The interaction of training and observation in one teacher’s development – Chapter Summary

Oooh, I’m in a book. Well, not me, because a 6’4″ book would be a bit unwieldy. But I have a chapter in Daniel Hooper & Natasha Hashimoto’s book, Teacher Narratives from the Eikaiwa Classroom: Moving Beyond “McEnglish”, which is published by Candlin & Mynard as an ebook and on actual paper. I think the book is very reasonably priced and I know that several chapters are actually brill. You can buy it from Smashwords as an ebook and Jeff Bezos’ shop in your favoured territory, and probably other places.

Cover of Teacher Narratives From the Eikaiwa Classroom: Moving Beyond "McEnglish" Edited by Daniel Hooper and Natasha Hashimoto. Foreword by Ryuko Kubota

Summary

The chapter started life as an offhand comment at a conference that all in attendance were freaks who wanted to attend a conference on their day off from work. In the chapter, I puzzle about how I got from fresh off the plane English instructor at a chain language school in Tokyo, with no experience, to where I am now and pontificating at conferences, in print and on this blog.

There’s a lot of trial and error, basically due to rushed on-the-job training. The only winner here is the company owner. Teachers are stressed and students are annoyed. Eventually I learned through incidental observation through makeshift plexiglass cubicles and talking to colleagues. However, we all have basically the same training, so there’s an argument to be made that teaching in language schools is made into menial work. The incentive at the companies I worked for to have any teaching qualifications was Y5,000 per month, which is not great, especially seeing as you got it whether you had a certificate, a diploma, or a master’s degree.

Any formal guidance given in the language schools I worked at was by managers, who rarely had any teaching qualifications themselves. This was also geared more to customer satisfaction/retention than sound pedagogy. Also, due to the lack of training that the managers had, they were going off beliefs and instinct.

So, the formal observations could be less useful than the informal, incidental ones. Also, not only seeing ‘good’ lessons helps; seeing ‘bad’ helps you to take a reality check and think about whether or not something is a good idea.

The chapter goes into theory a lot more than I have done here, but hopefully this gives you a taste.

 

New Project: The ELT Manual or How to Teach English like a Pop Star

I have started a new project, which I hope will be as fun (more fun?) and informative as the usual Freelance Teacher Self Development posts and resources. It’s going to run over on my new Patreon page, with other resources to come available, and with FTSD content available earlier than this site because webhosting and children’s shoes are expensive.

Teach Like A Pop Star – The ELT Manual

In 1988, The KLF released a book, The Manual: How to have a number one the easy way. It reduces the way to have a number one hit single to a formula and a series of actions.

ELT can work in exactly this way. People like predictable rhythms and catchy melodies. Your students like that, too. It doesn’t matter about teaching virtuosity or musical virtuosity. Hook them with a hit, they’ll be interested in your other songs, or lessons in our case.

The ELT Manual or How to Teach English like a Pop Star will reduce the variables in lesson planning and preparation for you and give you better reviews in those student surveys.

Become a Patron and get full access to the ELT Manual posts as they become available.

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.

Subtitles

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.

References

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!

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References

* 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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0023830910371460

** Mathieu, L. (2016). The influence of foreign scripts on the acquisition of a second language phonological contrast. Second Language Research, 32(2), 145–170. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267658315601882

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267658313480154

*** 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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-26801-x

**** 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. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.412280

Beyond Utility in Task-Based Language Teaching

As my two regular readers know, I am rather given toward task-based language teaching (TBLT). Quite often it has a good reputation (such as it being aligned with what we know about how languages are learned). However, it can get criticised as being rather utilitarian (see, for example, Richards & Rogers, 2001). In my opinion, and experience, it does not have to be this way.

Why does it get this reputation?

In the literature that covers TBLT we mainly see the following settings:

Continue reading “Beyond Utility in Task-Based Language Teaching”

How Do I Plan a New Course? A Guide

You get your schedule for the new teaching year. You have a new course to teach. Oh no! How much work?! Yes, it is a lot. Hopefully I can help streamline out the panic. Learn from my mistakes instead of your own.

Getting Started

What kind of course is it? Is it discrete skills, a mish-mash of skills, content, or merely an idea crafted by nymphs from a gossamer of buzzwords? This is going to dictate a lot about how you approach it.

If it’s all four skills, what can’t the learners do yet that you want them to do? If you aren’t sure, ask or have a good think. What kinds of people are your learners? Pope-Ruark (2018) advocates creating stakeholder profiles for your course. Put yourself in these different people’s shoes. Make them as realistic as possible. ‘Talk’ to them in your head. Ask questions to them and let them answer your questions and it makes this process easier. Yes, I know this sounds like the ravings of a man possessed but trust me here, or give it a try and if you don’t like it, try it your way.

Continue reading “How Do I Plan a New Course? A Guide”

Demystifying Task-Based Language Teaching

One of the hundreds of things that annoys me about language teaching1 is the use of jargon to the exclusion of all else when explaining how something works in a relatively simple way. Sometimes it’s not all that simple, but what could happen if we take the approach of keeping things simple and explaining everything as we go? Perhaps people will stop saying that the alternatives to the status quo in language teaching in general and English language teaching in particular are unworkable.

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Image: Night of the Living Dead, Public Domain.

