Category: EAP

Writing EAP Materials: Keeping Academic English Lessons Engaging (Tania’s Tips)

Writing EAP Materials: Keeping Academic English Lessons Engaging (Tania’s Tips)

Back in May, I was lucky enough to attend Tania Pattison’s talk at the IATEFL conference in Belfast. The underlying message of her talk was that materials for teaching and learning academic English do not have to be as dry and dull as some people might have in mind. And I think that’s an important message to get out there! Tania’s talk presented some useful tips and reminders for those of us in EAP and materials writing fields, which I’d like to summarise in this post. 

TL;DR Summary

In order to be effective and engaging, EAP materials, especially at higher levels where students have done a lot of the same topics several times, need to be:

  • fresh,
  • relevant,
  • inspirational,
  • challenging,
  • and manageable.

FRESH Topics & Perspectives

Academic (and all?) English materials should include fresh or new topics so that they are engaging and interesting when students become engrossed in a topic and start exploring all the many directions that you can go with the information or perspectives on it. In this way, students are likely to want to discuss it, and thus use and practise useful language and skills to do so. Even if the topic isn’t entirely new, we might still be able to come up with fresh types of activities to get our students engaged in deep learning.

RELEVANT Input & Activities

The content topics, as well as the language and skills practised, need to be relevant to students’ current and or future academic concerns, as well as their lives and professions. In popular science and science journalism, for example, we might discover new innovations or specific topics that are related to our students’ academic subjects.

Tania’s examples here include looking at what happens in the body and brain when people use digital screens excessively, for example comparing the effects to coffee, or looking at symptoms such as insomnia and negative mental health. This is probably relevant to most students, and has a clear connection to biology as an academic subject. 

The activities we ask students to do of course also need to be relevant to their academic progress. So, it makes sense to be doing things like analysing and discussing commonly held beliefs to promote critical thinking, as well as applying concepts to their own everyday lives, professions or study subjects. As I have recently written elsewhere, even activities like comparing and contrasting near-synonyms’ meanings and usage patterns activates these kinds of thinking skills while helping with vocabulary learning. 

INSPIRATIONAL Ideas

It helps with learning if materials include inspirational content. When students are impressed by the idea, person or place that they are hearing about, it can stoke their ambitions and promote deeper engagement with the topic and thus with their learning.

Tania’s examples here include reading or hearing about explorers, researchers, successful sports people, and so on. To link this with academic language and skills, students could, for example, conduct a SWOT analysis of teams or projects, and evaluate the factors in their success. This kind of activity would not only engage higher order thinking skills and promote advanced level language use/practise, but may also function to inspire the students to adopt certain elements leading to success.

CHALLENGING Different Skills

I think that most of us would agree that language learning materials need to be linguistically challenging for the students, and not too easy. Ideally, we’d like them to be working in their zone of proximal development, so there is a motivating challenge to the work that we are asking them to do. In EAP, it’s also beneficial to include challenges on thinking critically, evaluating new angles, and/or responding appropriately following academic conventions.

Thus, materials could encourage students to think outside of the box, to give and justify a stance, or to provide a critical review of something. The input could also involve an academic expression of attitude or stance, perhaps in contrast to a less formal expression of opinion, so that students are challenged not only to engage with the content, but also to identify language features that may be useful for their own work.

MANAGEABLE Expectations

Nonetheless, the level of challenge in any learning materials needs to be manageable. In EAP, this means materials being targeted at an achievable level of difficulty, both linguistically and with regard to students’ academic career – so in their academic and critical thinking skills, too.

The aim of an EAP programme is to bridge the gap between the current level the students are working at and the “real” academic texts and input that they will need to deal with in their studies, by making the topics accessible and easier to process. This may include training generally useful and relevant academic vocabulary and language – not necessarily discipline-specific terminology –  or employing things like infographics and other visuals, plus training on study skills and elements of English that are specific to academic usages.

University students face high expectations in many different areas of life, so the EAP materials we design/use should help them to progress and manage the challenge, without adding to their overwhelm.  Tania’s idea here would be to find topics that are clearly connected to students’ academic study subjects, but approached from a more everyday life perspective.

SUMMARY

In conclusion, then, EAP materials should enable students to learn something new in terms of language, facts/content, skills and perspectives. They should be fresh, relevant, inspirational, challenging and manageable. Then, the materials are likely to be motivating and help students to develop their confidence, and their language and academic skills, to face the challenges of studying at university through the medium of English.

And finally, thank you to Tania for (yet another) interesting and inspiring talk, providing these tips and reminders for us!

Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

I recently had the pleasure of joining the Norwegian Forum for English for Academic Purposes (one small benefit of the Corona pandemic was that this conference took place online this year!)  and listening to Katrien Dereoy’s talk on “Setting the stage for lecture listening: how representative are EAP coursebooks?”

She has presented and published on this topic before and I think it’s very interesting for all EAP instructors and materials writers. So, this post is a summary of what I see as the key points from her talk and what I took away from it regarding what we could do better in our EAP lecture listening instruction and materials in future.

The main finding of Katrien’s corpus linguistic research is that many EAP coursebooks on listening and note-taking in lectures do not always reflect the reality of the language used by lecturers – particularly regarding metadiscourse and lexico-grammatical discourse markers that are used to highlight important points of content in lectures.

