Affective Teacher Talk

On Twitter, Kevin Stein tapped into loads of teachers’ pet peeves when he asked #IsItReallyUseful ? (N.B. I know that a lot of my posts seem Twitter-related.)
I think that what it comes down to is just going into the classroom and making sure that students don’t hate English any more than they did before going in. Some ways that we wind students up might be:

  • Inadvertently insulting them
  • Do you repeat the same questions when students don’t answer? Could you rephrase it so you don’t make it look like you think they are stupid? (Allwright & Bailey)

  • Being patronizing
  • Almost all display questions (questions you already know the answer to) are ludicrous. “What’s something that’s blue?” My mood? A corpse? Instead, we might ask, “What is something you like that’s blue?” It’s not perfect but it sounds less like teacher talk and might be useful one day.

  • ‘Anyone else? Bueller?’
  • I did this loads when I first started. I think that discovery learning and eliciting have their place but when it looks like students don’t know, to maintain sanity, how about focussing on what they need to get there or relating the language to their personal experiences?

  • Empty praise

Are you clear about what is great when you exclaim, ‘Great!’? If it isn’t great, say so. You don’t have to be Sirius Snape about it but you might say, “Thanks for trying. It’s a bit difficult.” You might then go on and recast or scaffold what the learner was trying to say.
So, basically, we need to try to figure out if we’re teaching in an annoying way. Not all students love language study but almost everyone will communicate when faced with human contact. I think if we bear the above in mind (and by ‘we’ I also mean ‘me’), we stand a good chance of making classroom experiences better.
Allwright, D and Bailey, K. (1991) Focus on the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

Checking Vocab KWIC-ly

The other day I had a lesson with my TOEIC class at one of the universities I teach at and we were having a vocabulary review. I decided to check knowledge of collocations by using some collocation forks and have my students check things out using COCA.
That part of the lesson worked well; after getting the students used to productive use of the corpus and reducing the number of lines, all was good. Checking things like ‘take in’ they found that it has mainly visual or cognitive stimuli that collocates.
It might have looked like my students were having a faff about on their phones but if I don’t teach them how to use a corpus in lessons, they probably won’t be able to use it without guidance at home.
I have in the past used Twitter as a corpus with students but it doesn’t work very well to give concordances all the time.
If you are interested in working with COCA, you should definitely give Mura Nava‘s Cup of COCA posts out.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

As a teacher, I have a love/hate relationship with lesson planning. I love to have already planned, but I hate writing the plans. I’m pretty decent at thinking about tasks to do and the language use and activities to stimulate such use but when it comes to hammering it into MS Word, I don’t feel that I do myself justice. Whack it on a scruffy bit of notepaper and it’s brilliant.
Anyway, there was a Twitter discussion between Anthony Ash, Marek Kiczkowiak and I about the benefits of a detailed plan for observed lessons and such based on Anthony’s original post. Basically, the consensus was that detailed plans can be useful for professional development but that it doesn’t always occur. Marek and I said that the 10-page lesson plan is a waste of time seeing as it’s probably going to be binned, but that a bunch of Post-Its or bullet list would be fine provided one knows the reasons why one is doing what one is doing and how one is going to do it.
Anyway, it got me thinking about Preflection, a post on Steve Brown’s blog from ages ago, how knowing your learners is essential, and how taking notes in the class is important. It got me thinking about needs analysis as well.
It is my belief that all good reflective teachers carry out a needs analysis of their learners on the fly, either error analysis or just finding out about their motivation for learning. We then reflect upon these needs and make judgments about how to alter our practice to facilitate the student’s uptake of language regarding these needs. It got me thinking about incredibly detailed diagrams by Long (1977) and Chaudron (1977) in Allwright and Bailey (1991: p.101, p.106) showing the multitude of decisions that language teachers make in the classroom just for error treatment.
Because of this, I don’t think that having a hugely detailed lesson plan is important because whatever you do in the classroom occurs in the classroom at that particular moment; given this fact, the context changes due to affective factors such as learner moods/states-of-mind and effective factors such as new work assignments requiring different language skills to those previously needed or an impulsion to talk about something highly topical. The aforementioned bulleted list is, in my opinion, sufficient and a healthy allocation of contingency time useful in order to indulge learner whims.
Other than internet sources linked to above,
Allwright, D and Bailey, K. (1991) Focus on the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.