Monday, 6 December 2010

Teaching Writing

Hi there! For my last discussion on Hedge's 'Teaching & Learning in the Language Classroom', I'll focus on the remaining productive skill: Writing, a very complex skill, due to all the factors and conventions which influence it. In this case, I've also been thinking about some of the ideas found in 'La Producción Escrita en Lengua Extranjera', a paper published by the Ministry of Education of GCBA, and written by Elizabeth White & Silvia Luppi, which you can read here:
I'll also make reference to Arndt & White's model for writing, a process of interrelated stages which is generally represented diagramatically like this:

Of particular interest to me are the difficulties in implementing 'process writing' in our classrooms. Here are some which I find the most salient:
  • Time constraints: According to Hedge, '...setting aside the time needed for feedback, and for the revision of several drafts, is unrealistic, particularly within the constraints of school systems, and particularly where classes are large.' On the whole, I agree with this. Even in small classes, say of 10-15 students, implementing process writing can be time-consuming. For a teacher to monitor 10 pieces of writing, give detailed and fair feedback, conferencing with students, etc is bound to demand long periods of class-time. If we consider that most of our syllabuses are 'language systems-oriented', where we need to set some time to the teaching of grammar and its practice, vocabulary and its practice, plus all the other skills - especially speaking - writing is traditionally relegated to, at most, a careful presentation, the students writing for homework, and handing it in to the teacher for (one-time) 'correction'. The development of a process writing programme will need more time if it is to be given its full importance and is expected to render success.

  • Size constraints: Similar to the time limitations, the number of students in a class will influence the practicalities of implementing this methodology. How much personalised and comprehensive feedback can a teacher give to 25 students in an 80-minutes period? Will all students recieve the same amount of attention and time? Will all students need/profit from the same amount of teacher's dedication?

  • Is process writing necessary/realistic in all situations?: Process writing is a very helpful technique for FL students who have and can afford the time to polish and improve their writing skills, especially for academic purposes. However, learners also need to develop the ability to write under time constraints, to prioritise certain things, and to know which strategy is more useful in which situation. For example, process writing, especially in the first years of learning a language, can help develop writing skills for e-mails (formal & informal) or personal blog posts, but these are texts which, nowadays, we are expected to, or want to, take fewer and fewer time in writing. Even in some academic situations, students will need to produce written material under short periods of time. However, a point for process writing here would be that, precissely because of that, learners need to be taught, from an early stage, effective process writing skills, which can later 'automatise' to produce appropriate written material in a short time...

  • Personalisation: Is process writing suitable for everyone? The 'suitability' question actually applies to all and every one practice teachers (of all subjects) implement in their practice - it's an overall educational question (Does whatever we do suit all my students?). In the case of writing, it has been observed that successful writers do engage in a process of some form whe they write, and that the general stages are similar to the ones proposed by Hedge, White & Luppi, and Arndt & White. If our responsibility is to facilitate our learners' learning process - in this case, writing - I believe that process writing can greatly contribute to that development (we need to find some framework!). Perhaps the implication here for the teacher is that not everyone will follow a neat and linear sequence of 'generating ideas-planning-drafting-reviewing-focusing-evaluating' (this is, in general, my way ;-)!). In fact, in Arndt & White's model, it is acknowledged that a writer may begin 'their' writing process at any stage, but the strategies observed are generally the same. This is something which the five writers seem to agree on.

All in all, I believe that the models presented by Hedge and by White & Luppi reflect current trends in the teaching of writing in FLs. In general, White & Luppi's clear ideas do reflect many of the stages I follow in my own teaching. They convey the fact that writing (like all language skills) must always have a communicative purpose, which should help our students see the task as meaningful and relevant. However, there is a further step that we need to take: to make the writing task as not only something the we need (or may need) to do at school, university, or at work. These specific objectives can easily be percieved by adult learners. But it is everyone - teens and adults - who can be helped to discover that writing can be a pleasurable and rewarding experience. Nowadays, with the development of the new ICTs, the possiblities of writing in a FL to share what you think, believe and feel are constantly expanding. It is up to teachers to discover and explore these possibilites, and to motivate learners to make the most of them for their own linguistic, professional and personal growth.

