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Janet Enever reflects on the #ELTJ Debate at #IATEFL 2014

Janet Enever at the ELTJ Debate at IATEFL 2014At this year’s ELTJ Debate, Janet Enever (Umea University, Sweden) argued against the motion that ‘This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good‘. Janet shares her thoughts on some of the points that came out of the debate. Catch up on the highlights in our Storify story of the event.

Firstly, I’d like to say how pleased I was to hear so many interesting and relevant points raised at the ELTJ Debate. Together, they provided fruit for a really valuable round table event – perhaps this would be a more productive format for developing shared understandings and creating networks than the adversarial stance of a debate.

Here, I’d like to pick up on a few points raised that I felt were particularly important – just to start the ball rolling for additional perspectives to be aired.

There’s proof in the pudding

Firstly then, the exciting new evidence from Eva Wilden in Germany! A study of over 6,500 children at the end of the German primary school phase (aged 10/11 yrs). She reported clear evidence of greater progress in receptive skills by approximately 50% of the sample who began English earlier. This large scale study is very significant evidence. In addition, the study linked higher achievement with stronger reading skills in German (national language – which may or may not be the children’s first language). Can we extrapolate from this that higher level literacy in the language of schooling/L1 works hand-in-hand with higher achievements in English?

I’d like to add a note here on the broader question of literacy and politely take issue with Fiona [Copland]. There is now strong evidence on the potential of early language learning to contribute positively to literacy in L1. The references are now too numerous to list here, but perhaps I can include one quote and suggest that for anyone interested, it would be worth following up on this particular source. So: Fernandez (2008:8) summarises evidence, that:

far from detracting from the development of literacy, learning a second language actually enhances and enriches children’s language experience and offers unique insights and opportunities for the development of cognitive skills, which are unavailable to the monolingual learner.”

It seems possible that Eva from Germany has evidence of just this happening – I’m glad to say that she has now agreed to present at our conference in Umea this June – so join us if you can to hear more! Of course, OUP are one of our proud sponsors!

Political buy-in

Secondly, I’d like to mention the contribution of a colleague from Bangladesh. I haven’t had the chance to spend time there so cannot pretend to be knowledgeable on the challenges, though I’ve heard this account many times and seen many of these challenges elsewhere in the world. The current problem for Bangladesh seems to be that there are very few positive aspects to this policy decision! Here I will take up just one.

From the ELLiE study we learnt that primary English teachers need a fluency level of at least B2 if they are to be able to respond to the unplanned, informal everyday requirements of English in the primary classroom. In many contexts this continues to be a distant goal, but this does not diminish its importance. At a language planning stage we need to ‘help’ politicians to fully understand this and strategically plan to achieve this target. Years ago when I worked in Poland (soon after the political changes), I witnessed thousands of teachers of Russian losing their jobs. Some, astonishingly, managed to speedily turn their hands to rapidly learning English and became excellent English teachers instead. The shift in language choice that has occurred there over the past 24 years is certainly remarkable, with a national policy now established for introducing the first foreign language (mainly, but not only, English) from the start of schooling. However, in a country of 40 million, this has taken a generation to implement – and they are still working on it. Evidently, Bangladesh has much greater challenges – probably not only in the teaching of primary English, with large classes and a struggle for adequate resources.

How much is too much?

The final point that I’d like to discuss relates to the question of ‘how many languages are possible at primary level?’ This is indeed a difficult question to answer – probably impossible! A delegate from Switzerland outlined their current debate. Last year I attended a national discussion forum on this in Bern where I learnt that English was creeping up the agenda in a number of cantons, and concerns were rising particularly about the decline of their fourth language – Romansch. From informal coffee break conversations I gained the impression that the German speakers in particular no longer saw French as so important/valuable as English.

This topic links also to the question raised by a British Council representative from Senegal in Francophone West Africa. Similarly, there, current discussions consider whether children will suffer from overload if they have to cope with learning two languages in addition to their home language/mother tongue/language of schooling (various terms may apply in different contexts). In response to the question of: ‘How many languages are too many?’ we can cite countries such as India where it is often the norm for young children to shift between 3-4 languages in their daily lives – but these are generally languages that are widely used in the community. We can also cite smaller-scale examples where three languages are taught in schools from an early age – e.g. Luxembourg, Belgium, some regions of Spain such as Catalonia and the Basque region. However, again, at least two of these languages are widely used in the community, whilst the third (English) is seen as a high status international language.

