Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dogme Blog Challenge No. 4–Not to be taken lightly

I’ve been following Karenne Sylvester's dogme blog challenge from afar over the last few weeks but haven’t found the time to contribute my own thoughts yet. I couldn’t find time to write today either so I decided to answer some of the questions in the latest challenge, Being Light, by video!

By pure coincidence, Turkey’s two and a half year ban on YouTube was finally lifted yesterday so the video is also a celebration of the fact that I can now directly access one of the world’s most popular sites again.
Hot smile

My thoughts on ‘being light’

You’ll need to turn the sound up and I do kind of waffle on a bit but I hope you enjoy watching it all the same.

Other posts in reply to Dogme Blog Challenge No. 4

Please take a look at these other responses to ‘being light’


James Taylor, How I accidentally started my teaching unplugged

Emma Herrod, All aboard, the board-work train (as part of Jason's whiteboard challenge)

Candy Von Ost, What's in the bottle?  Think of a scotch

Mike Harrison, Materials Light

Diarmuid Fogarty, Accidental Death of a dogmeist

Willy C. Cardoso, Materials Light (A boring pub conversation)

Nick Jarowski, The Heart of Dogme

Tara Benwell, Hocus Pocus, Materials Light Focus

David Warr, Sense and memorability 

Sabrina De Vita, Everybody can paint!

Some thoughts on on-going professional development

Last week (27th Oct, 2010), the subject of what language schools should do for on-going professional development (PD) was discussed in the late session of ELTchat (check out the chat transcript and podcast if you missed it). Many interesting points came up which got me thinking over the weekend and led to this post.

One comment that was repeated throughout the conversation was that some teachers often seem reluctant to engage in organised PD, whether it be an after-school seminar, a weekend workshop or a conference. Many reasons were given: other commitments outside work, lack of relevancy, the fact that teachers are often expected to give up their time for free….

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Not very…
Image by kenyee

I think time is an issue. Look at the examples I gave: after-school seminars, weekend workshops. These encroach on teachers’ free time and I think this is an issue that should be addressed. The first school I worked at held seminars and workshops in the early afternoon when no classes were scheduled and everyone happily attended. That’s a stark contrast to an experience I had a couple of years ago when asked to do a couple of after-school sessions on using PowerPoint in class.  Teachers I got along perfectly well with were giving me murderous looks: “I already know how to use PowerPoint. Why are you making us stay behind after school?” came one comment through gritted teeth. OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit but there was a definite air of reluctance around the whole thing.

My first suggestion would be to schedule in-house sessions for a time during the day when as many teachers as possible are free. Obviously, some would have to miss out due to clashes with lessons but different times could be used for different events to include as many staff as possible. I think it’s also important that departmental heads/DoS figures attend. In my experience, their presence and willingness to attend is appreciated and helps others take it more seriously.

Listening to teacher suggestions for topics is also an important factor. This helps to ensure sessions are as relevant as possible. Just look at our ELTchat sessions. Anyone can suggest a topic and we all vote on it. This kind of thing helps everyone get involved and interested. As another example, my school held its first ELT conference 2 years ago with an international ensemble of plenary speakers and experts giving seminars and workshops. Great as that was, many of colleagues commented afterwards that they didn’t find the conference as a whole entirely relevant to what we do (no sessions on teaching primary school aged learners for example). In the following weeks, my school did something very positive though – our feedback on the conference was actively sought and acted upon meaning the following year, while we still had guest speakers on the bill, many of the workshops were run by the teachers themselves. This meant the conference was much more relevant.

There is one other issue I’d like to see addressed regarding conferences though. My employer has schools located across Turkey and so each year the conference is held at a different venue. Last year, a group of us travelled from Ankara to Izmir for the event but, when we returned, nothing beyond ‘how was it?’ was asked of us. There were many ideas to share and discussions to be started but it never happened. While at the conference, my colleagues from Ankara came to my workshop (held concurrently with several others) to give ‘moral support’. That was, of course, much appreciated but I couldn’t help but feel it would have been of more benefit had they each attended different sessions to later report back on.

So, this all led me back to thinking about my professional development wiki idea (http://tedteachersnetwork.pbworks.com/), which is unbelievably still awaiting ‘official permission’. I believe this will offer a workable solution to many of the gripes mentioned above. No travelling into school on Saturday or staying behind late; no fixed time – watch/read/listen to what you want, when you want!; the chance for everyone to contribute whether by commenting, editing or starting a new page on a new topic; and a great way to introduce everyone to the wonderful PD resources available elsewhere online – all from the comfort of your own home. Nerd smile  In regards to the conferences and workshops, the wiki would be a perfect place to announce upcoming events and reflect on them afterwards. A goal for tomorrow then: get that official permission sorted!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

An addition to the ‘board’ meeting – Brainstorming adjectives

AKA 'Pregnant Adjective Balloons'

This post is another response to Jason Renshaw’s recent call for ‘A meeting of the board(s)’ in which we TEFLers display snapshots of our the whiteboards in our classrooms. Although I’ve already contributed to the Wandrous Whiteboard challenge, I’ve also decided to contribute the following as it’s a more ‘regular’ representation of how I use the board (I will, however, be doing more Wandrous Whiteboard style activities in the future).

We had arrived at a unit in our coursebook about adjectives and I decided to turn one of the book’s activities on its head. On the page, the students were asked to complete phrase like ‘a fast ______’ and ‘a tall _______’ but this struck me as being more useful for brainstorming nouns than adjectives so I flipped it round and gave the students nouns to brainstorm adjectives for. As we had done the weather last week, I started with ‘a ______ day’ (with a large circle in place of the blank space here) and invited students to the board to write their ideas like this:

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I’m a big believer in getting the students to write on the board because a) it involves them more in the lesson preventing board work becoming just me in front of the class, and b) kids always seem to love being handed the board markers! I thenDSC09016 elicited some more nouns to describe. They came up with ‘boy’, ‘girl’, ‘hair’, ‘teacher’ (well, actually they didn’t – that’s part of my jokey response to them shouting out ‘TEACHER! TEACHER!’ when they want to say something) and ‘car’. I then put them into groups and gave them a minute for each noun to brainstorm words. When the minute was up, we set up a chain of kids coming up to the board to write an adjective in the circle and then passing the marker onto another kid. You can see the results (taken as separate photos for easy viewing) around the rest of this post.

