A sum up and an invitation

A picture of books

It’s been a good long while since I started this blog and in the meantime I have finished a Trinity DipTESOL and am close to finishing a MA Applied Linguistics & TESOL with Portsmouth University. My Dip was great for the phonology stuff I picked up, and OK for teaching practice (Trinity don’t let you use strong CLT approaches like Dogme or Task-Based Language Teaching with a Focus on Form. You are supposed to teach discrete language points). My MA has been great for access to ideas I might never have come across and, well, library access.

But next steps, Marc? Isn’t the title of this blog Freelance Teacher Self Development? It is. And there will be self-driven development. There are irons in fires and action research projects to fire up.

I have some bits and bobs to send to journals, but I think it would be kind of interesting and perhaps useful for the field of language teaching to have a bit of teacher-based research for teachers, on the internet, gates open, widely participated in. I know peer-review is all the rage, but I think that if we make our mistakes in the open, people can see the limitations of what gets done as well as any merits, and so it’s less a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes but more that jumper that was under some others at the back of the drawer. It’s not something everyone would necessarily be all ‘Wow! Amazing!’ about but perhaps ‘I don’t know if this would work in my setting but nobody would die if anything ended up disappointing me.’ I am a born salesman, I know.

So, here’s the bit I am kind of thinking about: after logging five random lessons starting in October 2017 with the same class, did you teach intonation? Why (not)? If so, how (explanation of method, explicit, differentiated or whole class, etc.) Blog your stuff and we can make it big.

Marc, why intonation?

I like phonology a lot and I’m just finishing something that I needed to think about lot of segmental phonology so suprasegmental is almost a break.

Marc, I want to do something about something else.

That would be fantastic. Let me know because I would be super interested in reading about it.

This is such a stupid idea. People don’t have time.

Maybe. How about people who have the time and want to do it, do it?

Anyway, hit me up in the comments.

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 8

We’re almost near the end of the first term of my RPG classes and I’m already looking forward to the summative assessment. This is because the students at Ladies’ College of Suburban Tokyo are amazingly motivated for the most part and because the students at University of Outside Tokyo are repeaters who had to retake English Communication, and have shown a great deal of motivation, too, or at least the students who come regularly. My supervising professor at UOT has told me that if one third of the students pass, then that ought to be seen as a success. As it stands, we should be on for 4 definites, 5 probables and 3 unlikelies. At LCST, all the students should pass because everyone does the work, even if it is not always amazing it is always done.
I managed to ask some of the students at UOT the other day if they actually like the course as a game and they said yes. (Of course, they did. They won’t tell you it’s crap because you grade them, Marc.)

What negatives I did get were that one student said he didn’t like recording himself because it was a pain in the arse; however, this student also finds attendance a pain in the arse, too. My most regular attendee said recordings were difficult to manage. This is why I told him to make sure he kept a copy and also sent a copy to me.

Anyway, long story short: still loving it, waiting to see portfolios, deal with the recordings.

I am also giving a workshop on this at JALT Saitama’s Nakasendo conference on Sunday. I have presented before but never run a workshop for more than six teachers at once before. If you read this say hello!

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Toward a Sustainable use of Technology in the Language Classroom 

Ooh, 21st Century Skills. Apparently critical thinking is one of these but it constantly exasperated me when I see uncritical praise of EdTech in (English) language teaching. Instead of jumping on the new thing, how about some consideration of the following points. 

Web applications should involve minimal and preferably no sign-up or tracking. 

It should be a personal choice how far one wishes to be tracked and data-mined by third parties. When teachers use services that require sign-up or login using social media we are effectively coercing students to surrender their privacy. If we require use of Facebook logins (and not everyone has one) we are requiring students to be tracked on their computers. If we require Facebook logins on a phone, we require tracking and have given the rights to Facebook to record students by audio or camera without notice (see Facebook terms and conditions, privacy policy if concerned/you don’t believe me). 

Sign-up that require login for monitoring student progress are fine, and students should not feel compelled to unconditionally share this information with others, including teachers. The same liberty as the choice to remain silent in lessons should be extended to use of internet-based services.

This also means that having students upload to YouTube, Instagram, etc. be limited. If uploads are required, an institutional login should be used, although this is imperfect and a private server would be better. This requires greater internet/computing abilities than many have, though it is possible to learn such skills in a weekend. Is it possible for students to gain such time to be critical of internet privacy issues. 

Technology should be controlled by the user, not the vendor. 

Students should know whether content created using software belongs to them or the vendor. They should know whether the vendor has access to their data, including read/write/sharing permissions. They should be free to refuse this. 

Students should not be required to use their own data transfer budget unless agreed prior to the course. 

 This is a hidden cost. Institutions/organisations should provide secure Wi-Fi.

Technology should be a last resort, not a first. 

It is tempting to load a lesson with flashing lights, bells and such, but unless real communication and actual learning occurs, the technology would appear to waste time. 

Learner Autonomy ought to be Awesome not Anomie

Ooh, Marc. Your classes always look like you give your students loads of freedom. 

Yes, it does look that way but sometimes I still feel like I’m spoonfeeding. So today, I ditched my plan and tried an experiment. 

To prepare for a discussion on health. I set stations that the learners would practice at.

