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Using Action Research for Personal Professional Development

6 Oct

Yesterday I was part of a panel discussion in the British Council Teaching for Success Online Conference with Chris Farrell, Pete Clements and Sarah Smith, where we talked about Action Research:  what it is and what it can do for you and your school.

I promised to share the slides from my bit of the presentation – so here they are, along with a little bit of clarification for each slide so you have an idea of what they mean!

So I’ve been more deeply involved in action research from a teacher development perspective, since writing the IH World Action Research Course which will be having it’s first run through at the start of November.

It struck me as I was writing the course that action research is the ideal vehicle for a more personalised approach to teacher development.  In many contexts, there is very little in the way of teacher development and I have heard some colleagues from around the world even say that in their contexts, to talk about CPD is seen as a criticism of teacher ability, not as an opportunity to develop, and that there is therefore very little appetite for institutional led CPD programmes.  Even when there is a good teacher training and development programme, the problem is that the approach often takes a “one size fits all approach”, or caters to the majority need rather than focusing on individual needs.  Equally, it is simply not possible for senior staff to be aware of all of the issues that teachers face or to provide input on every little thing that a teacher wants to find out more about.  Action research can therefore function as a replacement for institutional CPD (where there is little to no training) or as a strong complement to a good in-service teacher training scheme.

But where to begin?  There are a number of frameworks that exist for helping teachers think more deeply about their professional development:  the British Council, Cambridge English, BALEAP and EAQUALS (the European Profiling Grid) all offer their own takes on what it means to be a teacher and what skills and competencies teachers should consider developing.  Some of them may be more relevant than others and obviously your context may dictate which aspects apply and which do not.  It is possible though, to look at one of these grids to identify a general area to improve on, and to use the sub-descriptors to further identify a more focused aspect to look at.

There is the question of whether you want to engage in a mini-project or a long term investigation.  This in part depends on how focused you want your investigation to be.  Any kind of investigation tends to throw up more questions than it answers and so a mini-project can easily evolve into a long term investigation whether you want it to or not.  Hence the whirling typhoon diagram, with tangential investigations spinning off randomly.  Just as easily though, you can keep things short, simple and focused on a specific area.

The process for investigation depicted in the slides is derived from the model developed for the IH Action Research Course.  It tries to emphasize not only the cyclical nature of action research (whereby looking into one thing inevitably leads to another), but also that the process is not a solitary one.  Research is not conducted in  a vacuum and the action researcher should draw on the people around them for help, support and reflection on the process.  The process itself is fairly standard as far as these things go, but feel free to comment if anything is unclear.

The example I give is based on my own experience and should be viewed more as a mini-project than a long term investigation, though it is a sort of ongoing process for me!  I feel that the feedback I give to students tends to focus on errors and mistakes and things they are doing badly (or not doing) and that I don’t give enough positive feedback or acknowledge examples of good language.  This project is really a way for me to think about how to do that more effectively!

 

One of the questions that came up from a participant in the conference was how to start something like this off.  Chris Farrell gave probably the simplest and most effective answer:  just go for it!  The process I run through in my slides is really a way for you to help yourself not get carried away by things and a way to help you focus in on what you’re asking.  Otherwise it can become a bit unwieldy and difficult to know where to start:  the question “how do I help my students with their writing?” is very broad and has so many facets that it could easily become a very long term investigation, but if you want to see more immediate impacts on your teaching, I would break it down a bit further.

Another question that came up, more in the context of running action research groups in schools, was about how you ensure the quality of the research that teachers – or yourself – are doing.  The IH Action Research Course goes some way to addressing some of these concerns by looking at a range of educational research tools and techniques and thinking about what kind of information they provide – what they tell you about what you’re discovering.  I think research skills are things that develop as you go though, if you want to find something out and you use a poor instrument (if your survey doesn’t give you the answers to the questions you were really asking), then I think you learn from the experience.  My message would be not to get disheartened, but instead to think about how you could do it better next time.  The action research process is not necessarily about creating research for publication in an academic journal (though it could be); it is more about working out how you can develop and improve the teaching that you do.

