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

Role of the Teacher in the ELT Classroom

One of the biggest things I got out of Delta was a better understanding of the role the teacher plays in the classroom. It wasn’t just a topic we had an input session on – it was something which significantly changed through the course as my understanding of teaching changed.


The role the teacher plays in lessons can vary quite a lot. At times the teacher is the “knower” and other times the teacher is more of a “friend” or “colleague.”

For most of my pre-Delta teaching, my main role in the classroom was setting up activities, letting them run and then feeding back on them. In fact, if anything caused me to stray from that course, I would get quite irritated: I didn’t like it when a learner asked me during an activity if the answer is X or Y. I would always tell them to wait and just to try their best.

Now, post-Delta, the role of the teacher is quite different. The teacher is the “knower” – the specialist you have paid all that money for. The teacher “knows” what is right and wrong – they can also help you to understand why something is correct or incorrect, by “explaining” or “eliciting.”

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Shaking Up Feedback

Working in General English for Adults? Teaching Young Learners over the summer. Moving into English for Academic Purposes? Wherever you teach, whoever you teach, you will always have to give content feedback on a productive task. time feedback

The usual way of giving such feedback is to incorporate it into the linguistic feedback stage. Alternatively, you could opt for a delayed approach – providing feedback in written or spoken form in a follow-up lesson.

Whatever approach you use, maybe there is always the issue that content feedback increases Teacher Talking Time, moves the focus away from the learners and has no true linguistic value.

Perhaps there is a more integrated approach to content feedback?

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Observations and Feedback

In the current series, various aspects of fulfilling a managerial role in ELT will be looked at. This particular post will consider observations, including how to observe, what to look out for and how to give feedback.ELT image

Each school will have its own procedures to follow with regards to observations. There is probably no universally agreed procedure, as many approaches are very effective, despite being very different from each other. However, there are a number of approaches which can most certainly be recommended against, largely due to their ineffectiveness.

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The Benefits of Observations and Feedback: an ELT Chat Summary

As the chat began, the elephant in the room was clear: who exactly is doing the observing? @Sandymillin and @Ashowski quickly pointed out observations can be carried out by both peers – known as peer observation – and by Senior Academic Staff, such as Senior Teachers, an ADoS or even a DoS – perhaps better known as formal observationsimages

Most of the participants were quick to point out that the main difference between the two types of observations is primarily stress: formal observations are compulsory and can be included in end of year progress reports, while peer observations are usually arranged between teachers who are interested in accelerating their own professional development.

After quickly establishing that there will also be an element of ‘personality’ involved in observations and feedback sessions, @Ashowski asked “what elements go into producing good/bad feedback?” Continue reading