing elements of Dogme to a stronger group, pushing them to deal with emergent language and use their knowledge of the English language to help students pushes the trainees to their i+1. To a weaker group though, I will admit that it is not a good idea to encourage them to use Dogme and could lead to such opinions. Like a hierarchy of needs, Dogme lies at the top and lower levels need to be satisfied first.
Chia: Are you therefore saying that Dogme can or should only be attempted if and when trainees are able to use the coursebook and when they are able to deal with shaping a traditional PPP/Test-Teach-Test/Guided Discovery lesson from pre-assumed lesson aims?
Dale: I think trainees should have the benefit of a ‘backbone’ to English language teaching, as I mentioned earlier, it gives them an invaluable introduction to the profession. With a stronger group that grasps these concepts with ease, and one whose beliefs about teaching fit with the ideas behind, then I would say yes. I think it’s up to the trainer(s) to assess the level of the group and provide suitable challenge for them. I think I’ve touched on another point here that’s important: how Dogme fits with a teacher’s developing belief structure.
Chia: What do you mean by that?
Dale: Well, let’s face it, everyone believes languages are learned and taught in a different way and some teachers just don’t see Dogme as a way of playing to their teaching strengths and/or compatible with what they believe about SLA.
If there is a group containing many trainees who have the experience of learning another language, the experience of being a language student, and from this have understood the need for communication, immediacy and sensitivity to students needs, then it makes a more fitting environment in which to attempt Dogme.
Chia: Hang on, Dale. I’ve got two questions I’d like to ask here…
1. Are you saying that if the trainees do not believe in the need for communication and immediacy, that if they believe in that languages are learnt by grammar translation or the Direct Method, or by completing countless gap-fill exercises, then we should not encourage them to attempt Dogme?
2. Are you saying that native speakers who have never learnt another language and have no experience of being a language student would be far less suited to Dogme?
Dale: Ok, I’ll take your first question. No, I’m not saying we should settle for this and simple pander to their needs. I referred to a kind of hierarchy earlier. In this case, guided-discovery, test-teach-test etc would be the next level on the hierarchy. In this situation, a trainee must train to level and encouraging them to attempt Dogme would be pitching too high, don’t you think?
In response to your second question, I think that non-native speakers or native speakers who have had some form of language instruction/experience of learning another language have in their possession key abilities for Dogme and for teaching. One of them is empathy with their students, which makes a teacher more sensitive to students’ needs, both emotional and linguistic.
Chia: Interesting points there. Can I take this debate on a slightly different direction?
We have so far been arguing about the ability for NQs to use Dogme in conversation-driven lessons with language focus. How about the other skills like reading, listening and writing?
Dale: As a Dogmetician, I’m sure you’ve considered this as well yourself.
Chia: Dale…I keep telling you, I’m not talking to you as a Dogmetician at the moment…only as a DA…
Dale: Sorry, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference, especially when I’m used to you playing the role of DA consistently in daily life anyway.
Back to the point, we bang on about being sensitive to our students’ needs and responding to them, but what if these needs are specific to writing/reading/listening? This throws up another question: how does a NQ handle these without coursebook materials?
It’s a good question and it focuses us even more on the difference between attempting some Dogme lessons and being a Dogmetician. Materials-light is sometimes confused with materials-free, and it would be wrong to think you can’t use materials altogether. Certainly if this were the case, skills that require materials would not receive focus. A Dogmetician, in my opinion, selects materials to teach skills which can be exploited for conversation, engage learners and provide space to deal with difficulties learners have when practising those skills.
I think some NQs would have trouble teaching reading, writing and listening skills without the supportive framework of materials. On the other hand, if a NQ wants to use authentic materials, use learner generated and produced materials, then shouldn’t we be supportive in this pursuit? After all, isn’t that what assignment 3 of CELTA is trying to encourage anyway?
Chia: What kind of materials could an NQ use to focus on such skills that still keeps the lesson a Dogme one?
