Virtual Learning Environments and Learning Management Systems – an #ELTChat Summary

1 Oct

VLE_front

What’s the difference between a VLE and a LMS?

Nothing – apparently.  There was some confusion over the terms and whether there was a difference between them or not, whether they might represent the difference between synchronous (live interaction) and asynchronous (delayed interaction) systems, or whether they might represent a difference in function.  @ShaunWilden linked to the “Virtual Learning Environment” Wikipedia article, which looks at what both terms mean and what the differences are (there aren’t any, it’s basically a geographical difference).

Why use a VLE / LMS?

One of the initial questions here was whether VLE/LMS is intended to replace the real or not.  While there might be more of a move towards 100% online learning (@theteacherjames) and you can use a VLE with one-to-ones or small groups in an exclusively online capacity (@cioccas), the general consensus was that a VLE serves as a complement or supplement to existing classes in the real.  It supports classroom learning (@mattellman), and can replace some aspects of it (@Marisa_C) – in other words it becomes a great example of blended learning (@idc74).

There are activities that you can do in an online environment that you can’t do in the real and vice versa (@Marisa_C), and @mattellman suggested that online is good for delivering seminars but that language learners need the face to face contact – though @Marisa_C rebutted this by saying that you can teach how you like, online or not, it’s what you do that matters.

@HanaTicha provided one of the best reasons for using a VLE – it brings teachers and students together and takes the learning process outside the classroom.

What can you do with a VLE?

@MicaelaCarey asked the question, to which @shaunwilden replied (very much in the spirit of Marlon Brando) – what do you want to do with them?

There seemed to be three main strands – administrative functions, pedagogical functions and as a feedback channel.  @Julian_LEnfant talked about using VLEs with EAP courses and Writing courses, and with teachers for course announcements, administration and documentation.

@cioccas made the point that it’s very helpful if you’ve had some training in course design – as online courses need to be as well designed and facilitated as face to face courses do

The discussions and reflections that can ensue in online courses, whether purely online or blended, were one of the things that @Marisa_C most enjoyed about Moodle courses.

How do you do it?

Many of the VLEs that are available are relatively easy to pick up and you can learn a lot by just playing around with them (@shaunwilden & @Marisa_C), though if you’d like a bit more guidance there is often plenty of help available via the internet or You Tube.  If that doesn’t work, you could always hassle people who have more experience than you do!

Or, you could follow @Ven_VVE’s example and sign up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Here’s the record of the learn.moodle.net MOOC, though motivation to see a MOOC through to the bitter end can sometimes be a problem.  @Julian_LEnfant used Lynda to train up on his VLEs.  @cioccas rated Jeff Stanford’s Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching as being excellent and a great source of ideas, even if slightly dated now.  @Ven_VVE mentioned Matt Bury’s page as a good source of information on Moodle

Two things to keep an eye on when using VLEs are:  numbers and motivation.  Numbers can be a big problem – the more people, the more posts, the more the tutor has to read and react to (@cioccas), and motivation can wane, especially when the delivery is asynchronous and people aren’t getting instantaneous reactions to their input (@subnuggurat).

@Marisa_C suggests a multi-platform approach – not limiting yourself to one VLE as one VLE very rarely does everything you want, but instead using different systems for different purposes:  (1) delivery (2) resources (3) communication.

While not every VLE has everything you need, it is possible to add things in.  @shaunwilden highlighted the Vocaroo widgets page, which allows you to embed vocaroo on your own webpage and @Marisa_C mentioned a free (but limited) video-conferencing website called Tokbox, which she had in one of her wikis.

What to use?