In her research on corpora of lectures given in English, namely the British Academic Spoken English corpus and the Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings, Katrien looked at the word classes and patterns of phrases used to fulfil this function, such as metanouns (e.g. idea, point), verb phrases (remember that), adjectives (central idea), and adverbs (importantly). She also categorised two interactive orientations of such lexicogrammatical devices highlighting importance: one focusing on the participants and using phrases like “Now listen” (addressing audience) or “I want to emphasise” (expressing intention), and the other focusing on the content and saying things like “A key point is”. 

Overall, her research comparing lecture transcripts in the BASE and ELFA corpora showed that the frequency with which importance is explicitly marked was roughly equivalent between L1 and L2/EMI instructors. Overall, the content-focussed markers were most common, though a variety of word classes and grammatical patterns were found in both corpora. 

She found that EMI lecturers (often L2 speakers in non-English-speaking countries) were more likely to use a content focus, whereas L1 lecturers used phrases that were focused on the content or the audience in highlighting the importance of points in their lectures with roughly equal frequency.

Another slight difference was that L1 lecturers used metanouns more often than EMI/L2 lecturers. On the other hand, EMI/L2 lecturers often used adjectives (e.g. the main idea) and also deictic verb phrases such as “That’s the main point”,  which were often anaphoric/backward-referring (where the students would have to think back to whatever “that” refers to and then note it down). Apparently L1 lecturers were more likely to use verb phrases, particularly imperatives like “Remember” or “Notice” (≠ directives with second-person pronouns), which are also often cataphoric/forward-referring.

Overall, the most commonly used phrases in authentic lectures recorded in these corpora are:

 Remember/Notice xyz

 The point/question is xyz

 I want to emphasise/stress xyz

 The key/important/essential xyz is xyz

Katrien then analysed coursebooks that aim to teach lecture-listening skills to EAP students. She found that they often do not really teach these phrases that are most commonly used in lectures to fulfill the function of marking importance. Indeed, many coursebooks include tasks where students are asked to identify the key ideas from a lecture except, but do not necessarily give good training on the language that might help them to do so, such as listening out for metadiscourse and discourse markers. Some books include lists of ‘useful phrases’ here, but Katrien noticed a preference for explicit markers and listing words, directives with second-person pronouns (e.g. you need to remember) and other non-imperative verb phrases – so not entirely aligned with what the corpora show about phrases commonly used in real lectures.

Katrien suggests four sets of people who are possibly at least partly responsible for this disparity between EAP materials and authentic lectures, based on Gilmore (2015). These are: the researchers in applied linguistics who are not always good at making their research findings accessible;  language teachers who rely on coursebooks and don’t (have time to) think beyond what the books present them;  materials writers who may use their intuition and creativity rather than research to inform their materials; and publishers who may not want to to deal with having to source and and get copyright for authentic lecture recordings or who may not even see the value in doing so. [Note my use of defining relative clauses here – I absolutely do not want to imply putting blame on all researchers, teachers, writers, etc.!]

Katrien’s main recommendation for training EAP students to understand and be able to take notes on the most important content points in lectures is that EAP instructors should critically reflect on materials’ and appropriateness/relevance of the language presented for their students/context, and adapt or extend them as necessary. Supplementary materials should use language from authentic lecture transcripts, such as those found in databases and corpora like BASE or  MICASE and/or representative input materials for the context – e.g. collaborate with local lecturers and use their recordings/videos.

I agree with Katrien and would add that:

  • Materials writers need to make an effort to access the relevant linguistic (and SLA) research, corpora and word/phrase lists, etc. and use it to inform the language they include in their materials. I feel that particularly writers and instructors in the area of EAP are often in a better position to access these publications and resources than those in other contexts, due to their typical affiliation to a university (and their library, databases, etc) and the academic world in general. 
  • Giving a list of useful phrases is not enough –  students need active training, for example in decoding these phrases in fast connected speech where processes like linking, assimilation or elision are likely to happen and may be a barrier to understanding, and prosody helps determine phrases’ meaning, or training in understand how exactly they are used and derive their signalling power from the context and cotext. These phrases are likely to be helpful to students giving their own oral presentations, too, so materials teaching these discourse markers could span and combine both skills. 
  • Lecturers could benefit from training, too – Not all (in some contexts, not very many at all!) lecturers have received training in this kind of teaching presentation, and many may not be aware of the linguistic side of things that can affect how well (especially L2) students understand the content of a lecture. So, perhaps more EAP materials and users’ guides need to be targeted at the teachers and lecturers as well as ‘just’ the students. 
  • And finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We, EAP instructors and materials writers, need to provide numerous opportunities to deliberately engage with suitably selected, context-embedded discourse markers and academic vocabulary to help students internalise it and use it to succeed in their academic studies. 

References

Analysing my Feedback Language

Analysing my Feedback Language

TL:DR SUMMARY

I ran a feedback text I’d written on a student’s work through some online text analysis tools to check the CEFR levels of my language. I was surprised that I was using some vocabulary above my students’ level. After considering whether I can nonetheless expect them to understand my comments, I propose the following tips:

  • Check the language of feedback comments before returning work and modify vocabulary necessary.
  • Check the vocabulary frequently used in feedback comments, and plan to teach these explicitly.
  • Get students to reflect on and respond to feedback to check understanding.

A couple of colleagues I follow on blogs and social media have recently posted about online text analysis tools such as Text Inspector, Lex Tutor and so on (see, for example Julie Moore’s post here and Pete Clements’ post here). That prompted me to explore uses of those tools in more detail for my own work – both using them to judge the input in my teaching materials or assessments, and also using them with students to review their academic essay writing.