From this and other evidence then, we know children can cope, but we have to ask whether the contextual conditions are sufficient to provide enough support for them to make progress. With good teachers, good resources and a supportive wider community (both in and out of school) I’m sure it can be done. However, achieving this on a wider scale takes substantial national/political commitment. Of course, it also takes a significant amount of class time so it’s important to consider the priorities and take care not to create a primary curriculum that suffers from overload. In Africa, I know it’s a real dilemma, with some former colonies having opted for non-local language as the medium of instruction from the start of schooling and then later recognising this might result in only limited progress in basic education. The theme of Medium of Instruction deserves a separate discussion I feel – and was not the focus of the Debate. Here, we are discussing the introduction of a foreign language, together with the teaching of a former colonial language (English or French mainly).

My expectation is that the outcome is unlikely to be balanced bilingualism. Nonetheless, the experience of learning two languages early, in addition to the first language, will certainly provide a valuable foundation for later further development – assuming the conditions are sufficient to ensure good provision. Of course, Harry Kuchah’s contribution from Cameroon serves as a salutory reminder on how difficult it can be to achieve satisfactory conditions for learning.

There are so many more points I would like to discuss, but I hope the above provides some food for thought and provokes further discussion. As you can see, there are so many perspectives to consider.

If Janet’s points on the ELTJ Debate have interested you, or you’d like to challenge them, feel free to leave a comment below. And don’t forget to watch the recording of the Debate or read our Storify highlights.


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#IATEFL – This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good

Thumb up and thumb downAhead of the ELT Journal debate at IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate, Graham Hall, editor of ELT Journal, presents an introduction to the motion of the debate.

The ongoing expansion of English language teaching for Primary age learners and teenagers has been a notable feature of ELT in recent years. In many countries, English is now compulsory in primary as well as secondary education, whilst English for Pre-school learners is also increasingly common. Some estimates suggest that up to 80 per cent of English language teaching globally is directed, in diverse contexts, at students in Primary or Secondary schools. As the exact cut-off point between Primary and Secondary education varies around the world, let’s assume for this blog that we’re referring to teaching children of pre- and/or post-11 years old).

As both parents and educational authorities seek to increase younger learners’ English language skills, we can’t assume that an earlier start to learning English is automatically better. The advisability of an early start to learning English can be affected by a number of factors, ranging from the availability of suitably skilled teachers and appropriate resources to concerns about the possible implications for the teaching and learning of other languages, and from the development of suitable classroom practices and methodologies to the relationship between a child’s first language literacy skills and their English language development.

So, it’s perhaps time to step back and take a little time to reflect on the extent to which the expansion of Primary ELT is, in fact, straightforwardly ‘beneficial’. If we, the ELT profession, teach millions of Primary age children English around the world, does this automatically lead to advantages, both for individuals and societies more generally, or is it possible that Primary ELT brings with it significant problems and difficulties? Does, in fact, Primary ELT do more harm than good?

There are perhaps 3 key reasons for the growth of Primary ELT. Firstly, there is the widespread assumption that ‘the earlier a language is learned, the better’; in other words, younger children are (or are more likely to be) more successful language learners. Secondly, the expansion of Primary ELT is a response to the increasing demand for English, which results from globalization; governments and policy-makers around the world would like an English-speaking workforce, which they see as leading to economic success. And finally, parents would like their children to benefit from learning English.

Yet, although age clearly influences language learning in some way, the exact nature of this relationship is rather less clear than is popularly imagined – the actual evidence in favour of younger learners’ superiority in L2 learning is rather inconsistent, especially in non-immersion situations, where encounters with English might be limited to a few hours a week in the classroom. And we might also worry about a top-down ‘rush for English’ in which policy is not thoroughly thought through and issues such as teacher training and education, and classroom methodologies and materials for teaching Primary ELT, become problematic. Is a gap developing between policy and practice, and between our goal of how Primary ELT ‘should be’, and the realities of often under-resourced classroom life?

These issues will be discussed and debated in more detail in the ELT Journal debate, held at the IATEFL Conference in Harrogate (UK) on Thursday 3rd April (11.30-12.45 BST). There, Fiona Copland (Aston University, UK) will propose the motion: ‘This house believes that Primary ELT does more harm than good’; Janet Enever (Umea University, Sweden) will oppose the motion.

For more information about the conference and to access the debate online visit Harrogate online. You can also follow us on Twitter as we live-tweet highlights from the debate and other IATEFL speaker sessions.

Graham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.


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Teaching Students with attention, concentration and hyperactivity difficulties – how to stop those spinning tops

Dice with different moods on each face

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist, and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). She will be hosting a webinar entitled “Teaching Students with attention, concentration and hyperactivity difficulties” on 11th and 14th March. Here, she explores some of the themes of the upcoming webinar.

