Showing posts with label esl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label esl. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Interaction and Learning: A reflection between the mediator teacher, the students and the knowledge

Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. We all know who Albert Einstein was, but why would he say those words? It is easy to understand when we look at it from a practical perspective. Teaching is not as powerful as creating and finding real opportunities for our students to develop their own knowledge. This is true for all kinds of learning, including English language learning. Among all the skills and contents to be learned, there is the facilitator teacher. Students of English benefit from a teacher-mediated focus on specific language forms, for example. 

Why is this true and what are the factual supports for that statement?

The reason why students of English benefit from a teacher-mediated focus is highly related to how our brains learn. It is interesting to notice that, according to James Zull, deep learning occurs when there is a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing. Whenever we are lecturing, we are not providing our students with the challenge to go through all these stages. To create opportunities for them to learn and deeply acquire the language, for example, is to have them experience it, reflect upon this experience, hypothesize and finally test their hypothesis in an active way. That means that they are doing the job, not us. What Einstein tried to say is that teaching is about exposing knowledge. Learning is about creating knowledge. 

However, if students can create their own knowledge, why would they need teachers?

Students need teachers because although awareness and ability are developed autonomously, there must be an interposing between the communication environment and the students. Only by designing favorable circumstances for the students to interact, they are able to learn. In an attempt to explain the language acquisition, Krashen has stated that it happens through interaction in an environment where the learner has lots of comprehensible input. However, as Vygotsky theorized, the language input must be one step beyond the learner’s proficiency stage. Both, Krashen and Vygotsky agree with the fact that the teacher is a mediator, and the teacher’s role is to provide this favorable learning environment. 

So, how can teachers deal with this situation?

In fact, teachers deal with language acquisition and mediation situations all the time. EFL teachers are not different from that. When EFL students are learning specific structure and use of language forms, for example, their focus might not be the language study itself. According to Harmer, it should take place in a lesson sequence. It is the teacher’s responsibility to design a lesson that supports all the learning opportunities, including the ones related to language forms. However, these opportunities are better designed when covered through interaction-based activities. That means that, although the lesson includes language forms, the structures are presented, practiced and produced along with well-designed activities that prioritize interaction.

            A good example to illustrate a situation where a language form is being comprised in a lesson sequence is the following. Last year, my group of adults was learning how to make questions with the verb be. They did not know that they were learning about this because the focus was not on the questioning itself, but on the fact that they had to know about each other's information in order to fill out a survey. Their objective was to complete the sentences:

____________ is married.
___________ is single.
 _____________ is an architect.
 __________ and __________ are from Rio. Etc.

In order to complete the sentences, they had to interview their classmates. To get the right answers, they were supposed to invert the be sequence and form questions. Although they were not aware of the syntax rules for question formation, they could follow a model and apply the logical conclusion to all the sentences. For example, the model on the board was:

Are you married?

With only that model, they could produce all the other questions, practice the new structure and grasp the rule by themselves. There was no deductive explanation and the focus was not on the structure, but on the task.

Every learning process benefits from a facilitator teacher that creates real opportunities for learning to happen. Being a facilitator means making appropriate stimuli available for interaction to take place. It is only by mediating the interaction between the content and the learner that deep learning takes place. Mediating knowledge is helping our students go beyond their proficiency stage. Although teachers may focus on specific structures, the lesson objective must be interaction. It is the teacher’s role to design effective lessons that build an invisible bridge between the structure and the students’ communication in class.

Juliana Canielo de A. Benedetti

Read more:
Jeremy Harmer ( 2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching.
James E. Zull (2002) The Art of Changing the Brain.
Stephen D. Krashen (1987) Principles and practice in Second Language Acquisition
Lev S. Vygotsky (1987) The collected Works

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Reading your Students

“Reading” is a skill you will find yourself cultivating in your students from day one in the classroom until the end of the semester. They use reading to find the right classroom, to register the date and their teacher’s name, to find the Resource Center or the Coordinator’s Office. Reading ability will determine the ease (or difficulty) with which the students interpret written instructions to an exercise or participate in a scripted dialog in a textbook.

