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Free your mind – the power of taking a risk

shutterstock_415618444Adrian Leis is a full-time tenured Associate Professor at Miyagi University of Education in Sendai, Japan. Originally from Australia, he has now been teaching English in Japan for close to 20 years. He obtained his Ph.D from Tohoku University and his main fields of research are L2 learning motivation and computer-assisted language learning.

I recently found myself with a couple of hours to relax at home and so decided to watch an old movie. When I was looking through my DVDs, I stumbled across the 1999 science fiction film, The Matrix. At one stage in the movie, the main character, Neo, is told to “free his mind” in order to jump from one building to another while in a computer program. This reminded me of the idea of Mindsets – if we want to reach our full potential, we need to learn to free our minds.

The idea of Mindsets was proposed by Dr. Carolyn Dweck of Stanford University. Ever since, it has received a lot of attention in the field of psychology and, more recently, in the field of second language acquisition (SLA).

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Dweck (2006) looked at the thought processes of humans, or Mindsets, describing these two traits: the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset. So which are you? Try answering the following questions:

  1. Imagine you see your friend eat something a little unusual, like inago (locust) or escargots. Your friend says, “Yuck!” Would you still try it?
  2. Imagine you have a chance to play tennis against a very strong player. You will most likely lose. Would you still take on the challenge?
  3. Your English teacher gives you an assignment to read a difficult 500-word passage from your textbook in front of the class. If you read straight from the textbook, you can get a maximum score of 80%. If you memorize the passage, you can get a maximum score of 100%. Would you choose to memorize the passage?

If you answered “Yes” to the above questions, you probably have a Growth Mindset. Dweck describes a person with a Growth Mindset as someone who sees intelligence not as innate, but something that can be developed and improved on over time. These people are flexible in that they are willing to take the risks of difficult challenges, even at times when failure may be inevitable, in order to reap the benefits of learning from such experiences.

On the other hand, people with Fixed Mindsets, who would probably answer ‘No’ to the three questions, are those who believe intelligence is innate and regardless of how hard they study or work, their intelligence will not change. They prefer to take easier classes and avoid the risks of failure, even if they could benefit from participating at a slightly higher level. Sound familiar?!

Anxiety, self confidence, and language learners

So, what does this mean for you, and your English classes?

Well, Dweck also wanted to find ways of promoting attitudes to learning similar to the Growth Mindset. One way was to look at the effects of praise on students’ approaches to learning. Mueller and Dweck (1998) concluded that when children were praised for the efforts they had made in their studies (e.g. “You thought really carefully about this question!” or “I can see how hard you practiced!”), the children became more willing to take on challenging tasks – the Growth Mindset. However, when children were praised for their intelligence (e.g. “You are really smart!” or “You are a natural athlete!”), they tended to avoid challenging problems in which they might fail, because they were afraid that they may not be praised the next time – the Fixed Mindset.

This suggests that in the classroom, teachers should think carefully about the way they talk to their students. In my own research, I have recommended teachers think about the timing of when they praise students (Leis, 2014). Rather than saying, “Well done!” after a student has given the correct answer, which is praising for her intelligence, teachers could say, “Thank you!” after the student has raised her hand but before she has given her answer. This puts value on the effort and willingness to solve the problem given by the teacher rather than whether her answer was correct or not.

Anxiety and self-confidence have been proven to be vital factors in the success of language learners. The studies mentioned above verify how important it is to look at the behavior of teachers in the classroom and how it influences the mindsets of our students. Students’ mindsets, in turn, affect the confidence with which they approach challenging tasks. When teaching languages, we should be encouraging students to choose the risks of making mistakes in order to achieve the ultimate goals of communicating with others in the language of their choice.

Adrian will be presenting on the growth mindset at Oxford ELTOC 2017 – our first ever online conference for teachers in Asia. Find out more about the conference here.

References

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Dweck, C. S., & Reppucci, N. D. (1973). Learned helplessness and reinforcement responsibility in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25(1). pp. 109-116.

Leis, A. (2014). The self-confidence and performance of young learners in an EFL environment: A self-worth perspective. JES Journal, 14. pp. 84-99.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck. C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s performances. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1). pp. 33-52.

 


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Making the Impossible Possible – Q&A session


shutterstock_299889014Last month, we hosted Gareth Davies’ webinar,
‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’. During the webinar and on his previous blog post, we called for questions for Gareth that we could ask him post-webinar, to delve deeper into creative writing in the EFL classroom. Here’s the full transcript of this interview:

What is your opinion on teachers writing a sample text for students to get used to writing?

