Lesson Aims in Dogme ELT

I was first introduced to the concept of Dogme ELT a few years ago. It was a very foreign concept to me at the time, but its attractive promise of an Materials Light approach was invigorating. This was at a time when I wanted to make lessons more Learner Centred and I wanted to spend less time on Lesson Planning in order to spend more time on the learners and on my Professional Development.

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Source: Scott Thornbury’s blog

As you can probably imagine, Dogme seemed to offer all of that and more. Its only requirement was a group of learners and a knowledgeable teacher. Although since then I have learnt far more about the English language then I could have ever thought possible, at the time I felt confident in my understanding of the mechanics of English linguistics.

After purchasing the seminal piece on the topic, Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, I immersed myself into the world of dogme-esque ideas, activities and approaches.

Since then I have completed further training, including a course in Advanced Methodology, a Teacher Training certificate, and the Cambridge Delta, all of which has led me to re-evaluate my beliefs and principles about teaching and learning.

As a result, I have found myself coming back to Dogme, with varying results. However, I think this time I have come to a principled conclusion about going materials light. Continue reading

Observing a Real Lesson

There has been plenty of debate in English Language Teaching about the value of observations. Some of the key questions that have come out of the discussion so far have been:correcting-1351629_1280

  • Is the purpose of an observation to develop teachers or check standards?
  • Does a good observer need a plan to understand what is going on in the lesson?
  • Why do schools require written formal plans when this doesn’t happen on a day-to-day basis?

In this episode of The TEFL Show Marek Kiczkowiak and myself got into an extended debate on the subject of preparation, planning and formal observations. In the show, I emphasised how I had always had observations which were focussed entirely on Professional Development and resulted in professional development goals. I also pointed out that I saw the value of formal written lesson plans mainly because this gave the observer a greater deal of insight into the planned intentions of the teacher, which can later be compared with what actually happened during the lesson.

However, this week I had the opportunity to be observed by the Assistant Programme Manager who was quite happy to see a real lesson i.e. no formal written plan, no pre-meeting going over the stages, aims and intended outcomes, just simply watch and observe the lesson.

It has been quite an experience and has made me question how observations are currently executed. Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

5 Good Learning Habits in the Language Classroom

A while ago I wrote a post about 5 good teaching habits that all teachers should strive to get into if they want to be effective at what they do. Given that learning and teaching is a two-way street and it takes two to tango, I think it is now time to look at what makes for some good learning habits inside the language classroom from the learner’s perspective.

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Each person has their own way of learning. This means that it is difficult to specify universal approaches which would work for everyone. The one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work in education, as it is a highly personalized sphere.

However, there are some behaviours which can generally help learners to develop a positive mindset and approach to the Learning Process. While each one might not work for everyone, they are generally good habits to develop in the classroom and the vast majority of learners will see benefits from them.

(1) ASK QUESTIONS

Learning is no mean feat. It would be an understatement to say that learning is not a spectator sport. This is particularly true for Language Learning which requires you to not only acquire new words and grammar but also to be able to apply this knowledge in rapid speech and quickly understand it when listening and reading.

The learning process is greatly enhanced when you are engaged in it. This means not just listening and doing your work but also questioning and querying the tasks you have been given by your teacher.

At any point in a given lesson, for sure you will have plenty of questions buzzing around your head about the topic of the lesson. Just put your hand up and ask. Get into the habit of asking and you will see that your understanding of the language will become deeper and deeper.

One of the great things about questions is that even if a question is initially fairly simple, it often leads to other related questions, which help open up the topic to discussion and thus deeper understanding.

(2) USE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTISE

While it might sound cheesy to say it, the old adage of practice makes perfect has never been truer, especially in the case of language learning.

As language is all about communication, becoming an effective communicator, be it in written or spoken form, requires you to be harness and develop that skill.

Effective communication doesn’t develop itself: it comes with plenty of regular practice. Starting and participating in conversations in a foreign language is not initially easy, but if you take every opportunity to practise, then this will become second nature to you.

Opportunities could mean going out and finding someone to practise with, such as in a tandem exchange, but they  can also mean simply making the most of the pair and group work activities your teacher sets you in class. The reason why teachers ask you to work in pairs is so that you have the opportunity to practise communicating at every stage of the lesson.

(3) FOCUS ON THE LESSON, NOT THE NOTES

Too many learners spend a huge portion of their time on writing out excellent notes which are both neatly legible and exhaustive of every word spoken in the lesson. However, this sort of level of note-taking requires a significant amount of energy and focus. In order to do this, you will have to sacrifice a huge part of your lesson time on this activity.

Don’t do this. Language learning is a neurological process requiring plenty of exposure and ample practice. What’s more, real-life communication isn’t conducted on the basis of well-stored notes and vocabulary banks: it’s all about spontaneous reactions and quick-thinking responses.

This means that you should put your efforts in lessons into making only the most essential notes and maximising as much time as possible to activities which help your brain to acquire the language you’re learning, which includes but is not limited to notes, exercises, asking questions and getting plenty of practice.

