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#IATEFL First Impressions

1 Apr

It’s been an interesting day.  I’ve learnt a lot about things you should and shouldn’t do with regard to conferences.

One of the things you shouldn’t do is pack your suitcase literally as you’re walking out the door to get into the car and go to the train station.  I have no idea where my phone is – I hope that geeklet number two took a liking to it this morning and has carefully stowed it with the other toys.  But I can’t say for sure.

This leads me to the second thing you shouldn’t do with regard to conferences – involve toddlers in any way shape or form.  Getting from geek central to Harrogate has been a four day event in itself which had two main highlights:  geeklet number one refusing to sleep the night before we flew, resulting in geeklet number 1 and myself traipsing down to the hotel bar, which was then used as an impromptu obstacle course for approximately an hour and a half before geeklet number 1 announced that she was tired.  She duly fell asleep ten minutes before we had to get up.  The second main highlight was geeklet number two’s refusal to wear a seatbelt during the landing from the Gatwick to Newscastle portion of the trip and the stewards’ somewhat pointed announcement “Passengers are reminded that they should remain seated with their seatbelts fastened and that parents of small children should ensure their children do the same.”  As the parent of the only toddler out of their seat, screaming fit to burst and attempting to launch himself over the back of the chairs and charge the cockpit, I rather felt this may have been directed at us.  Stewards are reminded not to be such sarcastic sods and should ensure toddler valium is readily available in the event it is needed.

One of the things you should do is write your presentation well in advance.  I had hoped, of course, to get it done months ago, but here we are with the conference due to start tomorrow and as yet my talk remains unfinished.  I’m led to believe, through careful questioning, that I may not be the only one in this particular boat.  When I say “finished” what I mean is “written” – and I really shouldn’t be writing this post right now, I should be writing the presentation.   But it’s late so…

One of the other things you should do is put yourself about a bit.  This is my first IATEFL and while I know a lot of the people here, I only know them through social media connections, mostly being Twitter and Facebook.  I am however, fortunate to be good friends with the inestimable Andreas Grundtvig, who has this amazing technique of actually introducing himself and talking to people!  Whereas I tend to hover on the periphery thinking to myself “Is that so and so?  It looks a bit like them, but maybe it isn’t so perhaps I shouldn’t bother them.”  Andreas just says things like “Hi” and “I’m Andreas”.  This is a revelatory technique and one I hope to adopt in full force tomorrow.

Three things I learnt today:

(1)    Not to drop your laptop in front of 500 people queuing for a free lunch.

(2)    You can take the teacher out of the Young Learner classroom, but you can’t take the young learner classroom out of the teacher.  Carol Read’s welcoming comments this evening were a masterclass.  I think she could convince us all to go to war for her.  You know,  just in case TESOL invade or something.  You can watch an interview with her here: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-01/interview-carol-read

(3)    Everyone here is genuinely trying to help.  I mean everyone really, really, really wants to make tefl better.  At least I think everyone I’ve met so far does.  Tomorrow of course, we get into the violent disagreements as to how….

Finally – it looks like the online portion of IATEFL 2014 is getting up and running – I think some of the sessions are going to start going up tomorrow, but check out the interviews with some of the key speakers that have already been done and posted on the website: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/interviews/all

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Six Great Vocab Games

19 Mar

Here’s six online vocabulary games I’ve been using with my classes recently:

teflgeek word games

Test Your Vocab:  Not – strictly speaking – a game, this website seeks to measure the number of words you know and then tells you the size of your vocabulary.  If the learners are honest and don’t cheat, this could be a useful tool in helping them measure their progress, though presumably the more often they do it, the more familiar they’ll become with the test words.  And of course they could go off and research the test word corpus….  Play the game here: http://testyourvocab.com/ – and thanks to Dave C for the spot!

Free Rice:  matching words to definitions is the name of the game, but with Free Rice, every correct answer donates ten grains of rice to the World Food Program.  This one has been around for a while but is really good for broadening vocabulary out a bit as it’s based around matching synonyms.  Play the game here: http://freerice.com/ – and I think Neil told me about this, but it was a long time ago…

Root Words is an affixation based set of games that is great for First, Advanced and Proficiency students.  Either split the prefix or suffix from the rest of the word, or match them to their meanings (e.g. pre = before).  The use of terminology is a bit confusing (I understand something different by the term “root word”) and it seems aimed at native speakers, so do check the game out yourself before asking your classes to play!  The website has a lot of other vocabulary based games available, but I’ve not experiemented with any of the others yet.  Play the game here: http://www.vocabulary.co.il/root-words/

Knoword gives you the definition and asks you to type in the target word.  A really nice spin on the traditional meaning matching task – answer as many as you can before the time runs out!  Can be quite challenging – probably intermediate levels and above?  Play the game here: http://www.knoword.org/ – and thanks to Jenny for demonstrating it in her recent seminar!

