Category: IATEFL Conferences etc

Rachael Roberts’ strategies to survive overwhelm

Rachael Roberts’ strategies to survive overwhelm

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If you can relate to the post card a friend sent me recently – the image above – then Rachael Robert’s presentation at the IATEFL MaWSIG PCE on 18 June 2021 was full of tips and ideas that might interest you. And so, in this post, I’d like to share some of Rachael’s insights with you as well as my own take on the issues of stress and feeling overwhelmed.

Now, Rachael was mainly thinking about freelancers in the ELT world, but I’m sure a lot of people can identify with her opening statement. There are two main scenarios that cause stress: Too much work, and not enough work. Whether we’re overloaded with work or facing a bit of a drought on the work front, the result is the same: We worry. 

As Rachael said, especially freelancers need to make sure that they stay visible and ‘market’ themselves and their skills in order to be offered further paid work in the future. And anyone worrying about facing a scarcity of paid work in the future, might end up spending a lot of ‘work’ time on the ‘getting your name out there’ side of things – or take on too much work in the present to earn enough money for potential low periods in future. A bit like bulk buying loo roll! (That’s my comparison, don’t blame Rachael!)

I think we can all agree that this situation can cause us stress. 

Now, as Rachael reminded us, the impact that stress has on our brains and bodies is not negative per se. I mean, we evolved to feel stress for a good reason! Stress, and the hormones it makes our bodies release, is helpful for getting things done. It’s the body’s “fight or flight” response to situations perceived as a threat. So stress can help us to ‘step up’ and deal with these short-term challenges (or ‘threats’) we’re facing. However, this biological reaction is most beneficial when it is temporary. Once you’ve fought or flown from the threat, the brain and body should go back into non-stress mode.

What I guess most people mean when they say they’re “stressed”, though, is that this temporary biological reaction to challenges has ceased to be temporary! Chronic stress seriously impacts on our  physical and mental health. It can lead us to be forgetful, indecisive or really irritable, or to have trouble sleeping or maintaining our weight. In my experience, it can sometimes feel like chronic stress swallows us up and prevents us from seeing options for improving the situation. We can’t see the way out for all the loo roll, so to speak. 

And it’s here that Rachael’s talk offered very useful, practical advice for us all. Let me summarise.

  • Try to avoid taking on too much in the first place. We need to carefully consider our options and do our calculations before taking on work. Rachael mentioned a few traps to try to avoid:
    • Our natural bias makes us focus on the benefits of a current opportunity rather than the costs, such as time and energy invested and missing out on the benefit(s) of any other work we won’t be able to do if we take on this current job. Rachael suggests carefully tracking your hours and pay over time to help you make more informed decisions.
    • Another natural bias makes us think we can do more work, more quickly than we realistically can. Again, Rachael suggests keeping track of how long things really take and using that information to help us make decisions in future and hopefully avoid this bias. 
    • Don’t fully book yourself with ‘actual work’ – remember that you’ll need time for admin, meetings and self-marketing, etc. as well. If you don’t plan for this, it will basically be done during unpaid overtime hours.
  • Develop good time management strategies. Using your time effectively not only helps you to get everything done that you need to, but helps you to feel on top of things and prevent overwhelm. Here are some concrete strategies Rachael suggests:
    • Make a to-do list so that you don’t try to keep all of your tasks in mind all the time. Try to separate out task types and break large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks to go on your list. 
    • Prioritise and aim to spend more time on important but not urgent tasks, then you’ll have dealt with these things before they become urgent. 
    • Use your “Prime time” effectively – everyone has a time of day when they can concentrate and think best: don’t use that prime thinking time for unimportant things like admin or things that could be delegated or postponed; do those at times when your energy levels are low.
    • Don’t multitask, but focus on one task for a block of time – especially important things which require focus and cognitive energy. Rachael particularly recommended starting the day with a ‘block’ of important but small tasks, or first doing the tasks which you feel least like doing. 
    • Use apps to help you stay focused and to reward yourself when you do. For example pomodoro apps, or website blockers.
  • Learn to manage your energy as well as your time.  Rachael explained this much better than I can. She reminded us of the need to achieve a balance between things that motivate us, threaten us and soothe us. This can best be achieved through rest, rewarding play, and exercise. 
  • Just stop. If you’re struggling with something and feeling overwhelmed, or if you’re trying to work but not getting anything done. Stop, rest and recharge. 