We then reviewed their answers, clearing up spelling errors anDSC09013d incorrect answers. Some interesting vocabulary came up such as ‘romantic’, ‘charismatic’ and ‘artistic’, words which the boys came up to describe themselves. “But none of the boys in our class are like that!” was the comment from one girl. I added ‘handsome’ as they weren’t sure what the equivalent of ‘beautiful’ should be for describing a boy. I used my insertion of ‘teacher’ as a springboard for discussion on what, in their eyes, makes a ‘good’ teacher. ‘Funny’ and ‘happy’ were their answers! One other interesting point was that for ‘car’, most of the groups first came up with ‘clean’ when I was expecting words like ‘fast’ and ‘new’ to come up. Still, clean was one of the target words in the book so that was useful!

Alas, time was against us. They students updated their notebooks to include the extra words now on the board and our 40 minutes DSC09014was up. If we had had more time, the next stage would have been to find opposites and see which words could be applied to the other categories. Still, we covered a lot in the lesson, not only brainstorming adjectives but also looking at related language such as “What’s he/she like?”, which was new question for them, and “What qualities should a good teacher have?” Also, despite it being a lesson mainly focused on the board, it had been student-centred for the most part. Plus, they got to come up to the front of the class and write on the board, which made their day. Smile

Friday, 29 October 2010

MA Reflections – Reading the screen

One of the great advantages for distance learners these days is the accessibility of academic journals online. Some are entirely free, such as Language Learning & Technology, CALL-EJ and The Reading Matrix (see this comprehensive list by Talk to the Clouds for more free journals relevant to ELT), and others, like the ELT Journal and System, will most likely be available to you for free as long as you are a registered student. They are full of articles (usually downloadable in pdf format) covering a wide range of topics and disciplines and, together with a few well-chosen books, can provide the basis for most of your reading and research.

However, this also brings with it a problem and that is reading off the computer screen. As I began my first module last year, many of my fellow students commented on the forums that they found reading files displayed on their computer screen to be difficult. Common complaints were: getting a headache from staring at the bright screen; stiff neck/back from sitting hunched over a laptop; not being able to highlight/annotate pdfs; being ‘distracted’ by the internet (and Twitter!); and missing the ‘feel’ of paper.

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After a narrow escape from the car, poor bunny found himself trapped in a different set of lights.
Image by Toms Baugis

I have to admit, I was among them in the beginning. I was fine with browsing the forums but reading the word doc given with each unit and the various articles was proving tough. I also agreed with those bemoaning their inability to make their mark on the articles themselves – having the file on computer and notes on paper (or a separate file) didn’t seem very efficient. I also found my mouse cursor constantly drifting towards my email client and Firefox (I hadn’t discovered Twitter or blogging back then) when I should have been concentrating on my studies.

And so, I started to print to read.( I should stress at this stage that I’m not one of those who misses the ’feel’ of the stuff. In fact, I find such claims amusing and my favourite retort to those who say they prefer the touch and paper and ink is to say that I’m a traditionalist and I miss quill and parchment! “There’s nothing like sprinkling dust on a document to dry it off – it just doesn’t feel finished otherwise.” Smile with tongue out). This seemed like a good idea at first as I cold carry a printout to work with me to read in free lessons rather than lugging my laptop in. In truth, however, printing wasn’t an ideal solution as I was acutely aware of how much paper I was using. I tried printing two pages per sheet but the small print seemed to give me more of a headache than the screen!

I decided I would just have to get used to it. My solution the headache/discomfort problem was to finally heed the advice I heard (but generally ignored) since I was a kid and first got hooked on the Commodore 64: after 45 minutes at the computer, take a break for 15. I found this was also beneficial for clearing my head and taking stock of the notes and articles I’d been reading. Quite often, concepts I’d been struggling with or connections I couldn’t see would come to me while I was having a cuppa or taking in the view from my balcony (not that there are any great views in Ankara!).

CommodoreKid
“That was never 45 minutes!”
Image by my dad, probably!

As far as scribbling random thoughts, underlining quotes and highlighting paragraphs goes, I was alerted to a great tool by a fellow student on the MA TESOL forums: Foxit Reader. The free version of this programme allows you to highlight, underline and add notes to virtually any pdf. Perfect! Another great little programme I found was Files Lite, an app which allows you to read documents on your iPhone/iTouch (if you’re lucky enough to have one). This proved to be perfect for background reading while out of the house. No need for a laptop or a plastic folder. I just got my iTouch out and started to read. (Of course, the recent iPad would make reading on the go much easier, but if you’ve got one of those, you’re a lucky git!)

I’ve found now that I’m used to reading from the screen. It comes much more easily now than it did last year, that’s for sure. I’m doing my bit environmentally by not printing pages and pages of course unit notes and articles. I’m even making my personal study notes on the computer now as well! I try to stay self-disciplined and make sure study time is study time with no aimless internet browsing unless I’m done for the day or taking a break (although I do have to shut down Tweet Deck  - that little pop-up box is too darn distracting!). Anyway, time to get back to studying. Those articles aren’t gonna read themselves!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Outdone by the pink elephant

Discipline is a big issue with young learners and classroom management skills are essential for preventing/dealing with the issues that inevitably crop up (unfortunately, I was unable to join the recent ELTchat session on this topic). Generally, I focus on building positive relationships with my classes from day 1. I make an effort to get to know them, to learn about their interests and to show them that learning can be enjoyable and productive at the same time.

