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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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Learning difficulties in the ELT classroom: How to identify them and what to do

As an English Language teacher you may have students with unidentified additional learning needs in your classroom. Often these learning difficulties are ‘invisible’, not easy to recognise in class, or hidden behind other issues such as poor behaviour, and an apparent lack of motivation.

Identifying ‘invisible’ learning difficulties

Difficulties which have not been identified by any formal assessment can surface in a variety of ways. They may first appear in an English Language class because the focus is on activities that require students to communicate and interact with other students, using all four skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Although it is not the teacher’s job to diagnose learning difficulties, it’s important to know how to recognise when a student might be struggling because of a learning difficulty.

General indicators

Indicators that students might be experiencing difficulties greater than expected for their age and level include:

  • having problems understanding and following instructions
  • finding it difficult to concentrate and being easily distracted
  • having difficulty with tasks which require fine or gross motor skills
  • being able to speak much more fluently than they can write
  • finding it difficult to start tasks or never managing to finish them
  • avoiding doing tasks
  • having problems participating in whole-class or group activities
  • appearing not to listen, or not responding to questions or instructions
  • having problems making friends and maintaining relationships.

These indicators reflect three main issues : Behavioural, Communication, Social Skills

Behavioural   

Learning difficulties often first present themselves in classes through poor behaviour and non-compliance or non-completion of tasks. Many of these issues relate to impaired working memory. Working memory is the part of your brain which holds information long enough to act on it. When working memory is impaired, students find it difficult to remember and act upon instructions, to copy things down correctly from the board, to remember what they have just read in a reading text. This shows up in class as

  • Not writing things down properly or avoiding writing down from the board
  • Not following instructions or continually asking what they should do
  • Appearing to switch off when reading longer texts and losing focus very quickly
  • Appearing disorganised and forgetful

Communication issues

Learning difficulties can also show up as communication issues. They can occur in receptive language (understanding) and/or expressive language (producing). Students find it difficult to understand what they have to do or to show what they know. It can lead to students having difficulties in communicating with the teacher and their peers. They may not want to work in groups, appearing withdrawn and isolated, sometimes not understanding humour or everyday conversation.

Social skills issues

Social skills issue can relate to language issues or social and emotional difficulties. Students may have problems taking turns, showing empathy, and understanding other students’ perspectives. As the language classroom operates on social interactions, lessons can present a real challenge to these students.

These indicators do not necessarily mean a student does not care about learning. They can be indicators of students with additional needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit, speech, and language difficulties or ASC (autistic spectrum condition).

However, most students experience some of these difficulties from time to time. If you’re concerned about a student in your class, gather objective information about how often the problems occur and how serious they are. Consider:

  • Is the problem across all classes and at all times of day?
  • Is the problem in certain class groupings?
  • Where is the child sitting? Can they hear and see properly?
  • Who is the child sitting with? Does this make a difference?
  • What kinds of tasks can the child do?
  • When the child is engaged, what engages them?
  • Is the work too easy or too difficult? How do you know?
  • Does the work involve a lot of writing? Sitting still? Copying from the board?
  • Is the child only noticed for negative things? What are their strengths?
  • Does the child have trouble following instructions?
  • Does the child have trouble remembering visual and/or auditory information?

Teaching principles

The important thing to remember is that all students need to feel safe and valued in their class. Good teachers provide this for all their students by maintaining positive relationships, clear structure, routines, consistency and clarity.

Use a multi-sensory approach for teaching and checking understanding. For example,  give instructions with visuals, gestures and words, use different ways to check understanding such as mini whiteboards and traffic lights signals. Use visual icons on your board to show the order of teaching in your lesson.

Focus on developing positive relationships with your students. Notice if you are only interacting negatively with some students, those for example, who are always causing disruptions or are slow to respond. Get to know them as people, beyond any labels. Every student is unique and different and brings something important to the class. Avoid jumping to assumptions that they are ‘lazy’ or ‘don’t care’.

Use an assessment for learning approach, such as 2 stars and a wish, where you encourage students to focus on their own progress against specific criteria rather than on overall attainment levels.

Celebrate their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. These can be academic or personal strengths, such as kindness, perseverance, and good humour.

Create an inclusive ethos in class. To do this, try using class contracts which are value driven rather than rules driven. ‘In this class we give people extra time if they need it’. ’In this class we help each other.’

Use the English class to develop social skills in all students. Try activities like ‘find 5 things in common with your partner, or ‘5 things which are different’, this creates a sense of belonging and allows students to celebrate difference.

