The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 6 – Increasing Student Talking Time

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.

In Güven’s weekend posts, ‘Extra Teaching Tips’ and ‘More Tips for the Weekend’, he lists some of the lessons he has learnt from the feedback given to his TP (Teaching Practice) Group’s first two Practice Lessons.

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’

Don’t stand on ceremony!
Photo by @acliltoclimb from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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’

But if you use Powerpoint slides with a guitar in hand…maybe you’re okay…
Photo by Mike Hogan at http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh

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’

Photo from allenkleinedeters.wordpress.com

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.

Make it personal, make it intimate.
Photo by @dfogarty from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

“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.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary – Why are you so distant?

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.

 

http://www.standard.co.uk

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)

 

Photo by @sandymillin http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

 

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

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

 

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

Photo by @jinotaj http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

 

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’.

 

Consider:

 

£10?

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?’

 

More polite?

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

Why the long face?

 

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

 

If I were a rich man…Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
http://www.flickr.com/eltpics Photo by @mk_elt

A familiar use of the ‘remote tense’, this is seen not only in the so-called 2nd conditional – Example (e)

Consider:

 

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.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 5 – Clarifying Meaning of Grammatical Structures

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”

I asked,

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)

Future arrangements…
Photo by @sandymillin http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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?

 

I wish we hadn’t argued…

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)

For more about these ‘taboo questions’, see Anthony Gaughan’s very interesting post: Is asking ‘Do you know what ~means?’ a waste of time?

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)

Would you like some cheese with that whine?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong; Food by Highlife.ie

 

(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.

CCQsIs 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)

Who ya gonna call?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

(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)

If only we didn’t argue…

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.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 4 – Emergent Teaching & Clarifying Meaning

This post is in response to Güven’s CELTA Diaries Day 4.

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.

What was that instruction checking question again? Did she just ask ‘Should we read in alone or in pairs’? How on earth can anyone read in pairs?
Photo by Mike Hogan http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh/

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 pictures/drawings/flashcards
  • Using photos/Google images
  • Using mime/Acting it out
  • Using realia
  • Giving examples
  • 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.
If you draw as badly as I do, perhaps it’s best to prepare some flashcards or use Google images… : (

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?

  1. to pay a fine
  2. to throw a tantrum
  3. to steal  vs  to rob
  4. frustrated (adj)
  5. to go on strike
  6. to sip a cup of coffee
  7. credit card (n)
  8. to fidget
  9. suntan  vs  sunburn
  10. heavy rain
  11. heavy bag

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!!!)

Colourful Egyptian spices to season your food with…
Did you just get it? ; )
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

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).

But I’ll leave that for my next post…

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 3 – Inside the Mind of a Coursebook Writer

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.

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 2 – My trainee’s maxims of teaching

The story up till now…

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?

The CELTA Trainer’s Diary – Part 1 and Using L1 in the Classroom

It must be fate.

Or coincidence.

Go TEAM GB!
Flickr.com/ELTpics : Photo by @SandyMillin

 

Coincidence number 1

Team GB wins their first gold at the Olympics today.

And they go on and win another.

Singapore wins their first medal today.

I win the TEFL.net Site of the Month today.

Today must be a very good day.

Vicky Loras and me with some of our lovely PLN in Paris for the BESIG Summer Symposium

Coincidence number 2

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.

Güven agrees.

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:

  1. Learners are going to translate it into their L1 anyway, even if you don’t.
  2. Telling learners off in L2 just doesn’t carry the same weight.
  3. Instructions, especially for lower level learners, are more effective when given in the L1.
  4. Using L1 for contrastive analysis e.g. comparing the tenses between two languages, can prove helpful.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Devil’s Advocate vs Evan Frendo on Specificity & ESP

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.

To celebrate our tenth installment of DA, we have Evan Frendo.

Evan Frendo is a freelance business English trainer, teacher trainer and author based in Berlin. A frequent speaker at conferences, he also travels regularly in Europe and Asia to run courses or to work as a consultant. Evan has published various books over the years, including “How to teach Business English” (Longman, 2005), and most recently, four books in Pearson’s new Vocational English series. To find out more visit his blog, where he discusses topics and issues relevant to anyone involved in business English and ESP.

Chia: I am extremely excited about having you on DA today, Evan!

Evan: Hi Chia – good to be here 🙂

Chia: The expert in how to teach Business English and ESP himself!

Evan: LOL that’s a nice way to start. Shall we stop now so I can quote you?

Chia: Hahaha…I quote you ALL THE TIME!