Imagine being in a crowded shopping centre, music blaring, people shouting, laughing, talking excitedly all around you, traffic whizzing by, flashing neon signs, … and sitting in the middle of this chaos, trying to learn a foreign language.

This is what it is like for some learners in our classrooms. Information and ideas bombard their brains and they find it impossible to focus on one thing.

Joachim, a learner says.

It’s as if every room in my brain has the lights on, I don’t know which room to go into first, in case I miss something important in another room.”

Teaching these learners can make us feel quite agitated and stressed.

Agata, a teacher says

Teaching Maja gives me a headache, she is like a spinning top, never stopping. I lose my own focus when talking to her.”

The behaviour of these learners usually falls into one or more of the following categories:

Inattention

  • They are easily distracted
  • They cannot pay attention to detail
  • They do not seem to listen or follow instructions
  • They forget things all the time

Hyperactivity

  • They fidget and squirm
  • They constantly leave their seat
  • They seem constantly ‘on the go’ as if driven by a motor

Impulsivity

  • They shout out
  • They cannot wait their turn
  • They often express emotions inappropriately

Some of these learners might have been diagnosed with ADHD. However, there are many possible reasons for this type of behaviour. If we can try to understand the underlying reasons and identify the needs of the learner, we can find teaching strategies to support them.

Possible reasons for the behaviour

  • They might be tired or hungry
  • They might be preoccupied about outside worries or feel unsafe in class
  • They might lack confidence and be anxious about their ability to do the work
  • They might not understand the classroom rules
  • They might have difficulties with executive functioning – the part of the brain which we use to think and solve problems. This also includes the internal voice, the voice we use to self-regulate
  • They might have difficulties with working memory – holding information in our minds long enough to act on it

Identification of needs and teaching strategies

This leads us to the following learner needs and possible teaching strategies:

The need to feel safe and secure

  • Have a few clear classroom rules and remind learners of them
  • Have a clear reward system; involve the learners in the design
  • Set clear time limits for work; give warnings when time is nearly over
  • Have a worry box for learners to post their concerns to the teacher
  • Sit the learner near the teacher, away from distractions such as windows, heaters
  • Allow the learner to go to a designated quiet area if the classroom gets too stressful
  • Use visual prompts and timetables

The need to build self-esteem

  • Notice and praise when the learner is on-task and behaving appropriately
  • Focus on the learner’s strengths
  • Send home good reports
  • Encourage study buddies

The need for help with self-regulation

  • Use individual laminated whiteboards for learners to show their answers rather than shouting out
  • Allow the learner to work with headphones on or to imagine wearing headphones to cut out distractions

Above all, do not give up with these learners, they will benefit from your perseverance!

For other ideas on meeting the needs of these learners, particularly with regard to executive functioning and working memory, join my forthcoming webinar on 11th and 14th March entitled “Teaching Students with attention, concentration and hyperactivity difficulties“.


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Dyslexia – A Problem or a Gift? Part 2: Teaching Strategies

Teacher helping dyslexic studentMarie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist, and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). Following her first article on dyslexia, where she looked at what dyslexia really is, she now returns with strategies for teaching dyslexic learners.

In my previous article I looked at the problems learners with dyslexia might face in the English classroom. In this blog, I will share some teaching strategies which can help these learners in the key areas of sound/letter recognition, working memory and confidence.

Problems with recognition of sounds and letters

1. Think in colour

Learners with dyslexia have problems matching the sounds of English to the written word. Use different colours to show the patterns of words, to break down the sounds into manageable chunks. For example, boat, coat, moat.

Some learners will benefit from writing or reading in certain colours, or using certain colours of paper, or certain types of colour transparent overlays which can be put over the reading page. Encourage the learner to experiment to find a colour that works for them.

2. Hear it, see it, feel it

Multi-sensory teaching helps learners to consolidate sound and letter recognition. For example: 3D letter shapes can be used to practise keywords; letters can be traced in sand or clay; words can be made physical by making letters from the body.

Understanding time is a problem. It can help to get learners to stand in different places on a timeline to illustrate tenses and aspect.

3. Visualise

Teach learners how to visualise words. Learners with dyslexia need to develop their own internal visual dictionary. Encourage the learner to imagine the word up high, visualising it rather than sounding it out. They hold the word as a photo in their mind. Write new words on the learner’s right of your board, up high. This encourages learners to access their visual memory.

Problems with working memory

Working memory is the part of the brain which allows us to hold information recently given to us and to act upon it. Learners with dyslexia have problems with their working memory, they often say that words quite literally fall out of their heads.

