“This is gold!”

I’ve been using Saboteur with an adapted Kotoba Rollers framework by James York with my university classes. I want talking with authentic tasks, which games provide. There is also transcription of language used. It isn’t all fun and games though.

In the game, players are either good, hardworking miners or saboteurs. None of the players know the roles of the others but they hardworking miners need to work together to get the gold. The saboteurs need to ensure the pack of cards is exhausted before the treasure cards are reached. There are also action cards such as breaking tools, fixing tools, causing rock falls and checking maps for gold, which may lead to cooperation or subterfuge.

The published rules are a bit tricky to understand. I had set the reading for homework, figuring that if there were a lot of difficulties the students would use dictionaries or Google Translate. This means my students skim read them superficially and did not bother to understand the rules fully before game play. Dictionaries and Google barely got looked at.

However, the rules needed a bit of clarification. This led to some good negotiation of meaning (Long, 1983). There are cards used to destroy the mine path above or break other players’ tools but they weren’t always easily understood.

The transcription is the main part I changed. I ask students to write three parts.

What did your partner say? Did they say it differently to how you would say it? How would you say it?

This has been done pretty well and is usually the best part of my RPG-based classes’ sheets, too.

What communication problems did you have? Why?

This sometimes ends up being a wishy-washy “I need to speak more fluently” but a lot of my students have gone a bit deeper.

If you spoke Japanese, what did you say? How can you say it in English?

This has an obvious function but students do sometimes half-arse it and just use Google Translate one way without checking the translation in a (monolingual) dictionary or Skell.

Still the work got done and there was another game of Saboteur in the following lesson to review. I was satisfied with this little Kotoba Rollers cycle, and so were my students, though I needed to buy 4 lots of the game for my big class.

References

Long, M. (1983) Native speaker/non-native speaker conversation and the negotiation of comprehensible input1. Applied Linguistics, 4 (2) pp. 126–141.

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Request to change to editable formats on TeachingEnglish.org.uk

letter_to_TEI was on Twitter (and I know I came off: different story) and was involved in a thread with the EL Gazette. I suggested that the status quo of white-centred, unrepresentative materials will never change until OER (Open Educational Resources) become standard.

The EL Gazette’s answer was, the British Council/BBC have open resources (i.e. freely available and copiable) on TeachingEnglish.org.uk . I replied that they are not open because they are not editable. PDFs are a pain to edit. The Gazette urged me and others who share my concerns to contact the British Council and BBC. So I did, through the contact page. Feel free to use my email as a basic template but add your own ideas as you see fit, of course.

To those it may concern

I am writing to suggest a change of file format for the resources on Teaching English. As you may be aware, some teachers are becoming more concerned that the materials they use may not adequately represent or relate to their learners’ lives.

The Teaching English website provides quality materials that teachers can pick and choose from easily; unfortunately, what is useful for one teacher may be less useful for another for reasons of region, context and setting. Bearing this in mind I would like to request that the format of lesson plans and teaching materials on the website be changed from PDF, which is difficult to edit, to another format such as Word document or Powerpoint presentation, which can be opened and edited by a wide range of computer software. This would allow teachers to adapt materials to better suit their learners and also, in turn, result in a likely greater uptake in use of the website’s materials.

I do hope that you bear my request in mind. I look forward to future contact regarding any decisions made.

Yours sincerely

[your name]

Notes on Web Design for Elaborated Texts

It’s nearly the start of the summer holidays at the universities I teach at. I wanted to set something to do for the students so that they use English but don’t require me to come back to a large volume of marking. Not many of my students read enough, so I thought some poetry might be good. It’s short, interesting and probably something that they would not think about choosing themselves. 

What’s the task? 

The task is reading for pleasure. It is absolutely non-compulsory. It’s the summer and not everyone is lazy. Part-time jobs get busier, as do familial and social obligations. 

So, why and how did you elaborate the poems? 

According to Michael Long (2015) elaborated texts are richer and therefore provide more in the way of natural, comprehensible input as opposed to simplified texts. You can’t really add a ‘which means X’ clause in a poem line, though. What I can do is make in-patient pop ups appear with corpus data, pictures and questions. I chose to do it on the internet because Beatty (2012)says that it offers useful affordances for elaboration. 

I used the Bootstrap framework to design the site, which means it’s grey but it is responsive to mobile devices. 

The websites I used for elaboration were SKELL and Duck Duck Go. Note that Google and Twitter do not let you embed their pages in iframe tags (tags that let you display other websites in your web page). 

It’s not perfect; the design could be better and I’d like bigger type in mobile view. For a few hours work, I think I did OK. 

References

Long, M. (2015) Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching. London: Wiley. 

Beatty, K. (2012) Teaching and Researching Computer Aided Language Learning. London: Routledge. 