The big question…

Lots of different systems were mentioned, with varying degrees of comment, expansion and recommendation.  This next section is basically an alphabetical list, with a precis of any comments as attached:

  • Adobe Connect:  ipad app
  • Blackboard / Blackboard collaborate:
  • Canvas: free trial, then pay?
  • Edmodo:  free, good for YLs (has badges, registration, clear roles, is a closed and safe environment), not so good with very large groups, not exclusive to YLs though, a bit of a mixed bag – some bits are good / some not so much.
  • Moodle:  free to download, complicated to set up (You Tube tutorials available), includes wikis and blogs as a watered down version of themselves, need add ons for audio etc (though could embed vocaroo etc as above).
  • OLMS (Oxford Learning Management Systems):
  • PBWiki:  (editors note – this now seems to have mutated into something called pbworks…)
  • wiggio: has meetings availability, allows voice / video messages
  • Wiki Matrix – an overview of different wikis and what they can do
  • Wikipsaces: good for basic contact with students, uploading files, has some forum functionality
  • WiziQ – has a free version for teachers, ipad app,
  • Writing Skills Interactive – a software package you can use with Blackboard.

In Conclusion:

I was the one who originally suggested the chat topic, as it’s something I’m interested in experimenting with this year, and I wanted to know what #eltchatters (who are generally fairly clued up about all thing edtech) used, what they did with what they used and ultimately, what they recommended.  I think I got an answer to that question – at least I have chosen a VLE from this chat that I’m going to try mucking about with this year, so my thanks to all the chatters involved.

E-Learning-Assistant-Desk-and-Laptop-3

ELT Dissertations – A New Blog Project

19 Sep

My own dissertation experience was a particularly stressful one.  In effect I wrote two dissertations:  (a) the one I wanted to write and which I thought was going well and (b) the one my supervisor wanted me to write.  Both required an inordinate amount of time and effort, though the time and effort that went into the second one got squeezed into a much shorter time period than the first.  Neither dissertation has had a very wide readership – my wife read through the first manuscript and made some useful suggestions.  Then my supervisor read it and suggested a few more … “fundamental” changes.  I didn’t have time for my wife to read the second dissertation and in the end only I, my supervisor and the second marker know what’s in it.

Does any of that sound familiar?

The stress is probably familiar to just about every dissertation writer everywhere – a google image search for “dissertation” throws up the “related categories” of:  Hell / I Hate / Stress / Panic and… Writing.

What annoys me most though is that of the three people who have read my dissertation, only one of them is that bothered about what was actually in it.  Obviously I’m making a big assumption on the part of my supervisor and my marker – if I do them a disservice then I apologise, but I suspect that for them, my dissertation is more about the demonstration of academic acuity than it is about the research area I investigated.  Not that my dissertation was particularly ground breaking in the topic area or scope of research, but still…

Equally, research only progresses by the distribution, reading, replication and critiquing of pre-existing work.  If a large proportion of that work never gets disseminated, then how can we progress?  You can’t build anything meaningful if someone keeps hiding all the bricks.  Dogme ELT has become an area of interest for many people, I know of at least four dissertations that have been written on the subject by different people around the world – it’s fair to say there’s a degree of repetition amongst them and it’s not their fault – they were unaware of each other’s efforts and therefore were unable to build on what had gone before.

Plus, there are so many arguments about what works and what doesn’t work, that any evidence which might help throw a bit of light on why something works (or not as the case may be) is surely to be welcomed?  Yet it seems as though much of it is doomed to be ignored.

And it shouldn’t be.  The excellent “Evidence Based EFL” fights a lonely corner critiquing the fads and trends and demanding at least some form of evidence for what many in the profession take for granted.  Russell Willis in ELTNews makes a convincing case for why “We need Evidence-Based ELT“.  We are generating a substantial amount of research into ELT on an annual basis while it might not provide the big answers to the big questions, it all helps chip away at the cliff of “what we don’t know”.

So it seems sensible to suggest that there should be a resource, freely available to all, where any interested parties can find the results of academic work in ELT – in short that there should be a home for all those dissertations that might not otherwise gain the readership that they deserve.

And here it is:

http://eltdissertation.wordpress.com/about/

I’m keen to add as many dissertations as possible, so if you have one that you would like to share, or if you know someone who would, then please tell them about the site.

dissertation

Thank you!

