In this episode of the podcast, I talk about future proofing our careers in English Language Teaching and the difficulties associated with this. It is entirely from my own point of view, so things may be different for you. Feel free to comment below!
If you miss the sound of my voice since the pilot episode of the FTSD podcast (which will be coming back, promise!), you can catch me yammering about listening on the Teacher Talking Time Podcast with the frankly ace Chiara Bruzzano.
If you have a spare couple of hours, you could do worse. I’m perhaps more bearable than usual, and the time it was recorded corresponded to me feeling a bit tired and wired so, yes, I’m entirely misanthropic, but hopefully not depressing.
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.
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!
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.
In this very first episode, I talk about video feedback I made for my writing students and Relational Cultural Theory.
Research that informed this:
Winstone, N. E., Nash, R. A., Rowntree, J., & Parker, M. (2017). ‘It’d be useful, but I wouldn’t use it’: Barriers to university students’ feedback seeking and recipience. Studies in Higher Education, 42(11), 2026–2041. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2015.1130032
This is the student resource for a course I am teaching this semester. It’s an OER. You need to source your own texts to use but this should give your students a bit more of an idea about text organisation and discourse analysis to hopefully read a text a bit faster.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:10.1037/0278-7318.104.22.1684