Category: Methods & Approaches

ELT Research Bites

ELT Research Bites

Followers of my blog will know that I believe we, as language teachers, all need to understand the pedagogical underpinnings of what we do in our language classrooms. That’s why I aim in my blog posts to provide information on theoretical backgrounds and lesson materials which apply them practically. I would also love for more teachers to read the research and background articles for themselves. But I know that teachers are all busy people, who may not have access to or time to access publications on the latest developments and findings from language education research.

ELT Research Bites is here to help!contributors.JPG

As the founder, Anthony Schmidt, explains: ELT Research Bites is a collaborative, multi-author website that publishes summaries of published, peer-reviewed research in a short, accessible and informative way. 

The core contributors are Anthony Schmidt, Mura Nuva, Stephen Bruce, and me!

 

Anthony describes the problem that inpsired ELT Research Bites: There’s a lot of great research out there: It ranges from empirically tested teaching activities to experiments that seek to understand the underlying mechanics of learning. The problem is, though, that this research doesn’t stand out like the latest headlines – you have to know where to look and what to look for as well as sift through a number of other articles. In addition, many of these articles are behind extremely expensive pay walls that only universities can afford. If you don’t have access to a university database, you are effectively cut off from a great deal of research. Even if you do find the research you want to read, you have to pour through pages and pages of what can be dense prose just to get to the most useful parts. Reading the abstract and jumping to the conclusion is often not enough. You have to look at the background information, the study design, the data, and the discussion, too. In other words, reading research takes precious resources and time, things teachers and students often lack.

And so ELT Research Bites was born!  

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The purpose of ELT Research Bites is to present interesting and relevant language and education research in an easily digestible format.

Anthony again:  By creating a site on which multiple authors are reading and writing about a range of articles, we hope to create for the teaching community a resource in which we share practical, peer-reviewed ideas in a way that fits their needs.

ELT Research Bites provides readers with the content and context of research articles, at a readable at the length, and with some ideas for practical implications. We hope, with these bite-size summaries of applied linguistics and pedagogy research, to allow all (language) teachers access to the insights gained through empirical published work, which teachers can adapt and apply in their own practice, whilst not taking too much of their time away from where it is needed most – the classroom.

CHECK OUT ELT Research Bites here:

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ResearchBites

 

My Webinar: “Assessing and Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Involve the Learners”

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar (my first ever!) for IATEFL’s TEA SIG. For those who weren’t able to join in, here’s a run down and a link to the video!

Assessing  Marking Writing TEASIG PPT_002This talk provides teachers with time-efficient strategies for giving feedback on EFL learners’ writing which actively involve the learners. I present and evaluate several learner-centred feedback strategies that are applicable to giving feedback on written work in diverse contexts, by presenting summaries of published research which explores their efficacy. I also explain the mechanisms underpinning the strategies’ effectiveness, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups.

Watch the webinar recording here.

The webinar was followed by a live Facebook discussion. Check it out here.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Facebook discussion: 

Clare Fielder  Someone asked: Have you ever tried developing an online digital dialogue around feedback points? Not exactly sure what you mean here, I’m afraid. I’ve used Google Docs to get peer review going – is that something in the direction you’re asking about?

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I use wikispaces and learners can comment on specific points and then develop a dialogue. Here’s a quick clip of what I mean
Sharon Hartle's photo.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder This sounds like something similar to Google Docs with the comments function. I used that last year with my students, most of them liked it, but lost energy and motivation for it by the end of term… Maybe because it’s just one more platform that they have to remember to check?
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Once again, I think it is a question of guidance and structuring, as you said. If you limit it to asking them to comment on two posts, for instance, and then reintegrate it all into class it works well. It also remains for later reference, like now. 🙂
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Our VLP doesn’t have this kind of function (well, it doesn’t work well and is hard to use) which is why I opted for Google. I definitely like the idea, because then students get feedback from various peers, not just the one who was given their work in class on peer review day! Also, you can include LDF into that – students can pose their questions on their work when they post it there, and then all the group members can help answer them! That’s a great idea!
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I’ve also experimented with iAnnotate for ipad and Schoology, which is also good.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Yes, I agree, limiting it to two comments or so does help, but doesn’t encourage them to really engage in discussion and dialogue. But, as with everything in ELT, it depends! It depends on the students, context, goals, etc.
Where I am it’s all pretty low-tech. I still have chalk boards in my classrooms! 😀

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Well tech is only as good as tech does, isn’t it and there was a time when the blackboard was considered high tech 🙂
Clare FielderClare Fielder Only if you had coloured chalk! 😉
Sharon HartleSharon Hartle Thanks Clare, for staying around and developing this discussion, which is very interesting 🙂

 

For more information about IATEFL’s TEA SIG – Teaching, Evaluation & Assessment Special Interest Group – you can find their website here.