Strategies for a New Course – an #ELTChat Summary

16 Sep

Like the cuckoo heralding spring, the first #ELTChat of the year has arrived.  As many teachers around the world are getting ready for their first lessons with new classes, this chat aimed at sharing ideas and strategies for starting things off on the right foot.

Taking part in a lively conversation were ….

eltchat participants

….. and apologies to anyone who’s been missed out!  The chat took place on Wednesday 11th September.

There were about five key themes that emerged:

  1. Getting to know you / Icebreaker activities
  2. Those first few lessons
  3. Routines & Systems
  4. Focusing on the learner(s)
  5. Tech

Getting to Know you activities / Icebreakers:

The main problem most people confessed to here was in learning and remembering everyone’s names.  Suggestions to help with this included taking a class photo / individual portraits (which could also then be used in any learning management system, e.g. edmodo), or using student generated namecards, or making notes in the register – though it was pointed out you have to be careful about what you write!

Some great “getting to know you” activities were shared:

  • Writing sentences about yourself on the board and students guessing which are true / which are false
  • Writing sentences about yourself up on the board and students guess the lie
  • Students guess what’s in your bag
  • Writing six keywords / phrases on the board around a star – students guess the importance / relevance to you.  Then they do the same activity in small groups.
  • Taking in a selection of items of personal importance (realia) and students guess the importance / significance of the items to you
  • Creating fake facebook profiles for each other
  • Giving students GPS co-ordinates to your location in the town and having them track you down with their smart phones and introduce themselves
  • Students coming up with the titles for their autobiographies and then explaining them to each other
  • Finding things in common
  • Writing their likes and dislikes down on separate slips of paper, scrunching them up, having a “snowball” fight and then having to return the slips of paper they end up with to the original owner.
  • Sticking bits of A4 to the students’ backs and having everyone go round writing adjectives on the paper that relate to the person they’re writing on.
  • The ID cards activity (SS interview each other and perform introductions) from “Keep Talking by Penny Ur” (though I think Keep Talking was by Friederike Klippel, so not sure if the activity’s in this or in one of Penny Ur’s many other books).

Links from this section:

The First (few) Lesson(s): 

There’s inevitably a bit of crossover between this and the previous section, but there was more of a focus on establishing the class and putting everything in place for a successful course.

  • Start building group dynamics (it takes 8 hours of contact to effectively build a group rapport).  Students may not be used to working collaboratively or in teams of any kind, so it’s important to establish group working principles early on.
  • Negotiate the learning goals for the class.  Find out what their expectations for the course are and help them to set achievable targets for the first week / month / term.
  • Get any Learning Management systems up and running and familiarise the students with the systems.  Tell students about any technology you’ll need them to use during the course.
  • Negotiate the classroom rules with the learners – make sure everyone quickly understands what’s acceptable or what’s not acceptable classroom behaviour as this will impact the entire academic year!  This could be done as a classroom contract to be designed and written up by the students (outlining expectations on both students AND teacher) and to be signed by all.  Or younger learners might enjoy drawing up posters that stipulate the rules that have been negotiated / imposed (!).
  • Two books were mentioned:  Jill Hadfield’s “Classroom Dynamics” and “Teaching Unplugged” by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury.

Links from this section:

Slave to routine

Routines & Systems:

The beginning of a new course is that period where everyone is getting used to each other, working out what they can expect from each other and what is expected of them, developing the interactions and systems that define the community of practice.  As such it’s important to remember that in establishing routines and systems – IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE FIRST LESSON – and the key thing for any routine is maintaining it.

Once a routine has been solidly established, then it’s possible to build in more flexibility and variety within routines can be a key way of keeping students engaged and motivated.  A routine doesn’t mean doing the same thing all the time, it’s more about building a framework to operate in and to plug different activities, songs etc into.  (Editor’s note:  this didn’t come up in the chat, but Charles Rei’s post “I Only Have One Lesson Plan” is a great example of this principle).

