The ongoing mentoring experiment experience

A couple of months ago I put out a call on Twitter to say that I was interested in mentoring teachers who thought they might benefit from it. To be utterly transparent, I was interested in the conversation between a less/differently experienced teacher and me, the grizzled journeyman. I was not disappointed.

A whiteboard with several clarification questions written on it.

I won’t say my mentee’s name here, but I will say that they are far too modest about their experience and knowledge. They have a first degree in TESOL and unlike arrogant/ignorant younger me who thought teaching in a foreign country would be a lark and finance my novel writing, they are volunteering to build experience before seeking paid work. And still they want to get better at what they do.

So far we have chatted about giving learners more responsibility and taking a bit more agency in selecting what parts of the class materials are used, not used, and how this can still be cohesive and assure student parents and managers of the organizational that everything is educationally sound.

We have also wondered about online teaching of older children and teens and how to engage them more than just going through the motions, which is probably quite a lot more complex than it seems.

Anyhow, I look forward to our next meeting and email. I get the chance to reflect about things that I haven’t really considered at a deep level for some time. Hopefully I have shown a bit of a possible route ahead.

Pronunciation Resource Roundup Thing

Thanks to @ClareBurkeELT for suggesting this might be a useful post.

ugly man with a beard pronuncing the /a/ sound, with badly drawn IPA symbol overlaid.

ELF Pron: https://elfpron.wordpress.com/ – a really useful blog about English as a Lingua Franca and pronunciation.

Pron Bites: http://pronunciationbites.blogspot.com/ – Marina’s blog is full of good stuff!

Pron SIG: website https://pronsig.iatefl.org/ – The Pronunciation SIG of IATEFL.

Richard Cauldwell’s Speech in Action: https://www.speechinaction.org/ Lots about pronunciation, more about listening.

Hancock Mcdonald website: http://hancockmcdonald.com/ Home of the best IPA chart for teachers and learners, in my opinion.

Seeing Speech: https://www.seeingspeech.ac.uk/ipa-charts/ Does what it says. Click an IPA chart symbol and see an ultrasound or MRI video with sound.

And here’s a word from me below to demonstrate how I might demonstrate stress in tone units.

Other pronunciation posts from me.

If you have anything else you think I’ve missed, that’s what the comments are for.

Structuring Task Stages for Students – Resource

These sheets are both two-page PDFs that I have used to help students structure task-based lesson stages, especially the courses detailed in my series of posts on my role-playing game-structured courses. I also used transcription as homework as per York’s (2019) Kotoba Rollers framework.

Basically, there is planning, doing, and reflecting. The sheet shouldn’t be used in the doing stage. After the reflection, the review sheet can be used a few weeks later (I used three reviews in a 14 or 15 week course).

References

York, J. (2019). “Kotoba Rollers” walkthrough: Board games, TBLT, and player progression in a university EFL classroom

Radical Pedagogy Reading Group: Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin.

A picture of Godzilla

With people from Mastodon, I have joined a Radical Pedagogy reading group. It’s an area that I’ve got gaps in my knowledge about, despite my education in a post-structuralist, Marxist-sympathetic BA Film and Media programme.

Freire is somebody that I’d read bits by, and I had read bits from Pedagogy of the Oppressed before, but never the whole lot. So, time to put that right.

One of the main impressions that the book left me with were:

  • This doesn’t even nearly go far enough! It seems a bit weak to be saying ‘listen to the people and learn from them’. Maybe it’s not so radical nowadays. Maybe I am too experienced now? Is reading The Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the first time after teaching for 17 years like reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time at 40 years old? (Thanks Maloki!)
  • How patrician is this? At points he makes the right noises about being at one with the workers and then at other points sounds fairly outside looking in.
  • Quoting Mao, Castro and Guevara. In the 1970s. I can possibly accept that the full horrors of the Cuban regime might not have come to light. However, Maoism caused the displacement of loads of Chinese people fleeing the so-called Cultural Revolution.

That said, there are some good bits. Like this:

“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”

(p. 54)

But it gets marred a bit by some of the patrician tone which rears up in Chapters 3 and 4.

The way that people can make quite poor choices in their learning also comes up.

“at a certain point in their existential experience the oppressed feel an irresistible attraction towards the oppressors and their way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration.”

(p. 62)

I think this echoes a lot of what happens with native-speakerism and native-speaker framing.

“Problem-posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and, as such, hopeful).”

(p.84)

Contrast with the whole ‘we are preparing our children for the 65% of jobs that do not exist yet’ palaver. Is Freire’s futurity one that we predict assuredly, or one we gamble upon? I believe it requires information from learners, stakeholders and circumstances/context, to make a reasonable prediction.

And a paragraph that made me just think ‘this is commercial ELT all over’ was:

“For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposite, if those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognize the superiority of the invaders. The values of the latter thereby become the pattern for the former. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of their own culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the invaders: to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them.”