Whack Attack lets you choose between English, Science or Maths options (good for the CLIL crowd!), you then choose from multiple choice questions be whacking the correctly coloured characters parading across the screen.  The English questions are mostly about the language (e.g. choose between metaphor, simile or idiom) and aimed at UK students rather than being about vocabulary per se.  Try it and see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks3/games/whack/.  Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for this one.

Only Connect is part vocabulary game, part general knowledge and part sheer torment that is based on a BBC gameshow.  I can just about manage one “wall” in every ten.  You get presented with sixteen words and you have to put them into the correct four categories.  There’s a screenshot below so you can see what I mean.  I think it depends on the individual, some of my students loved it and kept at it even though it was stupidly difficult – others got bored quite rapidly.  What I think would work quite well is that after the students have played it online and understand how it works, they can create their own versions using chopped up bits of paper and can then challenge each other.  This would be perfect for work with collocations, phrasal verbs or topic themed vocabulary revision.  You can try and play the original game here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lskhg/features/quiz.  And thanks again to Larry Ferlazzo.

Only Connect

Screenshot of the answers to an “Only Connect” wall.

Why Brain Gym is a load of rubbish

14 Mar

I can’t claim any credit for this – the original article is by the excellent debunker and Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre:

Banging your head repeatedly against the brick wall of teachers’ stupidity helps increase blood flow to your frontal lobes

February 16th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad sciencebrain gym | 105 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday February 16 2008

As time passes, largely against my will, I have become a student of nonsense. More importantly, I’ve become interested in why some forms of nonsense can lucratively persist, where others quietly fail. Brain Gym continues to produce more email than almost any other subject: usually it is from teachers, eager to defend the practice, but also from children, astonished at the sheer stupidity of what they are being taught.

*****

To read more, either click the title above or follow the link here:

http://www.badscience.net/2008/02/banging-your-head-repeatedly-against-the-brick-wall-of-teachers-stupidity-helps-to-co-ordinate-your-left-and-right-cerebral-hemispheres/

It’s well worth reading.  Thanks to Paul Read for the spot!

 

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When Language teachers do romance…

14 Feb

Teflgeek Valentines Day

Pronunciation matters people!   Happy Valentine’s Day.

The Learning Style Debate

10 Feb

I am sceptical about learning styles.  Much is made of them, CELTA and DELTA trainees are required to learn about them and to plan their lessons taking into account activities that cater to the visual, auditory or kinaesthetic sensibilities of their students, or at least to show evidence of having intended to….  Personally, I don’t doubt that people learn in different ways or have different preferences for processing information, but what I’m not sure about and have yet to see any evidence confirming, is whether changing my teaching to cater for these various styles actually has a positive effect.  Which is why I was very interested to read Katie Lepi’s “The Myth of Learning Styles” on the Edudemic blog, which presents the arguments against.  The fantastic infographic from her piece is reproduced below.

teflgeek learning styles

The original learning styles model came from the work of David Kolb, who, in the seventies, first posited his experiential learning cycle and the subsequent learning styles that could be discerned in it.  There then followed a five year argument in the journals as to the validity of his approach with many eminent academics pointing out there was no evidence for his claims.  These days, his ideas seem fairly mainstream though I suspect the way they are viewed academically depends on which field the academic concerned ploughs for a living.

In essence, Kolb borrows from earlier work by Lewin who posits a cycle :  Abstract Conceptualization – Active Experimentation – Concrete Experience – Reflective Observation and back again.  The learning process, it is argued, follows this cycle:  you have an idea, you try it out, you get your data and you decide whether it worked or not and what to do next.

Kolb then identifies four different learning styles, which rely on aspects of these cycles for their learning, where these aspects are divided into (a) how we do things and (b) how we think about things.

  • Divergers (Concrete Experience / Reflective Observation)
  • Assimilators (Abstract Conceptualization / Reflective Observation)
  • Convergers (Abstract Conceptualization / Active Experimentation)
  • Accommodators (Concrete Experience / Active Experimentation)

On a personal note – this seems somewhat unsatisfying to me and appears to unnecessarily bracket people in certain categories, surely these are better seen as learning skills that individuals can draw on at any given point, which are underwritten by the learning concepts described in the cycle?  I write this as someone who has clearly not read much of Kolb’s original writings….