Routines suggested during the chat seemed to fall into three categories:  (1) Behavourial – timekeeping, acceptable behaviours, classroom rules (see above) etc;  (2) Administrative – setting up tutorials and the like;  (3) Pedagogical – developing study skills, learner training, incorporating activities into the lessons (public speaking / show and tell / vocabulary revision / etc).

Focusing on the Learners:

There was a sizeable chunk of chat looking at the differences between young learner and adult classes and what the differences might mean for starting courses off on the right foot.  For example, is it more important for young learner classes to have routines than adult classes?

The consensus was that kids need routines to feel more settled and that routines are therefore very important for young learner classes, though these routines might focus more on rules and procedures, and involve more ice-breaking or more warmers.  Adults on the other hand, need to feel more part of the process and not just passive recipients of an imposed system.  Everyone however, regardless of age, likes to know what to expect and routines can provide that certainty, though it is important to try and manage these expectations so that learners’ previous experiences of education don’t impose themselves – breaking dependency on the teacher.

With adults, you can use the first lesson(s) more as a demonstration of how things might be different to their expectations and as a clear statement of how things on this course are going to be.  But don’t set yourself unsustainable standards….

Group work and project work are good ways of creating team spirit and building rapport within the class.

Tech:

As mentioned briefly above, the first few lessons is also when you need to establish with the classes what, if any, technology or online components are going to be used with the course and to get the learners signed up and engaged with it all.

If there is going to be an online component, then it is also important to establish the rules and boundaries that go with that – in other words to negotiate (see also above) the netiquette.

ELTChat QR Code

One other area of tech that came up was QR codes.  If you’ve not met QR codes before, then the image on the right is an example:

Essentially a QR code is a bit like a bar code that you can generate for pretty much anything on the internet.  (The one on the right, for example, will take you to the ELT Chat homepage).  They can be read by smartphones with a QR code reader app – not sure if they can be read by anything else…

You could, for example, generate QR codes for students to find out about you from your online information / profile.  Or use them as links to your online components.

More advice here:

And Finally:

#ELTChat has talked about first lessons before…  to read Genevieve White’s summary of “First Lesson Activities” click the link.

Apologies if I missed anything or anyone off the summary – please feel free to add things in via the comments section.

100 years of English Exams

13 Sep Cambridge English Exams the first hundred years

Dropping through the door of the school this morning was a lovely bundle of goodies from CELA (Cambridge English Language Assessment):  the latest copy of “Research Notes”, several posters and two books!  I guess this is one of the perks of being a Cambridge test centre – the occasional freebie.  The books are (1) Hawkey and Milanovic’s “Cambridge English Exams – The First Hundred Years” and (2) Weir, Vidakovic & Galaczi’s “Measured Constructs – A history of Cambridge English language examinations 1913 – 2012″.

You may have been able to spot a theme there…

Cambridge English Exams the first hundred years                                   Measured Constructs

Obviously, it’s not been possible to read the combined 1000 pages plus in any great depth so far, so what follows are really only initial impressions.

The first book comes across as a bit of a corporate hagiography.  It is supremely glossy and full of lovely colour images to break up what would otherwise be quite a large amount of fairly dense text.  The content does look interesting, for anyone who’s interested in these things, but the book seems to deal more with the evolution of the Cambridge brand, product range and corporate partners than anything else – I’m not entirely sure who the book is aimed at, or why they might want to read it.  I was also quite surprised that this website not only gets a mention (on page 325), but that one of the diagrams from my “Changes to CPE” post is reproduced.  It is always nice to know that someone rates your work highly enough to reproduce it and I should be quite clear that it was attributed to this website; nevertheless it raises some interesting questions about copyright and reproduction permissions.  When an organisation like Cambridge University Press reproduces content without having asked permission, does that make it OK for the rest of us to do it as well?  (NB:  I have not sought permission from Cambridge to reproduce the images in this post…)  To read more on this topic, check out Sue Lyon-Jones’ post “Copyright, Plagiarism and Digital Literacy“.

