Reflective practice: not just for teachers

Here in Japan it is nearly the end of the academic year. A whole academic year of the fallout from COVID-19. Anyway, clearly anything to do with that is horrid, so I want to write about something good. Maybe even useful.

I have been teaching Authentic Listening at one of the universities I work at for 3 years now, although this is the first year that I have taught it at the advanced level. We had a lot of students that couldn’t go on their study abroad programmes this year and they needed courses at the appropriate level. I planned the syllabus out kind of last minute because I wasn’t 100% sure I would end up teaching it. Anyway, it has been largely successful, with one or two caveats which are the same caveats that come up in all remote teaching this year (i.e. students aren’t used to learning online, synchronously, and universities are not willing to reduce the course load on teachers sufficiently to make asynchronous teaching practical). The best thing, in my opinion, has been my shift to focus students more upon reflective practice (which I also did in my Rapid Reading classes this year).

What did the students reflect on?

I got my students to reflect upon their difficulties and successes in listening. Reflecting on the difficulties also entailed thinking about possible solutions to lessen the difficulties, but in an autonomous way. This is because I can’t always be there to help. A lot of the difficulty is possibly because students have not really considered how they might be able to help themselves, nor have they even been given sufficient time to reflect on their difficulties.

Some students found this so difficult to do in a meaningful way at first (mainly due to the reluctance to interact with students they don’t know, I think), but later there were some very good ideas indeed. In final presentations (worth 10% of grades) there were excellent ideas about future autonomous listening study, and the students who were quiet and not interacting with others very much showed me that actually they were invested in the class and not just faffing while their cameras and mics were off. I am quite an insecure person and I know that most people don’t care nearly as much about listening skills development as I do, but this class showed me that actually, interaction is not a proxy for skills development or a proxy for attention to information/applying the information.


Basically, a lot of students realised that their phonological knowledge improved if they paid attention to it and used the IPA to take notes of things, though this is difficult. They also became more amenable to not attempting to write down every single thing that was spoken in the things they listened to. Some students even went further and tried to find out about aspects of connected speech, segmentation and juncture, and intonation related to problems they had with their listening. The best part was not that these are solved problems, but that my students realize that they are only partially solved but they have the tools to work on the solutions outside of the (virtual) classroom.


Reflection can be a good thing but it needs to be structured if it is going to be useful at all, otherwise you get fake reflection, or reflection without further action. Here, part of a difficult skill is made the responsibility of the learners rather than the teacher(s) so classroom time can be devoted to things that actually need more intensive teacher involvement, or teacher advice.

Inexpensive Listening Pedagogy Course

I’m going to be on a podcast by Learn Your English network with the amazing Chiara Bruzzano later this month. It ties in with their course Teaching Listening Made Easy. I receive absolutely no money or anything for letting people know about this. The reason I am doing so is that when I surveyed teachers Japan in 2016 (see here) the majority of teachers said they wanted more training in listening.

If you are interested, it’s only US$24.99 (half the normal price) if you sign up before 13th July. You get a 30-page ebook, access to a webinar on the topic on 13th July. Then you have your course start on 20th July.

If you are interested you can enrol here. As I say, I get no commission, no kickbacks, I just care a lot about teaching listening because in most of the books that we use, there is no promotion of good practice, only things that any student could do by themselves for practice.

Backchannel Bingo Redux

So, this is a really short post because I am hideously tired but I wanted to note something useful here, kind of for myself, kind of to brag about the versatility of one of my resources.

Backchannel Bingo sheets (elementary PDF; intermediate PDF) can be used as way for your learners to analyse their own active listening strategies in a conversation. Here’s how.

  1. Go into breakout room in the video conferencing tool you are using.
  2. Learners set record (Zoom, Google Meet, all have this but the first two may need it turned on by administrators if you have an institutional account).
  3. Learners converse for about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Stop recording.
  5. Learners watch video and see what strategies they used.