Reading may one day lead your students into enlightening research, the expansion of comfortable dimensions of knowledge, the tingle of literary adventure or romance.

But….are you “reading” your students?

Many teachers begin a semester with intense concern for the lesson plan, the materials they will use, the technologies they will employ in the process. Have they reliably led the class from point A to point D, with demonstrably positive results (evident in the students’ overall performance)?

In following the trajectory of a prescribed teaching path, the instructors become so intent on the intermediate and end goals that they may overlook the signs that indicate how the students - on a less obvious level - are absorbing or reacting to the class in question.

Are you (the teacher) attentive to the following “reading” signals: 

  • Willing and consistent eye contact 
  •  Alert and energetic posture (vs slouching and lounging)
  •  Precision in repetition (vs relatively soundless mouthing, avoidance) 
  •  Interested, forthcoming collaboration with fellow students
  •  Alacrity in response to task initiation and follow-through (vs sluggish foot-dragging that results in frustrated task completion) 
  •  Tone of voice (confident vs timid) and nature of attitude (positive projection vs reticent or somewhat surly rejection) 
  •  Choice of seating (outside the teacher’s peripheral vision or within easy visual “reach”) 
Reading accurately and with sensitivity; it can make a difference in task success, and an even bigger difference in classroom and lesson management.

Katy Cox

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IATEFL 2014 - ELT Conference Highlights

Harrogate is a beautiful former spa town in northern England and it was in this cozy city where spring was blossoming and flowers were everywhere that the 48th Annual IATEFL Conference was held. It was my first attendance at an IATEFL Conference and I was quite impressed with the extraordinary multiculturalism , the astonishing volume of choice , the impressive array of speakers and the cheerful atmosphere among the participants.

 Overwhelmed by such a rich, diverse choice of options, I tried to select as many interesting  sessions as possible and spent four days  running around the beautiful Harrogate Convention Center trying not to miss anything. I attended excellent plenaries and also got in touch with teachers from different parts of the world who work and do research related to coaching and  mentoring, one of my areas of interest and also the topic of my presentation in the conference.

The coaching and mentoring delegates formed a team in Harrogate! We attended each other’ s presentations and exchanged a lot of information and experience. It was wonderful to see that people from the most distant parts of the world have been working hard to implement collaborative practices in order to enhance teachers capacity and at the same time promote professional development. All the sessions were excellent.

One valuable presentation I was able to catch was given by Dr. Svetlana Belic  Malinic from Belgrade, Serbia.  Svetlana presented the results of an  action research conducted in an international school in Serbia which aimed to bring about change in teachers perceptions of their pedagogical practice. The teachers were introduced into reciprocal coaching schemata and, by doing peer coaching, were able to support one another in their professional growth, which positively affected their self-assessment. This shows how valuable it is to work collaboratively and how teachers gain by exchanging their experience and practice.

In addition to the thought-provoking presentations I attended, there was one innovative session format I really appreciated called  ELT Conversation , which involved discussion between two leading ELT professionals, Jeremy Harmer and Scott  Thornbury. In this session the speakers interviewed each other about the Communicative Approach. After 20 years, is it time to redefine its concept?  Is there a contemporary view of CLT? For more than one hour, in a full auditorium, Harmer and Thornbury discussed the gains and losses of this so well-established approach for language teaching followed by questions addressed from the audience.  A wonderful moment to revisit this approach and reflect upon what we have doing in our classrooms in the last decades.

In the opponent flow, Jim Srivener gave a lively presentation reassuring the importance of teaching grammar and urged the audience to ignore those voices that tell you that you have to communicate all the time. The presenter stressed that, yes, students want, need and learn from grammar. The question is how teachers can make grammar genuinely engaging, valuable and challenging. In order to make grammar really meaningful, Jim Scrivener stresses that we should use lots of examples. They are input. And we should play with examples. This is practice. We should never forget to make examples sound real. Personalization is fundamental. After personalizing , students then are able to use the language.

As you can see through my highlights above, IATEFL was filled with diversity and innovation which have made me an IATEFL convert. Those were professionally inspiring and enjoyable days that will always remain in my mind. My thanks for the support and encouragement the Casa has given me to participate in such a fabulous event.   