"Writing is long periods of thinking and short periods of writing." ~ Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 3 December 2010

Class Observation # 7: The Learner as Doer

This is my last observation report (for now!). In this lesson, I decided to focus on the activities the students carried out as a way of looking at them as 'doers', people who learn best by being actively involved in doing something with the language. The report is based on a task from Ruth Wajnryb's book and, in her view, 'active learning allows learning to be more personal and more memorable and for these reasons, is more effective.' That's why the need to come up with a range of activities which demand different things from students. That's only the beginning. Then we need to ensure that we 'sell' the activity to them. Motivating and engaging learners to do the activities is another kettle of fish! Take a look and tell me how you go about managing different types of activities and how you engage your students in them.

Observation Report # 7 - The Learner as a Doer

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Teaching Speaking

And now, the first productive skill: Speaking, which is such a priority for our students! This time, I analysed a video from an ESL classroom speaking activity. The focus of the task was teaching a function: finding a flat. Quite an original & worthwile activity, with some small limitations which I think are easily solved. Anyway, I think it's a pretty good task! You'll find the video (from YouTube) and next, my comments. Take a look and tell me what you think!

Teaching Speaking

Teaching Reading

For my discussion on the teaching of the second receptive skill, I decided to make a PowerPoint presentation. In this case, I considered some examples of things students say they do when they meet difficulty in reading comprehension, particularly when they meet a new word or phrase - 'the vocabulary question'! As you'll see through the slides, I set the students' comments followed by my impression of how effective/ineffective their strategies are. They reflect my opinion as to how much we should encourage or dicourage certain strategies. If you'd like to share your views, you're welcome. Cheers!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Class Observation # 6: Teaching Vocabulary

Hello people!
A new class observation: this one, short & quick, on teaching vocabulary (to beginner adults). Though a short activity, it was quite to the point so as to bring up some reflection on key issues of vocabulary teaching & learning. Take a look & tell me your other ways of dealing with vocabulary. See ya!

Observation Report # 6 - Teaching Vocabulary

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Class Observation # 5: Grammar as Lesson Content

Hi there!
Here's a new class observation report: 'Grammar as Lesson Content'. It was done at a beginner's class - a level I hadn't observed for a while - so the role of grammar was quite specific and to the point. Hope you're interested and let me know what you think. Regards!

Observation Report # 5 - Grammar as Lesson Content

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Teaching Listening

Hello, everyone! This is my first entry on the teaching of the language skills. This time, on listening. I've reviewed a range of ELT textbooks and created a glog. On it you'll see a number of book pages containing 1 or 2 listening tasks - just look for those in each case, ignore the other tasks. Next to each page, I've included a bubble which states the kind of listening text learners are exposed to and the task they have to carry out, e.g. listening for gist, for details, etc. This is just a sample of the range of listening texts and aims/reasons we can exploit in our classrooms. I'm sure there are many more. If you can think of others or you just want to comment on my selection, you're welcome. Hope you like it!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Teaching Grammar

Hi there! This time with a mindmap as part of my discussion of Hedge's chapter 5 (Teaching Grammar). You'll see 5 reasons given by John & Liz Soars, the authors of Headway, to explain the prominence of grammar in their materials. I discussed briefly some views for and against each of their reasons. Feel welcome to comment on these or any other views you may have as to why we should teach grammar in our classes. Thanks!

You can also see the mindmap at:

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Teaching Vocabulary

For my discussion of Hedge's chapter 4 (Vocabulary), I reviewed three coursebooks used with different levels of learner. I've listed the different types of procedure for teaching vocabulary which I considered were representative of some of the best techniques available.
Hope you can suggest other ways!

Techniques for Teaching Vocabulary

Monday, 11 October 2010

Class Observation # 4: Managing Pair work

Hello people! This time I carried out an observation on the skills needed to manage pair work. Quite a rewarding lesson this one has been! (at least for me!) I was able to observe a skill I had been eager to for a long time. And the results were quite productive. Of course, there are always things that don't go as neat and tidy as we teachers thought of when planning the lesson. However, I believe that this teacher succeeded in getting students to work very well, and she herself showed some skills I'd like to develop in my own teaching. Thanks M!
I hope you can give me some feedback on what I found out. Remember, you don't have to read everything. Just look for the points that you seem to be interested in and comment on those! Thanks for contributing!
The report is based on an observation task sheet taken from 'Classroom Oservation Tasks', by Ruth Wajnryb (CUP)Observation Report # 4 - Managing Pair Work