Dale: I would recommend short texts, both listening and reading, and authentic. Your ideas for using BBC news were very helpful for me, also short newspaper articles, parts of short stories or even teacher-written texts. In creating tasks, try and move away from testing comprehension and encourage students to interact with the text, pick out language they identify as useful, share ideas about a text, have them create the questions, have them respond to the text, rewrite it.
Chia: NQs would have greater difficulty in selecting authentic texts and creating tasks for their learners, in addition to the previously-discussed ability to pull out appropriate language for learners to focus on and dealing with them in sufficient detail.
Dale: You’re right there Chia, in selecting appropriate language and creating tasks, experience puts you at a great advantage. That’s why, just like emergent language, it’s better to get NQs practising asap.
Chia: Wait…if you are using such materials, what then is the difference between a Dogme lesson and a non-Dogme one?
Dale: Maybe there isn’t much of a difference.
Chia: Maybe it’s just good teaching.
Dale: Maybe the labels aren’t important.
Chia: Yeah, maybe it’s the learners’ motivation and needs that should take centre stage.
Dale: Maybe Dogme is a platform that provides the most space for this in the classroom.
Dale: Wow. That was intense.
Chia: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat.
Dale: It’s been a great pleasure, Chia.
Epilogue: Dale and Chia still argue like siblings at a family Christmas dinner. They also love each other, especially when the exchanging of expensive gifts is involved… Dale was only expressing his own views and does not represent any organisation he’s associated with. Chia is, in fact, a Dogmetician too. She was only playing DA.
This is something that I’ve been doing for a while and I find that instead of ‘testing’ my students’ listening ability, which most listening exercises you find in course books seem to do, this truly provides listening practice by sensitising the learners’ ears to how English sentences are said. I have had learners, who previously found listening to English TV programmes intimidating, not only display a marked improvement in their listening ability after only carrying out this procedure once every day for a week, but also enjoyed a remarkable boost to their self-confidence.
I’ve done this successfully with learners of a Low-intermediate but I would recommend that learners be at least a good Mid-Intermediate Level for the BBC News Headlines to be satisfactorily exploited.
That said, this procedure could be applied to other kinds of authentic listening texts as well, and does not have to be restricted to the BBC News.
A) Prediction task
Ask leaners to predict what they think the news headlines might contain. Write the predictions on the board.
B) Google ‘BBC News Headlines’ and click the first link listed
C) Listening for content
Teacher tells learners to listen to the news headlines and check predictions, and also count the number of news stories there are.
Pair check and feedback
Listen again and state what country/company/topic the headlines are about.
Pair check and feedback
Listen again and take notes in order to summarise the story for your partner.
Pair check and feedback
These three listening tasks provide the learners with opportunities to process the content from top down, practising extensive subskills gradually combined with listening for detailed understanding.
D) Intensive Listening
Teacher plays the news headlines sentence by sentence and get the students to identity each word which is then transcribed onto the board. Repeat each sentence as many times as necessary.
E) Noticing chunks
Teacher gets students, in pairs, to find collocations, fixed/semi-fixed expressions and grammatical collocations from the transcribed text.
F) Progressive Deletion
Story by story, headline by headline, the teacher rubs off parts of collocations and fixed expressions from the board and students fill in the gaps verbally in pairs.
Quick feedback – teacher nominates a student to read out the news headline with the gaps filled.
Teacher rubs off more words from the board and students fill in the gaps.
It all started when a co-tutor on the CELTA suggested that I borrow some mini-white boards for an input session on boardwork. My trainees had so much fun drawing pictures of varying degrees of artistic proficiency to convey meaning of the words ‘prawn’, ‘chess’ and ‘aubergine’ while I was also able to provide a much more hands-on practice session of organizing collocations, using mindmaps, and marking phonological features.
I decided then to invest in my own set of mini-whiteboards and they have been a hit in the staffroom since. I now use it for both teacher training, English teaching and even exam preparation classes.
See here for some cheap mini-whiteboards you can purchase for your classroom.
Here are some of the ways I use them in a General English and in an IELTS exam class. The list is in no way exhaustive so do feel free to add on to it…
1. Language Review
A mini-whiteboard can be given to each student, or to a pair. As a variation to back-to-board, I explain the lexical item in the context it was encountered, and students write their answers on the white boards. If this is to be done competitively in pairs, students should be given a few extra seconds to discuss their answers…On the count of three, they turn their boards over to reveal their answers. This way you can check how much they remember of the lexical item and their spelling of it.