  • Vocabulary brainstorming at the board.
  • I suspected that the learners would just pick out single words. I later elicited collocations. 

  • Discussion planning.
  • Or functional language planning. What can you say to open a discussion, control a discussion, agree, disagree politely, change the subject and end the discussion. Not amazing. 

  • Fluency practice.
  • Teacher led choral, response drills, function drills. Popular with the learners but not my bag. Useful to an extent. 

  • Reading.
  • Read the handout then discuss it. Response task on the back. Reading has a gloss and few if any ‘hard’ words. 

  • Mini-discussion practice.
  • Set a task (actually part of the exit task). The post-task was to report to me three best balances of nutrition and taste for the discussion. 

How did it go?

 

Well, I’d be lying if I said everything was amazing. The vocabulary was very successful with my morning classes, and OK with the afternoon class. The reading was basically spot on and the mini discussions went well. The discussion planning kind of sucked a bit. Some learners took over and derailed the activity and it took a while to get back on track. 

All in all, not bad, though. I’ll probably try something similar again but I definitely want to tweak the language planning, perhaps with a handout. But that takes the autonomy away. 

Here Be (Dungeons and) Dragons: 7

Back to the Campaign

I’m not satisfied with the RPG courses at the moment but I can see what it is that I want. I want to be able to just put everything in place like I have five years experience of RPGs rather than feeling my way blind. 

So what would I do with all my unearned experience? Well, I think I would like to delegate some of the Dungeon Master responsibilities to the students. Learner Autonomy is a good thing. The only problem is only about a handful are capable of putting together a scenario and scoring. Because Japan is a groupist culture, this means I would run the risk of putting noses out of joint. 

Another thing that I hadn’t thought through properly is item functions. The class at UOT has won some items but LCST has had no items in the game, yet. I was considering using these items to fiddle the game and let conscientious learners get high scores but in all honesty all the students are conscientious enough to keep me happy. Still, a few things could make it more interesting. 

So what I am going to do is add items in the next few stages and have clear benefits to them. 

I will ask of anyone wants Dungeon Master homework. I might even make a tutorial video about using Google Slides, too. 

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 123456

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 6: Interlude


Interlude, or stopping the game and assessing.

Who’s assessing?

Well, funny you should say that. At Ladies College of Suburban Tokyo (LCST) I went around two classes of twenty odd, checking portfolios in progress while the students planned repeat tasks. I assigned them to re-record the most difficult task of the last 4 weeks, listen to the new one, listen to the previous one and judge which is better and how or why? Also, it gives a chance to see what still needs to be done. These students are a bit more savvy with academic skills as well as IT, and I don’t have access to a CALL room so I didn’t run a lesson on PowerPoint and OneNote or Google Apps to collate work.

The students’ work outside class has been a good mix of practice with elllo.org and dreamreader.net but also a lot of indiscriminate grammar drills from high-school textbooks, despite my urge to study grammar from graded readers, listening or something with a lot of context or cotext.

At University Outside Tokyo (UOT), I had more students than usual after a prompt of “come to class or face failing again”. Some students were savvy, others not so. I showed how to use PowerPoint to gather pictures and annotate them for vocabulary and how to drag and drop multimedia files. I was hoping this would take about 50 minutes but young people in Japan, while mobile literate are sometimes not very computer literate. They’ll redo tasks at the start of the next lesson.

At least I know now what the demands are, how much time it takes me to get around everyone to give feedback and the students know to make better use of grammar drills and such.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Reading Gallery Lesson – quick prep activity

night-of-the-living-dead-group.jpg

Image from Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero 1968 – no copyright.

This is an activity similar to one I did before from this TBLT Task Ideas Linoit Board where you can get students to choose one thing from a set of limited options. For this lesson I chose eight films from the top 50 list on imdb.com and copied and pasted the story synopsis into text files. You could get your students to choose. I didn’t because I was a bit short of time for various reasons. I then set my students in groups of four to choose one film to watch together.

I ran the text files through TagAnt to tag them for parts of speech in AntConc corpus concordancer. You’ll want the TagAnt tag list handy to check grammar in AntConc.

Open the tagged files in AntConc. Check the clusters, N-grams and word frequencies (including tags). In my mini corpus I found that the most key grammar was present simple passives and also there were a lot more proper nouns than expected. I kept this in mind for Focus on Form and actually did need to focus on form on passives.

Print the untagged text files after changing fonts and tidying them in your favourite word processor. Print, cut, and pin/stick to the wall.

I had my students in groups of four take rotating turns to read for: new vocabulary, storyline, setting, and characters. For odd numbers – groups of five with two assigned to new vocab or groups of three with setting and characters both assigned to one student. Dictionary checking halfway through the task and again at the end. They then read and choose which film to watch (or which trailer to watch as homework and write about in their learning journals).

A lot of my students chose a film because ‘it was the only film we understood and liked’, which is fine, in my opinion. I told them that I don’t choose to watch films that I don’t understand the story synopses of. I also had borne in mind the number of proper nouns counted in the corpus so remembered to tell students who looked a bit stuck that if the difficult word was capitalised in the the middle of a sentence it was probably a place or a person.

It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as good as I expected. Even with short texts. the lesson was a bit hard. Some pictures of the films probably would have been useful. Anyway, you live and learn, don’t you?