The second book, Measured Constructs, is to my mind the much more interesting of the two, though it is also likely to appeal to a specialist audience.  It offers an incredibly in depth description of the evolution of the Cambridge language exams series, from a construct perspective – in other words how the testing of language knowledge and language skills has changed over the years.  In achieving this, the book delves into the “significant, theoretical and practical advances in pedagogy and socio-political developments” within ELT since the turn of the last century.  Thus, as views on the nature of language acquisition, learning and purpose have shifted  - so have the constructs of the exams and so it is possible to read this book not only as the evolution of the language exam but as a history of ELT itself.  That said, it is likely to be of more use to those with an academic interest in testing and evaluation.

60 Wishes in the Wishing Box

3 Sep

All this year, International House have been running events and competitions to celebrate their 60th anniversary – regular readers may remember the IHTOC60 (IH Teachers Online Conference) back in May and “The Tai Chi of Reading“.

During the Online Conference, IH launched a lesson plan competition – which I entered and was awarded second place!

My lesson is called “60 wishes in the wishing box” and it’s a fun way (if possibly a wee bit complex in places) of developing learners’ abilities to express wishes and predict consequences.  It’s aimed at Intermediate to Upper Intermediate level students (CEF B1 / B2) and is suitable for teen and adult classes.

To find out more about the lesson plan, as well as Dorka Brozik’s winning lesson on birthday vocabulary for VYLs and fellow runner-up, Adi Rajan’s pre-intermediate lesson on comparatives and superlatives, just follow the link:

http://ihworld.com/60gifts/lesson-plan-competition

If you have problems downloading the “60 wishes in the wishing box” lesson plan and materials, it’s also available from Scribd.

What Are The Hardest Languages To Learn?

11 Aug

Here’s another interesting infographic from the Voxy Blog, based on data from the US State Department, looking at how hard other languages are for native English speakers to learn.

Clearly, and as they point out, there are a number of caveats to this – everyone’s different and everyone’s learning in different contexts and with different resources.  There is also a clear implication that instruction is necessary – if you divide 600 hours into 24 (five day) weeks, it works out at about 4 hours a day of class time.  I also wonder what, if any, instruction methods are used here?  Historically, US government language learning has strong associations with audio-lingualism, but that dates back to the 1930s and 40s and I don’t know whether it’s still current…

It would also be interesting to see what is defined as “reading and speaking proficiency” (what happened to listening and writing?) – as the US uses two key scales to determine language proficiency:  the ACTFL proficiency guidelines and the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) scale.  The 600 hours (for the easy languages) would correspond to approximately the same amount of time the CEFR suggests is necessary to attain a B2 level – though whether that is considered proficient enough is another question.

My own experiences with French, German, Arabic, Chinese, Polish and Portuguese would suggest that classroom time has very little to do with it as despite having had over a year’s extensive tuition in Arabic (following a grammar translation model, which probably wasn’t the most helpful) I can barely string three words together, whereas I can still remember a decent amount of my Chinese, even though I had about ten lessons in total during the two years I lived there…

But anyway – I’m interested to know how other people experience corresponds to the graphic – comments always welcome!

(And many thanks to Nicola Gordon for the original spot via Facebook)

/wide-infographics/what-are-the-hardest-languages-to-learn-infographic/

Key Concepts in ELT

24 Jul

ELT Journal

The ELT Journal has just released a back catalogue of articles published in their “Key Concepts in ELT” series, available as 48 separate pdf downloads.

Anyone who is thinking about doing, or already in the middle of, a DELTA or a MA ELT will almost certainly want to head over and grab what they can while they can!