 

To watch my bit of the presentation  – and of course to watch Chris Farrell go into much more depth than I do about the why and how of an action research project – or to watch Pete Clements and Sarah Smith talk about running a teacher-led action research group in their school; take a look at the British Council Teaching English conference page here: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/action-research-panel-discussion

Hope you enjoy – and any questions, please let me know in the comments section.

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The impact of BREXIT on ELT

24 Jun

Like many people in the world of ELT I was shocked and disappointed by the results of the EU referendum this morning.  Like many people in our position, my wife and I have been sitting on the sofa in our house in central Portugal,  in a state of bleak disbelief struggling to understand both how the British people could have made this choice and of course, what the ramifications are for us.

We are asking ourselves questions like:  Should we stay here?  If we want to stay here, how do we go about it?  Should we go somewhere else?  Should we return to the UK?  Do we even want to return to the UK?  How on earth are we going to make that happen if we do?

There is a lot of anxiety in our thinking, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of speculation, none of which adds up to anything substantive and none of which is particularly helpful to us, or anyone else in a similar situation.  My hope in this post is to try and look at what the decision means for ELT and thereby to help myself, and all those teachers around Europe in similar situations, figure out what this really means for us.

Europe-map-without-UK-012

ELT in the UK

Some 26,500 jobs in the UK are directly linked to ELT (English UK, 2015), though some of these are indirect and supported by student spending in the UK, rather than say, teaching jobs or centre administration staff.  650,000 students come to the UK to study annually, the majority from Italy and Spain with 53% of students coming from European countries.  It seems likely that these figures are going to drop, partly because of the economic uncertainty and recessionary conditions, but also partly because if there is no automatic right to travel and study in the UK, EU citizens will need to pay out £328 on a Tier 4 student visa just to come to the country.  This is obviously speculation and it may not be impacted, this depends on the conditions that the EU requires as part of any renegotiated trade deals.  However, given the focus on migration to the UK in the referendum debate, stricter control over borders and visa issuing seems likely.

The 2011 Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) report analysed the impact of changes in immigration controls on Tier 4 visas and suggested it would lead to a 10% reduction in the number of tier 4 visas granted and a consequent loss of £203 million per year (rising to £268 million by 2025).  Extrapolating these trends to take into account the additional drop in visas issued to EU students, this suggests the UK ELT industry could lose around £493 million a year.

This is likely to have a significant effect on the number of centres offering language teaching, the incomes and revenues that centres are likely to realise, of subsequently of course, on the number of jobs, with the possible loss of 2,500 jobs in the sector.  This in turn is likely to drive wages down because of the lower demand (and a need for employers to reduce costs) and because of the increased supply of teachers looking for work.

 

ELT in Europe

94% of secondary students in EU countries study English (Eurostat, 2016).  This is unlikely to change any time soon, mostly I suspect because of inertia.  Schools and education systems have invested so much time and energy in creating the materials and training the teachers that it may take some time before other languages gain in primacy.  This is the state sector though, and the private sector may be different.

It is difficult to see though, the levels of demand for English language training sustaining themselves in the private sector when much of the motivation to learn the language is gone.  With no freedom of movement into the UK to live and work, students like many of mine who are learning a language because they want to work overseas, may choose other destinations and languages.  This is speculation though, and English is still the language of business and international communication, so the impact may be mitigated.

There is likely to be a much larger impact on recruitment on teachers.  Companies and organisations operating within the EU must, first and foremost, hire workers with the right to work within the EU.  In other words, EU citizens.  If an employer wants to hire a non-EU worker, they first have to prove that they cannot find anyone in Europe who can fulfil the vacancy.  The implications of this are simply that a large number of UK nationals who are currently teaching in Europe are likely to find themselves legally unable to continue in their roles.  Brexit may, inadvertently, have effectively settled the NS / NNS debate (at least in Europe).