Evan: I’d prefer if you just tell people to buy my books, to be honest.

Chia: That I do too…

But I’m here in the position of DA today, and so you must forgive me if I am not so cordial for the rest of this conversation.

Evan: Ok.

Chia: So, Evan, aside from books for teacher training, you also write books for ESP, don’t you?

Evan: Yes that’s right. I started off writing ESP materials for corporate clients, and  nowadays I also write for various publishers.

Chia: But isn’t that a contradiction in terms? ESP suggests a needs-analysis-based tailormade English course…So how can you write one-size-fits-all coursebooks for ESP students?

Evan: Haha. That’s a quote from one of my talks, where I discussed this very question. Yes, you’re right, it can appear to be a contradiction, but only if you see the coursebook as setting the syllabus. If you use it as a resource coursebooks can be very useful.

Is the ESP coursebook like these pinafores?
They are specifically for children, but does the one size fit all kids?
ELTpics: Photo by @fionamau

Chia: And what are these books a resource for? Is it not just focusing on the industry-specific lexis and terminology needed?

Evan: Yes, they’re a resource for the teacher and students to use.  ESP is not only about lexis and terminology. It is also about genre and context and getting an insight into the discourse communities that the learner wants to become effective in.

Chia: But that’s just it. Aren’t the discourse community and the genres and contexts specific to that community too specific to be covered in a published-for-everyone-in-that-industry coursebook? Are you sure the book isn’t just a resource for a general industry, and not a specific discourse community?

Very often, we use labels like EAP (English for Academic Purposes) or English for Oil and Gas or English for Business, and we call it ESP. But they are merely generic labels and do not really represent the discursive variation within the specific discourse communities.

Tate sells clothes to the young & trendy and Face Shop sells cosmetics to women.
Having a target market do not make them specialised shops with niche markets.
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Evan: Yes, absolutely. As in so much in ELT, it really depends on your teaching context. For some courses, such as pre-experience learners in tertiary education, an ESP book / general business English coursebook may be quite a useful window on the world they aim to work in.  For others such coursebooks may be quite irrelevant.

Chia: Are you admitting that such books might be over-generalised and only useful for pre-experience learners who don’t yet know about the discourse community they are about to enter and so we can pull the wool over their eyes and feed them some generic lexical chunks which they might or might not encounter in their discipline/target situation?

Evan: No, not at all. That is a cynical view of coursebooks. The thing is, teachers and learners need some way to access the target discourse. Often in ESP the reality is that the teacher is not an expert, and nor is the learner.

So the course book is simply one way of accessing that target discourse, in other words, of providing ways to work with the sorts of language and contexts that have been identified in a needs analysis as most relevant to the learners. The point is that if we don’t have some way of accessing this target discourse we could end up focussing on things which are not necessarily a priority.

Windows into different discourse communities?
Photo by Mike Hogan

Chia: That is all good on paper. But in actual facts, how does one first of all identify the kind of language and the target discourse that is most relevant to the learners? How can we ensure the reliability of the Needs Analysis instrument? And how can we then satisfactorily match a coursebook to the needed language and discourse?

Evan: Yes, that is actually the key point. People in our profession have been talking about needs analysis for years, but I think the reality is that we don’t do it very well. On one hand, the profession is still developing the tools and techniques that will help us really analyse what our learners really need. On the other hand, a lot of teachers pay lip service to needs analysis. There is a lot that can be done which isn’t being done.

Chia: So what do you think a good needs analysis for ESP purposes should contain then? What do you think is often not being done?

Evan: I think there are two main issues:

First of all, we have too many teachers who have never actually done any discourse or corpus analysis, and really don’t know very much about how communication works or how to analyse the language that the learners might need. Performance-based testing is rare. Without these, we cannot really claim to be doing a needs analysis. So we need to train teachers better.

Secondly, we need to become more persuasive at explaining to our clients exactly what can be done if we have proper access to the workplace. Too many clients (and teachers) think of language learning as something which takes place in a classroom, yet there is so much evidence to suggest that learning takes place in the workplace as well.

Learning does not necessarily have to take place in the classroom

Chia: First of all, can you explain what you mean by ‘performance-based testing’?

And second, what exactly can be done if we have proper access to the workplace? Are you suggesting that teachers record and analyse the conversations and communications that go on in our clients’ discourse community, do a discourse/genre analysis on it, in order to train our clients to become better communicators?

