Bottoms up! Decoding in listening

Last post I wrote about the priority of making materials pretty as opposed to suitable for purpose and why it leads to a lack of bottom-up skills teaching. I was also asked very nicely for a part 2 on bottom-up activities. Unless otherwise stated this is just what I do or have done. You know what will probably work with your students.

Microlistening

Edit your text, simply. What items do you have in the text that learners will probably find problematic? Copy your mp3 file, edit it (using Audacity or Ocen Audio; I prefer Ocen Audio) so the item is in isolation, add a second or two of silence each side and copy the audio and paste it a couple of times. You should have a file with the same word/chunk/tone unit/whatever three times. Do the same with any other items you want to focus on. This sounds time consuming, but it only takes about ten minutes or so when you get used to it.

Prototypes

Well, apparently we carry auditory prototypes of lexis about in our memories. While we don’t expect to hear the actual prototype, we have wider tolerance the more variations we hear.

Are you embarrassed by ridiculous voices? Well, I have no shame. I will utterly mug it up in the classroom, pronouncing target lexis in bizarre, but still generally decodable, pronunciation affectation. Overly high pitch, lisping, stammering, changing vowel quality. With my mouth hidden so as to avoid being lip read. Something I plan to use in some classrooms with internet access is Youglish. You could also use a subtitle downloader, video downloader and Grep if you have coding skills or a ton of time.

Dictogloss

The oldie but goodie. Use a short text or read a short text, twice or so. Have learners identify the stressed word in each tone unit and take notes. Learners then regrammar the text based on what they heard and grammar knowledge.

You can vary this by asking learners to also note the words prior to and following the stressed word. This is useful for function word awareness, especially with the weak form of ‘can’ /kən/.

Cut ups

Another activity for identifying target items and working with preceding/following items is to cut up and reorder a text *as a group*. I do this with a class I teach through songs. It is a success in having learners think about what they hear following a line of song. It has also worked with short dialogues with a lot of backchannelling that would not be easily sequenced by discourse adjacency awareness (appropriate response awareness) alone.

The line

Hada Litim told me about an activity where the teacher draws a line on the board, and then learners listen, placing stressed words above the line and unstressed words below. I shall steal this at my earliest opportunity.

Listening bingo

There is a great post somewhere, I think, on listening bingo on Richard Cauldwell’s site. Unfortunately, I can’t find it. He suggests writing some word or phrase pairs, actual and likely error, in order of appearance in the text and have learners identify which they hear. It’s good for connected speech and words out of dictionary citation form.

If you have other ideas of activities, feel free to share in the comments!

Real Alternatives Need Alacrity

It’s that old Corporate ELT is killing me slowly trope. Hang on to your hats, comrades, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So, the coursebooks palaver came up again on Geoff Jordan’s blog. I have written on this before. The main change in my ideas is that instead of Dogme or Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) being the utopia we should all aim for, what is needed to get teachers to go with something better than a textbook is an alternative.

In the aforementioned post, Steve Brown said that what is needed is not any other kind of alternative but for teachers to take agency: choose what the materials are, or choose to choose with the learners, or whatnot. He is right, but I think there needs to be a bit of handholding to get there.

I’ve seen comments saying that it takes bloody ages to plan a TBLT lesson, and it does when you first start. Similarly CELTA-type lessons take bloody ages when you first start. No qualifications? Think to your first week on the job. Lesson plans took forever. Anything takes ages when you first start.You need to think about whether the initial time investment will pay off or not. You are reading a blog about teacher development, so ostensibly you are open to this seeing as you are reading this instead of playing video games or trolling Trump supporters.

So, let the handholding begin. Or the push to start.

What can I use instead of a coursebook?

Have a think (always a good idea) about what your learners need. Asking them is often a good idea, though teenagers might tell you they need about 3 hours in bed and that they need to do gap-fills of A1 vocab. They don’t. Assess. What can they do? What can’t they do? What aren’t you sure they can do? The answers to this should rarely be “They can’t do the past tense with regular verbs” or something. Maybe “They can’t answer questions about the weekend” is better. Cool. That is something we can chuck into the syllabus, if we think that our learners need this. If they don’t, don’t put it in. But why did you bother assessing it otherwise?