2. Needs Analysis
Instead of using tedious needs-analysis forms, students can write (or as a creative alternative, you can get students to draw) their goals on the boards. Holding their goals up for the whole class to see is step 1 to materializing those goals, and is a good chance to see if their classmates share the same expectations.
I sometimes write up a whole list of topics e.g. Health, Food, Education, Politics and Current Affairs, Travel, Family and Relationships, Technology, etc… (or Business skills if you are a BE teacher, e.g Presenting, Chairing Meetings, Taking part in meetings, Negotiating, etc.) and students vote for the topics they want. Depending on the size of the class, each student/pair might get anything from 2 to 4 votes. They write their favourite topics on the mini-whiteboards, and when all boards are turned round, the teacher can have a clearer idea as to which topics are more favoured than others.
A variation of this is to write up the four language systems (grammar, lexis, pronunciation, discourse) and four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) up on the board and students vote for which language system or skills they think are most important and they need most work in.
3. Brainstorming & Mind-mapping
Whether done as a lead-in to a lesson so as to activate the relevant schema and lexis, or as a first stage to process writing, the boards seem to be a good platform for groups of students to draw their mind-maps. Learners seem to take more ownership of their work when it is put on the mini-white boards and shown to the rest of the class. An empty board can look much sadder than an empty notebook page, and you will notice that students are often much more keen to fill up that mini-whiteboard.
4. Jigsaw reading picture notes
An idea I adapted from the ever-so adventurous and creative Fiona James, this is a variation on Jigsaw Reading. Students are given different texts to read and asked to make notes so that they can retell what they have just read to the other students. However, here’s the catch. They can’t write any words. All notes have to be in the form of pictures that they will draw on the mini-white boards. This automatically forces students to process the texts for meaning instead of simply copying out chunks of words, and it also encourages students to use their own words and paraphrase what they have read when retelling it to their partners.
5. Delayed Correction
You know the drill. After a freer speaking exercise and feedback on content, the teacher writes up a list of sentences/words she has heard students say and puts students in pairs to correct those sentences on their own. The idea is to get students cognitively involved in the reformulation/correction process instead of simply telling them what their mistakes are. However, what sometimes happens with some students is that they would skim through the list with their partners, making minimal effort and waiting to be told the ‘answer’.
I now give each pair of students a mini-whiteboard each and systematically go through the list of sentences one by one, and with each one, giving students time to discuss with their partner and write the reformulated sentence on the mini-whiteboard. On the count of three, they turn their boards over and I shower praise on those who have thought of good or creative reformulations. The competitive element somehow ensures that everyone is on the toes.
6. What are the collocates?
To be used in conjunction with a corpus, the teacher gives students a lexical word e.g. global, boost, community, or even a de-lexicalised verb e.g. get, make, set, and students are given a time limit to write the top 5 (or 10) most frequent collocates of the word on their white-boards. You might want to limit the part of speech e.g. top 10 noun collocates, or top 10 adjective collocates, so as to prevent articles and prepositions from appearing.
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that the top 2 collocates of the examples given are as follows:
Global warming, Global system;
Boost confidence, Cash boost;
European community, Care community;
Get back, Get rid;
Make sure, Make up;
Set up, Set out.
A variation of this activity is What are the prefixes/suffixes?
Also a corpus-based activity, using the * key, find out the top suffixes and prefixes of words such as ‘like’ or ‘organise’ by typing *like* or *organise*. Give students the task of writing down what they think might be the top variations of the given word on their mini-whiteboards.
The top 2 with ‘like’ are ‘likely’ and ‘unlikely’, while the top 2 with ‘organise’ are ‘organised’ and ‘organisers’ although ‘reorganise’ and ‘well-organised’ appears later down the list.
7. Silent conversation
I first got the idea for this activity from a colleague, Fiona Johnston, and have found it really useful and motivating. Now, I get students to do it on a mini-whiteboard which they can then rub out, rather than on sheets of white paper.