Evan: Ok, what I mean by performance-based testing (or task-based assessment) is that we need to be able to test our learners’ ability to do their job, i.e. to perform. Of course as English teachers we would be focussing on the elements of the job which require English.

So, for example, if someone says they need to present in English, we ask them to do a presentation, and then work on areas that can be improved. It might be language related, or it might be skills related. In other words, we need to be able to work out where they are now so that we can compare it to where they need to be.

And to answer your second question…

Yes, I mean that teachers need access to the workplace in order to understand the target discourse, but also to provide feedback in context, as it were. Sitting in the back of a meeting room taking notes, and then later providing specific feedback to the learner will be much more focussed than any role-play in the classroom. What I am talking about is learning on the job.

‘Performance-Based Learning’
Photo by Mike Hogan

Chia: It seems to me like what you are asking the teacher to do is not only extremely time-consuming, but requires a fair bit of expertise in both genre/discourse analysis and the client’s discipline. I mean, to really assess our learners’ ability to perform in their job, we need to know the target situation and target discourse community well. One sitting is not going to give us what we need to know.

Let’s take your example of presentations for instance. A presentation in an Applied Linguistics academic conference is very different from a presentation at a Civil Engineering academic conference (and I am not just talking about lexis and technical jargon here), which is again very different from a presentation at a board of director’s meeting for Siemens, which is again very different from a presentation pitching new solar equipment to clients in Abu Dhabi.

We can reel off the usual ‘What makes a good presentation’ lesson from ‘Presenting in English’ or whatever the latest coursebook on presentations is, but that isn’t really focussing on their discourse community and their ability to do their job, is it? It’s just paying lip service to the needs analysis.

Academic presentations are a different kettle of fish altogether.
Photo by Mike Hogan

Evan: Yes, maybe you’re right. But it’s still a lot better than what is being done now, where teachers really have no idea of the discourse communities that the learners need to operate in. As you say, it requires expertise. And it is already happening in many corporate training contexts, where people are beginning to recognise that staying in the classroom is extremely limiting.

Chia: I must say that is an interesting idea – having the teacher/trainer in the workplace observing and providing feedback. But surely that can only work in one-to-one training? And subject to the clients’ company allowing such an ‘intrusion’?

Evan: Well, it’s quite common if you have an in-house trainer working full-time in a company.  It’s not seen as an intrusion, but as part of the job. In-house trainers can do much more than someone who simply pops in from time to time to run English classes.

Chia: Ah, okay. So if you are an in-house trainer, I suppose you would have sufficient time and exposure to the clients’ field to be able to familiarise yourself with that specific discourse community. But most teachers/trainers don’t have that kind of luxury, Evan. Yet they pay lip service to a needs analysis which they never really use…and if they do, they simply do it in a generic ‘Let’s look at phrases used to ask for opinions in meetings’ sort of way…

Evan: Yes, I think you’re right. Many teachers are handicapped by their teaching context – no chance to do a proper needs analysis, and no requirement to develop the skills either. Maybe this is a consequence of the way the industry has developed over the years, particularly in the private language school sector. People are willing to pay for teachers to do a job which they are not really trained to do. But that’s another topic …

Chia: Many teachers/trainers feel that their area should be English language teaching. Discourse analysis and the specialisation needed to really deliver true ESP is just way outside their scope, and they are simply not paid enough to deliver that sort of content. Let me throw in another argument here. Most teachers would also argue that a grasp of General English should be enough for learners to negotiate meaning and figure out the conventions of their discourse community on their own, that there are really not enough variations in lexico-grammar to justify a ESP approach.

Is the exchange rate just simply not worth our while?
ELTpics: Photo by @acliltoclimb

Evan: Well, maybe that’s where we disagree. For me the whole point of ELT is to help people communicate in the real world. So the more we can find out about that world the more focussed and more effective our teaching will be. There is never enough time to do everything, so we need to compromise and make priorities. Without some sort of needs analysis this is not possible. I think that every teacher does this anyway – all I am saying is that we can get better at it. In answer to your point about General English, this has been a debate in the industry for many years. Is there a core language that we can teach before we move on to the specific contexts people require in their real worlds? I am not convinced. Language only has meaning in context, and if we remove that context we are left with very little.

Chia: I’m definitely not advocating that we remove the contexts, and I do think that sometimes the difference between ESP/BE and General English is just a matter of contexts. e.g. In General English, we teach students to introduce themselves in the context of meeting other students in a classroom or a party. In BE, we teach students to introduce themselves in the context of meeting new colleagues at an office. But the linguistic devices for both contexts are not that different from each other…We could therefore conclude that there is a core language and generic skills that cuts across disciplines, wouldn’t you say, Evan?

