Turning essays into journal articles

There is a massively underused number of potential journal articles resting on teachers’ hard disks, cloud storage and flash drives.

This is how I sorted out my dissertation and took some best bits from other assignments for articles.

If you are interested in doing it, this might be useful. It’s how I did it and no indication of good practice.

  1. Open Word file and save as something else. Probably in a ‘working on’ file.
  2. Go through the dissertation. You need it to be between 3000-7500 words including references.
  3. You will keep much of the literature review unless you have a long lit review or a literature review of several parts. What is essential. Feel free to come back this later.
  4. Discussion and evaluation. Cut the fat. If you are doing half the dissertation this means only the pertinent bits. The evaluation only needs your caveats, probably.
  5. Results. Maybe you just need to give the results, maybe you need a minimum explanation.
  6. Methodology. Keep the what and unless you did something crazy and new, discard most of the why. How should be bare bones.
  7. OMG. Still over. Check refs. Do your quotes need to be full quotes?
  8. Damn. Sacrifice your favourite bit that is a bit odd. Is it coherent?
  9. Finished? No. You have to strip the metadata in preparation for a double blind.
  10. Set aside at least two hours to submit.
  11. Rest for 3-9 months. Seriously.
  1. Go through the dissertation. You need it to be between 3000-7500 words including references.
  2. You will keep much of the literature review unless you have a long lit review or a literature review of several parts. What is essential. Feel free to come back this later.
  3. Discussion and evaluation. Cut the fat. If you are doing half the dissertation this means only the pertinent bits. The evaluation only needs your caveats, probably.
  4. Results. Maybe you just need to give the results, maybe you need a minimum explanation.
  5. Methodology. Keep the what and unless you did something crazy and new, discard most of the why. How should be bare bones.
  6. OMG. Still over. Check refs. Do your quotes need to be full quotes?
  7. Damn. Sacrifice your favourite bit that is a bit odd. Is it coherent?
  8. Finished? No. You have to strip the metadata in preparation for a double blind.
  9. Set aside at least two hours to submit.
  10. Rest for 3-9 months. Seriously.
This is just my experience. I used part of the Applied Linguistics module, my DipTESOL independent research project, a corpora essay and half my dissertation.

Good luck!

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Teaching Strategy Chains for Listening (or not)

This is a small research project I did for my MA. It was my lowest mark on the course and I totally tried to do more than was feasible. I will address the limitations below.

Teaching strategies

An approach to using strategies in listening isn’t new, although there is more to it than the advice given to new TOEIC teachers of “Get them to predict based on what they hear and then think about the gist.” What interested me was whether the strategy chains that learners build up, according to Rebecca Oxford (2011) could be instructed.

I put together a class at the local community hall for 6 weeks, with 7 women. The first class let me see the strategies that the learners were already using and give a questionnaire (the MALQ by Vandergrift et al., 2006). The last class involved no instruction of the strategy chain but allowed me to see whether it was being used. Most used a few simple strategies. I derived a chain of potentially useful strategies based upon learners’ answers to the MALQ. The class was a massive mix of levels, from A1 to B2 on the CEFR. I used a mix of authentic texts (reality television) and inauthentic texts (from elllo.org). First I used one text to teach the strategy chain. Learners listened twice and transcribed what they understood from the text in English or Japanese. They wrote what strategies they used in English or Japanese.

The chain

I derived the following chain for instruction: schema activation (through focused thought or speaking to other learners about the topic), plan how to listen based upon their schema activation, relax in order to reduce cognitive load issues and regain focus when attention has been lost. The reasons for this particular chain was that the learners reported little use of these strategies in their listening yet I believed that the learners would benefit from them, particularly the relaxing and refocusing.

So, what happened?

Well, all the learners went along happily with the teaching and said they used the strategy chain in weeks 2-5. In week 6, the assessment week, not a single learner reported use of the chain.

Now, this is not the end of the world. It showed me that teaching is just teaching. Whether learners decide to do something in a classroom is another thing entirely. You cannot force a way of working onto someone. It also comes down to comfort and experience. For some of the learners, they were quite proficient in communication but claimed to be uncomfortable with listening. I used schema activation in the chain and perhaps this was something that they did unconsciously. For the lower-proficiency learners, perhaps the relaxing and refocusing needed more time to be practiced effectively. Whatever the case, strategies are used, in tandem with one another, but perhaps rely more upon learner evaluation of the strategies’ value in combination than teacher evaluation.