Omitting Others? A(nother) case for Dogme

During the last few months and to an extent the last year or so there have been a few bits and bobs about diversity in ELT. Two examples off the top of my head are:

The queering (or actually not) OF ELT materials by Angelos Bollas (talked about at Innovate ELT 2016 and this year’s IATEFL). 

Emily Hird’s post on diversity in ELT materials (by big publishers). 

All of this leads me to believe that one OF the best tools we have at our disposal as teachers is Dogme, going materials light. This gives greater opportunity to go to places prompted by the learners and teachers rather than hem in conversation by implicitly suggesting a norm in a textbook. 

A case in point would be the usual heteronormative, racially homogeneous family tree. One might get into hot water from bosses in very conservative institutions. If the work is learner centred, the basis of learners’ families is the basis of discussion. The way other families are portrayed on TV and in movies often come up in questions. How many learners have divorced parents? Step-siblings? Half-siblings? LGBTQ relatives that are married or living together? Heck, even straight people merely living together is risqué on coursebook land.  That’s just an example of what could come up when talking about one topic.

If you have a diversity problem in your materials, are you sure they aren’t overly simplistic? If they are overly simplistic in diversity, as well as language that learners may require  to meet their communication needs, why are we pussyfooting around the deficiencies of expensive dead trees and not instead boldly using our learners’ lives to teach real life. 

“Are you seriously going to do that?”

I’ve been experimenting with board games in the classroom, sometimes in a bit of an impromptu way.

“Seriously, Marc? Aren’t you anti-game?

No, I’m not; I’m anti time wasting. I’m going to write a bit about things I’ve done with them below. Both, coincidentally, are by Oink Games. They are pocket sized, due to the boards being made up of chips. Both games require collaboration as well as competition, with shifts between both states. 

Troll

This is a game of guessing card values and ‘betting’ on the value in order to gain treasure. It’s simple and addictive. The game works by guessing the value of a Troll card only one player has seen and as a group being lower (or not being the individual or one of a couple of individuals that takes the total over the Troll card value) in order to win gems. 

I’ve played with children in small groups and in a big university class using teams, and this has tended to work well to encourage English use by penalising unnecessary Japanese use with a one-gem penalty. There’s a tendency to play risky but that’s the fun of the game. There’s negotiation among groups, as well as explanations of betting strategies. 

Deep Sea Adventure

This is Troll with movement and is difficult to win points from without a bit of restraint and cooperation. 

You go around the board as a diver collecting treasure but there’s an air ration, you only know the approximate value of the treasure and carrying it reduces your own movement and also reduces the air for everyone. Because of the game complexity, there is inbuilt need for communication, like “You can’t move five. You need to go back two because of your treasure.” or “you forgot to move the air meter.” My favourite utterances were a very ladylike “Oh, shit!” and “Are you seriously going to do that?” 

Never mind a deep sea adventure, it’s a deep adventure into stuff students never say to one another. 

Further reading

Rose Bard’s blog posts tagged with game-based learning.  

Japan Game Lab

The Line Between Hare-Brained and Useful

notebook picture

I’ve had this post going on in my head for a while and probably the catalyst for getting it out of my head and into pixels is Sandy Millin’s Incomplete Thoughts post.

I was having a chat with a colleague yesterday and he said, “I don’t know where you get the time for all your ideas.”

“It’s a massive pain in the arse,” I replied, “because I can’t concentrate on other things when something pops up.”

I don’t know if this leads to a condition of not following things through properly, or even just dilettantism but a few things that have got me going all over the internet are:

Open Badges for Accreditation of Some Kind

This blog being about development (ostensibly, though probably more my own), actually having evidence-based accreditation for continuing professional development (CPD) would be a good thing in a landscape of expensive qualifications, cheap qualifications that mean nothing (20-hour internet TEFL courses) and absolutely nothing at all. ITDi provides this, with certificates available and whatnot, too. However, something that can also contribute to teacher-centred, teacher-led teacher development has bugged me for too long. Open Badges seem to sort if fill a gap in that people sit in webinars for certificates but there’s no real proof that they didn’t just leave the laptop on and play games on their phone. How about an open-peer-reviewed bit of writing that helps contribute to the community? Keep your eyes open at #TBLTChat.

Modular Materials

Again, with my Task-Based hat on (which is a beautiful purple crushed-velvet and Kevlar deerstalker), and my ‘I hate coursebooks‘ T-shirt on, how better to address a gap in materials availability than to actually get cracking and make some through refining them. Think less of a Minimum Viable Product than a ‘actually see if students react positively’ approach.

A Co-Op (ad)Venture

I am still investigating the possibility of sorting out a Tokyo/Kawasaki/Yokohama-based co-op of language teachers. Yes, inspired by Serveis Linguistics Barcelona. Viability? Time, Marc? It’s more the client liason that’s a problem but still something I’m looking into. Sometime in 2047.