Once I got into playing around with different online tools (beyond my go-to Vocab Kitchen), I wanted to try some out on my own texts. The thing I’ve been writing most recently, though, is feedback on my students’ essays and summaries. But, I’m a bit of a feedback nerd so I was quite excited when the idea struck me: I could use these tools to analyse my language in the feedback I write to help my students improve their texts. A little action research, if you will. 

Now I obviously can’t share the students work here for privacy and copyright reasons, but one recent assessment task was to write a 200-250 word compare/contrast paragraph to answer this question:

How similar are the two main characters in the last film you watched?

(Don’t focus on their appearance).

These students are at B2+ level (CEFR) working towards C1 in my essay writing class. They need to demonstrate C1-level language in order to pass the class assessments. One student did not pass this assessment because her text included too many language mistakes that impeded comprehension, because overall the language level did not reach C1, and because she didn’t employ the structural elements we had trained in class.

Here’s the feedback I gave on the piece of work and which I ran through a couple of text checkers. (Note: I usually only write this much if there are a lot of points that need improving!)

The language of this text demonstrates a B2 level of competence. Some of the phrasing is rather too colloquial for written academic language, e.g. starting sentences with ‘but’, and including contracted forms. You need to aim for more sophisticated vocabulary and more lexical diversity. More connectors, signposting and transitions are needed to highlight the genre and the comp/cont relationships between the pieces of information. The language slips lead to meaning not always being emphasised or even made clear (especially towards the end). Aim to write more concisely and precisely, otherwise your text sounds too much like a superficial, subjective summary.

Apart from the personal phrase at the beginning, the TS does an OK job at answering the question of ‘how similar’, and naming the features to be discussed. However, you need to make sure you name the items – i.e. the characters – and the film. In fact, the characters are not named anywhere in the text! The paragraph body does include some points that seem relevant, but the ordering would be more logical if you used signposting and the MEEE technique. For example, you first mention their goals but don’t yet explain what they are, instead first mentioning a difference between them– but not in enough detail to make sense to a reader who maybe doesn’t know the series. Also, you need to discuss the features/points in the order you introduce them in the TS – ‘ambition’ is not discussed here. The information in the last couple o sentences is not really relevant to this question, and does not function as a conclusion to summarise your overall message (i.e. that they are more similar than they think). In future, aim for more detailed explanations of content and use the MEEE technique within one of the structures we covered in class. And remember: do not start new lines within one paragraph – it should be one chunk of text.

I was quite surprised by this ‘scorecard’ summarising the analysis of the lexis in my feedback on Text Inspector – C2 CEFR level, 14% of words on the AWL, and an overall score of 72% “with 100% indicating a high level native speaker academic text.” (Text Inspector). Oops! I didn’t think I was using that high a level of academic lexis. The student can clearly be forgiven if she’s not able to improve further based on this feedback that might be over her head! 

(From Text Inspector)

In their analyses, both Text Inspector and Vocab Kitchen categorise words in the text by CEFR level. In my case, there were some ‘off list’ words, too. These include abbreviations, most of which I expect my students to know, such as e.g., and acronyms we’ve been using in class, such as MEEE (=Message, Explanation, Examples, Evaluation). Some other words are ‘off list’ because of my British English spelling with -ise (emphasise, summarise – B2 and C1 respectively). And some words aren’t included on the word lists used by these tools, presumably due to being highly infrequent and thus categorised as ‘beyond’ C2 level. I did check the CEFR levels that the other ‘off list’ words are listed as in learners’ dictionaries but only found rankings for these words: 

Chunk – C1

Genre – B2

Signposting – C1

(From Vocab Kitchen)

Logically, the question I asked myself at this point is whether I can reasonably expect my students to understand the vocabulary which is above their current language level when I use it in feedback comments. This particularly applies to the words that are typically categorised as C2, which on both platforms were contracted, superficial and transitions, and perhaps also to competence, diversity and subjective which are marked as C1 level. And, of course, to the other ‘off list’ words: colloquial, concisely, connectors, lexical, and phrasing.

Now competence, diversity, lexical and subjective shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for my students, as those words are very similar in German (Kompetenz, Diversität, lexikalisch, subjektiv) which all of my students speak, most of them as an L1. We have also already discussed contracted forms, signposting and transitions on the course, so I have to assume my students understand those. Thus, I’m left with colloquial, concisely, connectors, phrasing and superficial as potentially non-understandable words in my feedback. 

Of course, this feedback is given in written form, so you could argue that students will be able to look up any unknown vocabulary in order to understand my comments and know what to maybe do differently in future.  But I worry that not all students would actually bother to do so –  so they would continue to not fully understand my feedback, making it rather a waste of my time having written it for them.

Overall, I’d say that formulations of helpful feedback comments for my EAP students need to strike a balance. They should mainly use level-appropriate language in terms of vocabulary and phrasing so that the students can comprehend what they need to keep doing or work on improving. Also, they should probably use some academic terms to model them for the students and make matching the feedback to the grading matrices more explicit. Perhaps the potentially non-understandable words in my feedback can be classified as working towards the second of these aims. 

Indeed, writing in a formal register to avoid colloquialisms, and aiming for depth and detail to avoid superficiality are key considerations in academic writing. As are writing in concise phrases and connecting them logically. Thus, I’m fairly sure I have used these potentially non-understandable words in my teaching on this course.But so far we haven’t done any vocabulary training specifically focused on these terms. If I need to use them in my feedback though, then, the students do need to understand them in some way. 