Another aspect of the course was that it was 6 weeks which was all the time fast was feasible for me after handing out leaflets on the street and asking friends to share on Facebook (when I was on there). Potentially, with a longer course it might have resulted in learners using this chain in the assessment week. It might not have, and I am going to say that it appears unlikely. Still, it’s good to know what is unlikely to work, isn’t it?

In all likelihood it appears that teaching strategies helps learners, but the chain of strategies used depends entirely on the individual learner. It might be useful to carry out the MALQ in class, see what isn’t being used and teaching successful use of particular strategies.

References

Oxford, R (2011) Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. London: Routledge.

Vandergrift, L, Goh, CCM, Mareschal, CJ, & Tafaghodtari, MH (2006) “The Metacognitive Awareness Listening Questionnaire: Development and Validation” Language Learning 56:3 September 2006, pages 431-462.

Easy spoken corpora with YouTube

I don’t think it’s exactly a secret that I rather like corpora. In this post I shall show you how you can create an easy spoken corpus using YouTube and a subtitle downloader. Use at your own risk, and YouTube might disable this usability at any time.

Find your videos.

Search YouTube. You know how to do this.

Download subtitles.

I used DownSub.com. It opens a pop-up ad the first time you get paste the video address in the search box but is otherwise benign.

Download your subtitles. Repeat for as many videos as required. Yes this is a pain in the bum but it’s the best I can do.

Edit text.

Open all your subtitle files in the text editor of your choice and replace nonsense/ html codes with nothing. Save them as .txt files.

Wow, a corpus!

Or a small one, depending on how much time you have. Tag the corpus if you wish, using TagAnt by Laurence Anthony.  You can open the corpus in AntWord by him, too. Free downloads.

 

3 home truths about research evidence in TESOL

Research doesn’t affect anything except practice among some university teachers or a small number of school teachers. It does not affect materials to a degree significant enough to affect teachers’ general classroom practices. This is OK; those of us with lab coat envy can feel good about our principles while others can feel good about being in touch with teaching realities.

However slavishly you believe that you follow a method or approach, you’re probably following your interpretation of it rather than something the developer would regard as a practice they prescribed. This is fine because it is also informed by judgment of how the people in the classroom would respond to your methods.

We can talk ourselves blue in the face about IATEFL, but I have met approximately two members of that organisation in the time I have been teaching. For most teachers, IATEFL has as much bearing on our professional life as Paris Spring Collection has on the clothes sold in Topshop. You can choose to enthuse or dissent about points of view expressed there there but your enthusiasm or dissent is irrelevant to most teachers. It is your own, and it affects mainly your own practice.

The Personal Side of Evidence-Based Practice

20170918_121002_Pano.jpg
My classroom after laying Post-Its to track where I went and who I monitored.

“Evidence based”. It’s so trendy, it’s science-tastic, you the forensic teacher in CSI (Classroom Sciencey Instruction). How many research papers we have found Open Access, through Sci Hub or requests hashtagging #ICanHazPDF!

It’s not all about reading research. Sometimes it’s more about doing very small-scale research to see what happens. Sometimes using recording media, sometimes just paper and pens.

 

A lot has been written about Action Research by much better brains than me. Anyway, this is a guide to what I might do in a personal action research project.

Gather thoughts

Research for the sake of it is just making work for yourself. What might be better is having a think about what you’d like to understand more about in your classroom(s). Write it down, and keep asking yourself probing questions, for example:

What about this could be a problem?

Is there simply a difference in personal values?

What would do I think is happening? Is this ideal? Is it definitely true?

This is likely to make your findings more compelling to you because they’ll be less superficial and you will understand already what the connections may be to other aspects of your practice.

Design your evidence capture

How you gather your evidence depends upon your classroom and the people in it. You might ask learners to help, or not. You might track your movement, or not. You can use post-it notes to stick in places, on items, etc. You can tally things on paper. You can record yourself on video, audio, or even log your steps taken with a pedometer. What and how you capture it is an important thing and you want accuracy but also ease of use if you don’t have a team (or peer) to help.

Check it before you forget it

You need the time to check your gathered data. Can it be interpreted in more than one way? Which way has most significance for you? It’s likely to suggest further action/intervention or continuing the action you were already doing. If it’s something different, you might need time to prepare and read up on how to do this, or get advice from someone who already does it. Also, keep your information somewhere you can find it. If your new action gets challenged, you want to be able to say why you’re doing it.

