Month: Apr 2017

Phonology in ELT – A Manifesto

Phonology in ELT – A Manifesto

“Achieving Phonology’s Potential in the ELT Classroom”

   – A very inspiring talk by Adam Scott on 5th April at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow. 

In his talk, Adam presented his manifesto, a call to arms, to bring about a shift towards higher awareness of the importance of phonology in ELT. He’s convinced that we will experience ‘learning by doing’ and gain new insights into phonology and techniques for teaching it, if we just start teaching it! Here’s what he said:

More phonology – Why?

It can motivate students to understand phonology and the ‘mysterious’ relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

Discussing pronunciation as a group can help make teachers more responsive to students’ needs.

Having students tackle misunderstandings due to pronunciation can make classroom interaction more authentic and closer to real-world conversations.

It trains processing and noticing, and allows a focus on what causes communication to break down (rather than focussing on an idealised accent).

Adding feedback on pronunciation etc. can generate more learning at any stage of a lesson.

Chunking grammar as connected speech phrases can aid recall; it is more efficient for memory as the sound shapes and grammatical patterns will be stored together.

More phonology – How?

Have a pronunciation sub-aim which fits in with the other aims of the lesson/tasks, on either receptive or productive skills.

Include plenty of well-contextualised examples of the use of spoken language in lessons.

Approach phonology in a way that promotes collaboration with and between students.

Stop being the interpreter for students! Encourage them to work with and in the language together, e.g. get them to ask each other if they don’t understand something someone has said.

During discussions, etc., identify the pronunciation issues students find most difficult and that most hinder comprehension, to work on these in specific pronunciation practice tasks.

Give specific feedback, not only on the pronunciation of individual words, but also on other phonological features of connected speech such as linking, stress, etc. Immediate feedback can also help other students to learn from one person’s difficulty.

Help students to forge the link between visual and audio representations of words; they should Look (at the written word), Listen and Repeat (model pronunciation).

Help students to process new sound patterns not found in their L1, by mapping the sounds onto the complex English spelling system, e.g. with the IPA or phonics.

Pairwork requires mutual intelligibility – and the teacher can monitor both task progress and phonological features that allow mutual comprehension.

Recycle tasks that were used for another purpose by creating a pronunciation/phonological focus, e.g. on contrastive stress, phrasal verbs vs verbs + prepositions.

Hot tip: Put the IPA transcription of new words above / in front of the written form of the word, so that it gets students’ main attention.

Hot tip: Use underlining to show which letters together make one sound in a word, e.g. s a nd w i ch e s

Conclusion

These tips show that it is easy to fit more phonology in to our current teaching practice; it means minimal extra work for teachers, but could lead to great pay offs! Adam is advocating the need for innovation in L2 pronunciation teaching, and after this talk, I’m very much inclined to agree!

Adam’s slides are available here from his highly recommendable website: teachadam.com

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An iatefl quickie – Writing Methodology Notes

A very quick summary of some key points from Scott Thornbury‘s talk “Writing Methodology Texts” on 4th April at iatefl 2017.

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He surveyed methodology book writers to gain some insight into what makes such texts most useful for teachers, much of which applies to writing any kinds of teaching notes or rubrics! The key points are:

  • Be careful not oversimplify or ‘dumb down’ research or theories when making the key implications accessible to teachers.
  • Keep a practical focus, but include a clear rationale, e.g. use research findings to validate suggested practice.
  • Avoid an overly formal or academic tone.
  • Allow the voice of your own experience in the classroom to shine through.
  • Aim to present options and alternatives, not prescriptions.
  • Be sensitive to trends in ELT and aware of any weaknesses.
  • Appreciate that no one can know better what will work in a particular class than the teacher who is actually in that classroom!
  • Remember that you have a responsibility to promote standards of good practice.

 

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An iatefl quickie – Choosing & Using Authentic Texts

An iatefl quickie – Choosing & Using Authentic Texts

A very quick summary of some key points from Sue Kay’s talk, “The genuine article (you couldn’t make it up)”, presented at iatefl 2017 on 4th April.

Questions to ask when choosing a text:

  •  Will it interest and engage learners?
  • Can learners relate it to their own lives? Is it age-appropriate?
  • Can learners learn (well contextualised & high frequency) language AND something new about the world?
  • Are the concepts at a suitable level of complexity and abstractness for the learners age and language level?
  • Are the role models presented positive?
  • Does it avoid polically sensitive topics, or deal with them appropriately?
  • Does it take a perspective that will give learners something to say?
  • Is it a bit “wacky”, unusual, or have something surprising in it?
  • Are there engaging visuals to liven up potentially dry topics?

