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.
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.
Keep it simple!
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.
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.
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.
It’s almost the end of the semester in Japan, and therefore time to be considering new syllabus ideas and whatnot. Also, somewhat serendipitously, I heard the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast episode with Harriet Schwartz, where she talked about Connected Teaching and Relational Cultural Theory (RCT) . It sounded interesting, pondering how we react to the relationships we have with our students.
Basically, RCT started in psychiatry, and was a reaction to the science of treating everyone based on studies by/for white men. It is a radical theory that, boiled down, says we thrive on relationships and support rather than hyper-independence and individualism.
The outcomes of connected relationships brings about more energy (‘zest’ in the literature), clarity, sense of worth, empowerment and a desire for more connection (Hartling & Sparks, 2008). This should, in my opinion, bring about more motivation to spend time in the classroom and for autonomous study outside to prepare for deepening communication for deeper relationship building in the classroom. It also benefits teachers (or me, seeing as I am looking into it for my own classes), to have more sense of worth and purpose, and more energy, etc. That can’t be a bad thing, either.
All of this, I think, links to building/co-creating learning and Freire, and also with critical pedagogy in general. I am planning to write more on this, and will flesh out links to other concepts and applications then.
Hartling, L., & Sparks, E. (2008) Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World, Women & Therapy, 31(2-4), 165-188, DOI:
I have to teach with a coursebook once a week. It isn’t terrible but it kind of sets boundaries a bit on what the twenty five students feel they can talk about. To prepare them for an assessment I am busy sorting out, a timed discussion, and extend beyond the book, I set up the following activity:
- Talk with the person next to you about the biggest issues and problems regarding garbage on a world scale.
- Go around, take the major themes of these discussions. Set up 6 stations to talk about those themes, one theme per station. Students have 6 x 3 minutes to have short discussions. They must visit at least three stations, and may choose to stay longer at some if it is particularly interesting.
- When finished, log the three most interesting/striking/important points in their notebooks.
- Find three people that they didn’t talk to at all in our lessons that day. Have three different conversations about those points and the three other people’s points.
- Edit and add to their own points. Homework is to research a bit deeper.
I am going to follow this up with some work on discourse markers for argument structure next week.
The activity worked really well and I am likely to repeat it in the future for other EGAP/discussion classes. The students were really interested in making the topics their own and expanded upon it very well, with vocabulary fed in and a bit of hot correction.
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. 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
*** 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
Well, the Summer was busy and the start of the Autumn was quite busy too. I was supposed to be revising a paper to get it published but what happened was that I revised it and still didn’t get it published because it is the account of unsystematic mess.
I went to the busiest conference I’ve been to so far (New Sounds 2019) and met lots of phonology and phonetics people. I presented and didn’t mess up, so it was relieving because I felt a bit like a fish out of water. Or Aquaman’s weakling brother.
There was the usual stress over student questionnaires, which is unreasonable because I know that much of the feedback is positive or neutral but my brain focuses and cycles through the negative stuff as my own cinema of the damned. I am just about over it now (thanks to slightly out of sync workplaces), and wish I could find a way to just move on from this.
Other than that, I had my first overnight trip with students which was quite fun, even if I wouldn’t choose those activities myself. Directly after that, I had the start of the semester, so I had to remember what I planned at the start of the summer (and what I planned to change).
Anyway, here is some stuff that is working for me:
LMS as document repository so I don’t spend hours a week photocopying.
Adapted Cornell notes, for myself, and also for my (intermediate and up) listening students, which will likely be written up soon as a blog post.
Bullet Journaling for myself (still) for daily agenda and log and ultrashort lesson plans which is exactly as you imagine.
I have a couple of bits knocking around at the minute.
One is a blog post about working conditions on the iTDi blog.
The other is a piece called ‘Accommodating students with ADHD by a teacher with ADHD’ for IATEFL’s IPSEN SIG’s newsletter (link will be added when it goes fully public).
Hopefully one or both will be edifying.