However, there are some classes who are more difficult to get through to. They equate fun in class with playtime, they don’t respond easily to attempts to get to know them and generally they give every teacher a headache! I have one such class this year. All their teachers past and present say the same: “do your best and try to stay calm.” There is also no real support system in my school for helping teachers deal with difficult classes or students. We are simply told to sort out problems in the classroom in the classroom. To make matters worse, one of my lessons with this class happens to be on a Friday afternoon when they really are not interested in doing anything resembling work (at least this Friday is a public holiday here so I get a brief respite)!

4114216294_3369b003bb Image courtesy of JoetheLion

Anyway, this is one of the classes in which I have a ‘pink elephant’, that being the term used by Jason Renshaw on his excellent blog to describe an observer in class. My pink elephant is a new teacher with no classroom experience beyond his CELTA. He’s been given a schedule of classes to observe and has been doing so over the last couple of weeks. I decided together with a colleague that he should teach part of a lesson to prevent him getting bored and to give him some hands on experience. The weather seemed to be a good topic to start with. At first, I let him take charge of one of my better behaved classes and then told him he would do the same for my ‘difficult’ class. He gulped but then started to brace himself.

And what happened? He stood at the board, elicited some weather words, drew the pictures and drilled the question and phrases repeatedly. He then did an exercise from the book, checked the answers one by one, writing them on the board as he did so, and drilled the words again. So, the lesson was very much teacher-centred with lots of teacher talking time and the only interactions being teacher to student. Furthermore, there was little deviation from the vocabulary and language covered in the course book.

However, as I was making these observation, I noticed something else: What were the class doing? They were sitting good as gold and listening to everything. They eagerly shot their hands up every time he asked a question with no complaints or arguments about not being called upon. They did the exercises in full and out their hands up to call the teacher over to check their answers. I had never seen them like that before!

That got me thinking what had happened and why. Were they on best behaviour just because he was a different, new teacher? (I seem to remember they were not so bad for the first lesson of the year). Had he simply got lucky and caught them on a good day?

Or, was it the case that a teacher-fronted, rigidly structured lesson held their attention better than my attempts to encourage them to explore, collaborate and have some say in the direction of the lesson? Generally, the class teachers here have a tendency either to lecture or to  spoon feed knowledge to the students and I sometimes wonder (especially with this age group) if some kids take liberties in any class where they are handed more responsibility. For the sake of good discipline, should I be retaining tighter control over all aspects of the lesson?

Food for thought over the holiday weekend…

Monday, 25 October 2010

What happens when 4th graders take on the Wondrous Whiteboard challenge?

One blog post that caught my interest last week was by Jason Renshaw (aka English Raven) entitled the Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge. The concept is simple: at the start of the lesson, hand the board markers over to the students, see what they write and build the lesson from there!

Although no one was around to provoke me with a statement of “that’ll never work with young learners”, I imagined that was what some people might say and decided to do it. My first attempt went well but was unfortunately ruined by me not bringing my camera in and an over-eager student cleaning the board as soon as the lesson ended while I rummaged around for my mini-notebook.

Today, I was fully prepared with my camera at the ready and did it with two more classes (two of my split classes, so just 14 or 15 students in each), the results of which you can see below:

Class 1

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At the start of the lesson I said that before we started today’s class, I wanted them to write something on the board. There were a few confused looks exchanged before one girl stood up and asked for a pen (good start!). She hesitated for a second before writing ‘apple’. Her friends asked why she had written it and she shrugged and said “it’s just a word”. The next contribution was ‘volleyball’ before the next student decided to mix things up a bit with a sentence about her favourite animal. Here’s a list of what came up and in what order in case the photos are not clear:

1. Apple
2. Volleyball
3. My favourite animal is my dog, Tessi.
4. Dolphins
5. Tiger
6. Tennis
7. Cat
8. Banana
9. Ride a bike
10. I like sunny weather (my contribution to avoid it becoming a random list of vocab).
11. Dog
12. Turkey
13. I like rainy weather.
14. My favourite animal is cat.

Once they were done, it turned out the list of words was not so random after all as their ‘grammar’ teacher has just been going over favourites in the previous class and most of them were listing their favourite animals, sports and so on. I got them to tell me more about their favourite things and pushed them to come up with more details like ‘I saw a tiger at the zoo’ and ‘I ride my bike when I visit my gran’. An interesting point for them that came from ‘banana’ (favourite fruit) was that grapes are referred to as white and black even though they are green and purple! (They found that funny even though it’s the same in Turkish!)

Class 2

 

This one was a bit different. This class is a bit noisy and it’s difficult to make them settle down. To make matters worse, at the start of the class one of my school’s ‘radio programmes’ began. This is basically what we would call an assembly in the UK with students from one class presenting something to the rest of the school. As the school I work at is quite large, this is done over the loudspeakers and during lesson time. Of course, they don’t listen and use the chance to chat and fool around. An ideal time to get them writing on the board then! This is what they came up with:

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The first boy to take the plunge wrote ‘listen to programme’. Another student was up like a shot to insert ‘the’ into the correct place. The next student wrote ‘quiet’, the one after put ‘be’ in front and the next added a ‘please’ to the end. Obviously, a reflection of the fact that nobody was paying any attention to the voices coming out of the speaker.

In this class, I came across reluctant students who initially declined to take part. However, once their friends had written a few more phrases, they all wanted to have a go. As you can (hopefully) see, most of what they wrote centred around rules. ‘Stand up’, ‘listen to me please’, ‘when you want to speak, put up your hand’ and so on (there’s even a ‘don’t go to the toilet’ in there – something I’ve certainly never said to them!). Best of all mind, was the last one. It had no relevance to anything else on the board ('What's your name?' was the sentence) but it was written by the weakest boy in the class who never volunteers for anything and shies away from almost every activity. Today though, he got up and joined in - well done to the lad!