Isn’t specificity only possible at higher levels?

Is there a core at the heart of it?
ELTpics: Photo by @thornburyscott

Evan: Yes, in those situations the language might be similar. But I am not sure how many of those situations you are going to find. Even a simple task like answering a telephone is quite different as soon as you go into a workplace context – and I would argue that it makes more sense to focus on the workplace conventions if you have business English learners.

Regarding your point about specificity at higher levels, yes, I think this is a good point. But that it is not to say we cannot be specific at low levels as well. For example, low level business English learners often learn lexis to describe departments and responsibilities – this is specific to business English and would not be covered in a General English course of the same level.

Chia: So you are saying that we can teach Business English even to beginners then? :-)

Evan: For sure

Would I dare say otherwise?

Chia: You present an irrefutable argument here, Evan. I hate balanced people like you…they are just so difficult to put up a fight against!

Evan: Heh heh. Does that mean you’re now going to rush out and buy all those low level business English books you don’t already have? 🙂

 

Time to rush out a get a copy of Evan’s ESP book for the oil industry
Photo from Amazon.co.uk

Chia: Just the other day, someone in my staffroom saw me holding a coursebook and tried to take a photo of me…and now you’re telling me to BUY one? ROFL

Evan: I’ve heard some people just photocopy the bits they need …

 

But I’m sure Evan would rather you not photocopy his books!
Photo from Amazon.co.uk

Chia: For the sake of great coursebook writers like you (and all those who wrote the coursebooks featured here on today’s DA), I hope everyone buys the books and not just copies them!

…despite the fact that these books clearly aren’t THAT specific to the needs of the students by nature of the fact that they are published coursebooks…of course.

Evan: Heh heh. No, not at all. That is a cynical view of coursebooks. The thing is, teachers and learners need some way to access the target discourse. Often in ESP the reality is that the teacher is not an expert, and nor is the learner. So the course book is simply one way of accessing that target discourse, in other words, of providing ways to work with the sorts of language and contexts that have been identified in a needs analysis as most relevant to the learners. The point is that if we don’t have some way of accessing this target discourse we could end up focussing on things which are not necessarily a priority.

Hang on. I’ve said that already. You just weren’t listening …

Chia: And here was I thinking ‘Deja Vu! I thought he said that already!’

But seriously, there are some arguments for and against specificity that are really worth examining…and I’m really glad we managed to touch on some of the issues today, and hopefully this will propel readers to reflect on their own practice more and explore this area more.

At the end of the day, specificity versus general aren’t two mutually exclusive concepts, and probably exist on a continuum, don’t you think?

Let’s not overgeneralise! Even Essex has 50 Shades…
ELTpics: Photo by @pysproblem81

Evan: Yes, all good things in ELT exist on a continuum. It’s one of the eternal truths about the profession.

Just like the answer to all questions about teaching is “It depends”.

Chia: Wise words, Evan! Thanks for spending time with me today, and for allowing me and the readers to explore the controversies and debates surrounding ESP and specificity.

Evan: I have to say your DA column is great fun. And a great way to think through some of the issues. Thanks for the invite, and keep up the good work. 🙂

Evan’s talks are unmissable!
Photo by Mike Hogan

Epilogue: Evan’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organisations he is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, and truly believes that every teacher should hone their expertise within their field at every opportunity possible. Chia and Evan are still friends, although Evan never fails to remind Chia of the times she failed to come to his talks…but that’s a discourse for another time…and another genre…

‘Where are you from?’ and the issue of diaspora

Yesterday was the American Independence Day…which to me meant only one thing, it’s my London anniversary!

12 years ago, I came into this city by Eurostar from Paris and was struck by how at home the city made me feel.

Now, I am at home.

Last year, I wrote this 11th anniversary post about the 11 things I learnt in London…but the truth of the matter is, when I think of home, I think of London.

When England plays in the Eurocup, I get my St George’s flag out and shout ‘Come on England!’ at the top of my lungs.

When the UK wins a medal in the Olympics, I beam with pride as the national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ plays.

I identify myself as a Londoner, and I know for sure that I feel more at home here than anywhere else in the world.

Yet, perhaps because I don’t look typically British, a common opening line when people meet me for the first time is to ask, ‘Where are you from?’

Whether it be a business associate I have just been introduced to or a pickup line at a pub, I have always found this opening line rather disconcerting.