1. Instructions, instructions, instructions

Remembering instructions is very difficult for some learners. We need to work on giving instructions in all senses, using visual cues and gestures. Check understanding of instructions by giving an example and getting an example back from learners.

2. Teach reading strategies

Learners with dyslexia find reading comprehension difficult because they quickly forget the paragraph they just read. Show them how to recognise topic sentences, how to use colour to highlight keywords, encourage them to stop regularly and ask themselves “What have I just read?”.

3. It can be fun

Use memory games to develop working memory. For example, put words on the board, rub one word out, ask learners what word has been rubbed out.

4. Draw it

Use mind maps – they give learners with dyslexia the big picture and help them to condense information in a meaningful way.

Problems with confidence and self-esteem

Despite our best teaching efforts, learners with dyslexia often lose confidence about learning. They can feel stupid and frustrated when their progress is slow.

We can work on this in class in different ways:

  • Teach learners how to access positive states for learning, e.g. remembering a time when they felt confident, keeping the confident feeling as they try their reading
  • Let the learners explain to the rest of the class what it is like to have dyslexia
  • Work with their strengths, for example, use activities where learners have to create new solutions to problems
  • Use audio recordings, encourage learners to record their answers
  • Mark work for content, not always for spelling
  • Don’t label their slow progress as being lazy
  • Praise skills other than literacy, for example, give a reward for the most creative learner
  • Use drama activities to help learners express their thoughts and show their creative ability

Above all, encourage your learners to view their dyslexia as a learning style rather than a learning handicap. Celebrate difference!


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5 Myths About Teaching Learners With Special Educational Needs

Group of friends in a circle from belowMarie Delaney is a teacher, trainer, educational psychotherapist and author of ‘Teaching the Unteachable’ (Worth). She has worked extensively with pupils with Special Educational Needs and trains teachers in this area.

Do you have learners with special educational needs (SENs) in your class? Have you had any training for teaching these learners? Probably not.

In many countries across the world governments are promoting a policy of inclusion for learners with SENs. However, there is often a gap in training and resources for teachers to implement this. This has led many teachers to feel anxious and insecure about their teaching skills. There are some common fears and misconceptions which make a lot of teachers anxious.

5 myths that make teachers anxious

  1. You have to be a specially trained teacher to teach learners with SENs
    Not true. Good teaching strategies will benefit all learners. Good classroom management and a positive attitude are things every teacher can have.
  2. It takes a lot of time and extra planning
    It doesn’t have to. If you already plan your lessons with a variety of activities and use a mult-sensory approach, you do not need to do lots of extra planning.
  3. You can’t do fun, challenging activities
    Not true. See beyond the label. Learners with SENs are individuals with their own personalities and strengths. Discover your learners’ strengths and build on these in your classroom activities.
  4. Other learners suffer because of having learners with SENs in their classes
    Not true. Other learners benefit from developing understanding and acceptance of differences.
  5. Parents of learners with SENs are challenging for teachers
    This does not need to be the case. These parents have often had to struggle to get help for their children. They can help you to understand the issues and develop strategies together which work. See them as allies, not critics.

So what works?

You already have lots of classroom management skills which will help learners with SENs. Like all learners, they need clarity, consistency, understanding and a multi-sensory approach to learning. In the case of learners with SENs, these things are absolutely vital.

8 top tips

  1. Instructions
    Make these clear, concise, give them on a step-by-step basis. Check by giving an example and getting an example. Give in different senses – for example, have visual cues such as an ear for listening and gestures to reinforce. Avoid the use of sequencers, such as ‘before you do this,’ and give the instructions in the correct order.
  2. Use positive classroom language
    Say what you want learners to do, not what you don’t want them to do. For example say ‘Look at the board’ rather than ‘Don’t keep turning around’.
  3. Use visuals to reinforce rules and routines
    For example, have a traffic light system to show when the whole group is going off task. Use visual cues to let learners know the order of activities in the lesson.
  4. Think about your learners needs and have a seating plan
    For example, hearing impaired learners will need to sit near the teacher, learners with ADHD need to sit away from distractions such as windows and radiators.
  5. Learn from your students
    Ask them what helps. Get to know their strengths and interests.
  6. Use a multi-sensory approach
    For example, have learners step out the word stress, draw the word stress, sing the word stress. Get feedback in different ways, for example, use individual mini whiteboards where learners hold up their answers
  7. Create a positive environment where learners help each other
    For example, have a buddy system where learners sometimes help those with SENs. Use activities which develop empathy such as guessing about people in the room.
  8. Work with parents and other professionals
    Focus on what works, not the problems. Do more of what works.

Above all, see your learners as people and not as labels. And enjoy learning with them.