Once they were done and the radio programme was finished, I asked why they had written these things. ‘We don’t listen!’ came the immediate reply from one boy. ‘Our teachers always say these things to us’ said another. A conversation then evolved about what rules we have in class and why, the importance of listening to whoever is talking (as I always say, ‘if you just listen, I only need to speak for a few moments but if you don’t listen, it’s going to take much longer!’) and why we should say ‘please’. They told me how they didn’t like strict teachers with lots of rules or angry teachers. I pointed out that perhaps if they were a little quieter and more observant of basic rules, their teachers might not have to be so strict.

All in all, a good discussion especially considering it was all done in English with a class of 10 year-olds! One boy even came up to me after class and said ‘thank you for asking and listening to us’ – one of those moments that makes you think you’re doing the right job. Thanks for the idea Jason!

I haven't been the only one inspired by the Raven either. Check out these posts from around the globe of teachers trying out and/or discussing the same thing:
The Babbling Blackboard - Michelle Worgan
Teaching Unplugged With A Student ınteraction Whiteboard - Shelly Terrell
What Comes Out of Unsuspecting Students + Wondrous Board Challenge - Cecilia Coelho
Sport is... - David War 
Guest Post #1 – Luciana Podschun’s Response to the Wandrous IWB Challenge - Luciana Podschun via Cecilia Coelho's blog

Writing Lesson (cont.) – Tailor-made Error Correction

In my recent post about a descriptive writing lesson, I made a brief mention of error correction. I didn’t go into much detail as it was nothing fancy - I just wrote out some sentences I had spotted in their notebooks and elicited the corrections. However, I found that error correction is another thing my kids were not used to and it seems they have rarely, if at all, focused on it much before. I wanted to see how much they had retained from that brief review so I set up an error correction lesson for the next week’s activity.

There are error correction activities in their coursebooks but they are full of mistakes my students never really make and so aren’t of much use. Seeing as I had noted down several errors for each class I decided to put it all to use by making error strewn paragraphs for each class based on their own mistakes. If most of the students in a class had written about a monster, I wrote my own paragraph about a monster with their errors sprinkled in; if most of them had written about famous people, I described a famous person, again with their own structural, vocabulary and spelling errors added in.

360276843_ca6450f0afImage courtesy of doobybrain on Flickr

I put this all on display on the projector together with a picture of said monster/celebrity and read out my paragraph asking the students what they thought of it. “Very bad,” most of them said. “Very bad English.” I asked them to reflect on that comment – was it really that bad? Did you understand what I said? That was the first point I wanted to make – these mistakes don’t make your writing ‘bad’ or impede your ability to communicate. They are a natural part of learning and the aim of our lesson was to try to raise our awareness of them.

I then set them to work in groups of 3 or 4 with a printed copy of the paragraph. They were to identify the mistakes and rewrite the sentences with corrections. Group work was an important part of the lesson as most of the kids would have been unable to identify all of the mistakes on their own. However, in groups, they bounce ideas of each other, check and confirm suspected errors and engage in a process of negotiating the right answer. This was a typical exchange:

Student A: “He is play basketball. Is it wrong?”
Student B: “Yes, not ‘is’. Cross it out.”
Student C: “But it’s still wrong! He plays.”
Student A: “Are you sure?”
Student B: “He’s right. I play… but he plays, she plays with an –s.”

I think such exchanges are powerful learning moments. If I had stood at the board and corrected it, most of the class either wouldn’t have listened or wouldn’t have processed it. Even if I’d called on a student to correct it, the same would have happened. Like this, working together, they discuss the language and try to explain themselves. In these cases, each member of the group listens and tries to process the information. Of course, I had to intervene a couple of times when they were going through this process to inadvertently insert an error into a perfectly good sentence but on the whole, they engaged in the activity as in the example above.

Once they had finished or nearly finished, we brought it all together as I displayed the incorrect text on the projector and called the groups up one at a time to make alterations. I used typewith.me for this so the changes they made were highlighted in a different author colour. This made it clearer for them to check their corrections against the ones on the screen. The great thing was, in most classes, I didn’t have to do anything at this point. They made the corrections themselves and collectively reached conclusions on disputed errors. By the end of the class, we had the fully corrected text on the screen. This was great for raising their awareness of not only mistakes but the grammar and structures used as well as they really had to dig deep at points to reach agreement as a group. This is an activity we’ll definitely be revisiting soon.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Could dogme work with Young Learners?

I’ve been pondering this question since last Wednesday’s #ELTchat on using dogme in a school setting. Whenever I come across an ELT-related discussion these days, I always ask myself if/how this could be applied to kids like the ones I work with. I generally view statements like ‘that would never work with kids’ as a challenge as I often find them to be assumptions rather than established truths. So, anyway, here’s a round-up of what’s been buzzing around my head for the last few days. By the way, when I refer to young learners (YLs), I mean primary school kids as most of my teaching experience has been in grade 3-6 (always worth making that clear as ‘Young Learner’ seems to be rather broadly applied to anything K-12!).


248876814_219df97e13Who wants to do dogme today?
Image courtesy of chrissuderman on Flickr 

 

In theory? Yes… possibly


The main points I’ve picked up from reading about dogme/teaching unplugged is that it should be student-centred, materials light and focused on emergent language. A student-centred approach is certainly something I advocate with kids. All too often I have seen classes of young kids sat silently in rows listening to the teacher, copying from the board and doing workbook exercises. No wonder they go crazy in the break times or when the ‘fun’ English teacher turns up! Once they realise that student-centred does not mean play time, they really value it. They appreciate being given choices and freedom as well as feeling involved in the learning process. This leads to increased motivation and willingness to learn. Kids also learn well from each other. They often zone out when the teacher is rattling on but listen more closely when their friends are contributing so a learning environment which is student-centred is desirable, whether it’s full-on dogme or not.