Honey & Mumford, basing their work on that of Kolb, adapted these descriptions into, for want of a better term, “plain English”.

  • Activists are Accommodators
  • Reflectors are Divergers
  • Theorists are Assimilators
  • Pragmatists are Convergers

Activists are doers – they learn by experimenting and trying things out, often without considering the consequences.  They tend to have relatively short attention spans, quickly getting bored and moving on to the next thing.

Reflectors are watchers – they learn by observing the environment, gathering as much data as they can and then drawing their own conclusions.  They tend to be more cautious and to let other people make most of the running before making their own opinions known.

Theorists are thinkers – they learn by formulating a theory and then by integrating any data they have into that theory – either proving the theory or discarding it in favour of a replacement.  They prefer objective data and tend to take a logical approach to things – they can be quite rigid and dismissive of anything that doesn’t fit their theories.

Pragmatists are, unsurprisingly, practical.  They like to see what works and what doesn’t and are keen to try new ideas out and see what happens.  They love looking for new ideas to try out and tend to be more down to earth and problem solvers.

Where I think the idea of learning styles falls down slightly, is when it gets lumped together with the idea of multiple intelligences.  Jim Wingate’s 1996 articles for ETP contain a 49 item questionnaire that is intended to help teachers and learners identify which type of intelligence is dominant with them:  linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial (visual), musical, bodily – kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Wingate’s argument is that by identifying dominant types of intelligence in students and the classroom, the teacher can select activities which appeal to the learner’s intelligence type and therefore maximise the effectiveness of the input.

There are, in my view, some problems with this.

Firstly, an intelligence type is not the same thing as a learning style – the way you think and the types of activities you like to do may, or may not correspond with the way you learn, but the automatic association is for me at least, troubling.

Secondly, there is no evidence that it makes any difference.  The key article here is Pashler et al “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” which concludes “there is no adequate evidence to justify incorporating learning style assessments into educational practice”.  Their article goes on to cast doubt on the rigour of some of the studies which do show a correlation and points out that in general studies with a sound methodological base tend to contradict the idea of differentiated instruction for learning styles.

Thirdly, it presents a very black and white view of the way people learn.  A preference is just that, a preference.  I have a preference for tea over coffee and chicken over fish.  But I enjoy coffee and fish when I have them and will sometimes prefer them to the tea and chicken options.  Mackenzie (in Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology) makes the point that (a) Everyone has all the intelligences (b) you can strengthen an intelligence (c) any such survey is only ever going to be a snapshot of that particular moment and (d) the purpose of MI theory is to help people, not label them.

I don’t doubt that learning style questionnaires and multiple intelligence assessments can be useful tools in helping learners to be more aware of their cognitive processes and in identifying educational strategies they might find more enjoyable.  Equally, I think the single most valuable contribution learning style theory may have made is in pushing the concept of variety firmly into the classroom and I will continue to include as much variety in my lessons as they (or the learners) need.  But while my learners are multiple and they are intelligent – I just don’t think they don’t need me to cater to their style.

Postscript (added 11/02/14):

Russ Mayne, who blogs at the excellent and always readable “Evidence based EFL”, shared his own post on the credibility or lack thereof of learning styles theory.  His post, “Learner styles revisited: VAK-uous teaching“, is a very well argued deconstruction of learner style theory and he makes the point that it is also a bit of a sacred cow in EFL and while criticism of the idea is allowed, you aren’t allowed to discard it entirely.  It occurs to me in this context that just as a fact is merely a theory which hasn’t been disproved yet, an unproven theory is actually only a belief.  The problem with beliefs is that they tend to require you to invest your emotional and psychological selves and it is very difficult, having committed so much of yourself to an idea, to give that idea up; as negation of the belief equates in some respects to negation of the self.  But then, this is why we do research, right?  I look forward to seeing any confirmatory evidence for learning styles in due course.

References & Further Reading:

Mackenzie, Walter, 2005 “Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology”, ISTE Publications.