Remember that it is not your job to diagnose. If you are concerned about a student, gather as much information as you can. Discuss with other teachers to determine whether the difficulties are only in English, or are also in other lessons. Find out whom in your school is responsible for additional learning needs, typically a school psychologist, special educational needs co-ordinator or manager responsible for learning should be there to talk through your concerns.

For more on identifying and working with students with learning difficulties, join me for my upcoming webinar on the 20th June 2018. After the webinar you’ll understand the most common signs of learning difficulties, and will know how you to best work with students affected by them.

webinar registration button


 

Marie Delaney is a teacher trainer, educational psychotherapist, and director of The Learning Harbour, educational consultancy, in Cork, Ireland. She worked for many years with students of all ages who have SEN, in particular in the area of behavioural difficulties. She has worked with Ministries of Education and trained teachers in several countries on inclusion policy, curriculum, and inclusive pedagogy. Her main interests are bringing therapeutic approaches into teaching and learning, supporting teachers in their dealings with challenging pupils and promoting inclusive education principles for all. Marie is the author of Special Educational Needs (Oxford University Press, 2016).


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Promoting Project-Based Learning | Q&A

Project workDuring the recent webinars I presented for OUP on Project-Based Learning, I set out a framework which could be used in ELT.

Project-Based Learning is defined by the Buck Institute for Education (2018) as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

In order for this to be more accessible for English Language Teaching (ELT) we need to set out a framework and be selective to make pedagogic sense.

Generate and stimulate: This has to come from the teacher initially, especially if you are dealing with young learners or teens. It is about knowing your students and knowing what will motivate them in terms of the topics and activities you are going to ask of them. Generate interest by discussing issues that directly affect them, and this will stimulate them further. It’s the teacher’s job to build curiosity and passion in to the project, adding and stirring when necessary. As ideas are generated, areas that need further exploring should become exposed. As a group, decide which problem/area you want to explore.

Define and refine: From this you need to define a driving question – one where the answer cannot be simply ‘Googled’. Each class or group within a class should have a different driving question that is specific to their interests. You may start with defining quite a big question such as ‘What size should the trains be?‘  And refine this down to ‘How can we get as many people on the train as possible?‘. These questions should not be written in ‘educationese’ like ‘What methods could be used to maximise the capacity of the trains?’, but worded by and for the learners.

Designate and Collaborate: At this stage, the project is truly designed, and the goals are set using SMART principles (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). The tasks and activities are designated to the learners who want them or feel they would like the opportunity to do them. There should be a strong sense of collaboration, so that not one student feels like they are doing all the work, or are isolated. At this point it is a good idea to visually display the goals which have been set, who is doing what, and timescales. This is an opportunity to value each and every member of the class.

Compare and Share: It is essential that there is a continuum of input and feedback, and this should come from peers as well as the teacher. Getting groups to compare what they are doing and sharing their ideas will only make all of the projects better. Students get a better idea of their own performance by seeing what others have done and comparing themselves in relation to each other. Giving and taking critical feedback is also an important part of development; using the THINK mnemonic (see diagram above) should set expectations and provide guidelines for peer feedback. Having a ‘growth mindset’ is about learning how to receive and use feedback productively, accepting critiques as suggestions for improvement rather criticisms of failure.

Enhance and Advance: Learners start off using the knowledge and skills that they have, but then develop these further through the tasks or research that they are doing. This is what makes perfect pedagogic sense, where they have created a context that interests them, which in turn has defined the language that they need to complete a task. This integrates language, as well as content and skills development. Essentially they are providing inherently important reasons for using the language. According to Patsy Lightbown, a lot of language is acquired through meaningful language usage. However, many features of language cannot be acquired, so it is our job as English Language teachers to provide them with the language they need to complete the task.

PBL allows us to adapt goals for learners at different proficiency levels, using the content the learners have created as a backdrop provides meaningful language. The focus should also be on developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) such as reasoning, enquiry and discussion, creative thinking, self and peer evaluation, and hypothesizing. Compare these skills to Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) such as remembering information, ordering information, defining objects and checking understanding. Other skills that need to be enhanced are 21st Century skills (for more information click here). These include: Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. 

Review and Revise: Students look back at the whole project and review what they have done, being critical of their own work. Similar to the Compare and Share stage but students need to turn the THINK questioning on to their own work and evaluate and state what they like, and what they would have done differently if they were doing it again. This helps to consolidate learning and assess what learning has taken place.