I’ve met many teachers who swear they would be lost without their course book. However, I’ve met just as many teachers who work with kids without ever using one! There is so much that can be done with kids that doesn’t rely on a load of materials – songs, chants, games, poster projects – these are all activities that really get students involved, working together and using the language and all can be done with a minimum of materials. A good collection of songs, some card and scissors and glue is all that’s needed (sounds a bit Blue Peter, doesn’t it?). Kids often enjoy these lessons away from the book much more than those centred around it.

Kids also love talking about themselves. Their favourite part of a unit is usually when they are given the chance to relate it to something personal like a collection, a hobby, family photos, summer holidays etc. They love bringing those things in for ‘show and tell’ style lessons. This could be exploited as an opportunity for focusing on emergent language. I have fed my classes some past simple chunks to talk about holidays for example. I’ve also moved into countries and nationalities to help them describe items from collections in more detail or professions so they can tell us more about their relatives. One problem with coursebooks in these cases is that they try to limit the language used to what the kids already know so when talking about a collection they are directed to say ‘This is my favourite doll. It’s from Japan.’ but not ‘I got it on holiday last summer’ or ‘It was a gift from my gran’ or anything like that.

However, despite the limitations of coursebooks, I have to say that kids (much more than the adults I’ve worked with) love them! I feel something would be lost if we didn’t have our recurring stories with cartoon aliens visiting earth or time-travelling kids visiting different historical and futuristic ages. What can be taken from those who push for a more materials light approach though is less-reliance on the book. It becomes all to easy to rely on the lessons provided and follow the units page by page. We can always make lessons more engaging by trying something different, stepping away from the book and seeing where the lesson goes.


In reality? No…. at least, not yet

 

There is another way to look at the debate, however. Those language teachers who work with kids most likely do so in a regular school setting and that brings with it syllabi, standardised testing, grading, report cards, progress checks, government targets etc all of which have an effect on what goes on in class. In my school, it works like this: the number of hours per week for each grade are set, publishers are invited to present their coursebooks, the syllabus is written based around the chosen book and the exams are set based on the syllabus. This where the problem lies: the exams are written based on where we should be in the book. Too much student-centred learning based on emergent language and the students may know lots of English but not necessarily what is relevant to the test. The exams often include specific vocabulary items from the book or references to materials from the book. So, for dogme to work, it would need much more than the individual teacher making some changes. The whole English department would have to be on board as would the school directors and parents. Such a major change would need a lot of time, debate and patience to bring about.

But it wouldn't end there. Although I work in a private college, it is still under the jurisdiction of the Turkish Ministry of Education and we have annual inspections. For those, a clear syllabus with a specific timeline and learning goals based around an approved coursebook is required. I very much doubt that an emergent curriculum would be accepted, meaning that persuading people to accept the changes would have to go well beyond the school itself. That would take more time.


So what can be done?

 

Maybe an all-out unplugged approach is unrealistic for schools, in Turkey at least, at present. It would represent such a major turn around in established teaching practice at so many levels that it would take more than a few experimental teachers to change things. However, some small steps could easily be taken in each class. Stepping away from the book every so often would be a good start; removing the extra grammar practice books or overly-simplified readers would be another; responding to the kids need to say something, whether in the syllabus or not, would also help; as would a more student-centred approach. Even if we can’t completely unplug, we can take many things which would benefit our learners from it.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Writing lesson – A Choice of Descriptions

In a recent post, I described one of the speaking lessons I’ve done recently with my ‘split classes’. Last week, it was time to engage the kids in some writing. I’ve generally found in my time working with YLs that motivating them to write above sentence level can be hard and writing is often the skill that is their weakest. One of the stated syllabus aims for this year is to improve writing through ‘focused activities to be done in split lesson hours’. However, I feel the ‘focused’ part is one of the things that causes a problem. Kids often find the writing activities too rigid and possibly on a topic that they have little knowledge of or interest in. So, I decided to introduce them to something I hope they will come to value: choice.

image
A hard path and an easy path? Or the high road and the low road?
By Patrick Mackie (From geograph.org.uk) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In our regular lessons so far, we had covered animals as well as facial features and clothes. We had also done our pictogloss alien lesson last week. Rather than, as the syllabus suggested, have the students describe their favourite domestic animal, I decided to bring all the topics covered so far into play and told them to choose ONE out of: describe your favourite animal (pet or wild); OR describe your favourite person (family, friend or celebrity); OR describe an alien/monster (imaginary or one from a story).

Having done this before, I knew what was coming next: puzzlement! In every class, the students had to check with me. “Do we have to do all of them?”, “Just one? Which one?” and finally “You mean WE get to choose?!?” It both amazed and saddened me a little that they seemed baffled by the concept that they got to decide (albeit in a limited way) what they would write. Had they really only ever done set activities before? Nevertheless, once it clicked, the creative ideas started to flow. One boy decided to combine the animal and monster options by creating a strange hybrid of a pig, a wolf and a dragon; another made up an alien celebrity; and a girl described her ‘dream pet’ – a rattlesnake apparently! Of course, we had our fair share of horses, footballers, Hannah Montanas and regular aliens too.

The best part of it all for me was seeing how they responded to the freedom of choice. There was no complaining about not liking the topic, no claims that they didn’t know what to write and no shortage of creativity. Afterwards, I had them read each other’s work in small groups and ask each other questions, which they really got into, before engaging in some basic error correction (not too much though as the bulk of it would be saved for the next lesson and next split class post).

