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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.

 

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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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.

 


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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.

 

 

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/