Showing posts with label iatefl13. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iatefl13. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teachers, it's Talking Time!

Attending an international conference is such a rewarding experience. You learn so much and you exchange so much knowledge. There were many presentations I loved, but I’d like to share one that I found particularly interesting.

This presentation had a curious title: “Let the Teacher Speak!” At a time when most methodology books, teacher developers and evaluators insist on the importance of reducing TTT (Teacher Talking Time),  and of providing more and more opportunities for students to speak, this title sounded... well, peculiar.

However, there was nothing peculiar about the presentation. On the contrary, the presenter, Dr. Brian Tomlinson, a prolific writer since the 70s, had some very interesting points to make. First and foremost, he argued that the issue was not how much the teacher talks, but what he/she says, or in his own words, “it’s not the amount. It’s the quality.” He added that, perhaps, what needed to be reduced is Teacher Teaching Time, but Teacher Talking Time should actually be welcomed.

The reasons why a teacher should speak more in a class are: (1) it provides exposure to the target language; (2) it engages learners cognitively and affectively; (3) it develops a positive rapport, and (4) it provides communicative feedback. I started thinking of my own classes, and I realized that this is true. Students do engage when we tell them anecdotes. They start seeing us as human beings, and they can relate to that. It gets them thinking and isn’t it something that we often complain about; that students don’t think?...

Of course, Tomlinson doesn’t propose that we turn our classrooms into mindless chit-chat hubs. Remember he mentioned quality, not amount! He proposed some activities that include a great amount of teacher participation, such as reading a poem or a short story and engaging students in a conversation about it. It’s OK for us to talk in the classroom. We should remember that, for some students, the teacher is the only model they have to go by. The important thing is not to lose the teaching/learning perspective.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - Pronunciation for Listening

One of the talks I attended at IATEFL was Pronunciation for Listeners – Making sense of connected speech, by Mark Hancock. I already knew Mark from his blog and his published materials, so I made it a point to attend his talk. It was certainly worth it!

The best part was to know that I wouldn’t have to copy anything or take pictures of the slides. I already knew that Mark is all about sharing his materials and his talks and was certain that, later on, I would find everything online.

Sure enough, in his ELT page with Annie McDonald, Mark has posted the handout and the recording of his talk.  Thus, rather than reading my summary of his presentation, you can experience it first hand.

Mark’s talk was useful in demonstrating to the audience that pronunciation is also a listening skill and that it isn’t always easy for students to know where one word ends and the next begins when they listen. Thus, we need to train our students to listen, and to do so, we need to develop in them an awareness of the supra-segmental features that come to play in natural speech, such as elision, assimilation, and the like. To this end, Mark suggests a series of what he calls micro-listening activities that are really fun.

Among my favorite ones presented at IATEFL was the –ed = t maze. Students have to work their way through the maze by going from one –ed = t combination to the next. The interesting thing about it is that he presents the verb and an object that starts with a vowel so that they can practice the elision that is so common in verb + object combinations such as “booked a room”.

Check out the recording of his talk and his handout. He also has an article and an interview on this topic. Make sure you also explore his website full of rich resources for effective pronunciation teaching.

Friday, May 10, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - On Listening Tasks and Tests


Attending and presenting at both TESOL and IATEFL conferences was a rewarding experience.  I always have two different perspectives when I attend and when I conduct a workshop. Attending a conference is a moment in which you see new trends in language teaching. We have contact with different and often revisited  viewpoints of what we sometimes  believe are unchangeable truths, and we have the priceless opportunity to meet old and new friends, professionals  who have a lot to share with you. As a presenter, I feel that a conference is a moment for networking and assessing the repercussion of the material you have been developing. Both are very motivating and make us want to share and learn even more. It is a never ending endeavor. I am sharing here an enriching presentation that I attended at IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, 2013 - Listening tests and tasks versus listening in the real world – by John Field (Oxford University Press). The talk outlined the types of mental processes involved in listening. Then it evaluated whether recorded material, formats, and items of conventional second/foreign language tests really tapped into this processes. Finally, suggestions were made for new forms of teacher-designed test and task that are more closely linked to real-world communication needs and to the listening construct.

Listening is a process taking place in the mind of the listener. The only way we can test the skill – or check understanding in the classroom – is indirectly - by asking questions. ELT teachers have to ask questions for three reasons: to test, to check understanding and to diagnose listening problems. This already distances the behavior of a learner or test candidate from that of a real-world listener. Then, what does a language test actually test?

We know that it is crucial for the learning process to consistently develop and assess the listening skill. We must, therefore, have in mind that it is impossible for a test to replicate the circumstances of real-life language use, but it is reasonable to ask to what extent a test (directly or indirectly) elicits from test takers’ mental processes like those that they would use in a real-world situation. This is a critical question in tests that claim to predict how well a candidate will perform in a real-world context, such as an academic institution, a professional position or an immigrant situation.

Cognitive validity is a well-established idea and educational researchers in the U.S. have investigated and questioned the following aspects of testing. Does a test of physics show that the learner can think like a physicist? Does a test of logical thinking test what it claims to test? Does a test in Medicine just show that learners have mastered facts – or does it show that they have the ability to diagnose? These intriguing questions lead us to reflect upon what listening consists of.