Margarete Nogueira

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TESOL 2014 and Being a Leader

This was the first time I attended a TESOL and I was amazed at how big and how well-organized it is. It was great to see so many teachers from all over the world learning, sharing, motivating and being motivated. There was a huge variety of topics for the presentations, with options for everybody’s interests. I chose to attend those related to Teacher Development and Leadership not only because of my present position at Thomas, but also because I believe we teachers are always searching for professional development opportunities and we are all leaders.

There was one particular presentation I enjoyed a lot and would like to share with you: “Leadership Skills and Styles Affecting Leaders” by Dr. Sufian Abu-Rmaileh, from the United Arab Emirates University.

He started by defining Leadership:

“The act of identifying important goals and then motivating and enabling others to devote themselves and all necessary resources to its achievement. It includes summoning one’s self and others to learn and adapt to the new situation represented by the goal” (NYSBR 2003, p. 3)

“Much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do” (De Pree 1989, p.148)

So, who is a leader?

Astin and Astin (2000) define a leader as anyone who has a formal position and who holds the role of bringing about change in the society in which they live and work.

De Pree (1990) says that one of the major tasks of a leader is to expand and unleash the talents and skills of the different people in the organization.

These definitions made me think of how much we teachers match them. Every semester we face different challenges to which we have to adapt and learn how to deal with. We are in charge of groups of students who need our constant guidance, model, assistance and motivation. More than teaching English, we teach them how to respect and help their peers, how to accept different opinions, how to overcome their difficulties. 

Good leaders help their team achieve their goal, which should be in accordance with the institution’s/organization’s. I particularly like De Pree’s  saying about the role of a leader. A good teacher/leader should be able to expand and unleash the talents and skills of the different people s/he leads.
There are different leadership styles and we can adopt different styles according to our and others’ necessities and in different moments of our life. Dr. Abu-Rmaileh talked about the six leadership styles listed below.

1.       Directive Leader:
Allows little or no negotiations
Keeps tight control without delegating
Is not flexible or open to new ideas

2.       Visionary Leader:
Has clear standards and feedback
Explains the logic behind procedures
Inspires people to a higher purpose for their work

3.       Affliliative Leader:
Creates harmony and affective/emotional bonding
Avoids confrontation with others
Provides little explanation on direction or rationale behind tasks

4.       Democratic/Participative Leader:
Collaboration and team concurrence
High on trust, respect and commitment
Motivates his/her team by empowering them to direct themselves

5.       Pacesetting Leader:
Sets high standards for performance
Obsesses about doing things better, faster, quicker
The pursuit of excellence is overwhelming

6.       Coaching Leader:
Helps team members to discover their own strengths and weaknesses
Guides people to find and create their own career development
Links goals, personal and career, with those of the organization

Leadership Matrix
How it Builds Resonance
Impact On Climate
When Appropriate
 Competency requirements
Moves people towards shared dreams
Most strongly positive
When changes require a new vision, or, when clear direction is needed
Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Empathy, Transparency, Visionary Leadership, Change Catalyst
Connects what a person wants with organisational goals
Highly positive
To help an employee improve performance by building long term capabilities
Self-Awareness, Empathy, Developing Others
Creates harmony by connecting people to each other
To heal rifts in a team, motivate during stressful times, or strengthen connections
Empathy, Teamwork & Collaboration, Conflict management, Building Bonds
Values peoples input and get commitment through participation
To build buy in or consensus, or to get valuable input from employees
Empathy, Teamwork & Collaboration, Influence
Meets challenging and exciting goals
Is often Highly Negative  - because it is generally poorly executed
To get high quality results from a motivated and competent team
Self-Awareness, Empathy, Self Control, Achievement Drive, Transparency, Initiative, Adaptability, Teamwork & Collaboration
Soothes fears by giving clear direction in an emergency
Can be Highly Negative – because so often misused
In a crisis, to kick start a turnaround, or with a problem employee
Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Empathy, Achievement drive, Initiative

I’m sure you have recognized yourself at different moments of your professional life in many of the characteristics listed above. These characteristics are just a few among many others for each style. We can select some and put them together to come up with our idea of an effective leader. Dr. Abu-Rmaileh presented effective leaders as being:

