May 10

Teacher Talk – a #CELTAchat summary

Teachers are at greater risk of experiencing vocal problems and are more likely to consult doctors on voice disorders than most other occupational groups¹ and so unless you’re teaching the Silent Way, it’s highly likely you spend a fair amount of time in the classroom talking.

On pre-service teacher training courses, TT (teacher talk) is often covered in a session on Classroom Management early on the course although some trainers are concerned that this may be too early on and comes at a point when trainees are being overwhelmed with information.  Should there be a separate input session on TT at another point in the course, or may it depend on trainees’ needs?

TT is frequently modelled during input sessions, though it’s important to reflect carefully on how it is used if you are providing a bad model – in case trainees get the wrong idea and end up copying you!  Good TT is modelled in the Unknown Language component, yet TT is often still a point which is raised in teaching practice feedback throughout the course.

How can we define good and bad TT?

Examples of good or essential TT include:

  • giving and checking instructions
  • concept checking
  • drilling
  • rapport-building through input +1
  • leading feedback
  • error correction
  • eliciting
  • modelling language
  • clarifying language

Some examples of poor TT include:

  • echoing
  • commentary
  • wittering
  • unnatural TT (e.g. not using contractions)
  • ineffectively grading language

How can we make TT more effective?

Clarify whether TT is good or bad: as tutors, we sometimes give inexplicit feedback on poor TT and fail to highlight positive TT.  We should be more concise when dealing with poor TT so that trainees have a clear focus for improvement, but also praise quality TT.

There was a suggestion to create an observation task which analyses the purpose and effectiveness of TT – this could perhaps involve transcription, especially if the class was recorded.

Train trainees to give effective instructions to avoid lengthy, repetitive or overly polite phrasing.

Another suggestion is for trainees to make TT more explicit in their lesson plans – wittering is an example of bad TT which can often occur during feedback stages when trainees haven’t clarified their role in the stage.  Also, by making feedback stages more learner-centred, we can limit TT – by encouraging learners to lead and extend feedback, repeat answers, clarify language, etc.

Further reading:

Jamie Keddie’s IATEFL talk on how to develop TT (and thanks to Fiona for summarising his suggestions on her blog)

Emma Meade Flynn also presented on the topic of teacher talk and interaction at IATEFL and her follow-up blogpost can be found at TD Lab

And a third IATEFL presentation from Monica Poulter on Teacher talk as a pedagogical tool

Barbara Skinner’s ELT Journal article, Effective teacher talk: a threshold concept in TESOL and another from Richard Cullen, Teacher talk and the classroom context

Sam Shepherd on why “reduce TTT” provides trainees with insufficient feedback

The unhealthy noise in our profession from David Pickup

ESL Teacher Talk for Effective Classroom Interactions – an independent study course

ResearchGate has a number of articles on teacher talk

Investigating Classroom Discourse, Walsh (Routledge, 2006) – the image below comes from this text

Plus, here’s a link to the #CELTAchat storify in case I missed anything!

Huge thanks to everyone who participated, especially Sarah and Matthew for sharing so many of the links above and Fiona for moderating 🙂

March 15

Fortnightly Focus #13 – #ELTwhiteboard

Ooops, my Fortnightly Focus skipped a week there!   My plan had been to get involved in #ELTwhiteboard on twitter which is (more than) a hashtag originally started by Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew).  For more information on what it is, I really recommend checking out Matthew’s blogpost following on from a talk he presented on #ELTwhiteboard – he shares his slides from the session which are full of #ELTwhiteboard images to get you thinking about how you use and could use your board.

And that’s what I’ve done in the end.  I haven’t actually taken any photos of my whiteboard over the past three weeks as I had originally intended, but even just thinking about taking photos has made me reflect on my use of the whiteboard.

For example, I know I predominantly use the black pen in my teen and adult classes: green for me is always phonology and I find it weird to use it for anything else, blue is trickier to rub off for some reason and so I tend to use it sparingly to save my arm a workout and red is a bit fierce to over-use.  Incredibly though, there are other colours available!  I gave a session at a school a couple of weeks ago and there was a yellow pen and then last week on our part-time CertTESOL course, one of the trainees had a purple pen – and because I was so amazed by it (little things and all), he gave it to me!!!  Quick aside, does anyone else get so incredibly excited by board pens or should I get checked out?!

I’m generally happy with my board organisation – the left-hand side tends to be kept free for emergent language and the right-hand side for me to write up discussion questions…that’s purely because I think that the learners can more easily see things written on that side of the board and so can start chatting about the first question whilst I’m writing up the others.  And, going back to phonology, I’m quite happy writing up words phonetically, but I think maybe I need to change the way I mark stress – I’ve got into the habit of doing it as a dictionary does, but I think it might be more effective to use circles as I’ve seen others do as that not only shows more clearly which syllable is stressed, but also the number of syllables which will be useful for my Spanish learners who often add in extra syllables (for example in comfortable).  Also, I think I use the board more for emergent language with my adults than my teens as they are all so keen to write new language down.  However, I feel I should write up more emergent language with my teen group too as I know a couple of them would write it down and make an effort to use it.

Interestingly, the topic of how we use the whiteboard came up during the CertTESOL observations last week and we talked about when it’s necessary to write on the board as I noticed a couple of trainees were unnecessarily writing on the board – for example, writing up the answers to an exercise which they shouldn’t need to do if oral feedback was clear.  I rarely use the board to write up answers, unless I think that learners may have made mistakes – perhaps because they may mishear an answer due to features of connected speech or they may misspell a difficult word or a tricky cognate.  With my very younger learners, I tend to use it more to model the task rather than post-task but I think this can be due to the way which VYLs are used to being corrected as well.