More data

As you take your new action/intervention, you may want to write down what happens when you do it, both positive and negative. It may be that any information is not strongly suggestive of anything: rather than stop, give it time or tweak it according to your intuition but write down what you did differently. You might find that the first way was the best way (or not). You might find that this intervention is not as good as what happened before. This is fine, because at least you know that this does not work for me/this class/this situation.

Decide what happens next

This could be a repetition of the same cycle, it could be that you feel you’ve finished it, it could be a return to the status quo. Keep your findings, though. It might be grist for the mill if you or a colleague have a similar train of thought in the future.

Stats analysis for research

Huh? Marc, the blog title is Freelance Teacher Self Development, not High Faluting Would-Be Academic Development!

OK, OK, I get it, really. But what about your CV that has no research on it since graduation and you’re looking for jobs constantly, what with being freelance or serial part time? See, it would be good. Perhaps. If you have time.

So, SPSS – expensive to buy yourself, and a pain in the arse to install cleanly in Windows 10 (from my experience). What can you do?

Well, there’s JASP, a nice but of software from the Netherlands. It has the look of Excel but with bits on the top that do stats magic. You can do ANCOVA and ANOVA analyses (comparing populations, i.e. experimental group and control group), and t-tests (analysing a population, I think but I dropped psychology at university, so quite likely I could be wrong) and regression analyses and make correlation matrices (compare two sets of values; in my case I compared scores for top-down listening teaching with scores for bottom-up listening teaching). I did the last one for my dissertation and it was kind of easy.

One word of warning – keep your data clean. The column heads are heads, below that is data – don’t do averages and standard deviation calculations at the bottom of your columns or JASP won’t read it properly.

You need: data as a .csv file (which Excel and Google Sheets can both make).

Choose the data to analyse. JASP will tabulate or plot it and you can copy and paste it, or output to HTML. It’s not super full of features, it’s a bit experimental apparently, but instead of buying SPSS you can buy coffee, beer, children’s shoes, or whatever you fancy.

And I promise the next post won’t be about stats software!

All subjects were undergraduate students… 

Or, ‘Really, can we only have research based in universities and nothing from other settings?‘, set in motion by a Twitter conversation (DM) with Louise B

The ELT profession is a confounding one. On the one hand we are the lovely, nice people who help communication, while on the other we are cultural-imperialist scum destroying minority languages in our wake. We preach respect for all but turn a blind eye to the precarious work conditions across the sector. I’ve ranted on these themes before. Today, I want to go on about professionalism, and who gets to be professional in ELT. 

While we might call ourselves teachers, how many of us have job titles of ‘Instructor’? How many of us get time to ensure our assessments of learning are as thorough as they could be? How many of us can take findings from our classroom practice and make them known to other teachers, to expand the collective body of knowledge in our field? 

University-based teaching staff (but usually only full-time staff) get to do this, but rank-and-file teachers in schools don’t often have the opportunity to do it. The International House organisation of private language academies has a journal that I suppose its DELTA/DipTESOL graduates publish in (as well as staff with MAs). University teachers have various journals such as ELTJ among others.

Who does research in young learners (YL) settings? There must be a number of people who focused on this setting in DipTESOL and DELTA courses, not to mention Masters courses. Why does it never get seen? 

Well, SLA-type stuff needs ethics approval. This means giving parents approval slips to sign. How confident are you that your organisation or school would be willing to cooperate in this? Maybe not, I’m guessing. However, research doesn’t have to be just based on how or what learners learn. Case studies might focus on what happens in one class, one course, in one department of a school. Action research and exploratory practice may be teaching focused, with a problem to solve or a theme to explore. 

Sharing it widely might be a problem, but it might not be. If you’re in a teaching association you might publish in its journal. If not, do their special interest groups have journals? If not, are there other avenues to explore? 

What might be a good idea, and I would love to help set something up like this (though I am aware that I have no time right now) would be an open-peer-reviewed blog, like Hybrid Pedagogy. It would also be nice if it were (voluntary) funded so that reviewers and writers could get paid for work done in the absence of grants and so that hosting costs would be covered. 

This would be awesome if it were not one of my ideas that are utopian but too much like hard work. The means of getting it done are there, except cash. Anyone who has ideas, links or support, the comment box is screaming for you!