Titles include:

  • Learner training (ELT Journal 47:1)
  • Learner strategies (ELT Journal 47:1)
  • Fluency (ELT Journal 47:3)
  • Project work (ELT Journal 47:3)
  • Pragmatics (ELT Journal 48:1)
  • Scaffolding (ELT Journal 48:1)
  • Feedback (ELT Journal 48:3)
  • Register (ELT Journal 48:3)
  • Universal grammar (ELT Journal 49:2)
  • Noticing (ELT Journal 50:3)
  • Schemas (ELT Journal 51:1)
  • Classroom research (ELT Journal 51:2)
  • Anaphora (ELT Journal 51:4)
  • Deductive vs. inductive language learning (ELT Journal 52:1)
  • Task (ELT Journal 52:3)
  • Task-based learning and pedagogy (ELT Journal 53:1)
  • Genre (ELT Journal 53:2)
  • Bottom up and Top-down processing (ELT Journal 53:4)
  • Evaluation (ELT Journal 54:2)
  • Lexical Chunks (ELT Journal 54:4)
  • Teachers’ beliefs (ELT Journal 55:2)
  • Language-related episodes (ELT Journal 55:3)
  • Transfer/cross-linguistic influence (the subject of Chris’ enquiry) (ELT Journal 56:1)
  • Language as skill (ELT Journal 56:2)
  • ‘Focus on form’ vs ‘Focus on forms’ (ELT Journal 56:3)
  • Computer Mediated Communication (ELT Journal 56:4)
  • Language Awareness (ELT Journal 57:1)
  • Observation (ELT Journal 57:2)
  • Loop input (ELT Journal 57:3)
  • Discourse communities (ELT Journal 57:4)
  • Globalization and language teaching (ELT Journal 58:1)
  • The apprenticeship of observation (ELT Journal 58:3)
  • Washback and impact (ELT Journal 59:2)
  • English as a lingua franca (ELT Journal 59:4)
  • The Common European Framework (ELT Journal 60:2)
  • Native-speakerism (ELT Journal 60:4)
  • Processing instruction (ELT Journal 61:2) 
  • Motivation in ELT (ELT Journal 61:4)
  • Learner self-beliefs (ELT Journal 62:2)
  • Learner autonomy (ELT Journal 62:4)
  • Age and the critical period hypothesis (ELT Journal 63:2)
  • Innovation in ELT (ELT Journal 63:4)
  • Expertise in language learning and teaching (ELT Journal 64:2)
  • Blended Learning (ELT Journal 64:4)
  • The non-native speaker teacher (ELT Journal 65:2)
  • Corpus-aided language learning (ELT Journal 65:4)
  • Foreign Language Aptitude (ELT Journal 66:2)
  • Repetition in Tasks (ELT Journal 66:3)

To download, just go on over to the ELT Journal website via this link:

Oxford Journals | Humanities | ELT Journal | Key Concepts in ELT.

Thanks to @OUPELTGlobal on Twitter for the initial spot.

Has Michael Gove got the right idea?

3 Jul

So much of what Michael Gove comes out with in the guise of policy pronouncements is little more than the inane wittering of a gollumesque lunatic beggar suddenly thrust into power and wielding it with all the panache and finesse of a toddler with a kitchen knife – you feel powerless to intervene lest you make things worse, yet you know that somehow it’s all going to end in tears.

It therefore pains me to say this – but I think Michael Gove might actually be right about something:  the educational year needs rethinking (Guardian: Michael Gove axes six-week summer holidays for schools).  Approximately 45% of total holiday time in the year falls in July and August, the rest being spread out across the year with various half terms and religious holidays.  As Gove points out, this is a historical anachronism based around the agricultural calendar and is not so relevant for the vast majority of pupils in education today.  Is there any reason why we should continue with the system as it is?  There is some evidence from schools, which have already changed their term dates and re-arranged their holidays more evenly throughout the year, to say that such re-arrangement is benefitting students who have less time over the summer to forget what was taught and less time to get bored and into trouble (unfortunately I cannot remember where I saw that – apologies).

As usual with any government announcement that seems as though it might be halfway decent, the implementation seems sure to be shoddy and ill-thought through.  The Guardian article states (and I couldn’t find corroboration on the DfEE website) that the change to axe the six-week summer break is not coming specifically from the DfEE but rather the DfEE is just allowing schools to set their own term dates (bypassing local council oversight) based around a required minimum of 190 schooling per year.  In other words the DfEE is not requiring schools to change anything, it is just saying they can if they want to.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out:  whether very much changes at all, whether schools seize the initiative to make timetables more amenable to parent schedules or whether anyone thinks of what would be best for all the students in all this.  Concerns about co-ordinating schedules of children in different schools, moving holidays away from the summer sunshine and the impact on business are already being expressed.