So, what can I do? I think there are a couple of options for me going forward which can help me to provide constructive feedback in a manner which models academic language but is nonetheless accessible to the students at the level they are working at. These are ideas that I can apply to my own practice,  but that other teachers might also like to try out:

  • Check the language of feedback comments before returning work (with feedback) to students; modify vocabulary if necessary.
  • Check the vocabulary items and metalanguage I want/need to use in feedback comments, and in grading matrices (if provided to students), and plan to teach these words if they’re beyond students’ general level.
  • Use the same kinds of vocabulary in feedback comments as in oral explanations of models and in teaching, to increase students’ familiarity with it. 
  • Give examples (or highlight them in the student’s work) of what exactly I mean with certain words.
  • Get students to reflect on the feedback they receive and make an ‘action plan’ or list of points to keep in mind in future – which will show they have understood and been able to digest the feedback.

If you have further suggestions, please do share them in the comments section below!

As a brief closing comment, I just want to  point out here that it is of course not only the vocabulary of any text or feedback comment that determines how understandable it is at which levels. It’s a start, perhaps, but other readability scores need to be taken into account, too. I’ll aim to explore these in a separate blog post.

10+ Things to do with a podcast in ELT

10+ Things to do with a podcast in ELT

In the EAP context I work in, we’ve recently had a drive to push engagement with authentic English-language input, within the classroom and as self-study. In general, as self-study I encourage my students to do whatever they enjoy doing – but do it in English! One of things a lot of students choose to do is to listen to podcasts.  They seem to like the fact that it doesn’t feel like ‘studying’. For me, though, this is a bit of a problem. My learners are pretty advanced, and I don’t feel they benefit as much as possible from podcasts if they simply ‘kick back’, relax, and enjoy listening. Of course the exposure is beneficial, but I found that students were not necessarily improving in their ability to use English actively. And so I came up with a list of tasks they could do to engage more actively with the podcasts they were listening to – and I’ve started doing some of them with students in classes, too. I’d like to share the ideas here as inspiration for other English learners and teachers. 

Please let me know if you try them out and how it goes! And let me know if you have other ideas I could add to my list!

Step one is, of course, choosing a podcast. I’d say that topic interest is a key factor here – if students are interested, they will put in the work to understand the content. Here are some sources of podcasts in English that I share with my students:

17850234-Vector-illustration-of-global-music-concept-with-shiny-earth-and-headphones-on-it-Stock-Vector.jpg

BBC Podcasts: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts

NPR Podcast Directory: http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_directory.php

Sky News Video Podcasting: http://news.sky.com/home/sky-news-video-podcasting/article/1208280

Podcasts Absolute Radio: http://www.absoluteradio.co.uk/podcasts/

CNN Audio and Video Podcasts: http://edition.cnn.com/services/podcasting/

 

And here are the tasks I allow them to choose from (in no particular order):

1) Reflect on the title of the podcast/episode. What do you expect to hear about? Look up any words you might expect to hear, if you don’t know them in English. Write down some questions and see if you can take notes on the podcast to answer them whilst listening.

2) Summarise the content of the podcast in 5-10 sentences. Don’t forget to use reporting language and name the source of the podcast.

2a) Make a spider diagram or flow-chart of the points covered in the podcast. What are the main points and what are the examples and explanations used to support them?

2b) Tell someone about the podcast’s content in your first language. Can you answer all of their questions about the topic? If not, listen again until you can.

English-English_and_English-Persian_dictionaries

3) Find words from the podcast that are new to you. For each word, make a note of the dictionary definition(s) from a monolingual English dictionary. Note any related words (e.g. adjective form, verb, nouns, etc.). Now find 3 synonyms that could be used in this context, and  1-2 antonym(s). Use a thesaurus to help you with this task. With this new vocabulary, rewrite the sentences from the podcast where the new words occured – using the synonyms and antonyms accurately in this context.

3a) Draw a mind-map of the key vocabulary used in the podcast. Look up words’ meanings, other word classes (e.g. nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.), and also synonyms and antonyms to include. Try to write your own example sentences on the topic of the podcast using these sentences.

4) Find grammatical structures which are new to you or you would not actively use. (If nothing is new, take the first two clauses/sentences from the text.) Write out the structures and an explanation of why they are correct. See how many other ways you can reword the sentence to express the same information. Use a reference grammar book to help you with this task, e.g. Swan, M., Practical English Usage (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2005).

5) Make up comprehension questions about the topic, and make an anwer key. You can swap with a friend to check you have both understood correctly.

6) Pick a statement from the podcast which you consider to be rather an opinion than a fact. Make a bullet-point list of points you could use to argue against this statement.

6a) Discuss the podcast’s content with a friend. Which points do you agree on and why? Where do you have different opinions? Can you convince each other of your opinions?

6b) Think about “so what?” – Now that you have learned something (hopefully!) from the podcast, what can you do with this knowledge? Does it connect to your studies? Does it make you want to change your behaviour or lifestyle?

7) Write a review of the podcast/episode. What did you like/not like and why? You might be able to post this as a comment on the podcast site and engage in a discussion with other listeners.

English_vowel_chart

8) Write the first sentence of the podcast in IPA symbols.

9) Find a section where the presenter speaks quickly, and try to transcribe exactly what they say. Reflect on how the words sound different when they are said alone and within the phrase/sentence.

9a) Use a programme such as VLC Player and make subtitles to accompany the podcast.

10) Write the reference for the podcast as if you had to include it in a bibliography.

