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Teaching young learners and teenagers English | Are we all on the same page?

This presentation draws from my experience of working as an ELT teacher, teacher educator and researcher in relatively underprivileged contexts in sub-Saharan Africa. I hope the issues I have highlighted here resonate with teachers in other parts of the world. While policymakers continue to promote Curricula changes which focus on the development of communicative competence and learner-centred pedagogies, such policies are not often matched by a concomitant provision of human, material, or financial resources. As a result, classrooms remain overcrowded (some of my examples are taken from a classroom of 235 teenagers), and there is an acute lack of textbooks and other teaching and learning resources.

Teacher educators and teachers in this context, like elsewhere, have traditionally concerned themselves with teaching methods and techniques, teaching theories, learning materials, and classroom conditions. Yet there is evidence (e.g. from work done by members of the Teaching English in Large Classes Network, which shows that learners can play a very important role in the development of good practices. My own experience of working with young learners and teenagers in large under-resourced classrooms in sub-Saharan Africa has shown me that the best policies, materials, teaching practices etc. can only be as good as the learners for whom they are designed.

My research into context appropriate ELT pedagogy in Cameroon has shown that it may be possible to develop a pedagogic partnership which takes account of learner agency in teaching and teacher education processes. In this study, 11-year-old children claimed to learn better through collaborative tasks rather than quietly listening to their teacher.

Good teaching does not necessarily lead to good learning, but good learning can be achieved sometimes in spite of teaching. In an under-resourced context, learning must be a mutually constructed endeavour; a collaborative experience between teachers and learners, striving towards common goals. Both parties should have the same answers to the following questions:

  • What do we want to achieve?
  • How shall we achieve it?
  • Where shall we find the resources we need?

This collaboration between teachers and students in the design of content and process of learning is what I call a ‘pedagogy of partnership’. The examples show that when students are involved in sourcing and or producing their own materials for the language classroom and when they are given opportunities to contribute ideas for classroom activities, they benefit from using language productively and authentically. What is more, student-generated materials become invaluable learning resources in resource-poor contexts.

Watch my webinar to learn more about my research, and the Pedagogy of Partnership.


Harry Kuchah has been involved in English Language Teacher education and materials development for 20 years. His interests are in developing appropriate learning resources and processes for English language education in under-resourced large class contexts.

 

 


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Learning and teaching pragmatics | Anna Krulatz

Successful communication entails much more than following the rules of grammar, having a large lexicon, and speaking in a way that is intelligible to the listeners. What language learners also have to attend to is how meaning is constructed in context. They have to select appropriate language forms depending on the situation and the person they are speaking with. Pragmatic competence (sometimes also called pragmatic ability) refers to using language effectively in a contextually appropriate way. People who interact with each other work jointly to co-construct and negotiate meaning depending on factors such as their respective social status, the social distance between them, the place of interaction, and their mutual rights and obligations.

Cross-cultural and cross-linguistic differences in pragmatics

Pragmatic norms vary across languages, cultures and individuals. They are so deeply intertwined with our cultural and linguistic identities that learning pragmatics norms of another speech community, especially in adulthood, can be quite challenging. This is because culturally appropriate linguistic behaviours in the target language may differ in many ways from those in the first language (or languages). Think about the language and culture you identify with most closely (it can be your first language or another language that you use extensively in your daily life). If your language is like Russian, German or French, and makes a distinction between formal and informal ways of addressing another person (i.e., ты/вы, du/sie, tu/vous), it may be difficult for you to use informal ways of addressing people of higher status such as your boss, supervisor or professor. Conversely, if your language makes no such distinction and you are learning a language that does, it may be unnatural for you to differentiate the forms of address you use depending on whether you speak to a friend or to someone of a higher social status. Languages also differ in regards to speech acts, or utterances that are intended to perform an action, such as apologies, requests, invitations, refusals, compliments and complaints. Think about compliments. How would you respond in your first or strongest language if a good friend complimented you in the following way?

Friend: “Your hair looks great! Did you just get a haircut?”

You: “…?”

A native speaker of American English is likely to say something along these lines, “Oh thanks, I just styled it differently today. I’m glad you like it.” On the other hand, a Russian may say something like, “Oh really? It’s a mess. I spent a whole hour this morning trying to style it, and that’s the best that came out of it.” It is all good if these speakers are interacting with someone of the same language background or someone who is well versed in the pragmatic norms of the same language. But put an American and a Russian together, and the interaction may end in an awkward silence because the compliment was turned down (if it’s the Russian responding to the compliment), or a bewilderment at the other person’s immodesty (if it’s the American who is responding). This and other instances of pragmatic failure can cause much more misunderstanding than grammatical or lexical errors.