Produce and present: This is the final product and it should be presented to more than just class peers. It doesn’t have to be a poster, display, or a PPT presentation – with the advancement of technology there are so many other ways to publish the work that your students have done, from infographics to using Minecraft! Some of the other suggestions that came out through the webinar include: leaflets, videos, photo stories, podcasts, school magazines, comics, e-books, school websites, blogs, Prezzi presentations, puzzles, links with QR codes, video tutorials, Padlet, and using Google Forms and documents.

The PBL Framework is presented in a circle, as more often than not, more interest and motivation is generated during the presentation stage, stimulating more areas of inquiry and leaving questions that still need exploring. Perhaps the presentation is from another group of learners which generates and stimulates conversation with your group of learners.

The framework is only complete when we add the student to the centre, making sure that they are at the heart of the project. It is their project, rather than the teacher’s, and that needs to reflect the needs and interests of the learners.

As teachers, we need to coordinate and manage the whole process at every stage. It’s not about giving it to the learner and walking away until a final product is handed in. It’s a lot more work for us! We have to manage and micro-manage each section, stage, and learner to make sure they are all benefitting from PBL.

Lastly and most importantly, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are language teachers and we need to provide language input, so at each stage of the framework, there should be time allocated to language input. We need to provide the learners with the language they need in order to carry out the tasks, do the research, present their findings. That means a lot of different structures will be needed – we  can’t expect them to know it all already. There are a lot of opportunities to develop the different skills (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing) while on the PBL path. These all need to feature somewhere in your lesson plans and making sure that each learner is not neglecting development of any of the skills.

Qs: Can PBL be used in the language class for adults? Is it difficult for primary students? Does PBL make sense in evening schools as well where you meet 1 1/2 hour each week for 12 times?

A: There were a lot of questions on whether PBL is suitable for different ages and levels and teaching situations. The PBL framework could, and should, be used as that – a ‘framework’ – where you adapt the content and language according to your learners, their age, stage of development, interests, language competency and number of hours you have available. There is no time scale because you can adapt it to suit the time you have available, choosing which sections of the framework to focus on if you need to.

Qs: I’ve often had students who can produce understandable but incorrect language. How much correction is really meaningful for projects? Often we need really disciplined students to complete tasks in English. How can you make them speak only English? You mentioned having language input between each stage; would this be topic related or functional language for completing the projects (collaborative phrases etc)?

A: A lot of comments came up about language and how your students didn’t have enough language to do PBL. This is where you need to identify what language they will need to do a specific task, not just the content language but functional language too, and provide some input on that, like you would in a normal language lesson. At each stage of the framework they will need different functional language, as well as different content language. Remember the ‘Enhance and Advance’ stage/element is to start with what they know and can build upon, both in terms of content and language. Providing language input is a key to a successful PBL environment. When teaching in monolingual situations, you need to create a positive learning environment where the students want to speak in English (as you would in your normal lessons). I usually nominate one student in each group (a different student each time, and not necessarily the strongest) to be the ‘English Captain’, giving them the responsibility to make sure as much English is used as possible.

Q: How do you get ideas for topics?  Not all students are interested in one topic, how can we manage that? What happens if several students want to tackle the same aspect of a question? Should I have to decide with my pupils what content is?

A: Karen suggested that maybe the teacher could give a choice of projects, and students vote to choose collaboratively. One of the main objectives of PBL is to encourage collaboration, and it starts with the choice of topic. To get inspiration about some of the topics to use have a look at some of the links listed below. Defining a point of inquiry is just the start, as this soon gets refined to something more specific. If there are several students who wish to explore the same area, that is fine, it will make the ‘Compare and Share’ stage more generative and it will raise the overall level of the projects considerably. Like with all language lessons you will want to set the students home learning tasks (I’ve stopped using the term ‘homework’ as I don’t want them to get the right answers just for me to mark, but because they are learning).

At the end of the session I shared that my life philosophy is based on MMM, which is a more learner-centred, child friendly view of how language is acquired used by University of Nottingham ITE team.

MMM; Meeting new language, Manipulating it and Making the language your own.

This also supports the pedagogic reasoning behind PBL, where the learners are ‘Meeting’ the topic/content/language/ driving question, ‘Manipulating’ it as they research and develop their ideas, and by doing a presentation they are ‘Making’ it their own; they are taking ownership of the topic/content and language so that it belongs to them.