-          Visionary
  • -          Trustworthy, fair and honest
  • -          Role Models and Mentors – “Effective leaders demonstrate courage in difficult situations, and provide a model of moral leadership for other to emulate” (NYSBR, 2003, p. 2)
  • -          Visible
  • -          Dedicated – Effective leaders are dedicated to the institution which they serve. They have commitment and loyalty to the constituents and to the institution.
  • -          Good Communicators

The implications of good leadership are many. Good leadership in the classroom leads to a calm end of semester, not necessarily an easy one, but surely one in which we have a sense of accomplishment. Some of the implications Dr. Abu-Rmaileh talked about and I believe are appropriate for a classroom environment were:

  • -          Achievement drive: high level of effort, high levels of ambition, energy and initiative
  • -          Honesty and integrity: a trustworthy environment
  • -          Self-confidence: belief in one’s self, ideas and ability
  • -          Emotional maturity: well-adjusted groups

The presentation made me reflect on the kind of leader I am and the kind of leader I want to be, my personal characteristics that influence on my leadership style, and the aspects I need to work on in order to be a better leader. I hope it helps you see yourselves as leaders too and realize the importance of being a good leader.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TESOL 2014 Educational Snapshots

I could be here focusing on the interesting ideas that I learned from presenters in the TESOL Conference 2014, but by having the snapshots, quick notes I took during some sessions, you  might come across interesting references, links and people that will inspire you. 

Some topics that caught my attention:

Many Intersections Sessions that I attended focused on Mobile Learning. It is noticeable that though we all work in different contexts, the challenges are very similar, lack of infrastructure, difficulties with bandwidth in an ipad rollout program. Teacher training is also in the agenda of every Institution who wants to have a successful program. In my notes, I added some apps and resources that were mentioned. One thing that I missed was more presentations on learning outcomes with a more intensive use of mobile devices. Any qualitative and quantitative differences in the results of students who have been using smartphones/tablets and the ones who are not?

Marsha Chan, in her presentation on how to help students improve their oral communication skills, suggested using Youtube Playlists to help students find relevant content for further practice. At the end of my notes, you can find Marsha´s notes with all the links she mentioned. 

Nick Robinson´s advice and thoughts on the future of ELT publishing really got me hooked. Many interesting points about possibilities for self-publishing and concrete examples already in the market. I had the pleasure to meet Andy Boon (thanks to Nicky Hockly!), one of the authors in a self-publishing/independent project. We were immediately hooked to the story and downloaded the multi-pathways stories available in Kindle. You can learn more about those great interactive stories at . Learn more about Nick Robinson´s ideas at  and 

Another excellent presentation that got me with an irresistible thirst for more was one on gamification by Josh Wilson, who focused on the game-like mentality for educators to prepare better, more engaging lessons. Josh´s presentation was much more focused on the strategies and mechanics that we can learn from a game designer mindset to make our students learn in a more enjoyable way, not in the aspects that many consider as the core of a gamified lesson, points and badges. Not at all. Josh consistently mentioned that these are just part of the sum. Here are some key concepts:
Design the experience
Quantify everything (score; progress)
give choices
External pressure
Constant feedback 
Design the context
Imagine your learners as players

In fact, this is an area that I´ve been consistently studying, and two resources that you might want to check, a Google Talk, Smart Gamification: Designing the Player Journey with expert Amy Jo Kim

Also, the book "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction" by Karl Kapp

Another presentation that was very useful, highly intense in terms of ed tech resources we can use in our classrooms was Lea Sobocan´s digital tools session. I´ve just checked her scoop it, which is a true gem: 

I could go on and on with my highlights of TESOL 2014, but I´m sure you´ll find your own treasures by exploring my Evernote notes with some great presentations I had the chance to attend. I´d love to know what you found.

Crossposted at

TESOL 2014 - Pronunciation with Obama

I have attended several Tesol Conferences along the years and, since one of my great interests is Phonetics and Phonology, I tend to participate in several presentations on the topic.  To tell you the truth, I have not been happy with what I have previously seen. Presenters have repeatedly used the same activities and strategies to help students overcome their difficulties – minimal pairs, rubber bands, tongue twisters, traditional songs, nursery rhymes, among others.