Points to consider when adapting authentic texts:

  • Edit to provide maximum exposure to high frequency language – maybe substitute less common words with more frequent equivalents
  • Aim to keep the authentic feel, even if you need to edit to make it accessible
  • Make sure it will provide scope for language focussed work and genuine responses to the content.

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Sarah Mercer at #iatefl2017

Sarah Mercer at #iatefl2017

Sarah Mercer’s plenary on 5th April was a hit! Her topic “Connecting minds: language learner and teacher psychologies” struck a chord with many in the audience.

If you couldn’t watch it live, you can catch up here, thanks to the British Council and Iatefl Online!

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I heard lots of people talking about the plenary, and lots of speakers referred to it too, “as Sarah Mercer said…. ” Etc. It was her final points about teachers’ psychological wellbeing that seem to have made the biggest impression!

Here are some if the comments and reactions I heard when I asked people to record a quick audio of their thoughts on her talk. Please add your own comments below!

  • In my context its always like the teacher is the expert and has control over the class, so are, like, meant to keep a distance, authority figure, you know? For a long time I’ve thought that, well, maybe different kinds of relationship, like no authority or distance, not so much, less hierarchy might be better. So I was so happy, I felt like a confirmation, when Sarah Mercer said the same thing today. Why don’t more people think like this at home? But I’m going to tell them, I was right, we should maybe, well, maybe its time to think about some change.
  • What I particularly liked in the talk were the small, specific tips. So, I mean, small tips of things we can easily adopt into our teaching that might have a big effect. Just like, “smile!”
  • Actually, well-being was my prediction of a ‘big topic’ for this year’s conference. And there have been lots of talks on it, for teachers and learners, like also mindfulness stuff and positive psychology for classrooms and teaching. I liked the plenary, and I’ve been seeing this topic come up more an more in conference talks. I think having the “look after yourself” message made so well in a plenary might really start to move things forward in that area. Which can only be a good thing, considering all the awful stories we’re hearing recently about work-life total imbalance in many teachers’ lives.
  • It was refreshing to hear someone focus on the teachers’ health and mental wellbeing, when so much work focuses on learners. It was great, as a reminder, that, yes, learners are people, but so are teachers!
  • I loved that metaphor, the one like on a plane! Please do your own mask before you help the children. I like it as an image for teachers looking after their wellbeing so they can help the children. And that we shouldn’t feel bad about it.
  • I thought it was nice to reflect on the wellbeing of teachers for a change. It’s not something that is often focused on at these sorts of conferences. They often look at making the learner do better, but, yeah, making sure you’re doing the best for yourself first is obviously really important. So it was a good talk, reminding us.
  • I don’t work in the classroom anymore, but I think that some of the points there, well I work in product development, but, yeah, the points, well, are relevant for working in teams, and like as a leader of a team, my emotions impact very much the motivation of the team mates. It’s the same in a classroom, as a teacher, so it was a good plenary also for people outside teaching, because it’s relevant there too. So yeah, it was good!

 

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Exhibiting CLIL: Developing student skills through project-based learning

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing student skills through project-based learning

Dr Jenny Skipp

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing Student Skills through project-based learning

My dear colleague Jenny has just held  her first ever presentation at an iatefl conference!

It was a very well delivered talk, with a perfect balance of theory and practical ideas teachers can adapt into their own teaching. It’ll probably be of most interest with young adult learners, and also for teachers looking for ways to stretch their advanced learners. Want to know what she talked about? Look no further, here’s a summary:

Jenny presented a CLIL project she ran with a post-grad British cultural studies class at Trier University (Germany). Cultural studies classes in this context are for advanced EFL learners and thus have two aims – language learning and learning about content, in this case a particular British cultural topics. Making them good examples of CLIL.

Based on Coyle et al’s conceptualisation of CLIL as encompassing four Cs, content, cognition, communication, and culture, Jenny and I devised project-based British Cultural Studies classes, which she then took as the basis of an investigation of the opportunities it afforded for developing language and academic skills.

The project was setting up an exhibition on the topic of the course, which would be open to all staff and students at the University. The students in the course are working at a C1-2 language level. How do you test C2 level?? Jenny thinks an exhibition might be one way.