I think all of us who attended Rachel’s talk felt inspired and better armed to avoid overwhelm after listening to her calmly present these tips and justifications for them. Definitely better able to deal with the million ‘tabs’ that are open in our brains, without overdosing on loo roll!

I hope that this summary helps even more people feel less stressed. And maybe also inspires you to hear more from Rachael, for example over at her website: www.life-resourceful.com/start-here

Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid? – A summary

I recently wrote a post for ELT Research Bites summarising a research article on ‘Is There a Core General Vocabulary? Introducing the New General Service List’, which introduced a new vocabulary list that, the authors propose, can inform vocabulary instruction in ELT. I thought undersdanding how such lists are put together would help teachers and writers make better decisions on how to use such vocabulary lists in their classrooms or materials. And so I was attracted to Julie Moore’s talk at IATEFL in Brighton, entitled “Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid?” to see if my thinking was in line with others who are more knowledgeable than me in such things! Let me tell you more about what Julie said… 

To start, we got a useful reminder of what vocabulary lists are: published, standrdised lists of words, phrases or chunks, based on a certain frequency criteria and usually intened for use with students. Examples Julie gave included the GSL, Oxford 3000, and the Phrasal Verbs List. Some lists are more specialised, e.g. the AWL, and others take a slightly different approach in that they try to group vocabualary items into levels at which language learners can be expected to learn them (e.g. English Vocabulary Profile, GSE). 

Why are vocabulary lists useful? 

Julie explained that the items on the lists are selected based on certain principles (which depend on the list) and can thus form a principled basis for devising vocabulary teaching syllabi. For those of us working with the language, she said, they can be a useful tool for confirming our inuitions about the frequency of words and, in ELT, their level appropriacy. They mean we don’t have to start from scratch every time we wish to compose a vocabulary teaching syllabus or material, for example using corpora or other souces to collate data about words’ frequency before we select items for inclusion. Also in this context, if different people are working on different parts of a material or syllabus, for example, using a vocbulary list to guide the language used and presented can help maintain consistency across the parts. 

But… 

Not understanding the concept of vocabulary lists or the selection criteria and data used to compile them can make using them frustrating or even downright misleading! There are some key issues that can make compiling such vocabulary lists, and then working with them, problematic. Julie mentioned a few, such as decisions on what items to count for frequency (words, lemmas, chunks, word families?) and which sense of a polyseme to use for selection or level-categorisation. In Julie’s words, the nature of the English language is “messy” and contains numerous obstacles for anyone attempting to represent it in as straightforward a form as a list! As teachers, we also know that the progression of language learning is messy, too: it’s a non-linear porocess, including learning words for active and/or receptive use, which will therefore be difficult to tame into a list! Especially regarding lists like the GSE or EVP as ‘levelling tools’, Julie reminded us (though who could forget?) about differences between learners, for example their main language, which will also affect how easy they find certain vocabulary items – and which these lists cannot possibly take into account! 

So…

Julie’s call to arms echoes my own sentiments: Do not blindly believe everything a vocabulary list seems to show you! They can be very helpful, if the right list is used wisely and for the right purpose! Vocabulary lists are one tool of many at our disposal when we need to make decisions on what to include in our syllabi, teaching or materials, alongside things such as dictionaries and our knowledge of the target learners. And the different lists were composed through different selection methodologies, from different data, and with different aims, making them more appropriate for certain purposes than others. So whether you ultimately decide to snog, marry or avoid the next handsome vocabulary list you meet, take your time to get to know it first!

Getting the (Conference Speaker) Balance Right

Getting the (Conference Speaker) Balance Right

There’s been a lot of talk about this recently – getting the balance right. The balance between men and women, between native and non-native speakers at ELT events and conferences. 

I’ve fairly recently joined the committee of an IATEFL SIG. I’m on the events team. So these kinds of ‘balance’ topics are more pertinent to me now than ever. 

This post is not really a ‘How to’: In fact, it’s me just kind of getting my thoughts in order, my pondering on the subject. There might be some tips, but this is definitely a request for more ideas!

So, let’s say we’re going to organise an ELT event. We put out a call for proposals. Various things could happen, and it’s how to deal with these that I want to talk about in this post. 