When I came across the title: Obama as pronunciation Teacher: Using Political Speeches for Suprasegmentals, I was really curious about how the presenter would use Obama’s speeches to teach pronunciation.

The presenter’s objective was to make clear how essential pauses, stress and intonation in sentences are to accurate pronunciation. Her point was to provide students with effective models to help them successfully use suprasegmentals when they use the English language. The presenter, Mary Rommey from the University of Connecticut, used Obama’s political speeches as examples.

She offered a six-month course at the University of Connecticut for candidates as Teaching Assistants for whom English was not  their native language. She conducted a pre test and a post test with these candidates. She videotaped them when they were talking about familiar topics related to their daily life before and after the course. The results were fascinating ! Students improved a lot regarding pause, rhythm, stress and intonation.

She started by asking students to mark the pauses on transcripts of Obama’s speeches. Then, they watched videos and checked their markings. She explained that he was a convincing speaker because of the pauses he makes. Then she worked with stress and later with intonation. When students received the transcript, they read the speech first, solved vocabulary doubts, and asked about content. She made sure the text was grammatically transparent and that the meaning was clear to all students. 

The presenter’s objective was to show that suprasegmental aspects influence communication and that the speaker has to be intelligible to communicate effectively.

Lúcia Santos

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Art of Designing eTasks

There are at least two different ways to help teachers who are designing iPad activities with students to evaluate the tasks they create. The  SAMR  model helps a  teacher/task designer become aware of what stage the task falls into in terms of the use of tech.  The Bloom Taxonomy applied to apps helps teachers think about the kind of questions we ask students and how we should vary the tasks we offer. By delivering the workshop From Image to Deep Learning, I started to understand that  teachers can also look into the learning cycle as a whole, and how the human learning brain works to promote deep learning. The ideas I share here were inspired by the book The Art of Changing the Brain, which is a must read for any educator willing to take a look into the biology behind learning.

In the workshop, I asked the audience how to teach questions with does to teens, and develop tasks having the learning cycle in mind. After a quick debriefing, I showed a simple iPad activity I carried out in class of 11-year-olds, talked about my take in the lesson, and expanded on why I think this task pleases the learning brain. Now, I post my ideas here to help me reflect on my practice, having the learning cycle described in the aforementioned book in mind.

I showed students a quiz about a famous person I knew they would be interested in. Students took the quiz, and I inductively helped them notice how to make questions about a third person`s likes and dislikes. Then, I asked them to gather information about a celebrity they follow to make a quiz of their own.
I was afraid that I`d have no pictures to work with on the following class, but to my surprise, students had bought the idea and had pictures and lots of information to work with. I was ready to go, so I set the iPad activity and monitored students. Here is what two pairs produced using a wonderful app called visualize.

In the art of changing the brain, Zull talks about phase 1 - concrete experience. In this phase, there is activity in the sensory cortex, where we receive, gather and begin to process the visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory information. Phase 2 - reflexive observation, seems to describe an activity that takes place in the integrative cortex. It is time to connect sensory images to prior experience in one`s neural network or schemas. In class, passing from phase 1 to phase 2 might take time as learners need to relate new information to what they already know. We cannot rush. We must allow time for thinking/recalling as well as time to reflect upon the learning experience.

In the activity I proposed, my students were exposed to a visually appealing quiz about a person they were genuinely interested in, and took the quiz themselves to find out how much they knew about the person. As I see it, students went through stage one and two of the learning cycle before we started the second part of the activity.

In phase 3 - abstract hypothesizing, the front integrative cortex is at work. Students start to prepare to do something with the recently acquired knowledge. In the iPad activity, I asked students to get the information about their favorite celebrities and start to put it in the format of a quiz for the other students in class. And by asking students to make these quizzes to communicate their recently acquired knowledge, teachers allow students time to test their hypothesis and think. In phase 4 - active testing, students shared their quizzes, and by doing so, provided peers with concrete experiences, so the whole class was back to phase 1. Learning becomes cyclical and on going, and hopefully they will remember the language point long after the day of the test.