I firmly believe kids find choice in the classroom empowering, whether it be about what activity to do, working in pairs, groups or individually or anything else. It helps them feel valued and involved in the learning process. They feel that the teacher wants to listen rather than just tell them what to do. All of that can help promote creativity and independent, critical thinking – much better than just writing about ‘My Cat’ for the hundredth time!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Using Multimedia in the Language Classroom

My studies for my MA in EdTech and TESOL have started again. This semester I have just one course to take (I guess I should enjoy the lighter workload ahead of what is bound to be a hectic second semester!) entitles Multimedia Design & Development. I was keen to take this course as I believe using a variety of media in our lessons is essential to provide variety and a range of activities appealing to different learning styles. However, effective use can only be brought about by effective design so I wanted to explore what considerations should be made when developing such materials.

The start of the course has focused on core issues such as responding to specific learner needs and teaching contexts, providing interaction between the learner and the materials, and taking approaches and methodologies into account. The main thing that struck me through the reading and discussion points was that multimedia and technology in general are really just tools at the disposal of the teacher. They do not change our teaching philosophies, nor do they magically make the learning experience more modern. Just like any other educational resource, it all depends on how it is put to use.
Multimedia at school

The fact is many CD-ROM packages, video activities, slideshows and other ‘multimedia’ used in class follow an instructionist approach. The learner is expected to sit at the computer, follow on-screen prompts and do the activities in a prescribed order with right or wrong feedback. I have seen classes with bountiful computer equipment where the teacher is still the focus of the lesson, the students are not interacting and everything is done in a rigidly controlled way. The fact is investment in technology must be accompanied by training in how to get the most out of it. Yes, technology can be engaging and motivating but only if it is used in engaging ways. Multimedia and technology can (and should!)  be used to encourage collaboration, problem solving skills and independent thinking. With some thought and careful design, these resources can be used for student-centred lessons which facilitate communication.

The current generation of web 2.0 tools offers the chance for students to learn by exploring and experimenting. There’s a wealth of information out there that they can be directed too through links and embedded files but we also should encourage them to go out there and find more of their own. I firmly believe technology is at its most powerful in the hands of the learners. Class blogs, Glogster, Prezi, Xtranormal and all those other cool tools out there are great for enriching the classroom experience but they are even better when the students themselves are producing projects, experimenting, cooperating and learning.

As part of the course, I need to develop my own materials for my students to use bearing these pedagogical principles in mind. I’ll keep you posted on what I’m working on! I’d also love to hear what your experiences of using multimedia with your learners are. What is your approach? How do the students benefit from it? Does it improve their learning experience?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Another valuable part of my PLN - #ELTchat

It only seems like yesterday that I tweeted for the first time, not sure where it would take me. Twitter soon became the focal point of my online professional development activities with everything (connections to other teachers, new blogs to read, links to interesting and innovative sites, virtual conferences, etc) emanating from a central hub of tweets.

Just a few weeks ago, something caught my eye. A new weekly discussion focused on matters related to language teaching - #ELTchat. By chance, I found myself online for one of the first sessions on motivating students to use English outside the classroom. The experience was intense with tweets appearing fast and furious but I was also pleasantly surprised by the wealth of ideas I got from that session from participants across the globe, working in a variety of contexts. The mini discussions that I got involved in with different participants during the hour were really informative too. This all echoes something I have observed on my MA course – no matter what context we work in, or what specific field of ELT, or what part of the world, we all have ideas to share and things to learn from each other.

Twitter-Logo
ELTchat logo courtesy of http://eltchat.com/

I was back the next week for more as we discussed the role of critical thinking in the language classroom and for more after that with a discussion on coursebooks, which perhaps in part led to the recent flurry of posts on the subject! I soon added an #ELTchat column to Tweet Deck and found myself eagerly awaiting the next poll to vote on and podcast to download. The next week, one of my proposed questions provided the basis for discussion as we looked at the role of L1 in the classroom. Once more, the chat made me reconsider my stance on the subject as I took the ideas tweeting in from around the globe into account.

I was then delighted to be asked to contribute to the weekly podcast reviewing last week’s discussion on measuring oral improvement. That gave me a great chance to reflect deeper on the conversation and, although I was only speaking directly with Shelly Terrell, I felt like I was really connecting with my PLN.

So, if you haven’t done so already, join us every Wednesday at 3pm and 9pm London time for a valuable learning experience; go to http://eltchat.com/ to propose questions, review chats and get the latest information on polls and podcasts; add an #ELTchat search to whatever you use to view Twitter; and follow @ELTchat!
Hopefully, I’ll get some colleagues from my school to join us soon!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Speaking Class Activity: Pictogloss

As I mentioned in my last post, this year part of my teaching programme this year is dedicated to speaking and writing classes. There is no set syllabus - we have just been asked to supplement the topics covered in their regular English class - and therefore no book or set materials. Another plus is that only half of the class is with me for these lessons (the other half come at a different time later in the week). It is so nice to be able to work with just 15 or 16 students instead of the usual 30+!

Anyway, I want to recount some of the activities we have done on my blog, both as an act of reflection for myself and to see what you all think and if you have any suggestions. I'm a little bit behind here so I'm starting witjh the lesson done the week before last: Pictogloss.

I'm sure most of you have tried or at least heard of  Dictogloss, in which students listen to a short text read by the teacher and try to reconstruct it. The catch is, they can't write as the teacher speakers (it is not dictattion after all) - they can only take notes. The students then get into groups, compare notes and try to write the text they have just heard. This really gets them thinking about the language in detail and focuses their attention on finer details of grammar they often make mistakes with. At the end of the activity, they compare their version with other groups and finally compare it to the original.

