My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

IATEFL Day 1

The first coffee break was spent gawking at the size of the exhibition hall this year, and greeting old friends and online friends who were not at the PCE or Karaoke event the night before (Hi @SandyMillin !). In fact, we got so caught up by it all that we had not noticed that all of us were heading in the same direction for the next talk: Anthony Gaughan’s The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.

The room was full by the time we got there, and many of us experienced our first conference disappointment. Thankfully, Mike (@irishmikeh) had reserved two seats and we managed to get in…I then came out two seconds later to loudly announce to James (@theteacherjames) that Mike had reserved him a seat too (it was my first ever conference lie!), thus getting him past the ‘bouncer’ who clearly had missed a huge career opportunity in riot control. This very same scary ‘bouncer’ came in several minutes before Anthony’s talk to chase out the couple of people who were sitting on the floor (What kind of TEFL conference is it when no one’s allowed to sit on the floor???) and lecture us on how we are not allowed to ‘reserve’ seats by putting our belongings on them. James, Mike and I simply kept our heads down and hoped that she wouldn’t notice that the 3 of us were sharing 2 seats…

I certainly felt like a schoolgirl, hoping, with all fingers crossed behind my back, that the discipline master wouldn’t find out that we had been eating in the classroom…

Now, back to Anthony Gaughan’s talk.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Anthony starts by telling us the 3 things he was not going to.

He was not going to tell us anything we don’t already know;

He was not going to ask why we were there;

And he was not going to get us to agree with him.

This set the relaxed mood for his entire talk, in which he skillfully went through the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT (as shown below) and debunked each of them, always reminding us never to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Photo by Mike Hogan

1.    Repetition Drilling

Starting with espousing behaviourism and reminding us that language is much more a habit than we realize, and that we can make what we drill meaningful by utilizing substitution drills etc.

2.    Translation and the Use of L1

One common criticism is that L1 can’t be used in multilingual classes, but a quick show of hands immediately showed us that monolingual classes are in fact the majority.

Another criticism is that translation does not encourage students to think in English. Anthony goes on to question, ‘But who says your students are thinking in English anyway?’

He then goes on to suggest ways of using L1, e.g. mini-text translation, asking ‘fifth skill questions’ and using the L1 to contrast with L2.

3.    Students using dictionaries in class

Is using dictionaries time-wasting? Anthony wonders why some might feel that teaching learners to work things out for themselves is not time well-spent.

4.    Teacher explanations

There’s nothing wrong with explanations, Anthony asserts, saying that students would feel cheated if they paid you, the expert, and instead, you try to constantly elicit from them, leaving them unclear.

The issue here is the quality of the explanations. Students stop listening when the answers are unclear, too long or abstract, or when it is not answering their question. Perhaps learning to give good explanations, rather than getting rid of them completely is key.

5.    Reading texts aloud in class

Anthony’s 3 commandments for reading aloud:

  • Insert lines to show breaks and pauses in text (to help with phonological chunking)
  • Bold fonts for main stress (or nucleus)
  • Mark parts of text where students can give attention to weak forms and linking.

6.    Telling students they are wrong

Correcting mistakes upsets students? Anthony blames Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis for teachers tip-toeing around students and being afraid to correct them. He maintains that it is all in the approach (can we correct them in a supportive and gentle/friendly manner?) and that all learners want feedback.

7.    Teacher talk time

Just as there aren’t any issues with teacher explanations as long as they are good ones, there are no issues with teacher talk time as long as they are good quality ones.

Photo by Mike Hogan

All in all, one of the best talks this conference! Thought-provoking, attitude-challenging, and definitely full of great teaching ideas!

It of course didn’t hurt that these were 7 points that I totally agree with Anthony on.

Perhaps potentially 7 more Devil’s Advocate installments with Anthony that are possible here? *wink*

Click here to have a read of my Devil’s Advocate (DA) with Anthony Gaughan on teacher training.

For more updates on Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow, watch this space…

…to be continued…