Previous Culture Studies courses had required students to hold an in-class presentation and write a final essay. We hoped this project would prevent them from only seeing their presentations or essay topics as isolated from what their peers were doing, which we believe was limiting to students in their language acquisition and practice, as they worked on making the exhibition as a collective whole.

Over the course of the term, students had round table discussions in lesson time, gave ‘work in progress’ oral reports on their exhibits in pairs to prompt discussion, and collaboratively wrote a concept paper to present the content and flow of the exhibition. They thus used the language of team work and of exhibit design, and were given feedback on it orally. On the exhibition day we also monitored their interaction with visitors, as they were explaining their exhibit topic to non expert peers and staff from various academic departments. After the exhibition, students wrote short individual essays at end of course.

So, what opportunities were really provided for language acquisition and practice?

Here, Jenny assessed this through the lens of the language tryptic described by Coyle et al. She explained, very convincingly, how studentrs developed…

Language Of Learning – general subject language, which is easily learnt or already known, in this case there were some concrete terms that stuck out to surveyed students- “popular vs mass culture” “identity”, “economic/economical”

Language For Learning – in this category, Jenny saw feedback languages used when evaluating others’ work in progress, language for data collection such as creating interview or survey questions, linguistic analyses, and differing register and synonyms and expressions for describing the exhibition to different visitors.

Language Through Learning– figurative and idiomatic language, new words & how to use them naturally, academic register, and colloquial expressions, were all mentioned by students. But not just specific words, it was also evident that students developed new ways of talking about concepts and their topics.

75% of the students, who were surveyed after the end of the course, perceived good opportunities for topic specific language learning during the term-long preparation, and 82% during the exhibition. And in their essays they demonstrated a noticeable improvement in this and general language naturalness.

Jenny was really pleased to see students talking to exhibition visitors about exhibits – they were seen to be paraphrasing for a non-expert audience, lower level undergrads, or using formal register with more informed lecturers — this ability to adapt language to play around, scale up or down their language to explain their understanding of complex topics to different people would seem to be one way to show C2 level language competence!

Academic skills were trained by this project, too – HOTs that fit into the ‘cognition’ C, with students analysing data from many sources, evaluating & synthesising it to make their exhibition. Jenny found she could tick all the boxes, as it were, of Coonan’s taxonomy. Students also noticed these opportunities for criticality.

Overall, then, it seems that both linguistic & conceptual techniques, and communicative competences  were practised and developed by this CLIL project, as well as cognitive abilities and transferable skills such as collaboration, organisation, teamwork, students perceived this, and demonstrated it in both their exhibition and essays. The final C was also addressed in this project, with students demonstrating expanded cultural sensitivity and international perspective.

This research, and Jenny’s compellung pkug for CLIL, shows that a project as a collaborative event facilitates the use, practice & feedback of language, as well as key skills! Try it yourself!

Slides and materials available from:

Skipp@uni-trier.de

Read more: Jenny Skipp & Clare Maas, Content & Integrated Learning: In Theory and In Practice, Modern English Teacher, April 2017.

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Principles of ELT Materials Writing

Principles of ELT Materials Writing

This is my first post from Glasgow as a registered iatefl online blogger! And it’s about the first talk I attended at the conference – A talk by Katherine Bilsborough as part of the MaWSIG SIG day.

In this interesting and inspirng talk, Kath talked us through a small investigation of some principles of ELT materials development. Focussing on principles based on theories which are derived from research, she wondered whether/how such principles described by theorists have change over time. She looked at principles listed by Paul Nation (1993), Brian Tomlinson (1998) and Rod Ellis (2005), and found that most of these would probably be considered common sense by most teachers. All three based their lists on theories of language and learning – but these change! So would these theorists still view their principles as universally valid in the 21st century?

Kath emailed them to find out. And she was “chuffed” that they answered!

Paul Nation says he believes his principles are still valid and supported by recent research. He might add something about deliberate study, though. However, he emphasises that materials writers should also develop their own set of principles, based on the specific context and learners the materials are being developed for.

Tomlinson assesses his principles to still be valid to varying extents. But he highlights the most important points that materials should provide rich exposure, stimulate affective and cognitive engagement, and include sufficient opportunities for learners to notice their achievements. He also notes a distinction between universal (=common sense?) principles, such as materials being age-appropriate and inoffensive, and local principles, more specific to the context, purpose and learners.