With all this information, you can create a syllabus/course. Sequencing it is a bit of a bugger because you want to think about complexity, what is likely needed toward the start and middle to get to the end, recycling language and such. However, you and your learners have control. This is not the kind of thing to put on a granite tablet. If it seems to need a bit of something else, do that.

But what do I do?

Teach the skills you need to teach. Potentially this is all four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. There are books about ways to teach these. You might want to browse Wayzgoose press. Also The Round minis range has some very interesting stuff, as does 52. If you get a copy of Teaching Unplugged, I find it useful.

You and your learners can then source texts from the internet (which a lot of textbooks do anyway so you are cutting out the middleman), edit for length (nice authentic language) or elaborate and spend longer with (that is, put in a gloss at the side or add clauses explaining the language). You can create your own, too, which sounds time consuming but might not be the pain in the arse you think it is. You can also put in some stuff that is rarely covered in textbooks like pronunciation and how to build listening skills, microlistening, and more (a bugbear of mine).

There are also lots of lesson plans on blogs (including here). If you have some good lessons that have worked for you, they might work for others, who can then adapt them. With a book, there are sunk costs and learners will want to plough through the lot if they have bought it. If you have a lesson plan to manipulate, without having sunken money into it bar some printer paper, you and your learners get more control and hopefully smething more suited to them than something chosen by an anonymous somebody in London or New York.

If I’m going to use texts, I might as well use a textbook!

You could, but think of all the pages of nonsense you have to skip. Think of the time spent with learners focussing on pointless vocabulary like ‘sextant’ (thanks Total English pre-intermediate). You have an idea. You know your learners, or at least the context. There is also a ton of stuff on the internet. May I point you to the Google Drive folder at the top of this blog. All the stuff in there is Creative Commons Licensed so you can change it if it isn’t perfect, copy it for your learners, and because I already made it and was going to anyway, it’s free. There is also Paul Walsh’s brill Decentralised Teaching and Learning. There are also ideas to use from Flashmob ELT.

So

You have these ideas to use, modify, whatever and put into timeslots. You can move them around. You have the means, now, if you decide it’s worth a go, stick with it for a few weeks at least, so you can get into the swing of it. If you like it, leave a comment. If you hate it and I’ve ruined your life (and be warned that not all supervisors, managers and even learners are open to this at first. Check, or at least be aware of this. If your learners say they want a book they might just mean they want materials provided and a plan from week to week) leave a comment.

If you think I’m talking nonsense, I’d seriously love you to leave a comment. Tell me why.

If you want help with this, I’m thinking of using Slack for a free (yes, really, at least initially) course type thing, say an experimental three weeks, where I help you sort out how to go about things (together; top-down isn’t how I do things), help with any teething troubles and so on. If you’re interested, contact me.

Well, Sunday night, eleven o’clock and 1000 words. I’m going to bed. Let’s sleep on it.

#ELTchat  3 Feb 2016 Summary: Differentiation

Differentiation is, in the educational sense of the word, treating learners differently. Here is what the Twitter #eltchat (transcript) said about it.

What is differentiation?

“What is differentiation?” appears to be such a difficult question to answer that it only got directly answered by one short answer by Angelos Bollas, despite being asked by both James Taylor and Shaun Wilden. Angelos said it is:

“designing and/or assigning diff tasks for diff ss for the same lesson”

whereas Yitzha Sarwono said it is:

“giving students different works for the same subject discussed”

How people differentiate

Talken English remarked that there are always fast finishers that need extra work. Patrick Andrews stated that differentiation isn’t just mixed abilities but also “motivation, backgrounds, etc.” Sue Lyon-Jones also added that sometimes it is appropriate to “have a spread of abilities in one group”.

