Innovation

With the Innovate ELT conference coming to a close, I’m (like many others I’m sure) excited at the prospect of some new ideas and talks being shared online. I’m always excited about innovation, but perusing Twitter feeds and blogs often leaves me with a feeling of frustration.

There are several innovation bandwagons rolling at the moment, namely Flipped Classrooms and edTech, as well as the classics such as more natural approaches to teaching. I fear that as these well-founded ideas gain traction, too many cheerleaders are hopping on and taking focus away from the practical implications of the proposed changes in the ELT world.

For example, here’s a short, paraphrased summary of a conversation I participated in today on Innovate ELT’s twitter:

Innovate ELT : What’s wrong with ELT course books? Attend Mr. X’s talk on to find out.

Mr. Pink : What’s wrong with them? Everything! When do we want change? Now!

Mr. Blue : Will your talk propose realistic alternatives for 100s of millions of YLs around the world using course books?

Mr. Red : Just because millions of people do something doesn’t mean it’s good

Mr. Blue : Very true. But reality of huge classes/unconfident teachers often with poor English, what’s the alternative?

Mr. Red : CHANGE!

I’ll stop there, as for me that was enough to see this phenomenon of the bandwagon unfolding. The rest of the conversation was similar – people calling for revolution, giving their vocal support for change, but not proposing one solitary hint of an idea for how that change might be brought about.

Russel Brand is famous for this phenomenon, as he caused a stir last year with eloquent rhetoric regarding the total overhaul of political and financial institutions. This populist argument, which I’m sure seemed sweeter when the royalties from his book began rolling on, dredged up a Twitter army of bandwagon-riders, ready to shout their support for change from the rooftops, despite not having the faintest idea how to bring it about,

Such phenomena by no way indicate a lack of credibility in the original argument, but they certainly undermine its potential for real tangible results. Voices of feckless cheerleaders drown out those with practical, actionable ideas which could potentially lead to the change sought in the first place. This unfortunate situation seems to have fallen upon many of the important drives for change in the education profession, including ELT.

I’m writing this post not just out of frustration, but in support of people in the world who have real ideas that could lead to positive changes in the education sector. Don’t let your voices be drowned out by the bandwagon. Keep innovating, and never let your efforts be undermined by the occasional onslaught of populist rhetoric.

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Things to AVOID when learning a foreign language

So our brains are constantly trying to take shortcuts when learning a new language. Even a glimpse of a familiar cultural image can affect our fluency in our new language.

I feel like this is a call for experiments with classrooms in the dark, or possibly blindfolding… might need to get the lawyers in on this one.

AIYSHAH'S ENGLISH PAGE

….Just to warn you listeners first, this guy has some VERY interesting points to make, but does speak really fast, so replay it if you need to.

elit laugh 1

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THINK OUTSIDE the BOX to learn English faster

I love a good call to break out of the traditional boring classroom lesson!

AIYSHAH'S ENGLISH PAGE

box

(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1aUlNCw)

Whenever I hear someone say to me to think outside the box I always imagine myself going outside and standing on my head.  It’s a great place to start. It shakes down all those ideas that were blocking the top of your head to the bottom and the ones that were stuck at the bottom can trickle up to the top.

Nice way to look at it.

But basically this title of ‘thinking outside the box’ is really all about being creative, trying something new and not being afraid to fail.

So let’s first look at what is ‘thinking inside the box’:

  • Taking a course
  • Doing your homework
  • Getting a one to one teacher

As you can see I have only written 3 and that is because ‘thinking inside the box’ is incredibly limited. … That’s why we recommend thinking outside the box.

So…

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My one-to-one student just wants to chat

Recipes for the EFL Classroom

So, after planning a lesson tailored to the needs of the individual student, all they seem to want to do is have a chat. You start to wonder if it is worth planning the lesson at all.   Then there’s an occasional pang of guilt when you think about how much the student is paying just for ‘a chat’.

This is, I’m sure, a familiar situation for many an EFL teacher. A one-to-one lesson naturally lends itself to a less structured approach. The teaching situation, in fact conforms very much to the three tenets of Dogme teaching (Lessons are Conversation Driven, Materials Light, and focus on Emerging Language).

But what about that nagging thought? What would the student say they learned in that lesson? Are they making progress? Are they aware of the progress they are making?

What this lesson would benefit from is a good amount of…

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7 GENIUS ways to help your English for FREE in your ENVIRONMENT

Love it, get some English in your life!

AIYSHAH'S ENGLISH PAGE

gen

(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1aU8QIF)

Here are some great ideas to just add that extra something to your English learning. I thought they were genius!

  1. Label things in your house

This is such a good idea as every time you pass that label you will remember it, every time you turn on the light, you will remember the words ‘light switch’, every time you get hungry and go to the kitchen you will remember ‘fridge’ every time you put your clothes away you will remember ‘wardrobe’, and so on….