TEA-Sig

 

Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Challenge the Red Pen’s Reign – IATEFL 2016

By popular demand…

My handout from my presentation held at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham, with the above title.

Clare IATEFL 2016 presentation

Abstract:

This talk provides teachers with time-efficient alternatives to traditional ‘red-pen correction’, by demonstrating and evaluating several effective feedback strategies that are applicable to giving feedback on writing in diverse contexts, and presenting summaries of published research which explores their efficacy. Issues including learner autonomy, motivation, and the role of technology are also briefly discussed to underpin the practical ideas presented.

Handout can be downloaded here: IATEFL 2016 conference Clare Fielder Works Cited handout.

Clare IATEFL 2016 presentation 2

5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

Reading this, I was promoted to think about my teacher beliefs about what exactly it is that makes teaching effective; what is it that I’m aiming for, that I hold as best practice? Expressing this in one sentence has actually been a quite inspiring moment for me; motivating me and giving me new energy to approach my planning for next term.
Anyway, here’s my spontaneously-constructed sentence (which I also posted in the comments section on the blog post):

**Teachers have to be passionate about teaching and about what they’re teaching, and they need to know their students and how to motivate them to get active.**

So now I’m interested in your thoughts: What is it that makes teaching most effective?
I’m not looking (necessarily) for Hattie-style lists, but try to summarise your teacher beliefs into one sentence, about what is at the heart of good teaching, for you.

Please post them in the comments below! I’m really excited about hearing from you!!
Clare

teflgeek

Earlier this year, a piece from the Edutopia website was doing the rounds under the title “5 highly effective teaching practices”.  I automatically question pieces like this as I doubt somewhat whether the purpose of the piece is actually to raise standards in the profession and develop teachers – or whether it is simply to get a bit more traffic to the website.  But perhaps I am being unnecessarily cynical?

To be fair, the practices the article suggests are generally quite effective:

  1. State the goals of the lesson and model tasks, so that students know what they are going to do and how to do it.
  2. Allow classroom discussion to encourage peer teaching
  3. Provide a variety of feedback, both on an individual and a group basis.  Allow students to feedback to the teacher.
  4. Use formative assessments (tests the students can learn from) as well as summative assessments (tests that evaluate…

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#BridgeingtheGapChallenge: The role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction

Guest post by Don Watson

Based on 

de la Fuente, M. J. (2006). Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction. Language Teaching Research 10, 3. pp. 263–295. Retrieved from: http://www.lrc.cornell.edu/events/past/2006-2007/fuentes.pdf

I assume anyone reading this blog has at least heard of Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT). But as with any approach/method etc. the thing we all, as teachers, want to know is: Does it work and how do I use it best? The study Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction attempts to answer this question when using TBLT to teach vocabulary.

Interestingly, this study also addresses another age old ELT question of (when) is it ok to talk about the language. It’s pretty well agreed that classroom interaction should be predominantly communicative in nature i.e. we use the language we are trying to teach in order to communicate, but when is it ok to explicitly discuss things like grammar or vocab. The study calls this a “focus on form” and cites Swain to argue that if learners notice certain aspects of the language they are exposed to and then compare this with their own language production, then language acquisition is more likely.

Ok, great. Let’s focus on form. But, as always, there is a but. This being a journal article, however, there is actually a however (see Lockman & Swales, 2010). And here it is: “Skehan (1998), however, remarks that it is not advisable to intervene during tasks.” He suggests that it is preferable to “intervene” after the task is complete as then it is more likely that “form–meaning relationships and pattern identification are not transitory… but are still available for attention and so more likely to be integrated into a growing interlanguage system”.

So now we have an idea of what to do and when to do it, so how does this study help? The authors describe the study as a “classroom-based, quasi-experimental study,” focusing on, second language “oral productive vocabulary acquisition of word meanings and forms”. As it’s an experiment there is a control and experimental group. In this case the “control group” is a traditional PPP (that’s Presentation, Practice and Production just in case you don’t know) lesson. So I guess in this case the PPP stands for PPPlacebo. No, that’s mean; let’s stick with “control”. So they compare a traditional PPP lesson with two versions of a Task based lesson. The first task was “a one-way, role-play, information-gap task with a planned focus on form and meaning. The task required students to use the target lexical forms while keeping attention to meaning, in order to achieve the goal of ordering food from a restaurant’s menu”. The second Task based lesson had the same first two stages as the first task based lesson, however, instead of a task repetition, “a teacher generated, explicit focus-on-forms stage was incorporated”. The “focus-on-forms” stage was designed “to explicitly clarify morphological, phonological and spelling issues.”