I know that those who choose to use this line do not mean any harm, and are probably doing nothing more than making conversation, but I find ‘Where are you from?’ extremely exclusive and divisive…

Let me put it this way,

If a fat person walked into the pub, would you open the conversation with, ‘What on earth have you been eating?’

If a person came in on a wheelchair, would you start by saying, ‘So, pray tell, what happened to you?’

We wouldn’t dream of pointing out the differences between us and them in those situations.

It would definitely be considered a social faux pas.

Yet, it seems okay to most to start a conversation pointing out the difference between me and you because of the colour of my skin and my ethnic origin?

And the irony of it all is that, when asked, many would simply say, ‘We asked you that question only to try and achieve common ground between us!’

Of course, this might be due to our human need to put things in boxes and categorise everything into simple generalisations. The ability to siphon things into neat categories somehow feels comforting…and even necessary in facilitating how we go about our day-to-day activities. Our ‘assumed normality of the world’ is what tells us which conventions to apply to the situations we encounter.

We walk into a pub and order a beer in English because (a) we assume that pubs sell beer, and (b) we assume the bartender speaks English.

We say ‘Awful weather today, isn’t it?’ to our colleagues in the morning because (a) we assume that they hate the cold weather too, and (b) they know that talking about weather is merely a way making small talk and we do not intend to get into a full conversation about the weather.

We make assumptions (some universal, some cultural) everyday and this enables us to have relationships with people…

But does my oriental appearance or me being from a country in South East Asia really help you to know more about me? What does it help you to know?

So, sometimes, when confronted with the conversation opener, ‘Where are you from?’, I answer, ‘London’.

More often than not, I get this response – ‘No! Really! Where are you from?’

Even those who think I am born in London insist on asking that question, hoping I would leave them a clue as to my ethnic origins.

But what does ‘Where are you from?’ really mean?

Does it mean, ‘Where were you born?’

It can’t possibly mean this because I have a colleague who was born to British parents and went to primary school in Singapore, but lived most of his adult life in Manchester. When asked ‘Where are you from?’, his answer is always ‘Manchester’…and no one ever questions him with a ‘No…really! Where are you from?’

Or does it mean, ‘Where were you brought up and educated?’

It can’t possibly mean this either because I have another colleague who was born, brought up and educated in Glasgow but moved to Manchester for his university education and stayed for quite a long time. His accent is much more Mancunian than Glaswegian. And when asked ‘Where are you from?’, his answer tends to be ‘England’ or ‘Manchester’. Again, no one ever challenges that answer.

Or does it mean, ‘Where were your parents from?’

Ah…I have a friend whose parents are from the West Indies but he was born and brought up in London. Should he answer the question with ‘Jamaica’? Why is it that when he says ‘London’, no one raises any eyebrows?

To me, ‘Where are you from?’ means all of those things, but above all, it means, ‘Where do you feel you belong to in your heart?’.

Identity is a complex issue and diaspora and the lack of belonging can make one feel left out, excluded, and ostracised.

My ‘born-in-Singapore’ colleague feels Mancunian, and so does my colleague who was born in Glasgow. Because in their hearts, Manchester is where they belong.

I feel like a Londoner, and London is where I belong.

Happy 12th birthday to me…

Devil’s Advocate vs Shelly Terrell on Technology & Young Learners

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 ninth victim on the hot seat is Shelly Terrell.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects, Edchat, the ELTON nominated ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, UNESCO Bangkok, and Edweek. Her award winning education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, is filled with training resources and free materials for teachers. Keep an eye out for her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell. Shelly has taught English language learners at various levels since 1998 in the US, Greece, and in Germany. She currently presents and hosts workshops on integrating technology effectively with young learners and adults. Shelly holds an Honours BA in English and a minor in Communication with a specialization in Electronic Media from the University of Texas in San Antonio and an Honours MA in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.

 

Chia:  Hi Shelly, thanks for sparing some time to be here today!

Shelly: Thanks for inviting me.

Chia:  I’m just really honoured to have you here because I know that you are huge in the field of technology for Young Learner (YL) education all around the world.

Shelly:  Yes, I do support teachers using technology to effectively help their kiddos learn.

Chia:  But don’t you think that kids today just spend way too much time on their computers already as it is? Why are we encouraging them to do that more often?

Shelly:  Unfortunately, that is more of an issue that falls on parenting and I think teachers need to be cautious when we make these assumptions. Plus, I believe effective technology integration involves engaging parents and asking their participation in the technology for learning journey.