This is a good question, reading and writing go hand in hand and there is evidence to suggest that the more reading a student does the better their writing will become, so in general having as much exposure to different texts can only help students.  Having or not having a model is often the cited as the major difference between process and product writing. In process writing the students study a sample text and use it as a model and is a good approach for students who are preparing for an exam or who need to write formulaic emails or reports. However, sometimes I think this can impose restrictions on students. So if I am doing a creative writing exercise I might avoid giving students a model at the start of the activity, to allow their creative juices to flow.

Have you ever tried to channel the positive energy of these creative writing tasks and turn them into positive academic writing performance?

How could we use these ideas to writing for exams? I mean, IELTS, Cambridge exams?

Thanks for this question, let me try to give you an analogy. When someone trains to run a marathon, they don’t only run long distances. They do some gym work, some short runs, and perhaps they change their diet. For me it is the same with preparing for an exam. You need to do some exam practice, but you also need to hone your skills and prepare in different ways. Creative writing tasks can allow students to practise their writing in an interesting way, but they are still using the skills they will need for academic purposes. When I was teaching an EAP course in the summer I did several storytelling and writing activities just to free the students up, and they found it very helpful.

How you would evaluate or share the poems?

This is a very interesting point. When I ask my students to do creative writing activities, I try to focus as much as possible on the content rather than the accuracy. I see it as a fluency activity. Therefore, on their first draft, I might comment on how the story or poem made me feel, how I enjoyed it, etc., and only point out errors where the meaning is confused. I might also ask the students to peer correct each other’s work and ask me if they are not sure about something. As for sharing their work I ask the students to decide if they are public or private, they mark the top of the paper. If they are public then I will ask them to read them out or put them on display. If the students have marked it as private then only I will look at it. With creative writing, it is often personal, I don’t think it is fair to share the students’ work if they are not ready.

What do you think of beginning with more concrete descriptive language?

In one of my previous webinars, I talked about the following activity, which looks at descriptive language.

Write a sentence on the board

e.g. The boy walked up the stairs.

Tell the student the boy was scared, ask them where they would put that word in that sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked up the stairs.

Now ask them how he walked up the stairs. Elicit an adverb and ask them where it goes in the sentence.

e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the stairs.

Next ask them to describe the stairs, (narrow? steep? dark?) and ask them where their adjective goes. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the dark stairs.

Finally, ask them to think of a different word for ‘walked’, (ran? climbed? tip-toed?)

e.g. The scared boy tip-toed quickly up the dark stairs.

Now it is time to edit. You’ve gone from a simple sentence to a much too complicated one. Which words leave the best impression on the reader, which are not needed?

 e.g. Perhaps you don’t need scared because ‘tip-toed’ and dark imply this.

Put the students into pairs and ask them to do the same for other adjectives, excited, happy, sad, angry etc.

You can help them with the words by translating or filling in gaps in their knowledge.

Which do you prefer? Poet or Teacher.

Actually, I love both and they are not that different. Both require you to plan and prepare carefully, both make you bring your personality to the work. Both encourage you to be creative. With both, you hope to leave a positive influence on your audience. And finally, with both sometimes things go wrong and you have to reassess and start again.


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EMI (and CLIL) – a growing global trend

MOBURF-00002371-001Julie Dearden is Head of English Medium Instruction at the University of Oxford’s Hertford College, developing and teaching professional development programmes for teachers and university lecturers around the world.

Across the world, an educational trend is becoming increasingly popular. Subjects such as Science, Maths, Geography and Economics are being taught through the medium of English – known as English Medium Instruction, or EMI.

My definition of EMI is: “The use of the English language to teach academic subjects (other than English itself) in countries or jurisdictions in which the majority of the population’s first language is not English”. (Dearden, 2015)

EMI started at tertiary level in universities seeking to ‘internationalise’ their education offer. They wanted to attract students from abroad, prepare their home students to study and work abroad, publish in English and survive in an increasingly competitive education market-place – and still do!

Why EMI?

There seem to be different reasons why institutions ‘go EMI’. Administrators may choose to adopt it as a means of competitive advantage and survival. Or, it may be that a university’s lecturers are particularly idealistic, seeking to attract the brightest minds, share their knowledge with the widest possible audience and to develop their own teaching.

Two big buzz words in education are internationalisation and globalisation, although nobody has as yet clearly defined what these words mean in practice. In fact, they are often used interchangeably – in an educational context, though, they almost invariably include teaching some or all of a subject or subjects in English. And, in an EMI world, faculty members can move around, teaching in universities and institutions across the globe. EMI is seen as a passport to success, a way of opening doors and providing golden opportunities for both staff and students.