So now that you have MET PBL, it is up to you to decide if you want to MANIPULATE the ideas suggested to your individual teaching situation. If you do that, then you will certainly have a feeling of OWNING PBL…having MADE it your own. And this is exactly the sensation you want to create in your lessons, so that your learners leave with a sense of owning the project, owning the content, owning the skills, and owning the language.


Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


References:

Brewster, Ellis and Girard. (1993). The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Penguin.

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.

Lightbown, P. (2014). Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

BIE PBL YouTube Video Project Based Learning: Explained
https://oxelt.gl/2Ml9mUl

What is project-based learning? 15 PBL ideas fit for your classroom
by Lucie Renard — Jun 22, 2017
https://www.bookwidgets.com/blog/2017/06/what-is-project-based-learning-15-pbl-ideas-fit-for-your-classroom

25 Creative Ways to Incorporate More Project Based Learning in the Classroom
By Terri Eichholz April 18, 2016
http://www.fusionyearbooks.com/blog/project-based-learning/

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl.
Accessed 10/5/18


Other interesting YouTube videos and Blogs you may find useful:

How to Design Project-Based Learning Activities EUN Academy: https://youtu.be/_3yAODXnAsg

http://digitaldivideandconquer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/project-based-learning-in-your-classroom.html?m=1

https://hqpbl.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/FrameworkforHQPBL.pdf

MMM : How many TLAs do we really need? Is there room for one more?
By Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa
https://jmhdr.wordpress.com/

There are SO MANY resources and inspiration on Pinterest which gives you links to blogs and websites.


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Promoting Project-Based Learning

PrProject-Based Learningoject-Based Learning has always had a significant place in the English Language classroom. Teachers soon realise that the topic of language and grammar is not the most engaging, especially for younger learners and teenagers. Even for adults, there is rarely an occasion to discuss the use of the present perfect or passive forms in natural conversation. Projects, therefore, help provide a topic and situation to consolidate language and provide further practice of specific tenses and/or lexis.

Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing students’ reactions when they realise that the piece of artwork and/or writing they have been working on is part of a larger picture, to create a display for a wider audience.  They develop a sense of pride and achievement knowing that their work is being viewed by parents, carers, teachers, students, and other interested parties. Some of the most ambitious projects I coordinated as the Director of Studies at International House Porto were whole school projects where each student, from every class regardless of age or level, was given the same rubric or task.

This inter-generational, cross-level endeavour meant that differentiation in what was produced was by outcome, allowing each individual to work according to their own abilities. This is preferable (and easier to coordinate) to setting a different task for each age group and level. The underlying principle of Project-Based learning is that learners can work to their own strengths, and at the same time the spectacular displays can create a wonderful sense of community within the school, often with families coming to visit the school to see the final exhibition.  The project, though, is driven by the teacher or institute and the work produce is ultimately for display purposes.

Project-Based Learning (PBL), however, is much more than producing wall displays and completing projects set by the teacher. The teacher’s role should be to instigate the project, but then to let the learners navigate and steer it. The driving force should come from the students, as they find a way to tackle a real-life problem, or conduct some inquiry research into areas that have an impact on their lives. PBL is about the process rather than the final product (which could still be a wall display, if appropriate), and developing the skill-sets such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity which are needed for life and work in the modern world (click here for more information on 21st century skills).

PBL is more akin to Content-Based Learning (CBL) and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated  Learning) in that the pedagogic principles focus on encouraging learners to expand their cross-curriculum knowledge through challenging experiences, developing technological skills, contextualising communication skills, all by engaging with authentic and meaningful projects.

Here are 7 points to consider when creating an effective PBL program:

  • Identify a challenging problem or a question which must be researched (not just Googled!) in order to expand knowledge and understanding of the area
  • Feature real-world contexts which are both stimulating and interesting, and which will ultimately have an impact on the lives of the learners
  • Engage the learner in associated cognitive processing as they sustain a level of inquiry
  • Collaborating and communicating within the classroom community and beyond in order to set themselves tasks, delegate, and carry out research.
  • Develop appropriate language awareness and language skills
  • Self-reflection and evaluation, questioning what has been achieved and how it could move forward

And finally

  • Produce a public product to present, display or exhibit to interested parties beyond the classroom.

Project-Based Learning is well-suited to mainstream schools and education systems, and there has been a lot of research to prove that it is the way forward. But how well does it fit into the English language classroom? In my upcoming webinar I will explore further what is involved in Project-Based Learning and how you could use it in the English Language classroom. I will set out a basic framework which should be adaptable depending on individual teaching situations. We shall also have an opportunity to share ideas, make suggestions and inspire each other to try out different kinds of PBL.