There’s another post here about the meatspace version of Backchannel Bingo.

How can I Teach Listening Online?

So, the last post was about how I think your employer should be paying you appropriately if you are using your own computer and internet, electricity, software, etc. Does this mean I want your lessons to be rubbish? No, it does not.

Somebody from one of my workplaces said in a group email “How can I teach listening online?”

Some people say pre-listening, while-listening, post-listening.

I am not those people.

Schema activation: maybe

If it would be normal in the situation that you are going to have your listening task/activity in to be anticipated, you might want to get your students to think about what they already know about the topic and what they would expect from a talk or conversation about the topic between the types of people involved. However, this might not always be the case. I know that the ‘normal way is brainstorm and predict’, but everyone is told this and it doesn’t exactly seem to be bringing about a world of amazing listeners, does it?

So what can we do instead?

You can throw in a bit of micro-listening (Field, 2008). This is likely to make students think about what’s coming up, or even why you chose that particular tiny clip. You do it by faffing about with the start and end bits of the YouTube clip. See below where it says iframe then the link address? Well at the end of the link is a ?start=16&end=17. This means the clip starts at 16 seconds and ends at 17 seconds. You can also mess with this in Moodle. You can even do this directly in your browser.

<iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe>

Then what?

Well, what do you want your students to be able to do? Do you know whether they can’t?

With TED talks, I often have students to take lecture notes and summarize. The notetaking method is basically that I have detailed here, but I check notes in class. If I am teaching online, I suppose I can only have students show me notes in breakout rooms or send me photos and I can give feedback. This is going to be a challenge, I think, but you do what you can, don’t you.


I do actually do post listening tasks. I try to get students to react to what they just listened to. Sometimes this is not very expansive because listening is a bit tiring due to the amount of attention involved.

I also always have students reflect on what was problematic/difficult in the listening and why. I try to find that part in the listening text. If it’s a YouTube video I open the transcript and search for the key word, which usually helps; if it’s a different text with a handwritten transcript, it’s longer; if it’s a video from a popular paid streaming site, which I would never recommend you use because of legal issues, you would just have to skip and estimate). You can then give feedback about how you would go about getting that bit of listening (or even whether the effort is worth the payoff).

Hopefully this is helpful. If there is anything you disagree with, leave a comment. If you have questions, leave a comment. May the odds of your students decoding listening texts forever be in your favour!


Reflections on Extensive Listening Homework

I have been teaching an elective intermediate Authentic Listening class for two years at one of the universities I work at. During that time, I have had my students submit extensive listening journals as part of outside class study (something institution-wide). This is a place I am going to put down a few ideas about what has been more and less successful over the last 4 semesters.

Problematising listening

In setting the listening journal homework, I had my students log what problems they had with the authentic texts they were listening to. This allowed me to see whether there were problems with decoding, using top-down strategies, dealing with allophones/phonemic variation and more.

This has been most useful when done thoughtfully, though some students had just treated it as a proverbial hoop to jump through and logged the same problem week on week with insufficient detail.


In the first three semesters I requested students not to use subtitles with their listening. My rationale was that this was not sufficiently authentic and that all some students would do is read the subtitles and not listen sufficiently. In August 2019, though, I went to New Sounds and saw a great presentation by Natalia Wisniewska and Juan C. Mora (2019) on the use of L1 and/or L2 subtitles in listening. In her study, she stated that L1 subtitles allowed learners to gain more meaning, while L2 facilitated more accurate pronunciation.

Seeing as both types of subtitles had their benefits, I set my students to listen with a mix of L1 subtitles, L2 subtitles and no subtitles in the semester just completed. The results were rather good for the students who followed my instructions properly. It also resulted in more homework actually done than in previous semesters, although quite a few students did less listening without subtitles than I would have liked.