If it does all change, one area it seems no-one has much thought about is, of course, ELT.  According to a Department for Business Innovation and Skills (DBIS) report, the ELT industry accounted for just under £2 billion worth of the UK economy in 2008/9, this being made up of £879.5 million in tuition fees and £1116.7 million of “non-training fee expenditure”.  (Conlon, Litchfield & Sadlier: 2011).  ELT in the UK is a year-round industry and operates in a range of different areas, but I wonder what the impact would be on the summer school industry?  If UK schools and colleges are open pretty much all the time, where and when will all the summer courses go?

I suspect that the DfEE plan is to let this chaos emerge and sort itself out in the long run.  With schools setting their own dates, no-one will be able to blame the DfEE or Michael Gove for freeing up the marketplace (I take it everyone else realises this is just the initial stages of privatising the education system by other means?) and if and when eventual consensus emerges, the government can say this was the plan all along.

Speaking personally, I would welcome a change in the holiday system.  I don’t get nearly as much time off as the 67 days a year enjoyed by students and teachers in my former London home and I would welcome seeing it spread more evenly across the year.  Maybe a system of 4 weeks on and one week off? With a two week holiday period every six months?  That would work for me.  Could completely destabilise the holiday and tourism industry though.  And cause havoc with exam dates.  And university entrance, terms and organisation.  And parents taking time off work.  And businesses arranging leave / cover for staff.

Well, when you find yourself agreeing, even partially, with a politician who skulks around the corridors of power muttering daft schizophrenic witterings about hobbits and a return to the Victorian Values that made the Shire so great; who bases policy on evidence garnered from a hotel chain’s market research and who clearly has no idea of the difference between correlation and causation – well, then you know the end of the world is surely a strange place indeed.

The Tai Chi of Reading

25 Jun

This is a ten minute presentation I gave at the recent International House Teachers’ Online Conference (IHTOC60) on the Tai Chi of Reading.

The basic premise is that there are certain movements or forms that exist within the Tai Chi Chuan and Baduan Jin which can be used to illustrate successful reading strategies, particularly for exam based classes.

I’m not suggesting that this is something everyone should do with every class, but that for some classes, where the learners might benefit from having a physical analogue for their mental process, it might help remind them of what they should be doing.

The video runs to about 16 minutes, which isn’t bad for a ten minute talk, and can be seen here:

If you want to take a bit more time to process any of the information on the slides in the presentation then these are available to view on Slideshare below, though the video demonstrations of the Tai Chi / Baduan Jin motions won’t play in Slideshare.

My thanks to Neil Morley for graciously acting as a Tai Chi model and thus allowing me to hide my own ineptitude in the forms, to Neil McMahon and Shaun Wilden for putting in the work to organise and run the conference, and to the International House World Organisation for allowing the re-post of the materials here.

To view recordings of any of the 60 (yes that’s right… 60!) presentations from the online conference, check out the conference blog: http://ihtoc60.blogspot.co.uk/

Behavioural Economics and ELT: Meaning, Acknowledgement & Pride.

19 Jun

It’s that time of year again, where classes are winding down and courses are effectively finished in all but name and teachers round the world are looking for interesting things to do with their students for the last few lessons before the holidays.  Last night, the student who showed up (everyone else having presumably decided that having done the exam there was nothing left to learn…) and I ended up watching the TED talk “What makes us feel good about our work?” by the behavioural economist Dan Ariely.

Ariely has four talks up on TED at the moment, all of which are good value and are worth watching – some interesting ideas on product differentiation for the managers amongst you – but the talk on the nature of our work struck some chords, not just with memories of the life before ELT as a faceless administrative drone, but also with their applicability to an educational setting.  The talk should be embedded into this post below, or you can click on this link:  Dan Ariely – What makes us feel good about our work?

