Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Practical Ways of Developing Fluency

What do you do when a student asks:

“How do I improve my fluency?”

I attended the 2nd Alumni, CTJ, & IBEU TEFL Conference last week.  One of the speakers, Michael McCarthy, talked about how fluency is one of these terms where everyone knows what it means, but have difficulty in defining it:  Think about readiness.  Think about spontaneity.  Does the speaker have their independent ideas about the subject at hand? Fluency means “not causing strain to either the person listening nor feeling strain while speaking”.

Ok, so what does that look like? Here are some terms you need to know:
  • Speed of delivery--how many words per hour does your student speak? Casual conversation is 10,000 words per hour!  Your student doesn’t have to speak that fast when it comes to giving speeches, however.
  • Pauses--your student should not pause for longer than half a second!  A big “NO NO” is pausing when it is your turn to speak or in the middle of fixed phrases such as “You know what I mean?”  You don’t want to say “You-- know-- what-- I mean.”
  • Dysfluency--getting lost in your thoughts.  You say, “What was I talking about?”
  • Automaticity--that knee-jerk reaction when it comes to having response to fire off right away.
  • Confluence--the ability to carry out a conversation in a way where you create opportunities for your listener to understand when your turn is almost over so that they are ready to start their turn--and they provide you with that same courtesy!

Let’s go back to the original question: “How do I improve my fluency?”

Here are some of my ideas:

  • Have your student find a reading passage that they really respect or enjoy and have them read the passage.  It should be a fairly decent length so that it can’t be done in two minutes.  Have them read the passage aloud for two minutes and mark where they stop. The following week, have them read aloud again for two minutes and mark it again.  How many words did they improve?
  • Have your students keep up with current events.  A great conversationalist knows what’s going on in pop culture, sports, science, politics, and art.  Have them reflect on what they read and talk about it.  Have them share their opinions with the class. Moderate a short debate!
  • Provide them some fixed phrases, 3 word chunks, and other fillers.  Ask them to insert these a few times during class discussions.  They can be things that open phrases such as “Well, basically...” and other words that will create the end of the turn such as “.. you know what I mean?”.  They have to use them quickly (speed of delivery) and automatically!
  • Also, teach them how to stall for time such as saying “The whatcha-ma-callit?” or “thinga-ma-bob” and other phrases that native speakers heavily use when they are trying to claw their way through a conversation.  Give them works such as YEAH, OH, RIGHT, WELL, and BASICALLY and teach them how to combine them in to “Oh, right” or “Yeah, that’s right” or “Well, yeah” or “Well, basically”. Use these to avoid pauses and stall for time to think! Other great words are “actually...” and “I mean...” when used to elaborate further on what you’ve already said.
  • Great speakers don’t think about what they’re going to say next while their partner is speaking. Instead, they listen to what is being said and react to some part of that.  Model how to do this for them and have them practice.  Give them useful phrases such as "I hate to disagree, but..." and "I see what you mean..." The better they are at creating flow, the more fluent they will become.

    What are your ideas? Post them in the comments!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – Why should you try?

It is two thirty in the afternoon. The teacher is introducing a new and important topic and almost all students are attentively looking at and listening to him. A couple of students, however, seem to be somewhere else. A teenage boy is looking at his lap with a silly smile on his face. The teacher suspects this has nothing to do with his class because once he is not telling any jokes at the moment. A teenage girl on the other side has her right hand inside her bag and is also involved in some kind of very important task. The teacher also knows it is not part of the class because he has not assigned any task yet. He has not asked students to make any sort of inventory of the content of their school bags. This scene looks familiar, doesn't it? The two fictional students are definitely texting or checking their social networks on their mobile phones. How can a teacher handle such distractions? How to deal with the handheld devices our students are bringing into our classes? In this post I will try to give some hints on transforming these gadgets into our allies and discuss some of the benefits of doing so.

The first solution that comes to our minds when facing class distractions due to the use of portable devices is banning them completely from coming into the temple of our classrooms. Banning can range from not allowing students to bring such gadgets to class to collecting them upon their arrival to asking students to turn their gizmos off while in class. However, we can ask, is banning handheld devices the solution?
Since students have to carry their mobile phones to communicate with parents, it becomes practically impossible to forbid them from bringing portable devices into the classroom or asking them to turn their gadgets off. The option of collecting mobile devices upon arrival is not very practical either and adds one more throng into the challenging task of achieving effective classroom management.

Banning not being an option, one thing the teacher can do to avoid episodes of disconnection from class is to make a contract with students telling them when they will be allowed to check their phones. One idea would be telling learners to restrict such activities to a time when they are done with written tasks and are waiting for the remainder of the class to finish and do a peer to peer check out. In regard to this rule, it is important to inform them that they should not rush through tasks to have extra time to use their devices. Such rule would mean never using mobile gadgets while the teacher is explaining something or when the class is involved in communication activities.

Once the teacher has addressed the banning issue and established a contract with his or her students, it is time to look into some alternatives to have students use their devices for other things than checking their social networks, chatting in their native language or playing games. Doing so will make them really happy and will probably reduce their craving for using their devices for other things than getting engaged in learning activities while in class.