 

 

 

Social Class in England: A Video Project with Students

“LANG 801: Advanced British Cultural Studies (Special Topic)”

That’s the uninspiring name of a module I was teaching this summer semester. It’s part of an MEd degree programme for future EFL teachers here in Germany.

f7426343d67fa4b2c34efce4879ebeeaab4e4bf4

But not to fear – I am always on a mission to capture students’ attention with an interesting ‘Special Topic’ and get them really engaged in the content so they can develop their language and academic skills! Previously, I’ve done “Immigration and Multiculturalism,” “How United is the United Kingdom?,” and “Britain in the 1990s.”

And another thing I’ve started in recent years is getting students to work on a class project with a result that can be shared more widely than just Trier University! We’ve put on an exhibition and written an e-book so far.

This term, my students produced short documentary films, each around 15-20 minutes long, and each on one aspect that influences social class in England. They came up with the catchy title of “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?”

all videos

You can find the videos on YouTube here. Feel free to enjoy them all, and leave a comment or two of feedback for my students!

 

If you want to know about the Whys and Hows, read on…

 

So why do I think projects like this are a good idea?

  • I’m required to assess students on written and oral production – students writing the script and recording the audio for the videos allows me to do this.
  • If students do in-class presentations, it’s a lot of work to then only share with around 15-20 people.
  • In such stand-alone presentations in class, the content is not ‘useful’ for work other students are doing, so they are less engaged as an audience. In the video project, each ‘episode’ connects to other videos, so students actively engage with each other’s work.
  • Students develop a stronger bond to the class and their work, which helps them develop team-building skills such as politely criticising, negotiating, and arranging appointments or deadlines. And they can support each other through the film-making process!
  • It changes the class atmosphere to something akin to a collaborative business meeting and increases students’ sense of accountability.
  • Our roles change – students learn from each other and build up their understanding together. There is little to no ‘teaching’ from me, but I am asked for help or guidance by students – which also means they actually take on board what little I do then say!
  • It helps students develop a whole bunch of critical thinking skills; from finding connections between pieces of information, to drawing out key points from their research, digesting the research into concise reports, and considering the most appropriate ways to present something to different audiences.
  • It allows students to acquire other practical skills that might be useful in their future careers, such as using the filming equipment or video editing software. (We have all of this at the University but it is sadly underused!)
  • I’m sure there are more benefits I can’t think of right now, or am not even aware of!

 

How did I set up the video project?

  • The class met for 90 minutes once a week, for 13 weeks.
  • Weeks 1-2 of semester:
    • I set reading on the topic of Social Class as homework.
    • In lessons, I displayed discussion questions and let students discuss in groups.
    • We started off in smaller groups (~5 students) and by week 3 the whole class (16 students) was sitting in a circle debating together.
    • The readings and questions encouraged them to evaluate stereotypes and models of social class (e.g. Karl Marx), and to investigate the findings of the ‘Great British Class Survey’.

GBCSDuring the discussions, I provided vocabulary or phrases the students were lacking, if asked, and at the end of each lesson, I gave feedback on langauge mistakes I had heard. (I did this every lesson, but won’t keep repeating it in this list!)

 

 

  • Weeks 3-4 of semester:
    • From the previous group discussions, students formulated further questions and aspects they wanted to explore.
    • They individually chose their own homework readings, as preparation for discussions of these new questions.
    • They devised the title “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?” and decided on specific aspects they wanted to investigate. Pairs then took on one ‘aspect’ (e.g. housing, education, langauge, consumer behaviour) as the topic for their video, as well as one group working on a general introduction and one on a concluding video.
    • During the discussions, I prompted more analysis by throwing in questions where I thought it would be beneficial or where the discussion got ‘stuck’.
  • Week 5 of semester:
    • In small groups, students began drafting introduction scripts for their videos, highlighting the background that had led them to investigate their specific aspect and the guiding questions for their video.
    • At home, they continued reading and researching their specific topics. (Also continued every week, but not repeatedly listed here.)

money 2

  • Week 6 of semester:
    • We held a peer review session on the written scripts students had produced so far. Students worked with peer review worksheets I provided (see here).
    • We discussed differences between an academic essay and what would be appropriate for a documentary script.
  • Weeks 7-9 of semester:
    • Students gave ‘work in progress presentations’ in their pairs to share what they had learnt so far, and presenters lead discussions to find connections between topics.
    • Some students interviewed contacts / friends from England to gain more insight and check the validity of what they had read.
  • Week 10 of semester:
    • We had a session led by the technician in the University’s video lab to see the equipment available and how it works, and practised using video editing software.
    • Students devised concepts and formats for their videos, such as voice-overs on PPTs, ‘news reporter’ formats, sketches, and so on.

news reporter

  • Week 11 of semester:
    • In the video lab, students created a trailer video for the documentary series.
    • Students decided on an opening clip to use on all videos, to ‘join’ them together as a series.
    • Students investigated copyright laws and potential sources of images and video clips they could use in their own videos.
  • Week 12 of semester:Documentary_eflyer.PNG
    • We held a peer review session on the full scripts each pair had produced.
    • Students discussed overlaps and points where they should/could refer to the other videos in the series and inserted these into their scripts.
    • Students designed a basic e-flyer to advertise the documentary series.
  • Week 13 of semester:
    • We held a general discussion about what they had learnt about England and social class over the course of the semester and attempted to connect these insights to their work on other modules (e.g. American culture studies, English literature, etc.)
    • Students discussed self-evaluations and completed the obligatory module evaluation forms.
    • Students submitted the final drafts of their video scripts for assessment and feedback. I gave feedback on a separate form, and corrected language errors in their scripts so that the videos would not include (too many!) mistakes.
  • One month after semester:
    • Students recorded their audio scripts and produced their videos independently, with occasional help from the video lab technician.
    • I created a YouTube channel and uploaded the videos in the order the students had agreed upon.
    • We are now busy sharing the videos and information about the project on social media 🙂

all videos

 

 

Teaching a deaf student EAP oral skills

Teaching a deaf student EAP oral skills

Since October I’ve had a student in my class who is practically deaf, especially if she hasn’t got her hearing aid.  The class that she’s taking with me is actually an Oral Skills class; it’s the first class of an EAP programme and focuses on presentation and seminar skills. Clearly, not being able to hear makes it quite a lot more difficult than normal. But we’re slowly finding our way! We’re halfway through semester now, and I think I’ve got some strategies that might be useful for anyone else who has a deaf or hard of hearing student in their English language classroom!