I walk into class not saying a word and proceed to write the following on the main board.
‘Today, we are not going to speak for an hour. But we’re going to have a conversation. A conversation on paper. Here are the rules:
You’ll work in groups of 3.
You will discuss the following topic I will give you.
You can interrupt your partner but by writing.
Try to avoid very long paragraphs. Don’t make your partners wait too long while you write.
Here’s your topic: …”
The topics can range from ‘What did you do this weekend?’ to ‘Tell your partner about the different members of your family’ to ‘What problems do you face living in London’ to controversial statements like ‘Men should stay at home while women work to support the family. Do you agree?’
As they write, I play some Nina Simone and Michael Buble in the background and walk around correcting their sentences. Works a charm and students often realize how similar this form of communication is to chatrooms and instant messaging, and therefore find it extremely useful.
8. Information Gap
Partners sit back to back. Student A draws a picture on their mini-whiteboard. They then try to explain and describe the picture to their partner who will then proceed to draw it on their own mini-whiteboard. At the end, both hold up their mini-whiteboards for the rest of the class to compare and see how similar (or different) they are.
Sometimes, I get my students to draw the layout of their house (great for prepositions of place), sometimes just random shapes and lines, sometimes they draw a pretend snapshot/photo from their photo album (adapted from Danny Norrington-Davies), and sometimes a favourite painting/album cover/item of clothing, etc.
9. Essay Writing
One of my favourite ways of teaching writing is simply to get students to write a paragraph (after sufficient brainstorming and deciding on the content of course) and me writing a paragraph with them. We then compare what we have written and look at how our paragraphs differ and what they can do to make their paragraphs better.
Take for example a recent IELTS preparation course that I was running. Students were given a topic like ‘Video games are bad for children and should be banned. Do you agree?’ After brainstorming the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments to the topic, we decided to write the introduction to the essay. We spent about 4 minutes writing quietly on our mini-whiteboards, and when students were ready, they compared their work with their partners. I then had everyone flipped their boards over (including my own) and we talked about their use of linkers and discourse markers, compared to mine. We found it much more effective than correcting students’ writing over their shoulders or taking home the marking because everyone gets to learn from each other’s trials and errors.
10. Win, Lose or Draw!
We can’t possibly talk about mini-whiteboards and not talk about this classic favourite, although I’m having trouble knowing who to credit for this…indeed, how long does an idea have to be floating around before we stop acknowledging the creator…
This can be used as a revision tool. Students have all their previous lexis on cards, they take turns drawing and their partners guess the lexical item.
And those are the 10 things that I use my mini-whiteboards for when teaching English. Do you use mini-whiteboards too? Did your school purchase them? How do you use them? Do your colleagues use them too? Do share what you do with these wonderful little things!
Upon meeting my new Celta group today, I decided to make a few quick changes to the foreign language lesson. To start with, one of them speaks Chinese and so I had to make an emergency switch to teaching Japanese instead. However, the problem with teaching Japanese in the context of a cafe is that most cafe items in Japanese sound exactly as they do in English since most of them are ‘loan words’ from the west. So orange juice is simply ‘orenji jusu’, coffee is ‘cohee’, and ‘milk’ is ‘miruku’. After all, the concept of a cafe was a western one in itself.
So I decided to instead bring in some fruit that do not have western names and group the items into drinks and fruit. After making some changes to the dialogue, I thought while I am at it, I might as well change the format of feedback. Instead of only getting trainees to talk about how they felt, they were given the task of formulating maxims for their own teaching, in hope that it would contribute to feelings of ownership of the ‘maxims’.
The maxims that they formulated were impressively similar to the points made in my previous post about the foreign language lesson…(I did guide them and summarise what they were saying of course…) Here are their 10 +1 maxims.
1. Thou shalt allow lots of repetition.
This was the first point that lots of the trainees mentioned. They realised how important repetition was and passionately stated that no matter how many times I allowed them to repeat ‘mizu’ (water), each time was precious to them and a chance to review and etch the word into their memory.
2.Thou shalt not make students feel bad for not remembering. Instead make them feel relaxed.