Although EMI usually refers to teaching at university level, there are an increasing number of secondary, primary, and even pre-primary schools which teach using the English language. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is more EMI at tertiary level than at secondary level, and more at secondary than primary. There is also more EMI in the private sector than in the public sector as EMI is extremely marketable. Parents consider an EMI education as superior, elite and they are willing, in some countries, to spend a large portion of their income on giving their child an EMI education, feeling it will give their children a head start in life.

EMI or CLIL?

At secondary and primary level, though, this type of bilingual education is often referred to as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). For me, this is slightly different from EMI. The two are similar in the sense that they are both forms of bilingual education, but CLIL is usually used at primary school and secondary school and means teaching through any second language (for example, French or German), while EMI (as we see from its title) means teaching in English.

Another difference is the way the teachers perceive what they are doing. In both CLIL and EMI, teachers are teaching a subject through the medium of English. The difference comes in the way the teacher or lecturer thinks about his/her aims in the lesson/lecture. In CLIL classrooms there is a dual objective which is clearly stated – teaching both language and the subject content. In EMI, at university level, the lecturer typically does not think of themselves as a language teacher. Their aim is to teach the subject while speaking English.

This, though, presents all sorts of challenges for both teachers and students. For example, teachers believe that EMI is good for students, and that they will improve their English if they are taught through EMI. But if teachers do not consider themselves language teachers how is that improvement supposed to happen?

That is the million dollar question.

Julie will be presenting on EMI/CLIL at Oxford ELTOC 2017 – our first ever online conference for teachers in Asia.

If you’re a teacher in South Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia or Malaysia, find out more about the conference here.


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Extensive Reading and Language Learning

oup_54206Dr. Richard R. Day is a Professor at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii. He has authored numerous publications, particularly on second language reading, including Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (co-author).

Extensive reading is based on the well-established premise that we learn to read by reading. This is true for learning to read our first language as well as foreign languages. In teaching foreign language reading, an extensive reading approach allows students to read, read, and read some more.

When EFL students read extensively, they become fluent readers. But there is more. Studies have established that EFL students increase their vocabulary, and become better writers. We also know that reading extensively helps increase oral fluency—listening and speaking abilities. Finally, students who read a lot develop positive attitudes toward reading and increased motivation to study English. So there are some excellent reasons for having EFL students reading extensively.

Let’s now look at what extensive reading is by looking at four of its key principles*:

1. The reading material is easy.

For extensive reading to be possible and for it to have the desired results, students must read books and other materials that are well within their reading competence—their reading comfort zone. In helping beginning readers select texts, I believe that more than one or two unknown words per page might make the text too difficult for overall understanding. For intermediate learners, appropriate texts have no more than three or four unknown or difficult words per page.

I recognize that not everyone agrees with using easy materials. Many teachers believe that learners must read difficult texts; they also believe that students need to be challenged when learning to read. Perhaps they think that reading difficult texts somehow gets them used to reading materials written for first-language reading.

This is a mistake. Of course, our goal in teaching students to read is to have them read literature that is written for native readers. But we should not start with that goal! We need to start with books and material that have been especially written for beginning and intermediate levels of reading ability. They have to read texts they find easy and enjoyable as they learn to read.

2. A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be available.

For an extensive reading program to succeed, students have to read. So it is critical to have a large number of books on a wide variety of topics to appeal to all students. Such a library will include books (both fiction and non-fiction), magazines, and newspapers. There should be materials that are informative, and materials that are entertaining.

3. Learners choose what they want to read.

Allowing students to select what they want to read is key. Again, this is related to the basis of extensive reading: we learn to read by reading. Students are more likely to read material in which they are interested. So it makes sense for them to choose what (and where and when) to read.

In addition, students should also be free, indeed encouraged, to stop reading anything that isn’t interesting or which they find too difficult.

4. Learners read as much as possible.

The most crucial element in learning to read is the amount of time spent actually reading. We have to make sure that our students are given the opportunities to read, read, and read some more. This is the “extensive” of extensive reading, made possible by the first three principles.

How much should we ask our students to read?  The quick and short answer is, As much as possible! I usually set reading targets for my students. For example, for beginning EFL readers, the minimum is one book a week. This is realistic, as language learner literature for beginners (for example, graded readers) is short. Some teachers set their reading targets in terms of time. For example, students must read for 60 minutes each week.