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Class Observation # 3: Teaching Listening

Hello everyone! Here I am again posting a new report after observing a neat lesson where some listening practice was done. This was quite an organised and successful lesson and it allowed me to concentrate on the practicalities of teaching an often daunting language skill. The way this teacher carried out the work on listening showed me more than ever that following a careful sequence of pre-, while-, and post-listening can greatly assist our learners in developing their listening skills: it's a more realistic, supportive, and specially benefitial model for our students. I'll be bearing this in mind next time I listen to something with my own students.
Comments welcome!

Observation Report # 3 - Teaching Listening

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Learner Autonomy & Learner Training

For my discussion on Hedge's chapter 3 on learning strategies and learner training, I've designed this glog on learner's needs, self-direction strategies & learner's beliefs. You'll find a number of questionnaires which can serve as springboards for learners to discuss their needs, expectations and assumptions about learning a language - especially suitable at the beginning of a course! I expect that my ideas can trigger students to contribute their own and to reflect about the best ways to learn English. You're welcome to suggest other possible additions to these 'surveys'!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Pairwork & Groupwork in the Communicative Classroom

I designed the following mindmap after reading Hedge's chapter 2 on 'the communicative classroom'. As she explains, this 'type' of classroom will involve learners in face-to-face encounters. The most common form in which these occurr is through interaction in small groups, i.e. pair and group work. In th mindmap, you'll find some of the advantages and disadvantages when applying this kind of tasks in class and some tips for their implementation. Be sure to add your own tips and ideas!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Motivation for Learning English (as provided in current coursebooks)

This is the first of a series of posts on a number of issues concerning English Language Teaching at secondary school level. The discussions will be prompted by my reading of chapters from Tricia Hedge's Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom.
The first chapter, 'Learners and Learning, Classrooms and Contexts', addresses, among others, a key issue for language teachers and learners: motivation for learning. Today, I'm reviewing two English coursebooks to explore some of the motivations they give for learning English, both explicitly as set out in their aims, and implicitly, such as in their contents. In other words, I'll try to answer: how can a textbook be motivating?

'Challenges', by Michael Harris & David Mower, Pearson Longman 2006

  • The 'informative and engaging topics'. Indeed, the authors have tried to cater for a variety of topics which are age-specific and are meant to involve adolescents and arouse their interest. The topics are generally those that teens find appealing: their lives and interests - sports, hobbies, outings, television, films, teenage concerns (bulling), music, technology, styles, mysteries, etc. Work in all four skills is contextualised in relevant situations which students can relate to and identify with.
  • As regards the learning of the form of the language, the authors have provided 'strong grammar and skills sections to give students confidence in using the language'. Students first see how grammar works in context, which will make the grammar section and the practice more memorable. 'Grammar boxes' to complete, word building sections, etc, can promote discovery learning and help students organise the language. This guidance can assist them in their developing ability to analyse grammar and engage them in more analytical thinking, which is a key step for a secondary school student.
  • A 'magazine' at the back of the book with puzzles and quizzes further caters for fast finishers, mixed ability classes, and brings more variety to class work. Its format resembles indeed that of a teen magazine, with lots of quick and fun features which are visually stimulating and often food for thought.
  • As explained by Hedge in her book, 'variety of input, pace, intensity, activity and interaction' is fundamental to promote students' motivation. In any given lesson of Challenges, students can move from a whole-class light-hearted discussion to more intensive reading, to demanding grammar focus, to contextualised and meaningful grammar practice, to pair work, and so on.
  • To add to the variety of classroom work, the Teacher's Resource Pack comes with several photocopiables activities which involve different forms of interaction, skills practice and demand varied classroom dynamics (pair, group, or whole class work. Communicative tasks try to provide an element of fun to engage learners in achieving a certain goal.