With this in mind, I decided to write a book about Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) to demystify it and make it accessible to ordinary teachers who would like to try it but got put off it by the complexity and the density of the research literature. Then I put it off because my colleague in SLB Co-op, Neil McMillan, told me about his and Geoffrey Jordan’s plan for an online course to make TBLT a bit more viable. He then asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I jumped at the chance.

I’ve wanted to make TBLT less of a messy learning process since I had a messy learning process with it myself during my DipTESOL. It is with hindsight that I realised it really should not have been that way. If I had a mentor to guide me through the contradictory information regarding different task-based models (and there are some different ones, which I’ll look at below), and talk about how to sequence lessons and what the prerequisite work is before you even start teaching, I am sure that my stress levels would have been lower and my students might have had a couple of more straightforward lessons.

Generally speaking there are three main ‘task-based’ approaches.

1. The Nunan (2004) model, which uses tasks but really is just a Present-Practice-Produce lesson done as Produce-Practice-Present because the teacher has preset plans for focus on language items.

1a. The Willis & Willis (2007) model, which does pretty much the same as the Nunan model (in my opinion) but uses a task cycle and greater reflection but still with the focus on language items but advocating more focus on lexis.

2. The Ellis (2003) model, which mixes ‘real-world’ tasks with tasks that exist solely for pedagogy, using what Skehan (1998) calls “structure-oriented tasks” (Skehan, 1998. p. 122-123). Essentially, there will be tasks that are only there to induce use of certain grammar, vocabulary or functions. However, there is more room for Focus on Form (looking at language that learners have shown they need, rather than what the teacher presumes they need).

3. The Long (2014) model. The syllabus is created by needs analysis, and the typical language used to do it is sourced by an “analysis of discourse” (Long, 2014. p.??) Put simply, find out what learners need to do with the language and how it would normally be done. There is no looking at language just to shoehorn a language point into the lesson. Instead, there is only Focus on Form, again focusing on language learners have displayed a need for in their output (bits of speaking or writing that are not quite what would be considered an appropriate way to communicate within the group of people one intends to communicate with) or displayed a lack of understanding of in their input (i.e. bits of reading or listening that have not been understood).

SLB Co-op prefer the Long model, but acknowledge that it can be somewhat difficult for teachers without a university department full of applied linguists supporting them. This is why we are going to look at how we make TBLT workable in the real world.

The course, created by Neil McMillan, Geoffrey Jordan and I with guest contributions from Mike Long and Roger Gilabert, starts next year. To be a part of it you can find out more here.

1. Actually there probably are hundreds but there are thousands of things that I love – but anyway, I digress

References

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

Long, M. (2014). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Nunan, D. (2004) Task-Based Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: OUP.

Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007) Doing Task-Based Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

Some games made in class (and for homework)

Regular readers, or people who read the last but one post on here know that my students were making and playtesting board games as a project. The point of the games were that they should need to be played by communicating in English. All the playtest information was provided in English, too.

The students are too shy to share their games as print and play games but they did give me permission to share their games on my blog.

Travel Game

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This game has a similar mechanic to Japanese favourite Game of Life (which, incidentally I was playing with my son on Sunday, the Japanese Timeslip version). You collect money and country cards. You take country cards to collect but you can’t actually possess them until you land on or pass the country card code.

It was, unlike Game of Life, very quick to play and not at all complicated.

Nutrition Game

This game was an epic. It took 70-odd minutes of a 90-minute lesson to play. You gain calories by eating food on one board. After completion you lose calories by doing activities on the other board. The winner is the one closest to zero. There are other little twists like giving other players missed turns after collecting condiments and such. Long, but it didn’t feel like it!

Game Party

This one was so entertaining. You move from the start to the finish, collecting coins to buy cards to muck around with board positions and such. You can collect coins but more importantly win them by playing the games within the game, like ‘staring game’ (see who can stare their opponent out), arm wrestling, word association, snap and career poker which is still somewhat unclear to me. Gosh, the staring games were amazing, and the word association game with the theme of school items being won (by majority consensus) with ‘door’ was controversial enough to make the game exciting.

Next, I just have to get the evaluation sheets in.

Some Games Played in Class: Oddville and Diceplomacy

As part of one of my courses I have an assessed project where students produce a game to be played in English and that requires spoken communication. However, you can’t really produce a game if you haven’t played many. So, in addition to Saboteur and Deep Sea Adventure earlier in the course, students played Oddville and an adapted form of Diceplomacy (itself an adaptation of Diplomacy).

Oddville was pretty tough in places because it is pretty tough for some first language speakers of English to understand the rules due to about five different game mechanics joined together. However, my students basically got it.

It’s a resource management game, a strategy game and a bit of a bluffing game at times, rolled into one. You build a town, but you need to gather materials and then choose your building and assemble your workers to be there and you also need money. I said it was tough at times and it is because there’s so much to keep in memory. It was pretty communicative because of this. Basically every turn, students needed to check whether they were playing by the rules or not. Mostly everything was fine but the odd few turns with a bit of unorthodox building attempts needed to be kept in check. Still, it was generally simpler than Saboteur.

Diceplomacy was a good bit easier. We played using three teams, who had to declare alliances, war or neutrality. The first team to three wins won in our game and all strategy had to be talked through in English. In addition, if you won a round you could increase your dice value from a six-sided dice (1-6) to a ten-sided dice (0-9), but if you lost a round you decreased your dice to a four sided (1-4) dice. This also kept the game a lot more interesting.

Next up, my students are finalising designs and prototyping games so I should be able to see how they have evaluated the games soon.