Click here to register.


References:

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.


Jane-Maria Harding da RosaJane Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


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Minds Matter: Psychology of language learning | Q&A

Psychology of language learning

Recently, I held three webinars for OUP focusing on the topic of learner psychology. I chose to concentrate on what I termed the 2Gs and 3Cs: Growth mindset and Grit; A sense of Competence, Control, and Connectedness. There were many fascinating questions that came up and I’m afraid time ran out to answer them all. Here I respond to a selection of the key questions related specifically to the talk and connected with each other.

  1. Do we need to address mindsets with adults?

I found this an interesting and important question for two reasons. Yes, we can and should still work on promoting a growth mindset in adults. There is increasing evidence for the plasticity of the brain throughout the lifetime and adults can also adapt, change and learn new skills as they age. However, that is not to say changing mindsets is easily done. As the other name for them, implicit theories, suggests, mindsets are deeply rooted beliefs and we may not always be conscious of them. To change the way we think, especially for those beliefs we may have held for a long time, takes reflection and patience. However, we know that beliefs can change, no matter what our age with awareness, will, practice, and concerted effort.

The second reason I think this question is important concerns its implications for our own mindsets as teachers. It is well known that people may claim to espouse certain beliefs but then their actions may reveal a different set of underlying beliefs. In other words, we may talk the right talk but perhaps don’t walk the corresponding walk! Our behaviours and language as teachers serve as critical models for the implicit messages we send to our learners. Therefore, our own mindsets are incredibly important, not only for our own learning and growth but also for supporting our learners in developing their own mindsets. We need to monitor how we talk about our own learning and abilities as well as those of our learners. Ideally, teachers need to hold a growth mindset about their language learning abilities but also about their pedagogical and didactic competences. We can improve our skills as language educators throughout our career. Growth mindsets about our teaching competences are the foundation of our own continuing professional development. We need to keep an eye on whether we are really walking the talk for our learners and ourselves?

  1. At what point should we create the ‘mistakes most welcome’ culture in our classes?

The culture of a class can be defining for the interpersonal relationships within it, not only between teacher and learners but also among the learners. Research asking learners if they are nervous about speaking in class found that it is not the teacher and their response that makes them nervous, but rather how their peers might respond. For that reason, I think it is vitally important from day 1 of the class to set the right tone helping students to connect as a group with a shared sense of identity, common guiding purpose, and sense of trust. It also means we have to ensure all our learners feel comfortable and confident to explore the language with each other within the group. Learning and growth can only take place when learners push their competences out of their comfort zones and risk making mistakes. As such, mistakes should be welcome in any class when they indicate that the learner is trying to make progress and when they are used as an opportunity to learn. The kind of ‘mistake culture’ we develop concerns how we respond to mistakes, how learners react to each other’s mistakes as well as how they feel about their own mistakes and what action we take in respect to learning from them. Essentially, we can help learners reframe how they think about and respond to mistakes in language use and learning. They can present a learning opportunity and be an outward sign of courageous, progress-oriented learning growth. To support this ‘mistakes most welcome’ culture, we can start on the very first day of class to foster positive group dynamics and develop a cohesive classroom community built on mutual trust and respect.

  1. How is a knowledge of learning strategies useful?

Assuming that learners hold a growth mindset and fundamentally believe that their abilities can improve, they also need other skills in order for that to translate into actual improvement. The beliefs form the foundation on which other dimensions of their psychology and behaviours are built. Having a growth mindset predisposes the learners to being more motivated – it means there is a purpose and potential benefit to investing time and effort in their learning. However, motivation and effort alone are still not enough. Learners also need to have strategic pathways of how they should reach their goals. They need to know how to learn so that their efforts are purposeful, goal-directed and ultimately effective for them as individuals. This suggests that we can support learners by working with them explicitly on their metacognitive knowledge about themselves as learners, as well as about the tasks involved in learning a language and the strategies one could use to approach those tasks. Having knowledge of strategies to manage and regulate learning is empowering for students and, ironically, can also strengthen growth mindsets by showing learners concrete pathways to progress. It actually helps learners to believe they can overcome obstacles and challenges by providing direction and ideas of how to do that. Having a growth mindset and metacognitive knowledge of learning strategies go hand in hand.


Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT methodology and Deputy Head of the Centre for Teaching and Learning in Arts and Humanities. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author and co-editor of several books in this area including, ‘Psychology for Language Learning’.