The study then tested the students’ ability to “retrieve” the target vocabulary immediately after the lesson and again one week after the lesson. No statistically significant difference was found for the immediate retrieval of words (although the Task based lessons were better, just not better enough) however after one week, the Task based lessons did produce significantly better results. The authors suggest that this is “due to the fewer opportunities for targeted output production and retrieval that PPP lessons offer, and to its inability to effectively focus students’ attention on targeted forms”.

And as we know, learning vocabulary is much more than simply learning the definition of a word. And this is where the real advantage of this Task+Focus-on-Form idea is because it results in “not only acquisition of the words’ basic meaning, but also of important formal/morphological aspects of words.”

So the take away from all this is: If you’re doing tasks, and I guess most of us are, don’t interrupt the task and be sure to explicitly clarify the target language after the task is complete.

References

de la Fuente, M. J. (2006). Classroom L2 vocabulary acquisition: investigating the role of pedagogical tasks and form-focused instruction. Language Teaching Research 10, 3. pp. 263–295. Retrieved from: http://www.lrc.cornell.edu/events/past/2006-2007/fuentes.pdf

Lockman & Swales (2010). Sentence Connector Frequencies in Academic Writing (and Academic Speech).  Retrieved from: http://www.readbag.com/micusp-elicorpora-files-0000-0253-sentence-connector-kibbitzer-1

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford University Press.

Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In Gass, S. and Madden, C., editors, Input in second language acquisition. Newbury House, 235–53.

#BridgingtheGapChallenge Hand-Written vs Emailed Corrective Feedback on Writing

As part of the #BridgingtheGapChallenge, here is a summary of:

Farshi, S.S. & S.K. Safa, ‘The Effect of Two Types of Corrective Feedback on EFL Learners’ Writing Skill’, Advances in Language and Literary Studies, Vol 6/1, February 2015.

This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of giving hand-written or electronic (via email) feedback on EFL learners’ written work.

Participants & Procedure

Thirty-five adult participants were involved in the stud; Azeri-Turkish speakers, who were learning English at a language institute in Iran. They were divided into three separate class groups, which met twice a week for 7 weeks and taught by the same teacher. All groups covered the same material in class and were given a writing task each week based on the lesson’s focus. Depending on which group participants they were in, they received feedback on their work in a different format: Group A: Submitted paper-versions of their work and received hand-written feedback. Group B: Submit their work by email and received their feedback electronically. Group C: Submitted their work either on paper or by email, but received no feedback from the teacher. Groups A and B revised their paragraphs using the feedback they received. Before the study, students completed pre-test writing tasks (writing two separate paragraphs), graded by three teachers, and the KET proficiency test and were found to have comparable levels of proficiency in English. They post-test score was also based on two written paragraphs, graded by three teachers. The pre-test and post-test scores were given in numerical format, on a scale from 0-20 (where 20 is good).

Findings

A paired-samples T-test (test of significant difference) was used to compare participants’ pre-test and post-test scores. On the pre-test scores, there was no significant difference between the three groups. On the post-test scores (i.e. the grades students achieved on the assessment after having received the various feedbacks on their work for 7 weeks), both Group A’s and Group B’s scores were significantly higher than those of Group C, who had received no corrective feedback on their writing. The researchers conclude that both hand-written and electronic feedback therefore have a positive impact on students’ writing skill. The key finding, though, is the significant difference between the improvements shown by participants in Groups A and B; where Group B (who had received electronic feedback) scored significantly higher than Group A (hand-written feedback), which would seem to show that feedback received electronically is more effective at improving students’ writing than hand-written feedback is.

My Own Thoughts

I can postulate various explanations for the benefit of giving feedback electronically: it feels more personal to the students, the teacher can perhaps include more detailed feedback, it is motivating for students to use their electronic devices for the English learning, etc. It would have been interesting to see what the researchers thought were the explanations for their findings.

It would also be good to know what kind of level their learners were at in their English proficiency – perhaps the effectiveness of certain feedback formats depends on level?

And also, what kind of feedback exactly was given – actual corrections? simply underlining? Comments to start a dialogue? Use of a correction code? I wonder whether these differences might have an even more significant effect on students’ improvement than simply the mode of delivery of the feedback?

“Boreout” – What it is and how to avoid it

I recently came across an interesting documentary about the effects of boredom on individuals’ psychological well-being. If you speak German, you might like to take a look: http://www.3sat.de/mediathek/?mode=play&obj=45606

Most media platforms nowadays are full of stories and information about how stress, trying to do too much, and spreading one’s energy too thinly among multiple tasks can lead to the condition ‘burnout’, with pretty serious physical and psychological consequences for the individual involved. But how many of us had every heard of the term ‘boreout’? This term describes the opposite state to burnout. The documentary and other research sources have recently shown that boreout – i.e. intense boredom, total under-stimulation – can also make people ill, in similar ways to burnout. It gives a whole new meaning to the saying ‘bored to death’!