If you are a UK national between 17 and 30, you might be able to qualify for a Temporary Worker / Working holiday visa and then teach on short term contracts here and there.  For everybody else there are the traditional routes to consider:  marrying into the EU or for those who have been there long enough, applying for citizenship.

What happens next?

Who knows…

It’s probably still too early for the full ramifications of the decision to be apparent.  David Cameron has said he’s resigning and that it will be the job of the next Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, thus triggering the two year period of UK exit.  Boris Johnson has said there is “no rush” to leave.  EU leaders have called for the UK to get on with it and avoid “unnecessarily prolonging uncertainty”.  It is quite a strange situation – everything has changed and yet nothing has.

Where does this leave me?

Speaking personally?  It leaves me depressed, angry and morose.  My options are (1) to apply for Portuguese citizenship and to try and continue life here in Portugal, (2) to try and sell the house and uproot the family and move back to the UK to compete for an increasingly smaller pool of jobs at increasingly lower wages.  Unless anyone can think of another option…?  Does anyone know if Canada is hiring?

References:

Economic Impact of ELT in the UK – English UK, 2015.

Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports – Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 2011.

Foreign language learning statistics – Eurostat, 2016.

Tier 4 (General) student visawww.gov.uk, 2016.

 

Reviewing the School Year: A Lesson

30 May

The last lesson of the school year is often a tricky one to manage.  Often, neither you or the students are in a particularly useful frame of mind – the energy and creativity is dwindling and it can be difficult to persuade students of the value of learning things for the sake of learning things: “But, teacher, we did the test already.”

This year I have made an End of year Review booklet for my young learner groups.  The idea is for the students to look back at what they have done and to think about what they did well, what they could have done better and to identify a few goals for moving forwards.  I have printed it as an A5 booklet and the hope is that they can take this home with them to share with their parents as a reflection on the progress they have made and the progress they could have made – along with some concrete goals for things to do in the summer months away from the pressures of the classroom!

Grammar Graph

The Grammar Graph is not really intended to measure knowledge or attainment in the language feature, what it really does is measure the confidence the learner has in their ability to use the target item.  The features listed are all those that have come up in the past year and I hope that it will reflect the extent the learners feel they can use the feature appropriately and accurately.  There may be students that have better control, but less confidence or there may be students that are very confident and fluent speakers but who have less control.  These conversations will hopefully help learners to see where some of their strengths really lie.

Word Championships

The Word Championships are partly a vocabulary review and partly there as a mingle activity to get students up, moving around and talking to each other.  The learners choose two or three words from the year that are their favourites – or possibly from their own knowledge.  They then mingle and find out what the other students think and record the answers.  After about five minutes (they don’t need to ask everyone for everything), the students work in small groups to share and compare the answers they got and to work out which words are the top three favourite words for the year.

 

Difficult mountainEasy mountain

The difficult and easy mountain is a simple enough reflection on course content – with any luck it should tie in to the grammar graph activity at the beginning – but with a bit more focus on where the focus needs to come in the future.  I opened this up as a kind of pyramid discussion to the class to try and decide what the most difficult thing and what the easiest thing we did in class this year was.  This not only gives some interesting feedback on the content the learners find difficult, but on which of my teaching techniques have proved more accessible.

Lesson Pie Chart

The lesson Pie Chart is intended as a reflection on behaviour in the classroom.  It is really up to the learners to decide what constitutes “being good” and extending this discussion out to the classroom can lead to some interesting revelations.  The intent is also not to demonise L1 (in this case Portuguese) use, but more to point out how much class time they spend using Portuguese as opposed to English.  If I was to do this differently next time (and I will!) I would separate these out into three or four smaller pie charts as while this gives an interesting insight into what happens in a lesson, it isn’t quite so useful for differentiating behaviours, which was partly the aim.

English Learning Goals

Most of my learners are in the 10-13 year old elementary range, and therefore encouraging them to do self-study work over the summer is an uphill task.  The purpose of this activity is to get the learners to arrive at ways in which they can keep their English up over the summer and not forget it all, and still have a degree of fun!  I am less interested here in getting them to do grammar practice or vocabulary learning, than I am in getting them to interact with the language in some way.  One of the goals might be to read a book in English (we have graded readers in the school for them to borrow) or to learn a favourite song in English – to watch a TV show or film in English and write a synopsis or review.  It will be up to them to decide.