The phrase ‘energetic antenna’ is starting to make a regular appearance on my Celtas. The teacher is the energetic antenna of the group in the same way a manager of a team conducts the energy and affects the dynamics of its members. The teacher is therefore responsible for fostering an enjoyable, friendly and relaxed atmosphere conducive to making mistakes and learning. After all, as I always say to my students, ‘if you don’t make mistakes, I don’t have a job.’
3. Thou shalt drill! drill! drill!
A more experienced trainee came to me during the break and asked if I was advocating the audio lingual approach or the direct method. Although I’ve had lots of experience with the Callan Method in my early days of teaching, it was important to get across to him that a multi-method ‘cream of the crop’ approach (where we select and pick the ‘cream’ or the best of each approach/methodology to suit the occasion and the student) was what we hope to encourage (and not the ‘Celta method’ which some cynics seem to complain about).
4. Thou shalt not overload students with too much information.
Although it is never wise to overgeneralise, I suggested to trainees that for a 40-minute Celta lesson, it is perhaps appropriate to introduce 7-10 pieces of new lexis (if lexis is the main aim), but it was also a good opportunity to highlight the fact that words like ‘orenji jusu’, ‘coca cora’, ‘cohee’, etc were easier due to their similarities to English, and therefore allowing us to include more than 10 pieces of lexis in that lesson.
5. Thou shalt teach lexis in chunks.
Several trainees were puzzled by the meaning of certain words in the phrases I taught them. When encountering ‘cohee o onegaishimasu’ for ‘coffee please’, I overheard some of them wondering out loud what ‘shimasu’ might mean. But ultimately, it did not matter for as long as they knew that the whole expression ‘onengaishimasu’ was one that allowed them to ask for favours in Japanese, our job was done.
6. Thou shalt train students to tolerate ambiguity.
A skill that is so important to every language learner – the ability to face unknown language items and not suffer a psychological block or a deflation of one’s self-esteem. The language classroom can already make the most powerful of business people feel like a child – one without control of his/her environment and not able to achieve what must be one of the most basic of human abilities – the ability to communicate. It is thus extremely vital that learners realise that there will be times when lots of words will be unknown and that is okay. We can still try to guess the meaning from context. And more importantly, for learners to understand that language learning is a long process. One of my trainees exclaimed today that we had spent 40 minutes and had only learnt a short dialogue at a cafe. Language learning is like a race with no end, a run where the destination is unclear…and we all know that these kinds of runs can be psychologically exhausting. That’s why it is all the more important that we enjoy the journey and the small successes that we achieve.
7.Thou shalt use visuals.
The trainees clearly found the use of realia was novel and motivating, and mentioned that it was important to cater to more visual learners. This also included the writing down of the dialogue on the board so that trainees were able to see the words and not just hear them. My co-tutor doing the session on learner styles tomorrow is going to have the trainees all prepped and mentally ready for that session!
8.Thou shalt motivate the learners.
Several trainees commented on the importance of the lesson being fun, and the trainer being energetic and engaging. The teacher of course does not have to be jumping around like they are high on an overdose of ADD medication. The teacher is not a performer and does not have to behave like mad ol’ me. A teacher can be calm, sedate and relaxed and still motivate and engage their learners all the same.
9. Thou shalt correct the students’ mistakes, albeit judiciously.
This seems obvious but I was once told that one of the most frequent complaints that students make to managers is that they don’t get corrected enough. Students pay to be corrected, so as long as you do it in a friendly, supportive and encouraging way, and in a way that doesn’t interrupt that fluency too much, correction should be a feature of the language classroom. And I encourage my trainees to do so from day 1 of their Celta.
10. Thou shalt set a context and present language in context.
Probably a cornerstone of the communicative approach to teaching, the context-based presentation creates a place in the brain for learners to ‘put’ the new language and this therefore helps learners to retrieve the new language more efficiently and effectively. But my trainee today probably gave a less-noted, but equally valid reason for presenting language in context : it is more fun and shows you directly how you can use the language. He claimed he was now looking forward to going to a Japanese cafe and putting the language he had learnt to good use.