In conclusion, instead of asking students to pay attention, it is better when we can engage students in tasks in which they  are supposed to reach outcomes, or ask them to look at the topics from different angles. Instead of sitting still, learners could be asked to move around to see the details. In other words, by making learning more concrete, we might reach concrete outcomes.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seating Arrangements?

Most species arrange themselves in juxtapositions which are indicative of purpose or customary convenience. A lone eagle grasps a rocky crag or high, bare branch: He takes a position which will offer the best vantage point from which to sight a salmon swimming upstream, a rabbit pausing in a clearing. A trio of lions hunting: Their proximity is guided by expediency, the strategy which will result in the separation of a slow calf, a lame elder, a single zebra in panic and tiring. Elephants circle for collective protection, penguins for warmth. 

What about people? When they are safe and comfortable, people are gregarious. They seek convivial exchange and the reassurance of belonging, similarity to each other. People congregate in various situations for specific purposes: In church, with each individual reflecting on a speaker’s words, people sit in pews. In a theater, attentive to a sequence of actions designed for their appreciation – not participation – people sit in rows. The arrangement is the same, expanded, at soccer and baseball games. Viewers are not in attendance to perform. But what about a business meeting? Each person present will be somehow judged according to their input, the timeliness of a suggestion, the interjection of pertinent wit. 

Many communal rituals, from primitive to pompous, take place in a circular conformation, with a common view of each face, each voice having equal value. A party? How do people situate themselves at a party where everybody’s having a good time? Do party-goers naturally convene in lines along the walls? Reiterating: people are naturally gregarious – i.e. social, companionable, tending to “flock” together. This characteristic relates to what is most inherent in humans – their dependence on communication. Language teachers study, among many things, strategies to propitiate communication – natural, spontaneous exchanges between humans of all ages. 

What are the most convenient conditions for these exchanges – the windswept rock, the dusty plain, dimly lit lines along the walls? Probably not. The vital potential of democratic communication lies in the equality of exposure, of being comfortably visible and audible. A neighborly livingroom, a table at a local eatery – these are situations propitious to communal communication; our classrooms, when they can, should emulate this companionable condition. So…. Are you planning class activities that maximize genuine communication? Think about it:  Shift your focus from “seating arrangements” to “speaking arrangements.”  

Katy Cox

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pairwork Activities - If Students Aren´t Sharing, They are Not Pairing

What is a “pair”? The American Heritage dictionary begins its definition of this word by calling it “Two corresponding persons or items similar in form or function”. 

_1030187 15/12: Ceci & MarianoFor the purpose of language teaching or any other kind of teaching, for that matter, the “corresponding” aspect is of the greatest pertinence. A moment comes in a great many lesson plans when the teacher thinks, for example, “OK, we’ve gotten through inductively figuring out how the present perfect is different from the past tense. Check. We’ve engaged in a spate of mental gymnastics filling in blanks in a series of PPT sentences. Aha! Used a technological resource. Check. Looked at lines of prose and eliciting individually in a crisscross pattern among students sitting in a U-shape that facilitates eye contact and intelligible oral exchanges…. decided which sentences contain the present perfect tense and why that tense was used in those situations. Check. Now it must be time for pairwork. Right. So the students are given the assignment to work in pairs on exercise B on page 46 of their textbook. Right timing; ineffective strategy. If the students are naturally gregarious, they will do the exercise collaboratively, or at least verify whether their responses match. But, was there anything about the exercise which necessitated a joint exchange, mutual input, utterance and response? If the answer is “no”, then you don’t have pairwork; you have two individuals sitting side by side engaged in a similar task which can be carried out without the “correspondence” of two people who depend on each other’s contributions to achieve a requested result. 

The following are a few examples of textbook-type set-ups that result in genuine pairwork.
Two students have cue cards which indicate the direction a question & answer exchange might take:  Policeman vs person suspected of automobile theft.   
              P:    for the past three hours
              T:    shopping mall
              P:    own the car you are driving
             T:    two years                                     

Students receive A & B dialog cards to practice role-play situations which include the structure or vocabulary in focus and which can be sequentially shared whole-class; these varied dialogs can also be rotated from pair to pair in closely timed progression.