This year, I want to use the opportunity presented by having just half a class at a time to do more dictogloss with my 4th graders. Obviously, it is a demanding task for them and they need to be gradually introduced to it. The first step in that direction was taken with a slight variation on the activity. We had been working on describing animals and people and so I read out a description of an alien, much like the cute little chap below:
Mr D
By DaveDodgson | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

I asked the students to just listen a couple of times and then put them into groups of 3 and told them to draw it! They had fun doing it and got into discussions using the target language about exactly what I had said. "He said a BIG green eye, not a small one!" and "It hasn't got a body, only two short legs" were the kind of things I was hearing. Once they were done, we looked at my original picture and made comparisons. The students then produced their own aliens (without letting their friends see!) and repeated the activity in pairs. Before we knew it, the lesson had passed and they had 3 cool alien pictures in their notebooks, which they had spoken a lot of English to produce. They weren't too keen on my suggestion that they could write a description of one of the aliens at home but several of them did, nonetheless.

We'll be moving onto the written form of dictogloss soon!




My Take on the Unplugged/Dogme/Coursebook Debate

After a week or so reading some very interesting posts detailing various people’s stances on the ongoing discussion about the usefulness of coursebooks, the merits of an unplugged/dogme approach (assuming those terms can be used interchangeably) and everything in between, I thought I’d pitch in my two pence with some reflections on what I’ve taken from it all. Of course, this discussion has been going on for much longer (and will probably continue for a while yet!) but recent posts on the blogosphere have really got me thinking. Dogme and Teaching Unplugged are terms I only came across in the last year through my MA studies and my PLN on Twitter so forgive me if I make any false claims about them.

Unplugging
Plugging in or pulling out?
(Image courtesy of functoruser on flickr)

One recurring argument that caught my attention was the notion that unplugged teaching would be tough for novice teachers. Some state that a coursebook is necessary as a prop for these struggling newbies who are still finding their feet in a new profession. Others counter that CELTA courses focus on lessons planned and executed without set materials meaning there is no reason why newly-qualified teachers should not go straight into an unplugged approach. That reminded me of my CELTA (well, Trinity TESOL to be exact) days and sure enough, there was not a coursebook insight. Furthermore, at the first school I worked at, the coursebook was so poorly regarded and outdated that nobody used it – teacher never looked at it and students never brought it! Everyone prepared their own lessons and materials and I soon had to learn how to join them.

So, on the one hand, I started my career with no coursebook to fall back on and I survived. However, was I actually ‘teaching unplugged’ in those days? My understanding of the whole unplugged concept suggests to me I was not. I did not enter a class seeking to engage my students in a discussion and focus on emergent language. I went into class with a detailed lesson plan, an idea of how to introduce the topic on the board and a handout or two to provide controlled practice. That was what my brief training course had prepared me for and that was what a lot of my colleagues were doing. Even without a coursebook, we were still going over grammar points; even with authentic reading materials, we were still doing classic comprehension and language focus questions; even though ample chance was present for speaking practice and discussion, it was often neglected in favour of test prep.

I also disagree with the idea, however, that a new teacher needs a coursebook for support. New teachers have a lot to learn and that includes how to use a coursebook. I’ve met many teachers who do a great job using their coursebook as a basis for engaging lessons with little resemblance to the suggestions in the teachers’ book; I’ve also seen teachers struggle to plough through the content in the order prescribed with little or no deviation from the syllabus. Once I was in a school where coursebooks were more widely used and up to date, I had to learn how to deconstruct them. I soon realised I could adapt the contents to suit the preferences of my learners as well as my own by changing the order of activities, incorporating my own ideas, adding extra activities and offering students choice in how they tackled the content. Likewise, I believe any teacher wishing to try an unplugged approach would need time to adapt, experiment and find what works best for them and their classes. 

I think the problem with coursebooks comes from over-reliance on them. I have witnessed experienced teachers who suddenly find themselves lost because they are asked to do a conversation class or a skills course with no hard materials provided and obviously, this is not good. We should use whatever opportunities we find to adapt, change, challenge and try new things out but this should also be done within the parameters of the institutions we work in. I believe the most important thing for all of us to do, no matter how we teach and whatever materials and methods we generally use, is to constantly challenge our own ideas and try new things out. If you use a coursebook day in, day out, perhaps you should try some lessons without touching it and see where it goes. If you go for the dogme approach, perhaps (dare I say it?) you should have a look at a coursebook sometime and try using one of the lessons from it. We are all in a constant cycle of development and everybody, even teachers, has much to learn!

The whole debate has been a welcome chance for me to reassess what I do in class and why. Funnily enough, I have the chance to work on both sides this year as half of my programme is assigned to preparing my 4th graders for the Movers test, for which we use a coursebook and the other half is assigned to speaking/writing classes (with the same students) for which there is no book or bank of materials to follow. Those lessons can therefore take a more ‘unplugged’ approach and I will be discussing some of the activities we’ve been doing in future posts.

Recent blog posts I've enjoyed reading on the topic:
Curse books?  - by Henrick Oprea
No dogma for EFL - by Jeremy Harmer
Lessons from scratch - by Nick Jaworski
To use or not use course books? - by Eva Büyüksimkesyan

Scheduling in coursebook abuse - by Jason Renshaw (in fact, there are a whole host of great posts on Jason's English Raven blog, offering well-balanced thinking points).
Dogme for all? - by Richard Whiteside