One thing which I think could be useful is a laser pointer!  Do you ever have moments when you’re monitoring and a learner asks a query and you’re trying to point out where the answer is on the board without walking all the way to the board?  That makes me think that sometimes my boardwork needs to be a little clearer for my weaker YL group – although it doesn’t help that one of them seems to be as blind as a bat even with his glasses on and sitting directly in front of the board (audible sigh of exasperation).  But as well quite a few members of that group struggle to link the written and spoken word, so being able to point things out would save a lot of frustration…oooh, quick to trip to amazon!

 

We’ve got peer observations coming up this month and so I’d like to think again about routines for my Fortnightly Focus – it’s getting to that point in the year where the learners are bored of the same games, songs and activities so I’d like to mix up my repetoire a little.  Watching a colleague and being watched by another will give me some fresh ideas.

February 11

Fortnightly Focus #11 – that group again

Busy week here, so my Wednesday post has turned into a Saturday post!

I’ve been trying a new behaviourial (points) system with this group which is having a positive effect on a number of them.  I found I was constantly juggling giving points for participation with rewarding the weaker learners when they did something well and trying not to unfair to the strong learners who would be streaks ahead in points at the end of the lesson.  Each time I needed to award points, my focus was away from the learners and I was feeling a lack of control.  Now, everyone starts the lesson on maximum points and the idea is not to lose any points during the lesson – they’re divided into sections for things so that as well I can see why people are losing points – not sitting properly, annoying classmates, chatting in Spanish and so on.  As I say, this means it’s now clearer for the class why an individual is losing points, although it does mean there’s perhaps less incentive to participate as points aren’t awarded for taking part or getting answers correct.

The fabulous Jill also re-introduced me to a fun activity which she does with YLs to keep them engaged and listening – each day there’s a magic word and if the teacher says the word, the learners have to stand up, turn around and sit down.  I’ve tried it a few times and I’ve found it works well with high-frequency, easy-to-spot content words.

I used “what” the other day which was highly amusing as I was asking lots of questions during the lesson…which leads me on nicely to my next Fortnightly Focus – I’m going to be thinking about questions: questions I ask my learners, questions I ask myself, questions learners ask me…

November 16

Fortnightly Focus #6 – Struggling with a weaker group

I definitely have a lot of ‘works in progress’ this year!  I’m still finding my feet with this group of 10-year-olds who are are much weaker compared to groups of the same age I’ve previously taught, but I feel as though the last couple of lessons have been more productive and that I’ve supported their learning more.

A new activity I’ve introduced focuses on questions each week as I found that they could easily produce “What’s your favourite…?” but struggled to produce questions with other structures and needed more support in understanding the meaning of different question words (‘who’ causes particular problems).

I’m also trying to slot in an activity each week to review much more basic language – so this week we played Bingo with numbers 1-20.  I’m also going to review prepositions of place as this can be problematic for Spanish learners anyway (in/on is generally en in Spanish and in front of sounds like en frente but it’s a bit of a false friend).

Also, fortunately, I’m being observed with this group tomorrow so I’m sure in the post-observation chat my colleague will give me some constructive advice, helpful tips and an outsider’s opinion of the group.

My next Fortnightly Focus is going to be on bringing more tech into the classroom as I’m eager to build up some more resources with Quizlet, Kahoot and Triptico. And, speaking of Quizlet, Sandy Millin shared an excellent blogpost she’d written all about the site which goes into incredible detail about the resources available and give links to sets which she’s produced linked to the CEFR scale – incredibly useful!

October 19

Fortnightly Focus #4 – Dealing with energy levels in YLs

To be honest, this is still very much an ongoing focus, as I try to deal with a tricky group of six-year-olds.  But I’ll share some thoughts now and no doubt come back to it again at another point.

Steps I’m taking to resolve some of the issues within the classroom:

  • I had a points system in place, but it was very limited (maximum of three smiley faces).  A colleague suggested flooding the class with points as this would give more space to take away points when needed.  This is having more of an effect, as I can often move closer to the points charts when I can see some learners becoming a little antsy and, in fact, it’s had quite a positive effect on one of the learners who’s very responsive to the new system
  • Spending more time around the table seems to make the lesson start in a better way.  I think previously, when they were in the smaller space at the front of the class, they became a little touchy-feely towards each other, whereas now they have more personal space
  • Turning off the air conditioning unit which unfortunately makes the classroom hotter, which probably in some ways makes the learners more antsy, but it means that I’m not constantly asking them to move away from it – to be honest, I was genuinely concerned that they would get ill sitting directly in front of it, I’m sure a blast of cold air right across your head/neck can’t be healthy.  However, temperatures are dropping slowly here in the south of Spain, though I can see my classroom being one of the warmest year-round
  • Working on making my routines more varied and dynamic – I’m trying to introduce a new song each week so that we have plenty to sing about as songs and chants can be great moments to refocus them.  Also, I know there are certain activities which they do enjoy so I’m trying to include them without relying too much on them (partly because they need more varied input and also they might then get bored of their favourites!)

Tough as the class is, I’m glad that it’s the first lesson of the afternoon as I do have the feeling of “getting it out the way first” and while it is draining to be faced with a difficult group, I’m trying to stay positive about it – there’s nothing worse than having the sinking feeling in October that you’ll be working with a group for the next nine months and it feels like it’s reached the point of no-return already.  So I’ll keep trying new things and getting advice from colleagues on what’s worked for them in the past 🙂

My focus for the next two weeks will be working on listening skills in the classroom as I’m giving a talk on the topic at ACEIA next month and want to try out some of my ideas before the session.