 

Superlatives Yearbook 01 Superlatives Yearbook 02

The Superlatives Yearbook is a bit of fun really – it serves partly to review some of the language from the course – but it is really a bit of a break from the personal development review and a chance to engage in a heated discussion.  You may have come across similar “end of year award” lessons – this is a slightly shorter version.  In this version, the students are put into three large groups and have to decide who should be given each award.  No-one in the class can be given more than one award and everybody in the class has to be given an award.  An extension of this is to re-group the students into groups of three, one student from each of the larger groups, and to ask them to present their choices and agree on a final decision.  The learners can then report back to their original groups on what was decided.

The last page in the booklet is a list of useful links that the students can access over the summer:

These are what I came up with, but I would welcome any extension of this so please feel free to add any ideas in the comments!

I hope this proves useful, if you try any of this and want to give any feedback, I’d welcome it – or if you’ve tried similar ideas in different areas, I’d also like to find out what you did and how it went.

 

Moral Dilemmas – Book Review

22 Feb

Imagine you are teaching a group of business people, all of whom work for the same company.  They have been told that their eligibility for the next round of promotions depends on their achieving a certain level of English.  All of them are busy and none of them have much time.  Over the course, there have been quite a few absences and not very much homework.

It’s now the end of the course and the students are doing their final evaluation tests.  As they do, you notice one of the students is referring to a piece of paper they have on their lap under the desk.

What do you do?

Does it make any difference to you what happens?  What about the student?  Is it fair to the other students?

Welcome to the world of Moral Dilemmas!

mini-moral-dilemmas-250x354

Moral Dilemmas is a new mini-ebook from Lindsay Clandfield and published by The Round that explores issues like this and more.  The example above is my own and is not from the book, but is an example of the way such ethical conundrums have to grab us, take us out of our comfort zones and force us to re-evaluate our value systems.

It is this ability that makes these situations such universal constants.  It doesn’t really matter where you are from or what belief system you have, issues like this cause us to stop and re-evaluate our relationships with the world around us.

That said, these dilemmas tend to work better in contexts where there is a more relativistic approach to morality and less absolutism.  I can see that in some contexts the dilemmas as presented may not be viewed as dilemmas at all, but more as a logical progression of “if that, then this”.  This potential problem is addressed though, with the author suggesting a more nuanced critical approach of exploring the alternatives in terms of their implications on the individuals and wider society.  In short, if the students all agree that (to take our example) cheating is wrong and the HR department should be notified within 30 seconds of presenting the problem, that the teacher draw out all of the possible courses of action and ask the students to think about what they might mean.

The dilemmas themselves are very usefully presented:  the dilemma itself is described, along with brief teaching tips on how to adjust each dilemma to a local context.  Avenues of further exploration are suggested as well as vocabulary areas that might come up in discussion.

There is also a very useful “What if…” section, which considers some of problems that might arise when using the material with a class and suggests some strategies for dealing with them.  These range from looking at relevance and appropriacy to immediate agreement, slipping into L1 and when things get too up close and personal for everybody’s comfort!

***

Who should buy this book?  It’s aimed at teachers working with classes of B1 ability and above, but beyond that I would think is quite a useful resource for anyone teaching English.  It’s the sort of book that would sit easily alongside titles like the Discussions A-Z series, or Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking, on the staffroom bookshelf – something handy to dip into and find a useful activity as when is needed.  Though obviously as it’s an ebook, a more recent comparison would be the Parsnips series (see elsewhere on this blog) and we should be talking about a staffroom Kindle instead!  Definitely a keeper, I look forward to trying some of the activities with my own classes!

Moral Dilemmas” by Lindsay Clandfield is available for  £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.