There are some activities in which a teacher can substitute paper and pencil for a more engaging and fun task done using a mobile device. Writing does not have necessarily to be done in notebooks. Consequently, paragraphs can be written using mobile phones and be sent immediately to the teacher or afterwards for correction. A teacher will probably be surprised with students dexterity in using a mobile phone tiny keyboard to write a paragraph or a short message. You can also suggest a tour around the school to investigate or catalog new vocabulary. Images can be used to construct narratives or to simply describe pictured objects. Besides that, learners can record themselves and by doing this improve their pronunciation and intonation once they have the opportunity to play back and see how they sound. As you can see, there are lots of opportunities to use handheld devices in class.

Using students' devices bring many advantages. First, we can say that it solves the logistic and economic problem of having one mobile device for student. Why does the school need to buy these gadgets when students already possess their own. Second, it saves time once the instructor does not need to instruct the class on specific features. Third, it allows diversity instead if the unification of class sets of laptops or tablets. Finally, it sends a strong message of acceptance and inclusion to students once the handheld device they carry with them almost everywhere is being valued by their teacher and transformed into a powerful learning tool.

My colleague Erika Oya and I gave a presentation on the topic of BYOD in Brasilia at The 2nd Alumni CTJ and IBEU TEFL Conference. See our slides on Prezi 

Hockly,N.(October 2012). Tech-savvy teaching: BYOD. Modern English Teacher, volume 21(number 4). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/2065524/Tech-savvy_teaching_BYOD

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Technology in the Language Classroom

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                                           photo credit: Bent Kure via photopin cc

by Jose Antonio da Silva

According to an article on Wikipedia, the history of education if considered as passing down traditions from one generation to another is probably as old as the history of civilization. However, as developmental psychologist Peter Gray reviewing the history of education in a 2008 blog post reminds us, the idea of universal education arouse in the 17th century. It was then that, according to him, learning started being children’s “work” aided by the expertise of adults. If in the beginning of its history methods and techniques for teaching were mostly dictated by the adult in a position of power, as time went by the pendulum shifted to cater more and more to the needs of learners no matter how old they were. The advent of computer technology made this relationship even more complex once these machines gave tremendous power to students and placed higher and higher demands on teachers. So, the objective of this post is to address some issues related to the integration of technology into the EFL class.
An EFL teacher who started teaching in the early 90s in an institution that tried to keep up with the latest technological gadgetry would probably have at his disposal a slideshow projector, a tape recorder, and a TV set with a VCR on the corner. By the end of the decade, the only item remaining would be the TV set, the others would have been replaced by a computer on the teacher’s table connected to the TV set which still might be connected to a more modern VCR. Fast forward ten more years and changes in this area are dramatic. The 21st century has brought with itself a lot of progress in this field and things have not stopped evolving since then. Computer technology has miniaturized and thus become ubiquitous and accessible to almost anyone. In Brazil, according to a National Household Survey (PNAD) study, the number of Internet users in the country increased by 10 million between 2009 and 2011. As more and more technology makes its way into students’ lives and the classroom, teachers have more and more trouble coping with these demands. The solution to this problem may lie in finding ways to use this same technology not only as a means of delivering content, but as a way of practicing inside class, and lastly of extending learning beyond classroom and into students daily lives.
The first issue with such widespread use of computer devices and connectivity arises with students bringing their portable devices into class. If such devices are connected to the web, teachers are divided between asking students to turn their devices off or using them in class for practicing language and generating content. The argument for banning is reasonable and is supported by some educators (Yamamoto, 2007). Devices can be a distraction and really make students lose focus and let a teacher literally talking to the walls. However, as Nicky Hockly (2012) claims, adopting a BYOD (bring your device) approach gives students some autonomy and creates a ground for negotiation between teachers and students. Students can use the photos they have in their mobile phones to talk about themselves and show to classmates what matters to them. Alternatively, they can go around school on photo treasure hunts and do similar activities. The audio capabilities can be used to record conversations that can be replayed in class or used to assess pronunciation or other skills.

In contexts that are low tech and students do not carry fancy mobile devices there is always at least a computer lab. If such facility is not available, students can be encouraged to use their computers at home. The idea is to move from a push content mind set to a pull content one, an approach in which teachers see learners as active participants and producers or content. So, instead of adopting a closed LMS environment in which educators exert control and push content to students, a teacher can opt for the so called web 2.0 platforms that allow more freedom and customization, allowing the teacher to push content from learners. The flipped classroom (Gerstein, 2012) idea advocates exactly that, using blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking and other media to get extended practice and student generated content. Once teachers connect students and their classes to the web, his initiative allows them to see themselves as 21st citizens that are no longer just consumers of content, but as creative and active participants in making their own learning, creating content, and contributing to the learning of others.


 Gerstein, J. (2012). The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture. Kindle Edition. Gray, P. (August 2008). A Brief History of Education. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education

Hockly,N.(October 2012). Tech-savvy teaching: BYOD. Modern English Teacher, volume 21(number 4). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/2065524/Tech-savvy_teaching_BYOD

Yamamoto, K. (January 2008). Banning Laptops in the Classroom: Is it Worth the Hassles? Journal of Legal Education, Volume 57 (Number 4). Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1078740

Wikipedia, History of education, Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education