In my case the student, let’s call her Mary,  did her A-Level equivalents at a normal high school, so she had her whole school career to develop good strategies that can help her to learn various things in various ways. She knows what the teacher can do to help her best and so I have gradually learnt how I can help her, especially with these oral skills that are the focus of our course. I thought I’d use this blog post to share some of what I’ve learnt.

I guess the most important thing is really to have an individual conversation with the student – probably more than one conversation actually! Some of the basic adaptations I’ve made based on such conversations are probably no surprise, for example providing transcripts of any audio texts we listen to or videos we watch. Working with a transcript, the focus of the task is then shifted to reading comprehension rather than listening comprehension, but this is more in line with what Mary’s likely to need in her future use of English. On this module, we’ve been watching videos that demonstrate good and less good presentation skills, and it was hard for her to read the transcript at the same time as watching the presenter. Also, I sometimes needed to type the transcript out especially, which became quite time-consuming. I solved these problems by choosing a focus according to what my goals were for the task. For example, if we were looking at presentation style or use of visual aids, understanding the content of the example speech was less important, so I stopped giving Mary the transcripts for these tasks, and asked her to concentrate on looking for what makes a good or less good presentation style, or whatever.

The audio practice tests that we’ve done often intended to help students develop note-taking skills for use in lectures or seminars. This is something Mary will always have to work hard on and talk to individual teachers about getting help with, especially as there’s usually no transcript for a lecture. But she has also learnt the importance of having a study group to compare notes with. Mary can take notes from the extra reading  without problem, so she often takes responsibility for this in the study group, and then ‘swaps’ these good notes for another student’s good lecture notes. It’s perhaps less than ideal, but makes the best of a difficult situation for Mary.

In terms of understanding me when I talk to the class, Mary has a special device that goes with her hearing aid. It’s a mini-microphone that I clip to my collar which amplifies everything I say and kind of ‘beams’ it straight into her hearing aid! This has obviously been a great help, though she still needs to lip read to really understand. And what a feat learning to lip read in a foreign language!  One little thing I’ve learnt is that wearing lipstick is apparently really helpful: when the lips are more clearly defined it’s easier for her to lip read. And I also have to remember to wear something with pockets on the days we have class, so I don’t have to carry the battery pack for the mini-microphone around in my hand all lesson!

As part of her self-study, which is required for the credits for the class, I’ve sent Mary a few links to videos to help her with lip-reading in English. Initially, I introduced her to the website https://lipreadingpractice.co.uk/ which is for English speakers who lose their hearing and have to learn to lip read.  Later, I also sent videos that were made for phonetics classes and the like, which feature close-up videos of how different sounds and words are pronounced in English. Hopefully these will also help her with her own pronunciation. Although Mary is quite clear to understand when she speaks, there are elements of German interference on her English accent which she can’t really eliminate just by lip-reading. I think it’s important here to work on ways to enable Mary to see and/or feel these pronunciation features that are hard to see. The phoneme /r/ is a particular problem, for example, but we’re working on ways to help her feel the difference in articulation between German and English, by feeling which parts of the speech apparatus are used (e.g. by placing her hands on her throat to feel the vibrations of the German uvular fricative). Recently, we even did a lesson on intonation, and helped Mary to see (through gesture and movement of the head) and feel (which muscles are used in the throat) pitch movements for emphasis or in questions versus statements. 

Group work is something that has been quite tricky. While the other students understand why I mainly look in Mary’s direction when I’m speaking to the whole class, they’re not so good at doing the same themselves! In group work she’s better off in a smaller group where she can clearly see who’s speaking and read their lips. This was tricky at first with students who were nervous, mumbling, holding their hands a pen, or playing with their hair in front of their mouths! But I’ve managed to discern a few very clear speakers who Mary can work well with. Needless to say it’s been a bit of a learning curve for everyone in the class!

Now, in the second half of semester, students are giving group presentations. Mary’s a bit wary about giving them the extra device for their collars because passing it around increases the likelihood of it being damaged. But lip-reading in a foreign language from a speaker who’s speaking the language as a foreign language themselves is proving really quite difficult. What we’ve decided to do them is to show other students in the class the same videos as I sent Mary. This way, everyone can work and their articulation and on enunciating sounds and words clearly, which will be better for their own language production and also enable Mary to better lip read their presentations. 

Something we haven’t been able to solve yet is how to enable her to better follow when students around the classroom are sharing their answers to a task we’ve done. We’ve rearranged the desks so that we sit in a big U shape which at least allows her to look at whoever’s speaking. Sometimes, though, the answers are quite short so one person is only speaking for a very brief moment before the next person starts, which makes it hard for her to keep her up. As a group we’ve now discussed strategies such as the speaker raising their hand so she knows who to look at, and me pointing to the person I want to share their answer rather than just saying their name. These things are taking a bit of practice to get used to but seem to be working ok for now!