 

 

 

An Introduction to Teaching the Unteachable

4 Jan

I wonder how many people who are looking at the title of this post, and indeed the title of the upcoming webinar on this topic, are wondering what constitutes “unteachable”?  It’s a tricky concept to grasp, not least because it is so heavily context dependent.

My personal view is that nothing is unteachable and that teachers shouldn’t shy away from difficult or uncomfortable topics because they might offend.  The ability to talk about and examine our differences is what makes us able to rise above them and if we refuse to talk about them we start existing in insular little pockets of ignorance, bounded only by the things we believe and a self-destroying fear of The Other.  Now more than ever, when so much of the world is being defined by its support for and opposition to sets of beliefs or practices, we should be trying to break down some of these barriers and trying to understand each other just a little better.

In the world of ELT, topics that are considered “unteachable” are largely defined for us by other stakeholders in the process and without reference to the local context.  These are commonly known by the acronym “PARSNIP”, which stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, and Pork.  Some versions of the acronym also include another S – for Smoking.  These then are the topics that tend to be considered too controversial for the classroom and are therefore left out of most materials and coursebooks.   It is not completely clear to me why this is or when it started and I would welcome any information that sheds light on this – my instinct however, is that it comes down to economies of scale.  The costs involved in producing a coursebook are not inconsiderable and if you had to produce a series of different editions of coursebooks based on different contexts, it would increase your costs exponentially.  Imagine though, the differences that might exist between a Brazilian edition of Headway Intermediate and a Jordanian edition.  And where do you stop?  Do you differentiate between continents?  Regions?  Countries?  What about Basque, Catalan and Galician editions?  It is a lot easier from a production point of view to avoid the question entirely.

The problem then is not that these topics are “unteachable”, it is more that they get left out because leaving them out is easier to do than putting them in.  Yet as teachers, we are always choosing what to leave out and what to put in – we make language choices about what our students need (or don’t need) to focus on, we make skills focus choices and we make topic choices based on what we think our students will find interesting or not.  Hands up if you have supplemented your lesson with a TED talk or other short videos?  Decided not to bother with a page of the book?  What about a unit of the book?

We frequently carve up our coursebooks like the proverbial Christmas turkey and add lashings of side dishs to make the meal tastier and more memorable.  And of course it is traditional (in the UK at least) to serve Parsnips as well.

Sundays with BELTA

On 10th January, I’ll be hosting a webinar for BELTA on looking at ways to do just that.  For all that I believe in free and unfettered discussion of any topics in the classroom, I also believe there has to be a modicum of principle, professionalism and planning involved!  There is no point in walking into the classroom and saying “Right – today we’re going to talk about drugs.  Who here has smoked crack?  Anyone?  Anyone?”

The webinar is structured around a blend of the theory and the practical.  It looks at some of the key principles for ensuring a safe and sensible discussion of sensitive topics, approaches and techniques for dealing with contentious issues in the classroom when they come up, and will also present a few practical activities that you can take away and try with your classes.

 

One of the reasons that this webinar is on the topic of Parsnips is because when I was asked about taking part in the Sundays with BELTA webinar series, a few friends and I had just published a free e-book of Parsnip themed lessons.  This was about six months ago, but parsnips were very much on my mind and I thought it would be an interesting topic to explore in more depth as an aspect of teacher development.  Completely co-incidentally, the second free volume in our Parsnips series has also just been released!  I should stress, it is an accident of good timing and the webinar is not a promotion for the book or vice versa!  It’s just turned out to be a bit of a Parsnips based week!

The BELTA webinar will be on Sunday 10th January at 1600 CET –  for more information

I hope to see you all there!

To access the free e-books, follow these links to download from Smashwords:

parsnips vol 2 cover

Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol. 2)

Parsnips in ELT Cover

PARSNIPS in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol. 1)


  

Four “must have” activities for digital teachers!

24 Nov

The title of this post is an example of Clickbait – something that is designed to get you clicking the link to look at the seemingly impossible / brilliant / hilarious story behind the headline.  Something eye-catching that makes you feel as though you’re going to miss out by not looking at it.