(p. 153)

The whole white-people, implicitly and often even explicitly cis, hetero, middle-class nature of coursebooks and language school marketing materials. I mean, this was being theorised best part of 50 years ago and still it manifests itself! Is an anti-cultural-imperialist ELT a lost cause?

So, I didn’t love the book. It might be a victim of hype, or just hasn’t aged well, or maybe I just have a ‘wrong’ ideology. However, I am looking forward to the next book for the group, whatever it may be.

Teaching Online: Problems & Learnings 1: PowerPoint

For my main job, I use Google Meet for teaching online and a lot of our teacher input is based on using PowerPoint slides. This is not my choice, but it was what was in place and the materials get updated every year from existing materials.

Problem

Sometimes the slideshow ‘jams’ in Google Meet presentations.

Previous solution

Don’t use slideshows, just show each slide and go through manually.

This looks terrible and sometimes there are animations in the slides that really should only be visible after students have talked about the previous point.

What I learned

In PowerPoint 2013 (yes, I know, but why would I pay for PowerPoint when it’s not actually as good as my institutional Google Slides?) you can go to the ribbon menu and select slideshow settings then disable ‘hardware graphic acceleration’.

Picture of the PowerPoint settings menu with Hardware Graphics Acceleration disabled.

You can also check whether your slides have ‘jammed’ by right clicking the slideshow in progress and select ‘show presenter mode’. You would already have selected the open slideshow to present so you don’t actually share presenter mode with your students. You can also open the task bar from speaker mode, or by right clicking in the slideshow again.

Picture of a Powerpoint slide with the right-click menu options.

This is more for me to search how I did this in about three weeks time, but hopefully it will be helpful to you too! I bet the Japanese menus are a bit difficult for some people, but, er, not much I can do.

Assessment Proxies

Illustration of a laptop computer.

I don’t think quiet classes are an unusual problem to have, especially in university settings in Japan. There are usually ways and means to encourage students to interact and communicate in their English Communication courses when we’re face to face.

The problem comes when you are using web conferencing software to teach and are expecting/expected to get some kind of student interaction occurring. I’m not talking about cameras being turned off, here; that’s a different issue, and I kind of understand the reason behind it (the same thinking behind why you wouldn’t invite guests round if your home was unseemly to you). I’m talking about an unwillingness to communicate.

It’s not every student, but a sizeable number of them. They claim to be talking in their breakout groups after the fact, but when they notice I have joined the group, silence falls. Even when I tell them, “I can’t grade you on silence!” nothing much occurs rather than a muttering.

What can I do? I can either grade everyone at an F, which is unpleasant for everyone, or I can do something else. I need some assessment proxies, to show that students have been communicating in English with one another, just not in my presence. Here are some of them:

Record your group discussion task

This was unpopular but not terrible. It also gave me solid evidence (as opposed to disputable, unrecorded performance) about how little or how much students spoke in a task.

Co-written task

I don’t like it, to be frank, because there is less spoken interaction than I would like, and lots of writing, which is beyond the remit of the spoken communication lesson. With a quiet class there tends to be less coming to a consensus involved in group decision making and more devolving decisions to the strongest or keenest student in the group.

Other things that I could do are:

Make a video together

But this is essentially the same as ‘record your task’ but with more room for IT faff and unlikely to result in more English output.

Somebody’s going to say Flipgrid

Why would I ask students to install something on their phone when they can upload work to the LMS or the institutional cloud storage?

Record and transcribe discussion

This could work, but it is a lot of work if the discussion is long. It is also more to mark. However, it does allow for consciousness-raising of students’ own utterances. I have used student task transcription previously with my RPG course.

Produce a podcast or video, ideally for an authentic audience

This is unlikely to be a favourite task, to be honest. Additionally, if it is taken up with no enthusiasm, no authentic audience would want to listen to it, although individual work was done generally well when giving presentations about their favourite architecture.

So, these are some of my assessment proxies (or possible proxies) for interaction while synchronously using voice/video over internet. What are you doing with your quiet classes? Feel free to donate your ideas to me and my three readers!

Accommodating students with ADHD by a teacher with ADHD – IPSEN SIG Newsletter article

I was humming and haa-ing about whether or not to publish this on my blog seeing as it findable by my name. What if it damages my career prospects? Well, I decided, frankly, that if anybody wouldn’t hire me because of my ADHD, well, bugger them.

I sent this to IATEFL IPSEN SIG ages ago and it got published last year and they have just made it publicly available this week. The article started out life as some CPD I did for my current department just before I joined, but fleshed out a bit, and peer edited.

It isn’t very long, and if you need it (you probably do, seeing as us ADHD people are estimated at about 5-15% of the population including as yet undiagnosed people).

Feel free to let me know if it’s useful to you, or if I have made any glaring mistakes.

Download the newsletter (issue 4) here.

Maybe not abject failures, but…

wp-image-2005690471

Well, I have about a million things to do so that explains why I am blogging.