Rod Ellis also emphasises the need to focus on the classroom context, not the writer’s but the teachers’ and learners’ perspectives. He believes ELT materials should be based on both L2 acquisition research and classroom settings, so experienced teachers have a lot to contribute!

To add another view, Kath reported what she’s taken from Jill Hadfield’s work on this topic. Jill believes anyone who writes materials should have their own framework of principles to work with, even if they haven’t formulated them concretely.

And so Kath encouraged us all to write our own principles for writing ELT materials, with the reminder that if you can justify it, it is a valid principle! Her framework is a helpful guide for teachers doing so.

Let me close with Kath’s conclusion: it is time to open up discussion, and prompt teachers and writers to think about principles. I’m inspired – you can find my own principles here.

So thanks again Kath for sharing this informative and inspirational journey through your principles obsession! Diolch!

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Stress Awareness Discussion Points #teacher5aday

Stress Awareness Discussion Points #teacher5aday

April is Stress Awareness Month – a perfect time for reflecting on your own well-being and how you tackle stress in your life and work!

The aim of this article is to raise awareness of some of the more theoretical work that has been done in the area of (tackling) stress and burnout, particularly among teachers, and to provide impetus for reflecting and discussing with colleagues. The post can be used to support stress awareness discussions in staff meetings and other developmental groups. If you’re unable to join a discussion in person, please add your comments and answers to the ‘Talking Points’ in the comments box below. 

Burnout

One of the most widely used definitions of the complex construct of ‘burnout’ was developed by Maslach & Jackson (1981).  Their research explored the organizational contexts which often provide a background to burnout and similar syndromes, and they developed the multidimensional Maslach model, which includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment as its three main symptoms. Maslach, Jackson & Leiter (1996) described these symptoms of burnout in more detail. Emotional exhaustion is linked to feelings of anxiety and fatigue, for example, and a general feeling that one’s emotional resources are depleted. Highly correlated with exhaustion is depersonalization; the development of negative or cynical perceptions of others. The third aspect, reduced personal accomplishment, refers to dissatisfaction and prevailingly negative self-evaluation regarding professional activities.

This model of burnout and the self-diagnosis tool derived from it, the ‘Maslach Burnout Inventory’ (MBI) (Maslach & Jackson, 1981), have promoted a vast amount of research over the last few decades, and many studies have shown the MBI’s reasonably high internal consistency and test-retest reliability, and as well as good levels of validity, both concurrent and predictive.

TALKING POINT: Have you ever experienced any of the symptoms of burnout (in bold in the text above), or other negative effects of stress? Have you ever noticed any of these symptoms in your colleagues? How did these symptoms manifest themselves concretely in your life? What would you advise other teachers to watch out for when it comes to catching burnout symptoms early enough to do something about?

Well-being

A strong sense of well-being, then, is the positive antithesis of burnout; something we should all strive for. The term ‘well-being’ is used to imply a sense of balance between being under-stimulated and overwhelmed, with regard to various facets of life. Holmes (2005), for example, denotes four intrinsic sub-categories of well-being: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Physical well-being starts with the absence of illness, and extends to being in good physical shape. For an individual’s emotional well-being, they need to be able to suitably handle the emotions they feel and apply this to maintaining healthy relationships with others. Within Holmes’ definition, intellectual, or mental, well-being involves having a positive attitude to developing both personally and professionally. And finally, spiritual well-being is the ‘ability to be constructively self-conscious and self-critical when a sense of greater good is being pursued’ (Holmes, 2005, p.10). This four-category definition of well-being provides a useful framework for any work or discussions pertaining to well-being training and awareness.

TALKING POINT: What do you do to maintain or improve your own well-being?  What do you do to help others maintain or improve their well-being? How do these activities relate to the four categories in Holmes’ definition? Did you choose these activities deliberately to counteract stress? What activities would you recommend to other teachers?

 

 

References

Holmes, E. (2005). Teacher well-being: Looking after yourself and your Career in the classroom. London & New York: Routledge Falmer. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203465400 

Lee, R.T. & Ashforth, B.E. (1990). On the meaning of Maslach’s three dimensions of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75(6), pp. 743-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.75.6.743 

Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Maslach, C. & Jackson, S.E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2. pp 99-113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/job.4030020205 

Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E. & Leiter, M.P. (1996). Maslach burnout inventory manual (3rd edition). Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists press.