Clickbait headlines are a far cry from the traditional news headlines that you see in more traditional newspapers and magazines, though some would argue the trend in the less serious press has always been headed in that direction, and these are the sorts of things that people have to navigate their way through everyday.  Recognising this kind of vague salacious enticement, and knowing how to deal with it, is becoming a core skill in navigating our way through information to find things that we actually need.

In a recent post for the British Council Teaching English blog, Gavin Dudeney offers up a “Digital Literacy Primer” that talks us through the four core digital literacies of focusing on connections, language, (re)design and information.  It is an excellent overview of what these concepts mean in theory and practice and at the end of the article he argues that teachers should be incorporating these ideas into teaching as a way of helping students, particularly younger students, develop these skills.

In my recent post for the British Council Teaching English blog, I present activities and a lesson plan for teachers to do just that.  In Clickbait, Memes and Sharing the Truth – activities for digital literacies, I offer activities that look at building skills in each of the areas that Gavin Dudeney outlines.  Four areas, four activities – you see, my clickbait headline wasn’t lying at least!

In brief:

  • Language –  looks at reworking “traditional” headlines into clickbait speak
  • Remix /Redesign – looks at using meme generators to practice language points or explore an idea
  • Connections – presents a downloadable handout to engage learners with texts and web content, thinking about how they react to texts and what they do with the information afterwards
  • Information – presents a lesson plan for introducing students to the Pacific Northwestern Tree Octopus.  I’ll say no more at this stage, you’ll have to read the post!

I’d be really interested to get feedback from people working with these activities, you can do that either by leaving a comment here, or at the original blog post on the Teaching English site.

Let me know how it goes!

1374089095_einstein+digital+literacy

 

Personalised Learning – IATEFL BESIG Workshop

8 Jun

Here are the slides from the BESIG weekend workshop I gave on the 7th June 2015.  I was very honoured to have been asked to run the workshop, particularly as I noticed it was the 50th such workshop that BESIG have run.

In the talk we touched on some of the evidence that exists to suggest a personalised learning approach is more effective – it is an instinctive thought and one most of us would recognise, but there is actual research data out there as well.

We looked at the importance of needs analysis and ways in which we can use Google forms as both a data gathering tool and for analysis purposes.

We also thought about course design and moving towards an iterative, cyclical, learner led process that is based initially on learner needs, but also on a feedback cycle going forwards.

Finally I presented three activities that use the students as the content creators within a teacher provided framework, as a way of modelling an approach to using the students as resource in the BE classroom.

 

My huge thanks to the IATEFL BESIG team for inviting me to run the workshop, and to Justine Arena for looking after me on the day and for all her hard work in organising the technical side of things so that I didn’t have to!

If you are a member of IATEFL and of BESIG, you should be able to view a recording of the workshop on the BESIG website.

IATEFL BESIG

PechaFlickr – exam speaking practice

4 Jun

One of the common complaints students have about exam speaking is that they never know what to say.  In practice sessions, I’ve had students dry up completely and embarrassedly freeze half way through a sentence, I’ve had other students refuse to talk about the topic saying that they know nothing about it!

About a month ago, Richard Byrne shared a post about PechaFlickr that I think can help with this.

silhouette-774836_1280

PechaFlickr is a web based app that displays 20 random images for 20 seconds each.  As the name suggests, the images all come from Flickr and are selected based on how they’ve been tagged – this adds the element of randomness that makes it such a great tool as you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get.  I tried it with the topic “school” and got a a child crying in front of some ruins, a grinning child staring at the camera, what looked like a teachers meeting, a somewhat inappropriately dressed Japanese lady (but dressed enough for the sake of propriety), and some people holding a candlelit vigil.  I gave up at that point…!

In the advanced settings you can change the number of slides shown and the length of time they are displayed for, so you could easily adapt it to practice Cambridge English: First & Advanced speaking tasks, though it doesn’t practice the exam tasks in the sense that the tasks require comparison and contrast of two photos.