+1. Thou shalt encourage lots of student talking time and only quality teaching talking time.
Okay, this is a +1 because it is the one I deviously slipped in so it actually came from me rather than the trainees…although some of the trainees did mention the importance of the use of clear and graded speech, gestures, and facial expressions to ensure understanding – a tenuous link to ‘quality teaching talking time’ I admit, but nevertheless useful. Related to the importance of increased practice in the language classroom, increased student talking time is achieved by encouraging pair/group work, and multiple opportunities to rehearse the language taught.
So there they are – the ten (+1) maxims that my trainees formulated all on their own.
Ten (+1) maxims that beautifully describes the foundation of the SLA (Second Language Acquisition) principles and the communicative approach.
Ten (+1) maxims that I will be holding them to throughout the teaching practice lessons on the Celta.
And here is a blog post to remind them that I will.
Many Celta trainers I know have taken the foreign language class out of their Celta timetables in favour of other more ‘practical’ input sessions such as classroom management. But looking back at the times when I was training up to be a teacher, I realised how some of the most valuable lessons I had learnt have come from those demo foreign language lesson and decided to give it top priority by dedicating a good 60 minutes to it on Day 1.
But before looking at the reasons why I’ve chosen to do so, let me first outline the foreign language lesson that I usually deliver. And for those teacher trainers out there who claim not to speak a foreign language, I hope this brief lesson plan would serve to reassure you that you do not need to speak a foreign language well to carry this out.
I usually do the foreign language lesson in either Chinese or Japanese, depending on the profiles of the candidates. Evidently, I’d choose the language that trainees are most unfamiliar with.
Materials: 6 items of realia – A box of English tea, a tin of green tea, a bottle of milk, a jar of coffee, a can of Coca Cola and a bottle of mineral water.
Procedure: I greet the students in the foreign language, and set out the items on the table. I start with one item, say, the English tea, modelling, drilling chorally and then individually. I then do the same with the second item, the green tea, before moving back to the English tea and the green tea again. Every time I introduce a new lexical item, I go back and drill those that I had done previously.
When the six items are drilled sufficiently, I draw a chair and a table on the board with a customer sitting and a waiter standing. Because my drawing abilities are so bad, I mime the waiter with my scarf over my arm just to ensure understanding of the context. I then mime the following dialogue line by line, but with the introduction of each line, I drill the phrase and everything I covered before.
Waiter: What would you like?
Customer: I would like some English tea/coffee/water/etc…
In pairs, students role-play the dialogue with the help of the dialogue written on the board.
I then add the rest of the dialogue.
Waiter: Would you like anything else?
Customer: I would also like some milk/Coca Cola/ etc…Thank you.
Waiter: Thank you.
Again, in pairs, the students role-play the dialogue. Just before they swap roles, I erase the dialogue off the board and have students do the role-play from memory.
At the end of the demo, the trainees discuss what they think each phrase from the dialogue meant in English and how they felt during the lesson.
During feedback, I take the opportunities to unpack the stages of drilling (model, choral, inidividual) and get them to notice other features of the lesson e.g. my seating position during the lesson, how I monitored, the effectiveness of pairwork, etc.
But one could argue that these are features that could be highlighted in any demo and not necessary through a foreign language lesson, but here are some other points that I find the foreign language lesson making very effectively.
1. It’s scary being a learner.
Some of my trainees have never had the experience of learning a foreign language before. But even those who have might need a reminder of how it feels to be a learner – After my foreign language lessons, trainees often say they felt insecure and anxious when placed in a situation where they couldn’t speak the language. It brings attention to how language is such a core tool of communication to the rest of the world that without access to it, they experience a sense of panic and a loss of control over their surroundings. Some are surprised at how it makes them feel like a child and are better able to relate to how the high status professionals might feel being taken far away from their comfort zone.
2. Context is everything.
Choosing to do my foreign language lesson as a situational presentation, trainees are able to deduce the meaning of the lexical phrases without the need for any translation. But more importantly, it is good chance to draw attention to the fact words and phrases are often remembered through the context they were encountered in and are not stored in the brain separately, but in clusters e.g. with other related lexis or in lexical sets. When attempting remember the lexis a few days later, trainees will quickly realise lexis is more easily retrieved when the words/phrases are given a context, ‘a place to belong to’.
