Some more wise words from my colleague, Jill: “Lower the filter, not the bar.”
In our Professional Development Meeting on Friday, one of my colleagues, Chris, gave a fabulous session on ELT Methodologies. The session was wonderfully presented as he modelled a number of techniques from various approaches/methods which most of us are familiar with from our own teaching experiences, although we may not be aware of where they originally come from. We then had a brief look at some of the major approaches and methods in the area of ELT and finally looked at some statements regarding our own teaching and considered which methodologies the statements might relate to.
One of the statements got Jill and I talking about lowering the affective filter, which is often associated with Suggestopedia and we talked about how a teacher’s personality can go a long way in making learners feel comfortable, especially around making mistakes. I praised her for her diligence in expecting and getting the most from learners and said how I felt she always managed to do so without making them feel uncomfortable and from there comes the quote of the day, “Lower the filter, not the bar.”
I watched an OUP webinar by Robin Walker a while ago on errors and as I’ve been sorting through last year’s bits and bobs I came across my notes.
He divided the talk into three sections – Cause, Class and Classroom.
He identified six main causes of error: carelessness, L1 interference, teaching materials or method, overgeneralization, general order of difficulty and risk-taking and creativity. Interestingly, during this section he also suggested that items which are similar and easily confused (such as past simple and present perfect) should be taught separately with a significant space between them and then compared at a later date.
One of the key points I picked up from this section was classifying the errors as local or global: a local error is confined to an individual word or is an error which doesn’t impede understanding, whereas a global error makes the meaning unclear. There’s quite a good flowchart on prioritising errors on the presentation which accompanied the talk.
In the final section, Robin suggested some easy activities which we can use in class to work on errors – a couple of my favourites are the 4-colour dictation and flavour of the month.
In the 4-colour dictation, they do the dictation first in one colour, then are allowed to check their work (using dictionaries or other resources) in a second colour. Then their partner checks their work in a third colour and finally the teacher corects in a fourth colour.
In Flavour of the Month, you choose a specific error which you want everyone to pay special attention to that month.
We had a wonderful professional development session yesterday by Ceri Jones on coursebooks. It was a wonderful moment of querying the role of coursebooks in our classes and really thinking about how we use them.
We discussed what the coursebook means to us individually and the content of an ideal coursebook, looking at how our ideals compare to what the majority currently offer. Then we went on to look at a specific two-page spread and talked about how we would teach that lesson – how we would Select, Adapt and Supplement the material (a healthy dose of SAS is important for every page of the coursebook!).
At this point, Ceri introduced us to Lindsay Clandfield‘s idea of “Heads Up, Heads Down and Heads Together” as a way of categorising the interaction patterns and activity types. After the session, I was thinking further about this: about the variety within the class and, more importantly, what learners respond to. We said during the session that as EFL teachers using a communicative methodology, we instinctively aim for more “heads together” activities as these encourage STT and really get the learners using the target language. However, something that we’ve found, certainly in the extra-curricular classes we give in a local state school, is that learners respond particularly well to “heads down” activities. Younger learners who are taught in a fairly strict, structured, “heads down” environment often struggle to recognise the boundaries of a more communicative “heads together” class, leading to classroom management issues because of noise, high energy levels and over-use of L1. I wonder whether as well, because of their learning experience, they see more benefit in “heads down” activities or whether it’s simply a case of habit and expectations.
As always, it’s essential to have a balance of activities in every lesson. But also, it’s important to keep those “heads down” moments to appeal to all our learners – those intrapersonal learners probably appreciate the chance to do an activity quietly and it may perhaps be their moment to shine as well.
In the final week of the course, one of the input sessions for trainees talks through some of the main ELT methodologies. My colleague was doing this session for the first time and as he was looking through the notes on the session, he highlighted the fact that they were rather out-of-date. While he was expected to tell trainees about the Silent Way, Audiolingualism and the Grammar-Translation method, there was no mention of Dogme or CLIL or Blended Learning.
“These are the main ones nowadays, aren’t they?” he said and whilst it’s true that other methodologies are still very much prominent in today’s classrooms, with the progressive move towards bilingualism CLIL is very much a talking point in the EFL world and Dogme has been on everyone’s lips for at least the last five years. Are any of the “old-fashioned” methodologies on the verge of extinction? Will we one day look back and laugh at our ancestors who thought they could teach a foreign language without actually speaking in the classroom, or those who thought that the best way to teach was by reams of sentences and a dedication to translation?
*As I spell-check my post for publishing, neither Audiolingualism nor Dogme appear in my dictionary!
OK, this is mainly an opportunity for me to organise my thoughts in preparation for a conversation I’m going to have soon with my boss about teaching YLs using the Silent Way. I’m thinking it would be feasible with a group of students who are aged 8 and above, as they would need to be fairly confident at reading, especially at reading without using Spanish pronunciation. So, here are some of my thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of using this technique with this age group…
It maximises STT (though you could argue that it’s not natural STT)
It gives students more responsibility amongst their peers
I’m interested to see what effect it would have on discipline – the optimist in me thinks it could solve a range of problems, the realist in me thinks it could cause others
Systems would need to be explained at the start (e.g. I clap once for everyone to repeat, twice when I nominate a student, three times to get everyone’s attention)
It could minimise L1 in the classroom (I have a bad habit of responding in English when students speak to me in Spanish – which I would be a lot less likely to do using the Silent Way)
Parents may not be happy that their child’s teacher doesn’t speak
The systems may be difficult to implement and maintain
Natural intonation could be difficult when words are being spoken individually
I think it would involve a significant amount more planning on a daily basis – you would have to think carefully about the vocabulary which could come up that lesson and have it prepared in advance to save writing words on the board all the time and interrupting the flow of the lesson
A slower pace in lessons – though perhaps this isn’t a bad thing
Can anyone think of any others?