(4) HANDWRITTEN NOTES ONLY

Recall is a very important factor in learning something, as it’s all about your ability to bring to the front of your mind information and knowledge which is perhaps buried somewhere in the back. That is why revision sessions focus so carefully on how effectively and precisely you recall information from previous lessons.

However, unlike most things in education, recall is not always amplified by technology. In fact, as reported in Scientific America, learners who write notes out by hand outperform those who type their notes on computer, laptops and tablets by a significant margin in exams.

While notes are important, I would recommend trying to get into the habit of making only the most important notes during a lesson and then come back to those notes after the lesson has finished and see if you can use your memory to expand on them and develop them further. This will encourage recall, understanding and application of knowledge.

(5) REVISE, REVISE, REVISE

While a lesson can function as a stand-alone unit on a given topic, learning, recall and applying knowledge does not and cannot work in single unit isolation. Attending a lesson on the Present Perfect most certainly won’t mean you will be able to correctly and effectively both use and understand the Present Perfect tense after one lesson.

That is why it is so important to go back over lessons afterwards. I strongly recommend going over a lesson at least 24 hours after it finished, then once again in the week, and then again in the month.

 

Big Data in Education: Is it now all about the Small Data?

Big Data has been a bit of buzz word for a few years now. As a tool for collecting and processing information en masse, Big Data is supposed to be the solution to marketing problems. By using computers to processes information at a level and rate humans simply cannot, computers can provide companies with detailed information about ourselves, including where we shop, what we search for on the internet and our all our Facebook likes. library-1269924_640

It sounds great if you’re the director of a big corporation looking to make the company’s marketing strategy more effective. But it has ramifications beyond the corporate sector. Some in edtech realised Big Data could be applied to education and jumped on the band wagon. By collecting lots of information about learners and getting a computer to process it, the end result might turn out, thanks to Big Data, to be greatly insightful to the learning institution.

So, has it turned out like that? In short, not quite. Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

Positive Reinforcement in Language Learning

The year 1967 saw the the USA and the USSR perform nuclear tests, the Beatles released Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and L.G. Alexander published what is said to be the best-selling book in ELT First Things First.

Scott Thornbury mentions the book in his 2016 Plenary at IATEFL, saying it was so popular that you could even purchase a copy at kiosks! In the plenary, he also quotes the author saying “the student should be trained to learn by making as few mistakes as possible.” good-1122969_640

An idea born out of earlier methods, such as the Direct Method and Audiolingualism, the focus on accuracy over fluency was the pinnacle of the pre-communicative era in ELT. There was a general fear of encouraging mistakes by letting them slip, and ultimately allowing them to become fossilized.

Decades later, learners are now very much encouraged to prioritize fluency, to make mistakes and to learn from them. As a result, lessons nowadays often culminate in a Delayed Error Correction stage, where learners are given corrective feedback on the mistakes they made during the lesson.

However, has this shift in focus from accuracy to fluency been a wholly positive development in English Language Teaching, or have we created a new problem by resolving another? Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

Conversation Classes

There’s a post on WanderingELT which looks at what seems to be a fairly common conundrum in English Language Teaching. Basically, a learner comes to a language school traumitized by the experience of learning English through a Structural Syllabus in the state sector. In the words of Giulia Brazzale, such learners have had enough of grammar and they want “to learn to speak.”minions-363019_640

So, these learners sign up for Conversational Classes, or one-to-one lessons with a conversational focus. From the perspective of the teacher, like Giulia, this raises a number of questions:

  1. Why do learners end up in this situation?
  2. Are conversation classes the solution?
  3. Can good teaching happen solely through the conversation?

This post will take a look at these questions one by one and it will try to offer some answers. Keep reading to find out what they are. Continue reading

Using Trello for Language Learning

I’ve recently been working at a tech firm called Applingua where I’ve had the opportunity to experience what it’s like working in a business – a non education business that is. As part of this, I’ve had the opportunity to use several tools I had never used before. One of which was Trello: a note-taking tool to help organize yourself and projects, available as both a web-app and a native app.

Trello Do Doing DoneFrom what I understand, many startups and entrepreneurs use Trello for Project Management. Although there are many different ways it could be used for managing a project, examples of which you can find following this link, one of the most common I’ve come across is the Do-Doing-Done set up, as in the image to the right.

This approach is very simple but effective: you write in the Do list what you need to do, move it to the Doing list when it’s underway, and finally move it to the Done list when it’s complete. For short and quick tasks, you’ll probably just skip the Doing column. An example of this would be Send Mary a thank you e-mail.

The example of the Trello board in the image is from my personal board, containing the lists of things I’m currently working on: I call it my Task Board. I have other task boards for work: one for all the things I need to do concerning content curation, another for social media and marketing, and another for the projects I oversee.

Recently I was writing up some notes in my language notebook. It’s a traditional school-style notebook, which I have divided up into sections for the different languages I’m learning. As I was doing this, a question dawned on me: couldn’t Trello be used for Language LearningContinue reading