3. Drilling isn’t boring… and it isn’t just about pronunciation.
The foreign language lesson is a good chance to introduce drilling, and to demonstrate the importance of drilling, not just for pronunciation practice, but for memory retention and getting their tongues round the language. Being on the receiving end can help trainees see that drilling is not boring for the learner at all, and is in fact confidence-building. It is often the teacher who feels bored because he/she already knows the language item well.
4. Pronouncing unfamiliar sounds in a foreign language can be frustrating.
Especially when trainees have not had the experience of learning another language, it might be hard to relate to how difficult it might be to first recognise and differentiate what might seem like similar sounds in one language but totally different phonemes in another, and then try to contort their muscles in strange ways to make sounds that don’t exist in their language. Repeated drills of more difficult sounds can drive that message home.
5. Language learning isn’t always about learning single words.
When covering the Lexical Approach and introducing language chunks like collocations later in the course, I refer to how they learnt the phrases in chunks during the foreign language lesson without necessary understanding what the individual words meant, and highlight the fact that it takes the brain the same amount of effort/energy to remember a chunk/phrase of words as it takes to remember a single word, and encourage trainees to present language in their chunks and collocations.
6. It can take multiple encounters with a language item before it is retained and produced.
Trainees get to have first-hand experience of how long it can take to remember a new lexical item and how quickly we can forget it. By asking trainees again a few days later for the lexical items they learnt (and having them admit they’ve forgotten quite a fair bit of it)demonstrates the difference between short-term and long-term memory and the importance of recycling language and how language acquisition is not a linear process. What is taught is not necessary learnt.
7. Don’t overwhelm learners with too much information at a go.
When trainees try to squeeze in too many language items into their 40-minute lessons, I often remind them of how many lexical items they covered in their foreign language class (6 nouns and 5 phrases) and how close to feeling overwhelmed they already were.
8. Don’t just say them, board those new lexical items.
Too often do I see trainees who attempt to deal with emergent language by simply telling the learners the word or phrase, and not actually bothering to write the words up on the board. This can be extremely frustrating for many learners who find it easier to process and to remember lexis when they can actually see how it’s written. This also gives learners a chance to copy the new lexis into their notebooks. In my foreign language lesson, trainees are drilled the lexical items first and are given the written forms much later. They often report feeling a sense of relief when they are able to see it written down. This is a feeling worth referring to in order to encourage the boarding of new lexis and keeping a column for emergent language on the board.
9. A tolerance for ambiguity is crucial to being a good language learner.
Trainees often see reading and listening texts as a mere conduit for new language and are often not aware of the different subskills and strategies used unconsciously when reading or listening in their first language. Very commonly, when reading for gist or specific information, trainees give their learners way too much time, resulting in the learner attempting to decipher every single word and feeling dejected when they encounter one or two unfamiliar words. Sometimes such a psychological block created by just a couple of words can lead to learners giving up and not feeling competent enough to carry on reading. This need to cling on to every single word and this intolerance of any ambiguity in the foreign language is a sense easily conveyed through the foreign language lesson. Trainees can then better understand the need to develop their learners’ tolerance of ambiguity and the importance of training train learners to skim and scan so as to enable the transfer of such skills from their L1.
10. This is what a beginner’s class looks like.
This is the only time they will see a beginner’s class. Arguably, when teaching English as a foreign language, there are very few real beginners, but nevertheless, learners will encounter elementary students when they go out into the ‘real world’ and need some idea how they might deal with teach the very basics, with the help of some realia and mime, while still maintaining a communicative approach in the classroom. Trainees get to see that it’s totally possible to teach such a low level class even when the teacher is unable to speak their learners’ L1.
Obviously, these points can still be made through the use of other demos and discussions, but aside from the fact that one demo conveniently embodies so many of the key issues surrounding language learning and acquisition, more importantly, I brought it back because I will never forget how much enjoyment we got out of the foreign language lesson back when I did my Celta.