Mobbs, Richard “Honey & Mumford” retrieved from: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/gradschool/training/eresources/teaching/theories/honey-mumford

Pashler et al, 2008, Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 3.:  retrieved from http://steinhardtapps.es.its.nyu.edu/create/courses/2174/reading/Pashler_et_al_PSPI_9_3.pdf

Wingate, Jim, 1996.  “Multiple Intelligences” English Teaching Professional:  retrieved from: http://www.ilkogretimkalbi.com/dokuman/ingilizce/English_Teaching_Professional-/multiple.pdf

 INFOGRAPHIC FROM EDUDEMIC: http://www.edudemic.com/the-myth-of-learning-styles/

Language Needs in Europe Survey

5 Feb

Northumbria University and King’s College London are running a survey to try and discover the language needs of young adults across Europe.
If you teach young adults (18-24 range), you can help by completing the survey – and there is a separate survey that the students themselves can take.
The following text was posted in the IATEFL Facebook group and gives more information on the project as well as the key links:

Northumbria University and King’s College London (both UK), supported by the British Council, are surveying student and teacher perceptions of the English language needs of young adults in Europe, and the implications of this for English language teaching.

This survey asks teachers their views about how and why young adults learn and use English, the kinds of English they want to speak, and what this might mean for English language teaching. In the survey, the term ‘young adult’ refers to 18-24 year olds.

The survey is therefore for all English language teachers working in Europe. It should take approximately 20 minutes to complete and answers are completely confidential. (Note: Although the focus is on young adult learners, aged between 18-24 years old, teachers working with learners of all ages are invited to participate. ‘English language teachers’ is a deliberately broad criteria for taking part in the project and includes, for example, those who teach EFL, ESL, ESOL, EIL, ESP, EAP and so on, those who both teach language and train teachers, who teach and manage etc.).

The survey is available online at:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/youngadultsEnglishneedsEurope

For further information about the project, visit:

http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/sd/academic/sass/about/humanities/linguistics/linguisticsstaff/g_hall/englishlanguageneeds/?view=Standard

Research Papers from “Language Teaching”

30 Jan

As they did last year, Cambridge Journals are offering limited access to the top 10 most requested articles in 2013 from the Language Teaching Journal.

Some articles that made the list in 2012 are repeated, but there’s plenty of new material.

Access is only until the end of February – so get downloading!

Many thanks to Marisa Constantinides for sharing this on facebook.

 

Articles include:

Have fun!

 

 

 

#EdTech: Tablets in Education

28 Jan

I have a love hate relationship with my tablet.  I have a few apps that I think are genuinely useful and contribute to the smoother running of my life and a few that I keep around for reference purposes or information inflows (some of which haven’t been used in six months) and then there are some that I spend far more time on than I should and which basically fritter away more hours of my days than I have available to waste.

This is my prime concern with tablets in education.  The tablet is basically a tool.  It is neither good nor evil – it is how you use it and what you use it for that defines it’s worth.  And that comes down to the apps that are on it.

Tablets and Apps

For a much fuller overview of the issue of tablets in Education, OUP have just published a “white paper” called “Tablets and Apps in Your School” which is available as a free (registration required) pdf download.

Systematically running through things you’ll need to think about before you even start, how to prepare teaching staff to use the new technology and how you can actually use them in class – this is a comprehensive look at what tablets can be used for.

I think the problem at the moment is that tablets are still quite new and while the take up rate is increasing rapidly (not quite exponentially), it has not quite made the shift from desirable and luxurious into essential – in the same way that mobile phones have managed.  Which is not to say that they won’t, but that the requirement for people to own tablets in order to pursue education goals is quite a costly one and represents a large imposition on schools or learners.  While, in the state sector, it might be possible to centrally fund or to seek business funding for a tablet project, the private sector probably doesn’t possess the margins to go down this road.  I have enough trouble maintaining the school’s stock of audio equipment (CD players & MP3 players) without having to worry about high cost tablets (which I suppose could eventually replace all the audio kit as well!).

What will be interesting over the next few years is to see which publishers start releasing app versions of their popular coursebooks as well as maintaining the print versions.  Tablets could be incredibly efficient ways of delivering coursebook content and a quick search of the Android store shows that some publishers are already doing this:

It’s worth taking a look – some of these are free, some are free and “lite” versions of more expensive apps and some are full price.