Chia: Are you suggesting that teachers have no responsibility for keeping their students away from all the technology that surrounds them? That it is their parents’ duty to strike that balance?

Shelly: What I mean is that parents need to know how to help their children use technology effectively to learn…

If we assume that parents are allowing their children to use the technology too much at home then we address these issues. I host parent technology workshops at the beginning of my classes where I ask parents their fears of technology.

I show them what technologies I plan on using. I get their permission and we come to an agreement of sorts of what we are both comfortable with.

Chia:  But why go through all that effort just so that we could use some of that technology in teaching? Children were learning effectively before, without the use of all this technology. Aren’t we just using technology for technology’s sake? Aren’t we just using it because it’s there?

Shelly:  See, I don’t believe that children were learning effectively before. I think that for a long time many classes are filled with teachers lecturing and I think the ICTs today help our kids get out of their microcosm and begin to learn about the world. If we don’t teach them to communicate and problem solve effectively with technology, then when they become adults and must use it in their careers and future, they won’t use if effectively. We see signs of that already.

When we think of a teacher-centred classroom, we often think of boring technophobic teachers.
Is this the image that comes to mind?

Chia:  Interesting. Let me address the first point you made before going on to the second…

In the more traditional approaches, classrooms were quite teacher-centred and there was too much of ‘transmitting of information’ going on. That, I totally agree with. We’ve since moved on to an era of ‘learning by doing’ and focusing on the student-centred classroom.

However, by using technology, aren’t we simply replacing the ‘lecturer’ with ‘technology’, and turning the classroom into a ‘technology-centred’ one, instead of a ‘student-centred’ one?

Simply swapping ‘teacher-centred’
for ‘computer-centred’?
Are we letting the tail wag the dog?

Shelly:  There are many technologies that are now put in the hands of learners. One of the ones I am a huge supporter of is mobile technology. It’s hard for a teacher to lean over the student and take control. This dynamic of having it in the hands of the learner means it supports student centered learning.

Whereas there are some technologies I would agree that when teachers are trained improperly would support teacher-centered teaching. One example is an IWB.

Chia:  But I envision student-centred learning to be one where the student is at the centre of it all, with the teacher mediating and supporting the learning process. With mobile technology, since it’s hard for the teacher to monitor the situation and contol it, wouldn’t it simply serve to cut the teacher and other students off in an anti-social kind of way?

For example, wouldn’t it be harder for the teacher to know if the student is really doing the task that has been set and not just texting their mates?

Mobile Learning or students just fooling around?
Photo from IH Barcelona Tech ELT Blog

Shelly:  This is an issue of teacher training which is really important to the effective integration of technology with learners. In my training, I suggest teachers do things like have students go on scavenger hunts with the devices. This promotes bringing the real world in the classroom, illustrates learning is all around them, and also gets students out of their seats moving around. This is an example of an effective way to use technology support learning. W

I’d like to address the issue of managing off tasking as well…

Chia:  Yes, go on.

Shelly:  Students will go off task even without technology. They will daydream, write notes, etc. A teacher who properly knows how to facilitate and be a guide will walk around while students work in pairs or groups or complete short tasks. This again deals with training. It is easier to manage students who are doing hands-on tasks rather than an entire group at once we are lecturing to.

Chia:  But surely some of these hands-on tasks are tasks that make the teacher so redundant that learners can do them at home (as homework, for example). Why waste precious classroom time fiddling with gadgets instead of milking every moment the student has with the teacher as their guide?

Without guidance, young learners can get buried under all the issues technology can pose.
Photo from #eltpics by @dfogarty

Shelly:  At home students will use technology and they will rarely have any guide either than their friends. We have problems like cyberbullying and texting that resulted from this. It is important kids learn to use the technology in effective ways with a mentor and the classroom offers that opportunity.

Chia:  Could you expand on the effective ways YLs could use technology in the classroom?

Shelly:  One way is to collaborate with peers worldwide. I address that in this post.

One example is that my 4 to 6 year-olds in Germany skyped with Emma Herrod’s 5 year-old son, Thomas, in the UK. Thomas showed my students how to create an origami box. This was hands-on, my students got to interact with another child from another country, and they also got to communicate in English in a more natural way.

Chia: Was this an English language lesson?

Shelly: Yes

What kind of origami were they being taught on Skype?

Chia: But instead of wasting all that time setting up the Skype call and ensuring the technology was working right, you could have showed them how to create an origami box yourself, couldn’t you?