According to Mr. Fields, the model of expert listening starts with a speech signal – decoding and word search – and is followed by word parsing – separating the sentences into grammatical parts, such as subject, verb, etc. – which eventually leads to meaning construction. This model may question whether present listening tests / listening tasks materials elicit behavior from the listener that is like real-world listening processes, if they are comprehensive enough to cover most or all of the processes involved in listening, and if they are graded in a way that reflects learners’ development as listeners. He concluded that listening tests / tasks materials provide listeners with scripted (or even semi-scripted) recordings with little resemblance to natural everyday English, actors who mark commas and full stops, lack of hesitations and false starts, quite long utterances and regular rhythm, and voices that do not overlap. Aside from that, test setters sometimes put in distractors, making the recording much more informationally dense than a natural piece of speech would be.

The difficulty lies in the recording itself. Test designers and teachers tend to judge the difficulty of a piece of listening and even what points of the information to focus on by referring to a taspescript. However, these decisions also need to be made when listening to the recording. What parts of the recording (words or points of information) are prominent and easy to recognize? What characteristics of the speakers might make the recording more difficult? To choose recorded materials, teachers  have to take into consideration if it is authentic, recorded, scripted or improvised, analyze how now naturally the speakers include hesitations, for example, how fast they speak, how precisely the speakers form their words, the degree of formality, accents, if it is a dialog/conversation/interview, the frequency of the vocabulary uses, the complexity of grammar, the familiarity with the topic, the length of the recording, how dense the idea units are in the recording, how clearly structured is the overall line of argument and how concrete or abstract are the points made.

Mr. Fields concluded by affirming that conventional formats – multiple choices, gap filling, visual matching, true/false, multiple matching, identifying the speaker who said - require the listener to map from written information to spoken, eliminate negative possibilities as well as identify positive ones (multiple choices and True or False), read and write as well as listen (gap filling), and engage in complex logistical tasks which take us well beyond listening (multiple matching). He also claims that lower level learners understand far less than we assume, listen out for prominent words and try to match them to words in their vocabulary, are dependent on picking up salient words rather than chunks and whole utterances, a tendency that is increased by the use of gap filling tasks that only focus attention on word level.

He finally suggested that we provide items after a first playing of the recording and before a second. This ensures more natural listening without preconceptions or advance information other than the general context.  He insisted that we keep items short, since loading difficulty on to items just biases the test in favor of reading rather than listening. He made sure we use tasks that allow the test setter to ignore the order of the recording and to focus on global meaning rather than local detail. The information provided by Mr. Fields may not be new to many of us, but it always wonderful to listen to a specialist confirm or deny our assumptions, basing his conclusions on accurate research and studies. That is why attending a conference can make a difference in our lives.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - The Future is Now – What Tomorrow’s Schools Will Look Like

International conferences are a great opportunity to learn new things, debate controversial ideas, and check if you are doing a good job at your school. The IATEFL annual conference is especially exciting because you have teachers from all over the world sharing information on teaching English as a foreign language. So there I was, ready to take part in this international exchange of ideas.

Being a tech-savvy teacher who blogs and reasonably up-to-date on technological advances, I was quite curious by the title of this presentation by Peter Davidson (Zayed University, United Arab Emirates) on Thursday, April 11th 2013. After all, he was asking questions such as, “What will classrooms look like in the 21st century?”, “Will there be classrooms?”, “Will there be schools?”, “Will there be teachers?”. Looking for answers and for new ideas, in I went.

Peter Davidson started talking about the factors shaping education at the moment, some of which are economics, globalization, research, and technology. Going on to the topic of curriculum and tools, He mentioned blended learning, online learning (MOOC), laptops, tablets, and phones. After cruising through web tools, he got the audience to discuss the role of the teacher in the future. Will we be facilitators, enablers, guides, mentors, gurus, or just bystanders? 

Finally, the session went onto the future of education. Whether education will be challenging, frustrating, chaotic, fun and exciting, Peter Davidson concluded that teachers need to not only be aware of the changing face of education, but they need to embrace this change and help to shape it. This change needs to lead to more effective learning. According to him, and I fully agree, teachers and educators need to shape the future of education – not Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. 

The important question here is, “Did I learn anything new by watching this presentation?” The answer is no. However, what I would like to emphasize is how rewarding it is to know that Casa Thomas Jefferson is one of the frontrunners embracing this change. We, as teachers, have been using web tools for several years. Online and blended learning are already part of our reality. Computers and tablets in class are our daily routine. Even living in a developing country facing a never-ending economic crisis, we are not bystanders. Into the future we boldly stride.

Monday, April 22, 2013

IATEFL Conference 2013 Ed Tech Highlights

IATEFL was just some days ago, but things get so hectic when we get back that it seems that it was so long ago... The highlights of an international conference like IATEFL is always related to the people you meet and talk to and the networking that takes place everywhere, on the streets, on Twitter, in the Convention Center corridors, during break time. It's always time to connect, talk, discover, experience.

If you ask me about specific things I've paid attention to and took notes, here are they in my Notes:

Learning Technologies Pre-Conference Notes

Notes Day 1

Notes Day 2

Notes Day 3 and 4

Also, there were some amazing bloggers who would post the summaries of the presentations almost real time.

Graham Stanley's summaries mainly related to Learning Technologies.

Chia Suan Chong's summaries

And the grand finale with our wonderful App Swap. In the corridors of the Convention Center, we exchanged fun and serious apps for personal use and for the classroom. Ana Maria Menezes did a wonderful job compiling all of them!

Amazing days of learning and connections.

crossposted at