I had my first experience of teaching more than one person at a time online last week. Here are some of my reflections.

  • Students don’t know what to do in the first week of class and that is compounded by a modality of lesson delivery that they are just not used to. This is one the things that causes so much time to be taken up with stuff.
  • Peer review on bits of paper is far easier than using the Moodle module to do it. Could I have done it with Google Docs? Potentially, but that is going to be relatively new to students as well, and they don’t all know one another’s email addresses. Having a Moodle dropbox where it’s just dropping it in and the selection of reviewers and reviewees would be so much easier. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as user friendly as I had imagined. It’s not useless, but I will have to get more familiar with it.
  • There are still checkboxes and settings in various software to check and it’s something that I need to sort out and be less adrenaline filled and more attentive to.

Pineapples?

pexels-photo
Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Pexels.com

To understand more deeply what I am going on about here, you should read Geoff Jordan’s blog post, and Mura Nava’s blog post first.

Collocations are one of the things that teachers get tasked to teach often, mainly because collocations are one of the things that appear in books often. I reckon it’s because collocations lend themselves to matching exercises and gap fills rather well. I think both the materials teams and teachers mean well.

The problem is how to get a ton of collocations in your brain to recall almost instantaneously. How do you prioritise the ones to teach and the ones to avoid? It’s the problem that underlies Geoff Jordan’s frequent criticisms of The Lexical Approach. Geoff dismisses Hoey’s work on lexical priming as poorly thought out. I don’t, but nor do I advocate a lexical approach, either. The way I understand Hoey is that words that are frequently used together give us an expectation of being together. For example, how would you finish the utterance “I fancy a ham and pineapple…”?

Nosebleed? (That was the first noun that came to mind.) Pizza? Probably the latter, because it fits due to both our experiences of the world as well as the semantics of the grammar. Lots of work by people at or from Kutas Lab (particularly Kutas & Hillyard, 1980; Bentin et al 1993; Lazlo, S. & Federmeier, 2008; Van Petten et al 1999.) has looked at these semantic expectations in reading, and some in listening, and brain scans showed that when the semantic expectation is violated, our brains produce a much larger N400 event-related potential (ERP), basically a negative electrical charge about 400ms after the stimulus, than when the expectation is met.

In a really interesting, long, quite technical article that I had to read for my MA dissertation, Nick Ellis (2006) uses psychological cueing as the foundation of his theory of learning a second language. Basically, if you see X happen shortly before Y, you associate X and Y. Cues can be stronger or weaker depending on how often them being experienced coincides for the learner. This is where I think Ellis overlaps with Hoey, and the Kutas lab work. I think it also has a lot of ramifications for teaching and learning.

Unlike Geoff, I am not quite so pessimistic about the collocation/colligation problem, or even thinking about the need for something as complex as construction grammar. Think about needs of students, think about the kinds of language experience they are likely to need, make it as understandable as possible, and cover the most commonly occurring items as often as possible – and by items I mean phonological as well as lexical and syntactical. This should help build up psychological cues.

Is it a perfect system? No, it is not. Rarely, if ever, does classroom language teaching come close to the ideal of learning a language as a child. But, the theory says it is likely to work, with some hiccups along the way. Some of the bits of language that are not salient (easily paid attention to) could fall by the wayside. There might be interventions by teachers here as when it is deemed necessary.

So, if we teach in a naturalistic way we should build up cues, no matter how long that takes, and without worrying if they are going to be anywhere near as strong as first-language cues. That, I think, is a realistic goal for language teaching.

References

Bentin, S., Kutas, M., and Hillyard, S. A. (1993) Electrophysiological evidence for task effects on semantic priming in auditory word processing, Psychophysiology 30(2), 161-169.

Ellis, N. (2006) Language acquisition as rational contingency learning. Applied Linguistics 27, 1-24.

Hoey, M. (2005). Lexical Priming. Routledge.

Jordan, G. (2020) Anybody seen a pineapple. What do you think you’re doing. April 21st 2020. https://applingtesol.wordpress.com/2020/04/21/anybody-seen-a-pineapple/

Kutas, M. and Hillyard, S. A. (1980) Reading Senseless Sentences: Brain Potentials Reflect Semantic Incongruity. Science, 1980 (207). 203-205.

Lazlo, S. & Federmeier, K.D. (2008) Minding the PS, queues, and PXQs: Uniformity of semantic processing across multiple stimulus types. Psychophysiology, 45 (2008), 458–466. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2007.00636.x

Nava, M. (2020) Why the pineapple. EFL Notes. April 22nd 2020. https://eflnotes.wordpress.com/2020/04/22/why-the-pineapple/

Van Petten, C., Coulson, S., Rubin, S., Plante, E., & Parks, M. (1999). Time course of word identification and semantic integration in spoken language. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, And Cognition, 25(2), 394-417. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.25.2.394

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="https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/cSohjlYQI2A?start=16&end=17" 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.

Post-listening

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!