 Why teach pragmatics?

I first started to realise the importance of focusing on pragmatics in language teaching when I worked with international students at the University of Utah. Email use on campus was just beginning to gain in popularity as a medium of communication, and I would get emails from international students that came across as very informal. In fact, I started wondering if these students thought there was no difference between emailing a friend and emailing a professor. Here is a typical example:

Clearly, the goal of this message is to make a request for an extension on a deadline and a meeting during office hours. Although the email is mostly grammatically correct, it contains want- and need-statements, both of which are very direct ways of making requests. The student is also not using any hedges such as “please,” “thank you” or “would you.” Because of the context of the interaction (university campus in the United States), and the social distance between the two parties involved (student – professor), the message comes across as overly direct, bordering on impolite. As I received similar emails very frequently, I decided I had to do something to help my students develop their pragmatic competence. If your own students also struggle with the rules of netiquette, you may find this lesson plan by Thomas Mach and Shelly Ridder useful.

Unfortunately, few language courses and fewer textbooks focus explicitly on the development of pragmatic competence. Research shows, however, that language learners may not be able to notice that target language pragmatic norms are different from those in their first language, and can, therefore, benefit from pragmatics-focused activities. We are going to look at several examples of those in my webinar! Click the link below to register.

Do you have any examples of embarrassing or funny moments caused by pragmatic failure? Or ideas on how to teach pragmatics? If yes, please share your thoughts in the comments! 


Anna Krulatz is Associate Professor of English at the Faculty of Teacher Education at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, where she works with pre- and in-service EFL teachers. Her research focuses on multilingualism with English, pragmatic development in adult language learners, content-based instruction, and language teacher education.


References

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (2003, July). Introduction to teaching pragmatics. English Teaching Forum, 41(3), 37-39.

Rose, K. R., & Kasper, G. (2001). Pragmatics in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. (2010). Teaching and learning pragmatics. Where language and culture meet. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited.


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10 top tips to help you connect with your student’s parents

Parents and carers sometimes can be difficult to deal with; they didn’t learn English like their children, none of the current digital tools were available to them. Many don’t understand the benefits of modern methodology. For this reason, it would be helpful for you and your students to start the year with a parent meeting. Show them the course book and all of the associated digital resources, and in doing so, gain their confidence. This is your chance to answer their questions, clarify their doubts, and give them the clarity they need surrounding your teaching methods.

Here are 10 tips to help you make that meeting a success!

1. Start by telling participants how varied your class is in terms of mixed-ability and learning disabilities, give them numbers for context. It is important that parents are aware that all students learn in different ways and at a different pace. Once they understand that, they’ll appreciate why it’s important to have such a wide variety of resources, including digital ones, to appeal to different learning styles and cater to differing special needs.

2. Walk parents through a unit, get them to listen to the dialogue, read the text, watch the video, and if the material you’re using has Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) resources try a couple of them too! This will give parents an understanding of the methodology. As well as this, showing parents the type of content and resources their children can use will show them that learning a language nowadays can be fun and effective at the same time. If you have a YLE course, do a song, a game, or a craft activity from the book with them in the same way you would do with your students. You only need to spend fifteen minutes or half an hour at the most on this. It’s a small investment in time but the benefits are vast. This will let parents feel the pleasure kids have working this way in class. Hopefully, then they will understand that although it seems that they are “doing nothing” because they sing songs and play games, they are actually learning and most importantly, they are enjoying learning.

3. Homework time can be tricky for parents for various reasons. Showing them which pages and resources are useful for supporting kids with homework is a great help. Walk parents through the course book, paying special attention to the pages where they will find resources like the Irregular Verb List, Pronunciation Guide, Grammar Reference, Vocabulary Bank, Glossary, Key Phrases Bank, and so on. Parents will focus on those pages when supporting their children with homework.

4. Our students may be digital natives (born after the year 2000), but that doesn’t mean that they are digitally literate as a study run by MediaSmarts (Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy) has demonstrated: “Young people are mistakenly considered experts in digital technologies because they’re so highly connected, but they are still lacking many essential digital literacy skills”. It’s important to support students at home and parents will play an important role here. Nowadays, most courses have online practice components on platforms, apps and/or e-books. Show parents how to download the e-book or app, and show them how to access and use the platforms. Parents must know how to do this. Navigating these digital materials is usually intuitive, but for the sake of clarity, you might want to show them the main navigation tools.