Scenario 1. We want someone to host a workshop. We review the submissions ‘blind’, i.e. without any information about the potential speaker who has submitted them. Proposal A fits the theme of our event, has a good balance in favour of practical ideas, includes interesting workshop activities, and sounds like it would be a good fit for our event. Proposal B is only loosely connected to the event’s theme, sounds too theoretical for a workshop, and the activities don’t sound like they would fit in the workshop time-slot. I’m guessing we want to accept Proposal A. Right?

And then we find out that the speaker who submitted Proposal A happens to be a white, male native speaker. Proposal B came, let’s just say, from someone who didn’t fit all of those labels. We are keen to avoid all-male or all-native-speaker presenters at our events. Should we accept Proposal B in order to fulfil this aim, and risk providing a less good workshop for our participants? I’m not really in favour of ‘positive discrimination’ in this case if it may endanger the quality of the event.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Contact the person who submitted Proposal B and explain its weaknesses, asking for a re-submission. (This might take time we don’t have. And is it fair?)

– Find another way to include Proposal B, such as a poster presentation, so that the speaker can gain experience, get their voice heard, and hopefully submit a more fitting proposal next time. (If possible…)

– Accept it this time, and keep the person who submitted Proposal B in mind for a future event.

– Extend the deadline in the hope of receiving more proposals. (This might take time we don’t have.)

– In future, provide more specific guidelines for speaker proposals. (This doesn’t solve our immediate problem.)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

 

Scenario 2: We are looking for 6 speakers for a conference. We receive 5 proposals. All of them are from male native speakers. We could arrange the day to include 5 talks and a panel discussion with those speakers. We are keen to avoid all-male or all-native-speaker presenters at our event, but if we don’t accept all of the 5 proposals, we won’t be able to fill the day.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Extend the deadline in the hope of receiving more proposals. (This might take time we don’t have.)

– Invite late proposals from other (female / non-native) speakers and re-evaluate the selection. (This poses a new set of questions:  Does this seem unfair? Who do you choose to invite a proposal from?)

– Invite other (female / non-native) speakers to take part in the panel discussion. (This poses a new set of questions: Who do you choose to invite? Should it then be an all-female panel – is that ‘positive discrimination’?)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

 

Scenario 3: We are co-organising an event with a sponsor, e.g. a publishing company. We agree that we will select 5 speakers from the proposals we receive, and they will send 5 speakers (maybe editors, authors, sales reps, etc.). We choose 3 female and 2 male speakers, of whom 3 are native and 2 are non-native speakers. We think we’ve got a pretty good balance. But the sponsoring company decides to send 5 male native speakers to hold talks at the event.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Express our concerns and ask them to send alternative (female / non-native) speakers. (Not sure how well this would go down?)

– Change our speakers so they are all female non-native speakers. (How fair is this on the others we wanted to accept?)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

From all of this pondering, what have I / we learnt? OK, so I invented the scenarios and plucked the numbers out of thin air, just to make the point. But I think you get what I mean! But, well, sometimes we might just be in a bind and not be able to change he situation. We might end up with a line-up which seems to proliferate the male native-speaker presenter bias among conference speakers /workshop hosts that we want to discourage. People will complain – but maybe they don’t understand the difficult situation we are in. Still, at the very least, we can change how we approach our event organisation in the future. And if we’re planning an event in good time, which most of the time I’d guess we are, we might (should) be able to make that extra effort to move towards a better gender and non-/native speaker balance.

It seems to me, though, that some of the roots of the problem do not lie within the powers of events organisers. For example in Scenario 2 – why do we have so few proposals? Why are none of them from non-native speakers/ women? Perhaps the call for proposals was poorly advertised, not targeted at a wide range of potential speakers? That we could fix. But if lots of people (including women and non-native speakers) saw the call, then why did they not submit a proposal? I’m not the first one to say this, and I surely won’t be the last, but I think there must be reasons why these groups sem to put themselves forward for talks less often than others. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, maybe time or money concerns, or maybe extra-professional issues. Whatever it is, probably one of the most effective ways to avoid scenarios like the ones I invented here would be to somehow help these potential speakers  see themselves as potential speakers. But the ‘How to’ on that topic will have to be another post!

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.