What it does help practice is thinking about what pictures represent and what they could represent, finding connections between images and topics and perhaps more importantly . quick thinking.

I think this could be a great warmer for any class with an interactive whiteboard and it could also be a great tool for students to practice at home – especially if they record and review their own performance.

Another alternative is to play a “Just a Minute” type game, possibly setting timing on each photo to slightly longer and adding more  pictures (depending on how long you want things to take), where as soon as the speaker falters or fails, they stop and another one has to take their place.

Any other suggestions?

Try it out here:

pechaflickr

 

Excellense in Englis – the decline or evolution of the language?

13 Mar

Is the language dying?  A recent column in The Economist (Johnson: A long decline) asks the question from the perspective of a steadfast native British English speaker, looking around themselves and finding that the language they think they speak is, in fact, no longer spoken by those around them.  Or rather, as this is The Economist we’re talking about, it probably is spoken by those immediately around them but not in wider society.

Johnson cites examples throughout history; Ranulph Higden in 1387, Richard Stanihurst in 1577, John Dryden in 1672, Arthur Hugh Clough in 1852 all the way through to Lynne Truss in 2003 – all of whom have decried the degradation and decline of their English.  They would all no doubt (apart from Lynne Truss) have some difficulty in following a modern conversation like those in this 2010 pre-election series of vox pops:

There is an obvious conclusion and it is one that Johnson reaches: “language is not constant. Change is—and anxiety about change is constant too.”  Pull an English teaching coursebook off the shelf and it will tell you that state verbs cannot be used in the continuous aspect.  Walk round the corner to the local McDonald’s and they will tell you they are loving it.  This doesn’t necessarily represent a decline in the language, perhaps it rather represents a change in society – where love was once thought to be constant, permanent and immutable, it is now seen as temporary and transitory.  You may love something briefly and for a short time and therefore you may need to say “I’m loving these new shoes.”  Or “I’m not liking this new phone”.  There is acknowledgement that states change.

Change also comes from the input into the language from many new users.  We all use the language as we think best, words, to paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, mean what we want them to mean and this meaning is co-curated by all of us who use these words.  New words arise to shape new ideas, or are co-opted for new purposes.  Grammar rules are bent, broken and discarded as the need arises.  We teach our students a snapshot of what the language was like at a fixed point in the past and they take it and run out into the world with their fossilised errors, misunderstandings and perceptions of irrelevance (e.g. dropped articles or missing prepositions) and they still create meaning and a greater or lesser degree of comprehension.

This does lead to some infelicity of expression, some of which is being charted on the Map of Urban Linguistic Landscape (MULL) facebook group as below:

Pizz Up Express

Image Credit: George Chilton & Map of Urban Linguistic Landscape.

But these infelicities and the language systems that our learners and all native speakers generate for themselves then feedback into the wider linguistic system.  Things that work, forms and expressions that are generated, no matter by whom or in what context, will be adopted and shared and copied and disseminated throughout the larger system.  Things that don’t work will lead only to mutual incomprehension and the (eventual) discovery of a way that does work.  Back in 1387, Ranulph Higden complained that “By commiyxtion and mellyng, furst wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in menye þe contray longage ys apeyred and som useþ strange wlaffyng chyteryng, harryng, and garryng grisbyttyng.”

Things have evolved a lot since then.

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Image credit:  George Chilton and Map of Urban Linguistic Landscape (facebook), reproduced here under a Creative Commons attribution 2.0 generic licence.

 

 

 

Complexity Theory and ELT – Manchester Roundtable

21 Feb

The idea of complexity theory and it’s relationship to language and language learning is something that I’ve been starting to read into a bit more deeply recently.  There’s something about it that seems intuitively right, which usually means that I don’t understand it enough.

I was, therefore, very excited to catch Achilleas Kostoulas’ post of an event happening in Manchester around the time of the upcoming IATEFL conference.  And then equally depressed to realised that I had booked my flight home for the day before the event.

For more information on dates and times etc, take a look at his original blog post.

Hopefully a lot of the ideas and talks will be shared online somewhere!