I have to say, I’m really glad to have Mary in my class. Not only is she a conscientious and pleasant student, but  devising and developing these strategies to help her improve her oral skills has been a great new aspect to my professional development! And I hope that I’ve been able to show in this little blog post just how easy it can be to integrate a deaf or hard-of-hearing student into an English langauge class!

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

Time for a little advertising! 😉

On October Thursday 5th October at 4.25pm UK time, I’ll be giving an online talk as part of the LTSIG /OllREN online conference and would be delighted to see you there!

LTSIG Presentation Clare Maas

Exploring efficient ways to give sustainable feedback on L2 writing is important because providing meticulous correction of language errors and hand-written summaries can be time-consuming and often seems less effective than desired. For feedback to be sustainable (i.e. effective long-term), it should be formative, interactive and impact on students’ future work (Carless et al 2011). Thus traditional, hand-written feedback practices may be inefficient at effecting sustainability. Integrating technology into feedback delivery has been shown to have potential in alleviating the situation, by stimulating students to engage with feedback they receive and enabling dialogues about their work.

Combining work into feedback on L2 writing with ideas promoted in higher education, I devised the Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) procedure, where feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‘drive’ how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various digital delivery modes and are required to pose questions about their work to which the tutor responds.

In this talk, I will summarise some recent literature which supports both the use of technologies such as email, audio recording, and text-editing software features, and responses to students’ individual queries in feedback procedures, before practically demonstrating LDF. I will refer to my own recently published article on LDF in EAP, and discuss my evaluation of its application in my teaching, providing compelling reasons and practical suggestions for its employment in various language teaching contexts. These discussions will also explore potential mechanisms underpinning the efficacy of multimodal approaches to making feedback more sustainable, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups. This includes topics such as learner autonomy, motivation, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualisation.

The talk is thus a combination of practical demonstration and theoretical background, of interest and relevance to a broad audience.

 

Reference: Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., Lam, J., 2011. Developing sustainable
feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36, 395–407.

Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

Academic Writing Skills & “Just in Time” Teaching

I’ve been looking back over my notes from IATEFL 2017 to find inspiration for another blog post. I’m a bit late now to just summarise talks, but I’d like to come back to one of the questions that was posed at a talk I attended. It was “Building bridges: the disciplines, the normative and the transformative” by Catherine Mitsaki. 

Catherine’s talk looked at the EAP/Genre-based and Academic Literacies models of academic writing instruction and assessed the pedagogical potential of the different approaches, whilst sharing her experience from teaching for UK and international students. As I said, I don’t want to summarise her whole talk here, just one key question she raised. Students from her classes gave feedback suggesting they would prefer to have been taught the specific academic writing skills required for their assignments (within subject classes) right at the time they were working on those assignments. Catherine calls it “just in time” teaching, and she asked us what we thought.

I have to say, I can’t embrace the “just in time” teaching concept fully when it comes to academic writing. There is just too much that students need to know. It might be more appropriate if students entered university programmes with a strong foundation of writing skills, which could then be honed by focussing on the relevant points and skills for each assignment. But this is usually not the case, at least not where I work. I always feel I’m squashing in a huge amount of input and practice into our essay-writing modules, and they run for 14 weeks! With all of the competencies that are involved in producing good academic writing, I find it is much better to give students the chance to digest the input and practice applying the skills to their work over a period of time so that everything can really ‘sink in’. They need time to practise actually transferring the transferable skills we’re teaching them, especially at undergraduate level!

Also, as Catherine pointed out, “just in time” teaching would seem to contradict Academic Literacies models which aim to promote criticality towards established norms as a productive way of growing academically. As she puts it in personal correspondence, “There is no room for questioning well established models if one is struggling to deal with the norms as they are.”

So I’m not convinced that doing what students want or think is best (easiest?) for them is the best approach here. Perhaps a better option is explaining the rationale for our writing courses to the students, in an attempt to increase the receptivity to the classes we teach.

What do you think? Could “just in time” teaching work where you are?

Showing students what makes good dictionaries good

Showing students what makes good dictionaries good

Jennifer Macdonald’s post “Friends don’t let friends use bad dictionaries” was an inspiration! It’s an issue that frustrates me every semester anew!

As I posted as a comment on Jennifer’s post, last term, I even made the (joke) rule that if someone uses dict.cc or leo.org (translating tool thingies for German – English) on their phone or tablet in class, I get to conviscate that device for the rest of term! Lucky for them I don’t need that many mobiles and tablets! 😀

What I have found somewhat more helpful, though, is not just recommending which (“proper”) dictionaries to use, but actually getting students to do tasks using good dictionaries and rubbish online thingies to actually compare them. Then we discuss what it is that makes some of the free online translating tools so bad / unhelpful, and when/how using them might be appropriate, if ever. The focus is really on what makes ‘good’ dictionaries good!

In case you’d like to try it out with your own students, here’s what I usually give mine when we’re looking at monolingual dictionaries. (They’re EAP students working at level B2-C1 level. Thy usually do these tasks at home and then we discuss the answers and the benefits of different reference tools together in class.)

A good monolingual dictionary contains so much information about lexical items. Here are some recommended dictionaries:

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Cambridge: CUP)

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (Harlow: Longman)

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Oxford: OUP)

Rundell, M. & G. Fox (eds), Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (Basingstoke: Macmillan)

Sinclair, J. et al (eds), Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary (New York: Harper Collins)

Before you start, read the introduction of your dictionary and flip through the various extra pages at the front and back of the book. You might want to add post-it notes as tabs to help you easily find the most useful information again in future. These exercises will help you explore what information your dictionary contains about words and how they are used. Why not experiment with different monolingual dictionaries to see which is most appropriate for your learning? You can also try some free online resources or apps, though they usually do not provide as detailed information as you will need for your academic work in English!