Depending on an individual’s personality profile, they will be stimulated and motivated by various activities, and once these activities are removed from their lives, they will start to feel various symptoms of boredom. For some, it can be as simple as limited communication with others. Other individuals are more able to occupy themselves, but if their means of doing this are removed, they too will start to feel bored. A few minutes of ‘down time’ probably won’t bring about any worrying, or even noticeable, symptoms. In fact, for those used to working under stress, it may feel a bit like a holiday, though some might have a slight guilty conscience at not having ‘done enough’. But intense boredom due to a total lack of stimulation is what can lead to ‘boreout’; in its mildest form it will mean that the individual gets nothing done, and mentally starts to ‘switch off’, but over a prolonged period it can even lead to depression and physical illness, just like burnout. Working adults may start to realise that they are suffering from ‘boreout’ if having lunch with colleagues becomes the highlight of their day. They may also sleep poorly, having trouble getting going in the morning, not be able to concentrate properly, and not be motivated to start their working day. The most common cause of ‘boreout’ is not being challenged by the activities we are set. If activities are too easy, or particularly repetitive, our brains are not stimulated and we feel no sense of reward on having completed the tasks.

But boredom is not only found in the workplace; it also rears its head also in schools and classrooms around the globe – . and this is where we as teachers come in. Here’s what we can learn from the documentary:

– Long monologues by the teacher lead to boredom.

– A lack of external stimulation leads to boredom.

– More intelligent people get bored more easily.

– Individuals need to recognise when they have completed a challenge well, so that they feel psychological reward. This can be strengthened by external recognition which leads to pride in one’s work.

– Autonomy and individual responsibility lead to more creativity, and to more psychological reward. Feeling powerless and useless leads to distancing and dejection.

– ‘Boreout’ doesn’t just occur in the classroom (or at work), but can extend to other areas of life and cause a general feeling of frustration and lethargy.

– We mustn’t let our drive for efficiency oust room for creativity.

– There is a fine line between satisfying routine which shows learning/progress more clearly, and repetitive tasks which lead to boredom.

– The combination of challenge/stimulation with down time allows people to work most effectively.

Balanced correctly, this combination leads to ‘Flow’ – the ideal balance between an individual’s ability and the challenge of the tasks set. Both ‘burnout’ and ‘boreout’ are caused by imbalances between ability and the challenge of one’s work, and both lead to similar symptoms. To avoid this, we need to aim for the situation called ‘Flow’ and experiencing a sense of meaning in what we do. When we are in ‘Flow’, we can forget everything around us and ‘lose ourselves’ in our activity, losing track of time and ignoring external distractions. And afterwards enjoying the glowing feeling of psychological (internal) reward and satisfaction caused by our happy hormones.

A colleague of mine, Dr Michaela Brohm, researches in the area of motivation and positive psychology. Her blog post on this topic can be found here (in German): http://www.scilogs.de/positive-psychologie-und-lernen/alles-fliesst-ueber-die-optimale-leistungserfahrung-und-den-weg-dahin/  She explains that, in order to reach ‘Flow’, we (or our students) must feel a certain challenge in the tasks we do, but still feel that we are able to manage them. Flow is a psychological state, which can only be achieved within the individual, not by external rewards. It gives a sense of satisfaction when we have mastered a task, and enables us to go the course on longer tasks and projects.

Ideally, then, we as teachers would give our learners tasks to do which match their current ability. With large heterogeneous groups, though, this might be more difficult. If we target everything at the top learners, the others will be over-challenged and feel stress, but if we target activity below the top learners’ abilities, they will eventually experience boreout. Indeed, this is probably why some studies have found that learners are more likely to be bored in a larger class group than a smaller one. Michaela Brohm explains ideas (from Grenville-Cleave (2012): Introducing Positive Psychology. A Practical Guide.) for making simple tasks slightly more challenging, which we can employ to improve the chances that more students reach Flow:

– set a time limit for tasks which makes students work more quickly than usual, e.g. against the clock, before a song ends.

– get students to do tasks with their eyes closed, one hand behind their backs, etc. (i.e. add a physically challenging element)

– do tasks backwards or in a different order from usual

– remove external help (e.g. mobile phones, internet, dictionaries)

– get students to do tasks in a team, add a competitive element

– get students to show others how to do a task / explain the answers or solutions

– let students decide which tasks they wish to work on.

I’m sure we’ve all been ‘bored to death’ at some point in our lives, and this is not a state we’d like our learners to sink into during our lessons! Sadly, some studies have shown that around a third of students feel ‘more bored than average’ during school lessons. I hope that I’ve been able to draw more attention to the lesser known concept of ‘boreout’ here, and given some useful tips for how to get your lessons and students Flowing!

Further Reading

Csikzentmihalyi, M. (1990): Flow. The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001): Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grenville-Cleave, B. (2012): Introducing Positive Psychology. A Practical Guide. London: Icon Books