'New English File', by Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig, Oxford, 2004-2009

  • Careful thought has been given to contextualise skills work in 'topics that will arouse students' interest' and in 'engaging and stimulating texts'. For example, famous people and films, holidays and hotels, daily routines, free time, etc. are all themes which can make adults willing to discuss and get them into lively conversation.
  • New English File also conveys the assumption that variety of input, activity and interaction is key in sustaining students' motivation and helping create a smooth pace throughout a given lesson. When looking at any lesson page, we also find that language forms are learned in a context and always with a communicative purpose. Emphasis has been given to provide skills practice intended to trigger students to share their opinions and to arouse their interest.
  • Hedge that an important role for the teacher is to 'create successful experiences which will enhance motivation'. New English Files supports the teacher and learners in this aspect, as in the case of speaking tasks, which are generally 'achievable' and move progressively towards less guidance.
  • 'Practical English' lessons give students practice in typical, realistic, situations with an emphasis on 'how to survive' strategies. This really brings out the 'instrumental' dimension of motivation, the one learners are often largely interested in. Performing a role gives learners the chance to imagine how they would 'live' a situation. I've seen students get really motivated by the challenge. The accompanying DVD for these lessons often makes the situation and characters 'come alive' in amusing and entertaining scenes.
  • More communicative activities in the Teacher's Book provide more variety of interaction and activity to the lesson, helping learners consolidate the language learned.
  • The accompanying MultiROM and student's website provide further practice, assist learners in more autonomous learning and motivate them to work at their own pace, generating more confidence and personal achievement in individual learners.
All in all, I've been trying to examine some of the most salient features of these two widely acknowledged coursebooks. Both of them do have features which make them a real progress from books which were used twenty years ago, when the communicative classroom was just starting to take shape. Of course, no book is (or will ever be?) the philosopher's stone of English teaching, because no writer - no teacher and no student, for that matter - is perfect. A book is just one more element that makes up the whole of a teaching-learning situation. It should be one of the many ways to support their learning, the teacher's and learners' collaborative work being the central one, in my view. It can be of great help to motivate our students to learn English - or not... However, we teachers can make it motivating in our everyday use of it: when we plan it, adapt it, add things to it, omit things, when we teach our students how to use it and profit from it... And also our learners themselves can make it motivating, depending on their own needs and interests: I have taught the same pages from the same book to different classes with very different results! Perhaps something to keep in mind is what many teachers I know believe in : 'We teach our students, not the book.' If used in this way, a book can be really motivating.

Please be sure to bring your books!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Starting Over

At the beginning of a new school year, I'd like to sum up some of my expectations for the road we have ahead. First, I want to stay more active on line than last year. Little by little I've come to realise the potential that blogging, posting, commenting... has for any teacher trainee - or for anyone seeking to improve on their own walk of life, for that matter. So if my posting was rather sparing last year, I hope you can hear more from me soon. And of course, I'd like to hear from you all too!Second, as I'll be working with a new group of classmates, I'm especially looking forward to hearing different voices and hope to learn from them - and 'steal' some of their ideas too ;-). Third, I want this to be (another) enjoyable learning experience. It's been 4 years now since I started college, and one of my main goals has always been to enjoy what I'm learning. Of course, it'll be hard work - which I believe learning should always be - but I think it'll be worth exploring topics in a new way and making new discoveries.
In this blog I will be focusing on ELT methodology for teenagers and adults courses, age groups which I have taught before and am also teaching this year. Of both groups, I have more experience with adults. In general, adults groups give me the chance to get to know people from different walks of life and with different goals in life. They are generally dedicated and purposeful about studying English and are quite receptive of what the teacher proposes. As for teenagers, this year I'm teaching a full-teens course for the second time, so I'd like to profit from the experience as much as I can. In my case, it seems to take me a longer time to build some trust with teens. On the other hand, once I've managed to interest them in something, I've seen they can be very enthusiastic and deliver great work. One of my (great) goals would be to learn how to build that trust, or rapport, or feedback, early on and being able to maintain it - something which I myself have admired of my best teachers!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Class Observation # 3: The Teacher's Meta-Language

Back again with a new lesson observation report. This time, I chose to observe the teacher's 'meta-language'. As you will read on the scanned pages in the report - from Ruth Wajnryb's Classroom Observation Tasks - by teachers's meta-language, we mean the language of organising the classroom. In this way, it does not necessarily refer to the language or terminology used to discuss the target (or object) language itself. It involves the language the teacher uses for a variety of purposes, from greetings to correcting. As such, it is a valuable resource for teachers as facilitators of our students' learning process because it offers the class the chance of realistic language use.
Class Observation # 3