Note that a good monolingual dictionary can also provide: a guide to pronunciation and intonation of words & abbreviations (e.g. NATO, NASA, a.m.), stylistic information (e.g. formal, literary, slang) & specialist usage areas (e.g. medicine, law), information on frequency of use, collocations, brief grammatical information, a collection of words under an umbrella heading or on a particular topic (often with pictures), useful phrases and information for writing letters, essays, etc.

TASK 1) Find the opposites of these adjectives: (un, dis, il, im, in, mis, or ir?)

comprehensible, existent, informed, legal, logical, mature, pleased, proportionate,   relevant, responsible.

 

TASK 2) Find a way of expressing a plural of these nouns: note any specific fields of usage/unusual plurals.  e.g. advice —  pieces of advice

crisis, focus, formula, information, leaf, luggage, research, runner-up, trousers.

 

TASK 3) Find the simple past and past participle forms of these verbs. (And make sure you know their meanings!)

distinguish, forecast, input, lie, mistake, prove, resonate, undergo, withdraw.

 

TASK 4) Find the appropriate word forms to fill in the blanks:

economy: My car is very _____ in terms of petrol consumption. / Politicians must be aware of the _____ .

administer: Teachers are being asked to take on more and more _____ tasks. / The secretary is responsible for course _____ .

understand:  She spoke so quietly, it was barely _____. / The teacher has great _____ for teenagers’ problems.

intelligent: She has an admirable _____. /  Your handwriting was so _____ that you lost marks on the exam.

decent: She didn’t even have the _____ to say ‘good morning’. / All teaching staff are expected to dress _____.

 

Task ideas adapted from: Smith, M. & G. Smith, Handbook for Students Studying in English (Oxford: O.U.P., 1988)

 

 

Making Marking Colourful

Making Marking Colourful

Anyone who’s been following my blog and conference presentations for a while will know that I have a healthy obsession with marking and giving feedback on L2 students’ essays! This is partly due to the huge numbers of essays I have to mark each term, and the number of new marking techniques this allows me to try out!

Having just finished (phew!) marking a class load of B2+ level discursive essays, I’ve got time to share some ideas on using different colours for marking and giving feedback, which may serve to make it more effective, and, if not exactly fun, at least somewhat visually pleasing!

You might have seen or heard about my talk on ‘Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Challenge the Red Pen’s Reign‘ where I discussed a variety of ways to make marked work seem less, well, red. Red is the colour of aggression and warnings, so I’m not sure why it has come to be the typical colour for giving feedback on students’ work. Looking back at some work I’ve marked before, I just see a sea of red, used for everything – even ticks for good aspects of writing! This time around, then, I decided to use different coloured pens to show different kinds of comments. Language errors were corrected in red, good aspects were ticked or commented on in green, and other advice or comments (e.g. on content, structure or referencing) were written in blue. Even just at first glance, these papers look a lot more balanced in terms of feedback given, and can hopefully avoid that sinking feeling when students get their work back. Some have even told me that this kind of visual distinction of comments helps them to engage with the feedback as they can go at it aspect for aspect. So, for an easy way to make marking more colourful and potentially helpful for students, just add two new colours to your usual stationery repertoire, and off you go!

If you have more colours to hand, or are marking work electronically, another colour-coding approach I’ve used before is a bit more specific. Here, I use different colours to mark different categories of language mistake. You can also do it with highlighters (or the highlighting function in your word-processing programme). For example, pink is incorrect vocabulary, blue is incorrect verb form, green is for other grammar problems, and orange is for punctuation mistakes. You can vary your colours and categories as relevant to your learners and their writing. I suspect that this kind of colour code makes it even easier for students to work through the feedback they receive, and also serves to highlight the most common problem areas in their work – which will be useful for you and them! Definitely worth a try, if your pencil-case allows!

sandy 2.PNG

A final idea I’d like to share is one I’ve borrowed from Sandy Millin. This colourful approach focuses on priority areas for review and improvement. After marking all of the langauge errors in a student’s text, pick three areas of language that you feel need the most work, e.g. prepositions, vocabulary, and word forms. Then pick one colour highlighter to show each of these three areas – highlight all of that category of errors in the student’s text, and highlight the words/phrases in your feedback telling the student what to work on. I’ve included excerpts of images Sandy provided to show what this would look like in practice.

sandy 1.PNG

I’ve recently used this kind of colour-coded feedback with advanced-level students to highlight why I’ve made the suggestions I’ve added to their work. For example, I might suggest more formal vocabulary items or add in hedging phrases. I then write in my feedback comments something like ‘Try to use more hedging to avoid overgeneralisations’ – I highlight the word ‘hedging’ in yellow, and then highlight all of my hedging suggestions in yellow throughout the student’s text. Students have told me they liked this because it made them realise that they hadn’t necessarily made a mistake or done something wrong when I added a suggestion on their text, but could see why I’d added it and how it might improve their writing. And so, if your staionery budget is not yet exhausted, I’d recommend investing in some highlighters and trying out Sandy’s approach, too!

SO what have we learnt? Well, marking doesn’t need to be dull, and it definitely doesn’t need to be a red-pen-only affair! These ways of including colour in marking students’ work can alter how students percieve the feedback they’re given, and may in the long run make it more effective – and thus more worth our valuable time! 🙂