Shelly:  No. That is more teacher talk time. They got to interact with a child around their age and heard and tried to understand that child’s accent and culture. They were speaking a child’s language if that makes sense. It was a child’s conversation in English between two cultures and that is more effective and powerful for learning than my teacher talk any day.

Teacher Talking Time doesn’t always have to be like this…

Chia:  Wait a minute…let’s not demonise teacher talking time too much…

Any FLA (First Language Acquisition) research would tell you that the feedback and scaffolding given by adult talk is part of what promotes acquisition. Surely teacher talking time is useful for YLs in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) too?

Shelly:  Yes. The teacher will talk but I’ll play devil’s advocate. Teachers already use tons of teacher talk time and so I rather take the stance to make teachers aware of that because the least likely thing most teachers worldwide do is have children communicate with other children around the world and I think that is what needs to be highlighted, shared and promoted. My goal isn’t to make a teacher feel better about their use of TTT but to make them aware that more time can be spent in getting children to use ICTs to communicate in English with others.

Chia:  YOU are playing devil’s advocate? Now I’ll be out of a job…

So, technology can provide YLs with opportunities to communicate with other young ‘uns around the world and help them realise about the world out there.

Anything else that technology can do that the teacher can’t?

Using technology to motivate and engage YLs to collaborate and work on tasks together.

Shelly:  Teachers can use technology for so many learning issues like diversifying instruction, getting students to problem-solve and learn about others worldwide, teaching to various learning styles, and more but at the end of the day one of the most important things to remember is what Bill Gate’s said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” I don’t believe in technology replacing teachers. I believe it can help teachers.

Chia: Fair enough.

But let me take this debate in a different direction.

The constant use of computers, game consoles, and mobile devices are giving rise to some not-to-be-ignored physical ailments ranging from bad eyesight to RSI, not to mention the mental issues such as ADHD. YLs are already exposed to these electronic devices for the majority of their time awake. Should we really be encouraging them to spend more time dong so?

Shelly:  Part of my job is to inform parents and I think this is happening already but working with parents we can help teach them about balance. I limit the time we spend in the classroom with technology. It’s not an everyday thing. The most important is for kids to play, get out of their desks and move while learning. We sing songs, play games, do fingerplays, color, and many other activities that don’t involve technology. I also give parents options for out of the class exploration in my wiki. You will see tech based activities as well as options to play with the children and learn English. http://englishstorytime.pbworks.com W

Chia:  Thanks for the link!

You see, the problem I have with the internet and modern technological devices is that it seems to encourage a short attention span and spawns a generation of restless kids.

Shelly:  I understand but I like to take a proactive approach. If I don’t teach and train the students and parents how to effectively balance or use the technology then this problem will continue. Perhaps, it is because parents weren’t taught when they were children how to balance and I believe through guidance and addressing these issues we can help solve these problems.

Chia:  Well, most of these parents we are talking about didn’t have the internet and mobile devices to contend with as children, so I doubt if we know about striking the right balance, or what that balance might be.

Speaking of which, what would you say is the right balance, anyway?

Shelly:  I believe we start how we use any tool. For example, a pencil is a tool and if kids spend a majority of the class time sitting down writing that isn’t healthy. It’s the same with technology.

We give kids tasks where they move or don’t stay dormant in front of a computer for more than 15 minutes. I think more research is needed but I tend to try to get kids to use the technology for 5 minute increments like record a short video, record their voices, or take a picture.

This is for very young learners but as kids get older they can have a little more access. This depends on the age level as well. I refresh myself with the stages of development. John Piaget is an excellent source. Then we do other things like sing songs, have story time, etc. The technology is only used if I believe it will be more effective for that particular section of learning.

Don’t demonise technology!
Sitting down and writing for too long could cause health problems too.

Chia:  Well, I’m more a Vygotsky kind of girl myself.

Let me clarify.

While Piaget believed that the development of a child takes place before learning occurs, Vygotsky saw learning as arising from interpersonal interactions.

By speaking aloud to oneself, the thought process acts as a mediator, enabling the child to plan actions and thereby bringing about the learning process.

It is through interpersonal interactions and its accompanying sociocultural influences that prompts the intrapersonal.

I know you mentioned the use of Skype to encourage interactions with other children around the world earlier, but other uses of technology, on the other hand, seems to be rather anti-social to me.

How can this aid development?

Does technology make us more sociable?
How different is online interaction from face-to-face interaction?

Shelly:  I’m a big fan of Vygotsky as well. I think his learning theory is very effective. But the point is we need to reflect on how kids develop and how we use technology and how much time they spend in our classrooms with the technology.