  1. Keep a notebook in every room

Every time you remember something in English or have a question, just go to the notebook and write it down. Then when you go off to school take the notebooks with you and ask your teacher or practice the words.  Don’t forget to put them back in your rooms when you get home.

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IATEFL 2015 Presentation

I gave this presentation on Sunday 12/04/2015 at IATEFL Manchester.


 

With only half an hour, I think I did a good job of providing a general framework to making excursion-based lessons. In this post, I’d like to give a bit more meat to each stage of lesson prep for those who were able to come, and also for those who couldn’t make it:

Pre-Excursion Lesson

This is an instructor-led stage, for example in a classroom, eLearning platform or blended approach. I personally use a mix of printed packs, eLearning and WebEx video conferences. This means my pre-excursion lesson is split into parts, with self-study, an assignment submission and feedback, as well as a video conference with the excursion group for relevant speaking practice.

These tasks have the overall aim of inspiring interest, pre-teaching vocabulary and speaking sub-skills, all with the requirements of the excursion tasks in mind. This symbiotic relationship means I need to think about pre-excursion and on-excursion tasks at the same time to be sure they nicely complement each other, and to maximise the chance of vocabulary consolidation.

On-excursion Lessons

This is a student-led stage, where the role of the teacher becomes overseer and director. I design tasks that require students to move around and interact with the excursion venue, using text, listening or simply visual resources available on site as the stimulus. The teacher explains one of these tasks, lets students loose to complete them individually or in groups, setting a regroup time to discuss and compare results. This can be repeated as long as you think students’ motivation will endure, though for me I find 2 hours enough before we need to take a coffee or lunch break.

Post-Excursion Lessons

This is an instructor-led or self-study phase where follow-up tasks are designed that consolidate the language practised in the pre- and on-excursion lessons. I use email as my preferred medium, setting the task of writing an email to their colleague or friend to describe the location they saw and what they learned. It could equally be collaborating on a shared wiki to write a newspaper article or tourist flyer on the location; the theme and activities should be adapted to the group’s learning objectives.

All three stages share an intimate connection, and should be designed in sync to ensure a coherence that will justify taking students outside on excursions. With proper pre- and post-excursion activity preparation, students will constantly feel a new level of motivation with traditional classroom or self-study activities, given that it connects to a high-pressure public display of the skills and language they’re practising.

I hope this helps. If you try this method, or are already using it, please absolutely let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear from you. Good luck out there!

Assertiveness

What is it about having self confidence issues, social anxiety or perfectionism that makes some of us inefficient language learners? I used to think this was related to introverted or extrovertedness, but now I’m not so sure. I think the measure of how strong, clear and assertive someone is in their first language may give us clues concerning other languages.

I said in my previous post how I was perplexed by the fact that many people are extremely motivated to learn or improve another language, but can’t seem to break through that invisible barrier blocking them from engaging in the kinds of activities that would lead to strong and rapid acquisition, such as language exchanges online or face to face. I know myself that I’ve had problems with social anxiety in the past, and although my self confidence is now strong and I consider myself quite assertive, there are still communicative scenarios that cause me serious anxiety. I don’t consider myself an introvert, as I’ve always needed to bounce new ideas off others before putting them into action (hence this blog…). I’ve never been good at working on projects alone, and I’m often compelled to seek out collaborators. This may come from growing up with the aforementioned anxiety, in the sense of worrying that I was unfit to judge the quality or success of my own exploits without someone else’s reassurance. Although today I do most of my personal projects alone, I still have difficulty suppressing that little voice in my head saying, “Is this really any good?”

As a language learner, this makes me avoid situations where my language competence will be obviously lacking compared to others. I remember how long it took me to really get over this phobia with French, and how illogically resistant I was to doing any live practice in front of people whose opinions I valued. Now, however, with my level approaching fluent, I feel pride when able to demonstrate my ability, especially to others less competent than myself when they ask for my help. As good as that is, it still sounds scarily like looking to others for validation. I’m starting to wonder how much this accounts for my similar present aversion to German practice.

So I’m brought back to my own point from ‘EFL Materials,’ that there simply isn’t enough support for language learners to cope with the very specific anxiety created by live language practice. We need to develop a student’s voice, that is, the embodiment of how they express their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. As language trainers, we dare not delve into the realm of psychological evaluation, but perhaps we can focus on this one specific idea: assertiveness of the student’s ‘voice.’ We will cannot claim to provide relief from social anxiety in general, but perhaps localised relief for scenarios demanding live performance of the target language. If done through the target language, great, but it could also be done in the students first language for low level learners. With simple, clear instructions on how to identify negative beliefs related to language performance, as well as how to design activities and experiments to expose students to their fears in a controlled way, we might be able to slowly diminish their anxiety.

I’d love comments from peers on this (obviously, if you’ve been reading what I said above!) and I look forward to sharing results from my own students in this project.