For a good case study on how to implement tablets in a language school – International House Cordoba has been running a project for the last two years.  Jennifer Dobson reports on it in the IH Journal here: “Learning through an Ipad” – or you can watch the IH Cordoba team’s one hour webinar at last year’s IH Online Conference:

Ten Things Worth Further Investigation (#04)

7 Jan

The holiday period is over and as usual, interesting posts from other people have been piling up in my inbox, or have been glanced at and put to one side for later, more detailed, examination…

(1) Arriving today, via freetech4teachers, is the “Word Tamer” site, a flash based interactive “game” for developing students’ abilities to craft a good story.  While it’s aimed more at native speakers, I would expect B2 level learners and above to be OK with the language level and it would be quite a nice way of helping teens think about what makes a successful story (possibly for FCE?).  The only criticism I have is that you can’t combine the different elements you create while on the site, you’ll have to get the students to either make notes on paper, or transfer everything into a separate document.  Check out the site here:  http://www.wordtamer.co.uk/

(2) Academic Language seems to be a hot topic at the moment:  Stephen Krashen’s denouncement of “Academic Jibberish” is doing the rounds at the moment:  is there a tendency, he asks, for academics to obfuscate their message in obtuse language in the hope that people will agree with what they can’t understand?  This is a post I’m hoping to come back to in more detail later this week, so stay tuned!

(3) Whether “jibberish” or not – learners of English often find academic discourse difficult to access:  two recent posts are here to help with that:  Cheryl Boyd Zimmerman’s post on the OUP blog (offering a taste of her upcoming webinar) looks at “Academic Language and School Success” – offering some key considerations.  Todd Finley at Edutopia has “8 Strategies for Teaching Academic Language” – including some nice analysis tasks for learners to work with.

(4) #ELTChat offers up their highlights of the year, in the form of a nice summary by @Ven_VVE.  If you are an educator on twitter – you should check out #ELTChat – a source of much support, inspiration and innovation.  It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one for whom things go wrong – and to pick up solid advice on how to make things go right!

(5) The new year is typically a time for reflection and looking back at the successes and failures of the previous year – at the end of December Geoff Jordan posted his Aplinglink Awards for 2013:  awards were given in the categories Best Book, Best Contribution to SLA, Best Article, Best Blog, Best Video, Best New Overview, and Best Contributor to ELT Methodology.  Go read his post to find out who the winners and runners up were!

(6) Just as we reflect at this time of year, we also look forwards.  At the iTDi blog, the latest issue “13 for 2014“, has Chuck Sandy, Ann Loseva, Josette LeBlanc and Kevin Stein sharing their thoughts on the year gone by and hopes and plans for the future.

(7) Two great offerings from the Digital Play blog that were doing the rounds just before Christmas: Argument Wars and Vortex Point 2.  Argument Wars is a game based on landmark civil rights cases from the USA – the learners have to find the best arguments and find logical connections to craft supporting points, in order to win their case.  Excellent for advanced (CAE) level groups.  Vortex Point 2 is a hunt and click flash game where you have to find things and do things in the right order to solve a mystery.  Lesson plans for both these games are available via the links.  Thanks to my colleague Neil for telling me about these in the first place!

(8) The teacher as researcher is, or can be, a contentious issue; with questions as to the validity, reliability and wider applicability of such studies.  Marisa Constantinides’ latest post asks the question “Can Teachers do Research?“, looks at how they can do the research, what the lessons of such research can be and who should be learning them…  (A must read article, by the way, for anyone doing their DELTA or an MA…)

(9) How much of a students’ test score is down to the teacher?  (Or in other words, can you assess the worth of a teacher based on the performance of the student?) – Apparently, about 15% or so.  Larry Ferlazzo shared the graphic on the right, taken from an ETS sponsored lecture by Dr. Edward H. Haertal.  ETS are the providers of the TOEFL exam series, and while the lecture (downloadable in pdf via Larry’s post) makes it quite clear that the research relates to an investigation of a specific teacher assessment measure used in US education – it raises yet more interesting questions to throw into the testing debate.

(10) And finally…  and more because I think it’s just a fantastic illustration of an incredibly complex issue, but an image I think should be on every staffroom wall from the always excellent and amusing xkcd.com – a cartoon about ADD:

#IH60 Conference: Live and Online – this weekend

25 Nov

This Friday and Saturday (29th & 30th November respectively) sees the International House 60th Anniversary Conference, featuring a host of luminaries from the world of ELT live in the flesh in London and online to all across the web.

Conference speakers

The Friday sessions are a series of webinars by current IH teachers around the world, while the Saturday sessions are a series of talks given live in London and streamed over the internet for anyone who can’t be there in person.  For more information on the speakers and their sessions, visit: http://ihworld.com/60conference

IH 60 Conference

My own session is running at 2.00pm on the Friday and it looks at small things that we can do to make our classrooms a better place and to encourage better learner behaviours and better learning behaviours.  It’s based around some of the work of behavioural economist and writer Dan Ariely and in particular, two TED talks he gave on the way we make decisions and on what motivates us to do good work.  If you want to do a little background viewing beforehand, the TED talks are given below:

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