Chia:  But do you find that technology encourages anti-social behaviour?

Shelly:  Again, that is on how we choose to use the technology. The teacher makes the choices. For example, we can decide if the children we teach will play a game for 30 minutes to learn particular the alphabet or we can choose if they will use something like VoiceThread to crowdsource the alphabet. Barbara Sakamoto has a perfect example of this.

Chia:  Wow. Seems like quite a lot of effort just to get students learning the alphabet. Won’t the alphabet song do the trick? It did for me as a kid…

Shelly:  Every kid learns differently. The children in Barbara’s voicethread learned new words, were exposed to different accents worldwide, and have a digital Alphabet book made with others that lasts a long time. Moreover, they were having fun and motivated to continue learning with others and continue their exploration of English words.

What’s the best way to learn the alphabet?
Photo from #eltpics by @hartle

Chia: Now, I know this is going to sound like it’s contradicting what I said earlier, but bear with me for a moment and hear me out.

We’ve been talking about limiting the time that a child should spend using technological devices, and I’ve been saying how the nature of the internet tends to give rise to short attention spans, right?

Shelly:  Yes…

The global phenomenon of the short games

Chia:  In fact, with the advent of apps of mobile devices, even games are starting to get shorter. A student of mine who develops game apps for mobile devices revealed to me that gone are the days of Role Playing Games and strategy games. People now want shorter puzzles and games that they can whip out and play with on their short train rides or while waiting for friends.

Games like Angry Birds, Bejewelled, Cut the Rope, Guitar Hero, etc are good examples of that.

So while shorter games, shorter clips on Youtube, and shorter blogposts (this sure ain’t one) can capture the attention of the young digital natives better, and can allow teachers to limit the time spent on using these electronic devices, does it not lack pedagogical continuity?

What I mean is when we used to watch Sesame Street on TV, there was a beginning, a middle and an end. It was pedagogically sound as it didn’t just present language to us. It allowed for time to absorb, practise and recap.

A short 3-minute clip of Oscar the Grouch on Youtube just isn’t going to have the same pedagogical credibility.

Does Oscar the Grouch have a short attention span too?
Wonder how many friends he has on Facebook…

Shelly:  I think when using technology in a classroom you can only use short bits to make sure that the teacher has time to scaffold and guide the student with the technology. Technology used at home for self-learning is entirely different. I think young learners need constant guiding and scaffolding with the technology. I’m not too comfortable with leaving a young learner to watch or play a video game or mess with an app with no one around. I think that’s a bit lazy.

Chia:  So you think that parents should constantly monitor their children’s use of technology then?

Shelly:  Yes I do believe that. I don’t mean recording all the information but I do believe it is important to be in the same room a child is playing a game or exploring the Internet or even watching a television program.

Don’t forget to monitor your children when they are using the computer.

Chia:  No computers or TVs in your future children’s bedrooms then? ; )

Shelly:  Nope! I plan on playing with my children constantly 🙂

Even if I’m worn out! 🙂

Chia:  And will you be playing with them with the use of an iPad? ; )

Shelly:  Yes! I will! 🙂

Chia:  I so envy them! Will you play with me and my iPad too?

Shelly:  Yes 🙂

Chia:  Okay, I’ll quit fooling around now. ; )

Shelly:  LOL! 🙂

Chia:  Thanks so much for spending time with me today and letting me challenge you…

You’re a hard nut to crack though, Shelly, coz you are just so balanced in your views.

Shelly:  LOL! : )

Chia:  At the end of the day, as you said, technology is a tool for us teachers to exploit, but should never become the tail that wags the dog, wouldn’t you say?

Shelly:  Yes! Well said!

Chia:  But could I at least get you to admit that in the wrong hands, technology in the classroom can become a way to simply wow the students before its novelty factor wears off?

Shelly:  I will admit that without proper teacher training that is always the case with any learning tool whether it be a pencil, the slate, desks, books and so many other tools we’ve seen that have been used to drill children into believing learning is boring, tedious, and difficult when really it is being curious and learning to explore those curiosities and having the chance to do just that to see where it leads.

Chia: A fantastic summary to a well-balanced argument!

Shelly:  Thanks for expanding my thinking. Always great to run ideas off with a very resilient and beautiful Devil’s Advocate 😉

These were once considered high tech toys by some too…
Photo from #eltpic by @fionamau


Epilogue: Shelly’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organisations she is associated with. Chia was trying to play DA but Shelly’s views were so balanced and logical that it was hard not to agree with her.