Patrick mentioned:

“levels are not the same as abilities.  – if someone has only just begun, they may be able but beginner”

And Sue Lyon-Jones added that such “‘spiky’ profiles” are common in ESOL.

Talken English said that at their school there is a large gap in ability.

Sue Lyon-Jones said that differentiated homework (such as pre-teaching vocabulary) is useful, and Yitzha said that she set difficult tasks to more able students and similar easier work to students with similar problems.

MariaConca said that differentiation was necessary to cater to different learning styles. Glenys Hanson then mentioned that learning styles have been found to lack any evidence backing them up. Rachel Appleby mentioned that using learning activity styles can be good to ensure learners get different activities that they might not usually choose to do. I said that this would be a good method to counter previous teachers’ labelling of students as things like ‘a visual learner’.

I mentioned that I often differentiate by outcome, to which Patrick recommended and old book by Anderson & Lynch called ‘Listening’. I was asked how I would differentiate by outcome and my example was:

“High: order food with pragmatic appropriacy. Mid: order food (formal lang). Low: order food – no L1”

I also mentioned that it can be worthwhile differentiating by mental states, too, and not just ability.

Patrick said he was thinking about using drama in his classroom and that students who didn’t want to perform could take other roles such as directing, etc.

I said that different roles could be set in discussions: overpowering students could be given quieter roles and weaker students could be set as leader to prove their ability.

Sue Annan asked rhetorically:

“can you differentiate the amount of work, rather than the work itself- choose 4 q’s to answer(?)

Problems with differentiation

Problems with differentiation that were talked about were:

“exposing weaker students. You don’t want them to feel uncomfortable.” (Talken English)

Glenys said

“Ts often project feelings onto students they don’t have. Respect weaker students & they’ll be OK.”

 

I also said some learners might think they are of higher ability than they really are if they are kept with others of similar but lower ability.

TBLT ELT Ideas: Energy Graph

The Lesson

I did the graph idea from the TBLT ELT ideas board today and it went well, with a couple of changes.

The board just after starting.
I drew a graph to show my own energy expended over the day and first had the learners speculate about what the graph was. (Hence the phrases on the right).

They came close by guessing sleep had something to do with it. I told them it was my energy expended then had them try to imagine what I had done. I gave feedback as to whether their answers were correct and provided written recasts of errors.

The three learners then drew their own graphs and did a three-way swap. They speculated on each other’s activities and then received feedback.

Language raised here:

Collocations with the noun ‘contract’.

One learner then came in late. I had the learners ask him questions to draw a graph of his energy use. This went well, with all four learners speaking a lot.

Another learner then came in. I set one learner as only listening and drawing and the other learners to find the latest learner’s energy use in order to draw a graph within five minutes. He was rather taciturn and evasive so it was more difficult than some of them may have thought.

Next I focussed on question forms, particularly verb choice, an issue raised through the learners’ language, then had them fill blanks on the board.

The final task was an extension exercise. I had them rank themselves according to how busy/active they are at weekends. I told them I was looking for more complexity in their language use. This raised a lot of chunks like ‘hit the gym’, ‘check your blind spot’, and ‘develop a film’.

Finally I had the learners read a dreadful textbook dialogue so I could say we used it and cover myself. They then compared their weekend lifestyle to that of the main character in the dialogue.

What would I change?

I’d probably cut the three-way swap in the first independent activity and just have the learners speculate, perhaps giving them individual time limits for turn taking.

What’s next?

Well, it’s pop psychology in the textbook so I might see if I can get them to give each other the Myers-Briggs test. If not, it’s more interesting ways to describe personality.

Teaching Listening

I’m going to present at Saitama JALT’s Nakasendo on 19th July in Urawa. Why not come along?

The things I’m going to look at are ways to avoid pointless listening tasks and instead teach students skills they can apply to listening.

I’ve covered similar ground in this post before. However, I’m much more handsome in real life I will add more and actually show what you can do.