5. If you’re going to use the Learning Management System (LMS) functionality of the course, explain to parents the benefits. For example, you will have more time in class to get students to practise language.

6. If students are going to use the online course materials autonomously, then you might want to give them an Online Learning Record like the one below (I was inspired by the “website learning record” of Headway and English File). Stress to parents how important it is that their kid’s keep this updated! This will help students to develop their study skills and to stay focused.

Example of an Online Learning Record

ACTIVITY DATE SCORE ACTION
U2 ex3 Vocabulary 12th Oct 4/10 Revise vocabulary bank
 

 

7. Remember that students with learning disabilities will benefit enormously from using content in digital format. You might want to inform parents of SEN students what aspects of the digital content you have are especially good for them. For example, if you have content on the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf the audio functionality gives you the possibility to slow down the speed. Karaoke-style scripts of the listening found on some coursebook e-books are also an excellent tool for some types of SEN students. If you are in Italy, the student’s website of OUP course books used in the country will have a dyslexic-friendly version of the readings in the course book. Click here for an example for English File Pre-Int. Also, some OUP eBooks offer the course book readings in a dyslexic-friendly format. When this option is active, you will see an icon and you just need to tap it to get the dyslexic-friendly version of the reading. I’ve added this information. This function is available on selected OUP courses, like English File, Headway or Insight.

8. Another important point to consider before you decide to implement the use of online resources is how parents feel about their kids being online. Some parents have reservations about internet safety so they prefer kids not to use the internet or have a negative attitude towards digital. This could be an obstacle for the student’s digital skills development which is crucial for the future of any child. It could also be an obstacle for you to carry out your lessons with online content. For this reason, it is a good idea to run parents through the online activities their children will be participating in, acknowledging their concerns along the way. Fortunately, there are ways to protect them online. Sometimes local internet providers will have free parental controls that filter out inappropriate content. Make sure you understand the concept of parental controls, and how parents can utilise them. Widespread concerns from parents on internet safety can be a real blocker, if you’re facing this you should dedicate time to walk through the above with parents.

9. To raise awareness of internet safety, why not join the hundreds of activities done globally on the occasion of the Safer Internet Day (SID)? It is celebrated every year in February to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology by students. The next SID will be on 5th February 2019 so save the date and start planning ahead. The UK Safer Internet Centre has a resourceful website where you can find online safety activities and more free resources for download. Do check for Safer Internet Day activities in your own country and join the bandwagon!

10. Finally, I would give parents a handout with platform URLs, links to tutorials (always check on YouTube to see if your digital tools have tutorials), info of online parental controls by local internet providers, information about the Safer Internet Centre in the area (if there is one), the online learning record, and the list of student’s resources (e.g. student’s website, vocabulary app, verb tables, etc). Think of this handout as a reference for parents to have handy when they need to help their kids with homework or revising for a test.

 Use the above information as you see fit. If you have other ideas, please take a moment to share them with me in the comments section, or send me an email.


Gina Rodriguez is a Senior Educational Consultant for OUP in Italy. She is a CELTA qualified teacher, teacher trainer and speaker. She generated the idea to have the existing “Genitori Studenti”  page (“Parents and Students” page) on the OUP Italian website as a way to support parents and students in managing their digital resources and supported the marketing team with the content. She firmly believes that being a digital native does not mean being digitally literate. Students need support on developing digital literacy both from school and home. Getting parents and carers involved in it will increase the chances of school success and reduce digital issues.


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Too many to talk! Helping students interact in large classes

As ELT teachers we aim to create purposeful communication in the classroom because for many of our students it is their only exposure to the language. Institutions may, for a variety of reasons, try to get as many students into a single classroom as possible, inevitably creating large class sizes. So how do we manage to give students in such a setting the opportunity to really interact orally in the target language (TL)?

How large is large?

Firstly, it is worth considering whether size actually matters:

“the size is relative and a matter of perception that varies from teacher to teacher.” (Shamin et al, 2007)

I went from a relatively small class size of 15 in the UK (feeling it was a large class when asked to teach 17/18), to teaching classes of 60-80 in rural Nepal, which felt truly daunting.

In order to do the teacher training required, I needed to experience and understand the difficulties of the teachers to try to help them find solutions. One such solution was to divide the class into units: 10 groups of 6 students were somehow easier to deal with mentally than 60 students. If you are going to break the class down in this way, you do not need to have them all doing the same thing at the same time.

It’s not only the what, but the how

Various studies have been carried out over the years on the effects of class size upon learning, but the conclusions are mixed. Interestingly, the disagreement is often over whether the main factor is the class size or methodology.