Two students exchange comments on the ways in which a city has changed in the past few years, the ways in which parental rules have been modified, the changes that have taken place in common domestic technology.
Students pair up to ask and answer questions which will result in the creation of an ID profile card which can then be shared with the rest of the group. Ex: Where have you lived, worked, studied, traveled – etc – in the last two years?

 Variations of these possibilities are as infinite as our general inclination to communicate, and can be found by way of multiple resources, including – most probably – the textbooks you are currently using. But awareness is key in your inclusion of pairwork in your lesson plan:  as regards your students, if they’re not sharing, they’re not pairing. 

Katy Cox

Monday, September 09, 2013

Teacher Talking Quality

Robert O’Neill has questioned a basic idea of EFL teaching that too much teacher talk is bad and therefore more 'student talk' can be achieved by reducing teacher talking time. In contrast, he introduces the idea of teacher talking quality; it’s not the time the teacher spends talking, but the quality of the teacher’s talk*. O’Neill certainly makes a valid point, yet it requires further elaboration.
First, the idea that decreasing teacher talking time (TTT) will increase student talking time (STT) needs to be addressed. One can imagine a teacher doing various things, e.g., telling stories, partaking in speaking activities, and giving instructions. Should a teacher avoid talking when it comes to piquing students’ interest; relaying some culturally relevant anecdotes; explaining how an activity is going to work?  I don’t see how a seasoned teacher could argue that TTT should be avoided when it comes to these situations.  TTT versus STT becomes important when considering speech which does not result in student learning. Such speech from teachers would therefore be lacking in quality and efficiency, but what does that look like?
STT and TTT have to do with time, which is easily measured. O’Neill has proposed the acronym TTQ (teacher talking quality). Quality in comparison to time is not quite as objective, which is why I believe the discussion of TTT x STT seems to be a recurrent theme in TEFL.  That’s not to say that quality can’t be measured. One could design a rubric for scoring the quality of teacher talk just as we’ve developed a scoring rubric for the writing assignments we give to our students. This TTT rubric should give points to a teacher who uses elicitation, gives practical and clear explanations, checks for understanding by asking concept questions, allows students to be responsible for their self-directing their speech, organizes students into speaking pairs or groups, and tolerates silence long enough to give students time to formulate a response. Likewise, this TTT rubric should take points away for a teacher who speaks for many minutes without elicitation, gives explanations full of terminology, transitions to an activity without first asking questions that check student comprehension, controls or dominates discussion to the point where students have limited involvement in the learning process, or impatiently reinitiates talk without giving students time to process so as to formulate a proper response.
Above all, teachers need to be humanistic and understand that although silence can be used as a technique in specific instances (allowing the student time to find their words), being silent all the time is not natural and doesn’t cater to everyone’s learning needs. Students who seek clarification or wish to share their experiences with the class should be welcomed with a warm response from the teacher. In fact, teacher talk can include current issues in comparison to dated textbooks or audio, disseminate relevant content, and fine-tune language to a level that is readily comprehensible based on that student’s level of language development. We also can’t forget that the teacher’s English is a source of input for our students to process both consciously and unconsciously.
 To summarize, it’s safe to say that there are some strong points to O’Neill’s argument for TTQ. When TTT is dry and monotonous, void of elicitation, or needlessly complicated, it becomes obvious why TTQ is so crucial.  That is not to say that TTT shouldn’t be limited at times when students are capable of some learner autonomy; they can guide their own discussions, which both further involves students in the learning process and develops their speaking skills when it comes to turn-taking or discovering the meaning of vocabulary or grammar rules for themselves. English classes can’t be all about the vocabulary and grammar, however.  Teacher talk is needed to build rapport with our students so that they not only learn the language but are given opportunities to use the language in ways that are meaningful and humanistic. In the end, it bodes well for the teacher who recognizes when it is necessary and not necessary to talk during class, duly combined with the idea that when TTT is warranted, it is done with our students’ learning needs in mind.

*Robert O'Neill – IATEFL, April 2004