A balanced listening diet

TED talks are extremely popular with my students, though not my cup of tea, to be honest. Where students have used a lot of the same type of text, I tried to recommend something very different, such as dramas or bits of films for the TED enthusiasts, and some interviews on a popular video site for the Netflix addicts. Most students tried to balance their listening here, with at least two listens to something a bit different, but we all have our preferences, and sometimes it’s hard to expand a listing palate over just one semester. This is something I do want to build on, though.

These are just a few ideas that I plan to build on and reflect on over coming years and syllabi.


Wisniewska, N., & Mora, J. C. (2019) Can Watching Captioned Movies Improve L2 Pronunciation? (Presentation) August 31, 2019. New Sounds 2019 Conference, Waseda University.

This is a Journey into Sound – Part 2

I was intending to have this up a lot earlier. Hopefully it gives some food for thought!



* Hayes-Harb, R., Nicol, J., & Barker, J. (2010). Learning the Phonological Forms of New Words: Effects of Orthographic and Auditory Input. Language and Speech, 53(3), 367–381.

** Mathieu, L. (2016). The influence of foreign scripts on the acquisition of a second language phonological contrast. Second Language Research, 32(2), 145–170.

Showalter, C. E., & Hayes-Harb, R. (2013). Unfamiliar orthographic information and second language word learning: A novel lexicon study. Second Language Research, 29(2), 185–200.

*** Glanz, O., Derix, J., Kaur, R., Schulze-Bonhage, A., Auer, P., Aertsen, A., & Ball, T. (2018). Real-life speech production and perception have a shared premotor-cortical substrate. Scientific Reports, 8(1).

**** Iverson, P., & Kuhl, P. K. (1995). Mapping the perceptual magnet effect for speech using signal detection theory and multidimensional scaling. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 97(1), 553–562.

This is a Journey into Sound: Part 1

Yes, it’s a comic.

Further reading

Best C. T. (1995) A direct realist view of cross-language speech perception, in Strange, W. (ed.) Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience. York Press. 171-206. Retrieved April 25th 2017 from

Best, C.T. & Tyler, M. D. (2007) Nonnative and second-language speech perception. Bohn, O., & Munro, M. J. (Eds.). (2007). Language experience in second language speech learning : in honor of James Emil Flege. John Benjamins.

Flege, J. (1995) Second-language Speech Learning: Theory, Findings, and Problems. In Strange, W. (Ed) Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience: Issues in Cross-language research. Timonium, MD: York Press, pp. 229-273.

Flege, J. (2007) Language contact in bilingualism: Phonetic system interactions. In Cole, J. & Hualde, J. I. (Eds.), Laboratory Phonology Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 353-380.

Kuhl P. K., Williams, K.A., Lacerda, F, Stevens, K. N. , Lindblom, B. (1992) Linguistic experience altersphonetic perception in infants by 6 months of age. Science. 1992 Jan 31;255(5044) pp.606-8.

New working paper on teaching listening

I put up a working paper on SocArxiv about teaching listening.

Jones, M. (2018) Exploring Difficulties Faced in Teaching Elective English Listening Courses at Japanese Universities (working paper).

In this paper, an exploration of the problems encountered in teaching two elective English listening courses at Japanese universities in 2017 and 2018. Intended as a working paper with an intended audience of teaching professionals and those who support them, problems in working memory, motivation and general listening pedagogy are detailed.

Resource: Intonation Graphs

As regular readers know, I love phonology and anything to do with pronunciation and listening. I also have a need to make my learners aware of what happens in the stream of speech. They need to catch the intonation to be aware of any discourse functions, any attitudinal functions and, to the extent that they can be considered anything beyond rules of thumb, grammatical functions.
So, intonation graphs. Get the graph, draw the pitch and even write the words on the graph. Something like this.
A graph. X axis is Time. Y axis is Pitch. In the middle of the Y axis, parallel to the X axis is a midline. This graph shows the rough intonation pattern for Michael Caine's line in The Italian Job, "You're only suppose to blow the bloody doors off!"
Get it here as a Word document or PDF.