To finish, let me repeat this important fact: we learn to read by reading. There is no other way. Extensive reading helps students become readers.

Richard will be presenting on extensive reading at Oxford ELTOC 2017 – our first ever online conference for teachers in Asia.

If you’re a teacher in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia you can find out more about the conference and register to attend here.

 

References:
Day, R. R. and J. Bamford. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading.  Reading in a Foreign Language 14/2.  http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2002/


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Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing

shutterstock_176605295

Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.

Writing’s a Chore?

When I was on a recent short-term teaching assignment in Northern Spain, I decided to ask my students to do some creative writing. I gave them some prompts and asked them to write a story. Far from being a joyous activity, the students rolled their eyes. There was a lot of grumbling and sighing and the finished versions were no more than four or five lines long. They had written stories, but they had not written creatively. Why did my students have such a negative reaction to writing and how could I encourage them to enjoy it?

garethdavies1

Why is writing an essential 21st century communication device? Well, take a brief look around in any town in any country you will see people hunched over their phones or tablets or laptops sending texts, emails or WeChat messages. Writing is in vogue. But it is more than that. It is argued that encouraging students to create in a foreign language helps them to internalise it more effectively. This is because they need to think about how language works and what they know, in order to be able to use the language successfully.

Merril Swain argues that input, being taught the language and being asked to manipulate it in controlled exercises, is useful, but it doesn’t produce the cognitive processing required to internalise language. Whereas:

“output pushes learners to process language more deeply – with more mental effort… With output, the learner is in control. In speaking or writing, learners can ‘stretch’ their interlanguage[1] to meet communicative goals.”

  • Swain

[1]Interlanguage is the learner’s current, work in progress version of the language. 

Thus when producing language, whether it be writing or speaking, students are being cognitively challenged which is helping them to internalise the language, and get better at it. Therefore, the work we do on writing in the classroom can be seen as work done on language development, helping students to improve their linguistic ability.

So how do we get our students writing?

One complaint I often hear from students is that they don’t know what to write about. Here are a couple of solutions.

Sit the students in circles of six. Ask students to write the topic they want to write about on the top of an A4 sheet of paper and then pass the paper around in the circle. Each student writes a question on the sheet about the topic at the top. Now each student has the subject they are going to write about and five questions to answer in the text.

Task: You are on a shopping trip to a big city with friends. Write a blog entry about your experience.

Instruction to Students: Decide which city you are visiting write it on top of the piece of paper.

Examples

Paris

Are the shops expensive?

Are there any street markets?

Is there a department store?

London

Are the shops expensive?

Is it crowded?

What is the food like?

If you want the students to all write about the same topic, write the topic on the board and draw two columns. Elicit all the things the students know about the topic and write them in the first column. Then give them time to think of what they would like to know about the topic. Elicit the questions they have thought of and write them in the second column. Now ask the students to do the writing task. The weaker or more cautious ones can rely on the information in the first column the more adventurous ones can try to find answers to the questions in the second column.

Task: Prepare a small advert for tourists about your home town.

Prague

What do we know?

Traditional markets at certain times of the year.

Best time to come is spring

Two castles

What would we like to know?

How much is it to stay in a hotel?

How much to taxis cost?

How do you take a boat trip?

Where’s the best place for a view of Prague?

If you want your students to do some creative writing, you might want to start by asking them to adapt an existing story. For example, you could take the story of Aladdin and ask the students to write a fifty-word summary or to write a 21st Century version or a version that would be more specific to their own country. This allows the students to work within an existing structure, but create their own ideas. An alternative might be to take a song or poem with regular repetitions and ask students to write their own version. Ian Dury’s I Believe is a good song for this kind of activity and can be found in Headway Intermediate.

Call a draft a draft

It is a good idea to encourage students to call their work drafts, to give them a sense that they can, and should, make changes. Asking questions is a really good way of giving feedback. The questions can help create a richer piece.  Some example feedback questions for a piece of creative writing might be: what happened next? why did this happen? how did the people feel? What did the street look like? This shows that the teacher has read the piece with interest and is keen to know more about the story, and was not just looking for mistakes and errors to correct.

In my webinar on the 25th and 26th of January, I will discuss some of these ideas in greater detail and suggest other ways to make the impossible possible and to get your students to enjoy their writing tasks.

webinar_register3

References

Tasks mentioned are taken from Solutions Pre-Intermediate 2nd Edition.

Swain, M., ‘The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue’ in Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition ed. James P. Lantolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 97- 114 p. 99.