The key theme that Ariely discusses in the talk is that of motivation – specifically what motivates us to do good work.  The three main answers to that question that he identifies (or at least the three main answers I identified from his talk) are:  Meaning, Acknowledgement and Pride.  Which also makes a handy acronym…

So what does the MAP to good work look like?

Meaning.

People work better when they perceive that there is some meaning attached to the work they are undertaking, or that their work is applicable in a wider context even if it is no longer required for it’s original task.  The applications in ELT are fairly obvious, but worth restating:  Students work better if they understand why they are doing something. Communicating the aims and the activities of a lesson to the students allows them to do this and probably the simplest way of doing this is to write up a lesson menu on the board, which outlines this information.  In all honesty, this is a habit I have not yet fully formed – I try to remember to do this, but I don’t always succeed.

Meaning however, doesn’t just come about from lesson aims, it is the lesson’s wider applicability that can provide this.  Ariely found that even if workers knew their work was being discarded or disregarded for it’s original purpose, if they could apply their work to situations outside the original context then it didn’t matter.  Value then, is a transferable commodity and meaning is derived from perceived value.  In ELT therefore, the things we do in class, which are often taken out of context and presented in isolation, should be linked back to situations or contexts that the learners find valuable.  The obvious point to make this link (at least to me) would be as part of the language presentation.  If the teacher is clarifying use of a target form, it makes sense that the use relates to a context in which it can be used, which can be clarified with concept questions:  “Do you ever negotiate with your husband / wife / partner?  What do you negotiate about?  Do you ever argue about who does what?  Could you use this form to do that?  How?  Why?  can you give me some examples?”

Acknowledgement

Ariely’s example experiment where volunteers find pairs of letters on the page and hand them into the experimenter, who either acknowledges the work, ignores the work or simply shreds it in front of their eyes; had me thinking of an immediate parallel in the classroom:  homework.  I’ve written before on the nature of homework and making it useful for learners, but here I couldn’t escape the vision of myself conducting a conversation with some of the learners in the class while going round and collecting in completed homework tasks and not acknowledging the effort that went into the work.  Just taking it in and adding it to the pile.  Which according to Ariely is just as bad as taking a match to it and laughing maniacally as I do so.

It is a simple thing and no doubt many readers are thinking “Well duh” at this point or perhaps thinking that with homework the acknowledgment comes as part of the assessment and correction.  Ariely however, would probably differ.  Some acknowledgement of the effort at the moment of submission, it seems, would go a long way to improving the learners’ motivation to complete further tasks quickly and well.  This is presumably true with in-class effort as well as homework tasks.  I’ve recently been experimenting with classroom behaviour management software and have found that obvious acknowledgment of good behaviour (in this case through the awarding of points) AND making a point of telling the student that this is happening, has led to a drastic reduction of L1 in the class as well as generally improved behaviour (though as we reach the end of the academic year, this is starting to slip a bit now).  Praise is not only important, it is a necessary part of motivating our students to improved performance.

Pride

People are proud of the efforts they have made, even when the outcome of those efforts is not so spectacular to an external observer.  Good young learner teachers probably know this instinctively and I’m fortunate to work with some very good YL teachers.  In short, even though as teachers we might be able to turn a critical eye towards our learners’ work – at least some of the time, we probably shouldn’t.  It does of course depend on the purpose of the activity.  If for example, we’re focusing on spoken or written production of a particular form, then the focus will be primarily on accuracy and a correction or feedback stage is required.  If however, we’re just having a chat or the focus is on fluency, then maybe not.  The point is that our sense of achievement does not relate to the product we generate it relates to the time and effort we put into the process.  As teachers therefore, maybe we need to acknowledge that process and reward the effort that went into it as much as we do with the result.  After all, I know one of my personal pedagogical hates are the students who coast, or who phone in their performances.  I doubt I’m alone in not minding so much what the finished product is like if I know that the student has tried their best – it’s when I know they haven’t that I get annoyed…

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