I would dare to suggest that the key is to adapt our methodology. If we use the same methodology that we would use with 15 students, with 60-80, then we’ll forever be fighting to keep all our students attention. The class takes on a controlling environment, for the teacher to be able to get the same message across to everyone at the same time.

When you change the methodology, you also change the role of the teacher. You may need some adjustment. I have found that it takes a lot more preparation, for example, for the different groups to be getting on with their task smoothly. Clear instructions that are written down (either on the board, a slide, or on a worksheet) allows students to double-check should they forget along the way, what it was that they were supposed to focus on. This frees up the teacher because students don’t need to keep checking with them, thus allowing some quality time to be spent with each, or a select group of students. The teacher gets regular snapshots of the students’ language abilities, as well as being able to add relevant input if required to keep students on the right track. The teacher, therefore, becomes a source of advice/suggestions and needs to think on their feet according to the task/the students in the group/the difficulties.

If the teacher knows their students well and has carefully planned the tasks around them, many of the issues can be anticipated. Which brings me on to a crucial question, how do we get to know our students if there are so many of them? I’ll be talking about this and more on encouraging oral interaction in particular in my upcoming webinar “Too many to talk!” on the 13th and 14th September! Places are limited to register today, and I’ll see you there.


Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.


Reference:

Shamin. F., N. Negash, C. Chuku, N. Demewoz (2007) Maximizing learning in large classes: Issues and options. Addis Ababa, British Council.


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Enabling students to become autonomous learners of vocabulary

Teaching words

I taught English as a Foreign Language for many years in Japan and also for a short time in China. During my time as a teacher I always tried to focus on teaching words. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, in my experience as a foreign language learner, I saw the value in learning vocabulary. Learning words helped me to communicate a little bit more effectively, and allowed me to understand a little bit more. Moreover, I found vocabulary learning to be motivating. I might not see the gains that I made in speaking, listening, and grammar, but I could see that I knew more words each week, and this encouraged me to keep studying. Second, I could see that my students always made an effort to learn vocabulary; in every class as I walked around the classroom I could see that students had written new words in their books.

Despite my best efforts to teach vocabulary, I was always a little disappointed by the progress of my students. However, now that I have a better understanding of the research on vocabulary learning, I realise that I was part of the problem; I could have done a better job helping my students to learn vocabulary.

There are too many words to teach!

In my webinar, I will talk about several issues that I believe are really important to teaching and learning vocabulary. The first and basis for the talk is the fact that there are far too many words to teach. Native speakers of English know about 15,000 words, and to understand books and newspapers, students need to know around 8,000-9,000 words. Students may only learn a small proportion of these words in the classroom, which means that if they are to be successful in their lexical development, they need to learn the majority of words on their own outside of the classroom. This means that one of the most important jobs for teachers is to help their students to become effective and efficient autonomous learners of vocabulary.

Vocabulary learning strategies

There are several vocabulary learning strategies that instructors can teach to help their students to become more effective and efficient autonomous learners. All of these strategies are fairly simple, which is perhaps why typically little classroom time is spent on mastering vocabulary learning strategies. However, because of their great importance, it is worth spending a great deal of classroom time ensuring that students can effectively learn words on their own.

I will touch on a couple of vocabulary learning strategies in my webinar. The most important one involves working with different types of input that students might encounter outside of the classroom to show students that they can understand and enjoy English on their own. Input that students might be motivated to learn from such as English television programs, YouTube videos, shopping sites, and songs. Initially a great deal of these types of L2 input may be too difficult for students. However, with support from teachers over a sufficient period of time, students may find that not only can they have reasonable comprehension of the input, but they might also see that they can enjoy learning with it. Essential to this strategy is showing students that there are opportunities to enjoy learning English outside of the classroom, and how making the most of these opportunities is fundamental to L2 development. With teaching vocabulary learning strategies, it is not what is gained during the classroom that is of greatest value, but rather what is gained when students are encountering and using English outside of the classroom that is key.

In my upcoming webinar, I look forward to discussing with you how to help students become autonomous learners of L2 vocabulary. I believe there are some useful points in my webinar that would have helped me do a better job of helping my students to learn vocabulary when I was an EFL teacher. Hopefully there will be some value in the talk for each of you.

Register for the webinar


Stuart Webb is a Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Western Ontario. Before teaching applied linguistics, he taught English as a foreign language in Japan and China for many years. His research interests include vocabulary, second language acquisition, and extensive reading, listening, and viewing. His latest book (with Paul Nation), How Vocabulary is Learned was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.