Why and How to get more involved with an IATEFL SIG

Why and How to get more involved with an IATEFL SIG

When you join IATEFL, you get a choice of 16 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) you can choose from within your standard membership. These SIGs provide members with opportunities for professional development in specialised areas. For a long time, I was ‘just’ a member of a SIG. I even swapped SIGs a few times when I renewed my membership. But more recently, I have come to realise that just joining up and reading the SIG’s newsletters is not really making the most of my membership! Getting more actively involved can open the door to new ways to network and share knowledge on that area of ELT – the heart of what IATEFL is there for. Although this sounds like an advert, really the target audience of this post are already IATEFL members, so I’m not trying to convince you to spend money and join something new, but I’d like to share some ways I have made a bit more out of my SIG membership, and maybe inspire you to do the same!

Webinars: IATEFL and the SIGs organise regular, free webinars and online talks by experts on a wide range of topics. These usually last for just one hour, which for me usually fits quite nicely into my schedule. I’ve learnt new things from these webinars, even when I thought I already knew quite a lot about the topic! Also, I’ve noticed that I recognise the names of people who attend the same webinars as me, which has opened up a connection for us to be in touch more often (usually on social media) beyond the webinar setting. The list of upcoming webinars can be found on IATEFL’s website: here.

Blogs: Most SIGs have a blog section on their website where you can read guest posts by various SIG members. I’ve volunteered a couple of posts, mainly because I had some ideas relevant to the area of ‘special interest’ and wanted to share and discuss them with SIG members. In my experience, the SIGs are very happy to find people willing to contribute a blog post, so do get in touch with the committee if you have an idea. Also, some SIGs look for ‘roving reporters’ to blog about their experiences at SIG events, so if you’re going to one, ask the SIG committee about that opportunity, too! I’ve not done that yet, but it sounds like an easy and fun way to contribute!

Competitions: Some SIGs host competitions on various themes relevant to their ‘special interest’. Often, competition entries will be posted on their website, and you could win a ticket to one of their events or other prizes relevant to the theme. I’ve only entered one competition so far and I found it much easier than writing, for example, a scholarship application, but still very inspiring for my own work! These competitions are usually publicised on the SIGS’ websites and on social media, and I think they’re a nice starting point for someone who wants to get involved a bit more but can’t commit much time.

Meetups: These are local, informal events where members of a SIG and those interested in becoming members get together for a coffee / glass of something cool and a chat. If you find out about one near you (they’re usually advertised on the SIG’s website and on social media) then I’d definitely recommend going along! I’ve found them to be a great way to meet people I have professional interests in common with, in a cosy, friendly setting. Or, if there don’t seem to be any near you, then volunteer to organise one yourself! (That’s what I did  😉 ) Just contact one of the SIG’s events coordinators to get the ball rolling, and you’ll see it’s an easy way to get involved and give something back to the IATEFL community!

Social media: Most SIGs have groups and/or accounts on popular social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, and some also have discussion lists. I’m in a couple of the Facebook groups and follow several SIGs on Twitter. Twitter is a great way to find out about upcoming events, competitions, etc. And on Facebook there is more scope of discussion; if I have a problem or question about something I’m working on, I’ve found I often get help in the relevant Facebook group really quickly! These are great spaces for finding support and colleagues with similar interests. And ‘meeting’ people on social media means you have people to grab a coffee with at face-to-face events, if you’re worried about not knowing anyone. (Note: for this to work you need to have a recognisable profile photo!)

Conferences: Alongside hosting a SIG Day at the annual IATEFL conference, and a PCE (pre-conference event) the day before the main conference, most SIGs organise or co-host other smaller conference-type events throughout the year. You can find these by looking at the SIG’s website, where you’ll usually find information about how to register and also submit a proposal to give a talk or present a poster, etc. For me, it is often easier to fit in these shorter events than a whole week at the annual conference, and they’re often a bit easier on the budget, too! I’ve also found networking easier at these smaller face-to-face events, and they’re a perfect opportunity to talk to SIG committee members about how else you could get involved.

 

As a closing point, I should probably tell you that I have recently been elected to the committee of a SIG (yay!), so I’m taking my involvement to the next level. But the aim of this post is not to advertise just one SIG (which is why I haven’t mentioned which one I’m in 😉 ) but just to show how much more IATEFL members can get out of whichever SIG they have chosen to join! I hope you feel motivated and inspired, and look forward to hearing about your future SIG involvements!!

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?

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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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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