Sunday, 10 October 2010

So you’re doing an MA, No. 2: Organising your study time

The first course of your Masters programme technically is the most straightforward as it is likely to be general in nature, focusing on teaching methodology, practice and/or how languages are learned. However, it is also the most daunting, especially if you haven’t studied formally for a long time. This was the case for me as I graduated from university in 1999 and since then the closest I had come to studying was my 4-week CELTA course. The amount of reading, the forum discussions and the tasks all seemed overwhelming at first and those first couple of weeks were spend wondering what I had got myself into, especially when I saw the learning hours overview:
  • Direct teaching input: 24 hours
  • Private study: 60 hours
  • Directed reading: 24 hours
  • Online forum exchange: 15 hours
  • Tutorials: 2 hours
  • Assessment preparation: 25 hours
A total of 150 hours* and that’s only one course! So, how can you fit that around a full-time teaching job, family commitments, bi-weekly trips to the gym and the need to sleep?
student-studying
The most important thing of course is managing your time well. Set aside specified times for study and reading every week and make sure you stick to them! I soon started to make sure I had my laptop or printouts of reading material with me at work on days when I had free lessons. Those split hours that used to pass with endless cups of tea and chats about the weekend’s football were now replaced with word files, pdfs and book chapters. It also important to let people know what you are doing. Tell your family/housemates/close friends what times you plan to study each week – this is helpful both for reducing the likelihood of being disturbed and for having people to say ‘Shouldn’t you be studying now?’ when you are delaying things. I would also recommend chatting to your boss. I kept my head of department informed throughout the application process and when the course started and I was pleasantly surprised when they offered me the chance to organise my teaching timetable around the hours I wished to study.

The amount of reading can seem unending at first but note that in the above list, there is time allotted to ‘directed reading’. You’ll soon discover that your course tutor will highlight the most important readings in each unit and you can use these as a starting point to pursue your own interests (‘private study’). You don’t have to read everything! Be selective and read what’s relevant or interesting to you. (I will discuss reading in some more detail in a future post).

As for the ‘online forum exchanges’, I quickly made them part of my daily internet routine. You know how you check your emails, browse the latest updates on Twitter and read new posts on your favourite blogs each day? (Perhaps even multiple times!) Well, make checking the forums part of that routine as well. You may find that nothing new is there or your may find a discussion has raged between teachers in a completely different time zone while you’ve been asleep. The important thing is to check regularly, comment when you have something to ask or add and be active (being active in discussions also helps you get to know your fellow students and your tutor and may make them more willing to respond if you ask for assistance later on. ;)). Logging on once a week and finding 50+ unread messages can be quite de-motivating. Daily checks can help you stay on top of things.

That is important for your studies in general: Try not to fall behind. If you get through a unit quicker than expected, start on the next one! Getting ahead isn’t a problem but falling behind is and you can soon find yourself with assignments looming and a lot of catching up to do!

I actually found that once I’d started the course, I became a lot more organised and made time to do things. Previously, I would skip trips to the gym, put off errands or delay marking homework thinking ‘I can do that later’ but, once I was studying, I started to think ‘I have to do this now or I won’t get another chance!’ I also began to realise how much time I used to waste doing nothing!

You should also face up to the fact that you may have to give something up. Whether it be your favourite TV show, a regular night out, a hobby or private lessons, something has to go in order to allow enough time to study. Such are the sacrifices we make in order to develop professionally!

Having said that, don’t neglect those around you. Make time to unwind and be with the ones you love. After all, you’ll be needing their moral support during the whole course and lots of it!

What about you? How do you make/have you made time for study? I’d love to hear any further tips you have!

*Note that this is taken from one of the MA modules at the University of Manchester and may be different at other institutions.

Previous Posts in this Series:
So, you're thinking of doing an MA, No. 1: Are you ready? 
So, you're thinking of doing an MA, No. 2: Choosing a course
So, you're doing an MA, No. 1: Surviving the first few weeks

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Using L1 in class – some post #ELTchat reflections

My last post (Help or hindrance? Teacher use of L1/L2 in the classroom) detailed why I don’t use L1 with my young learners but I now want to add some further thoughts following last night’s stimulating #ELTchat on the same topic.

First of all, I should make it clear that my comments refer only to me and what I say in class. I would never prohibit students from talking to each other in L1 (unless they are doing a speaking activity which requires use of the target language). I agree with some of the comments from last night that banning L1 is overly-harsh and potentially disrespectful, especially if you are in your students’ home country. While there was a policy like this at the first school I worked at here, I never agreed with it. I saw a few good, enthusiastic students literally being marched from the premises in tears because they had been caught translating one word to help a friend – hardly a way to build a positive learning environment.

When I say I don’t speak Turkish in class, I mean just that – I don’t speak Turkish in class. I’m happy for students to help each other out by explaining something. It shows me that the student doing the explaining has fully understood and I always like to see the kids helping and supporting each other. I also act like I don’t understand Turkish in class and this makes the students communicate with me in English. Previously, they would ask me simple things like “What’s this?”, “Do you like football?” and “Have you got a pet?” in Turkish but now I pretend I don’t understand them and they ask me in English. Often, their friends will help them if they are struggling to find the words and, again, I love to see this kind of scaffolding going on. For example, I just had a class today in which the speakers for the computer were missing having been taken away for repair. As I switched it on, a girl came up to me to try and tell me what was wrong but all she could say at first was ‘the computer… er ….no…hoparlör…’. She paused then another student said ‘no sound!’. ‘Ah, yes! The computer hasn’t got sound,’ she said. No prompting from me – they just constructed what they wanted/needed to say collectively and told me what the problem was.

However, I did realise something about myself in class during the chat last night, which I explained in the following tweet:
eltchat3
Let me elaborate: I listen in on my students speaking Turkish during activities and I check if they have understood correctly. If I hear a few students saying to each other that they don’t understand or find the task difficult, I help them out (but try to do so in a way that doesn’t reveal I understood them). So I guess, I do use my knowledge of the students’ L1 as a resource in my lessons, just not out loud. ;)

Also, when I revealed that I don’t use L1 with classes of 9 and 10 year olds, some people in the chat asked how exactly I managed it:
eltchat2
YouTube is not an option here in Turkey alas (still blocked after all these years…) but I can attempt to explain. One of the first things is to introduce some useful classroom phrases from day 1, such as:
  • Can I go to my locker?
  • Can I go to the bin?
  • Can I get my books?
  • Can I drink some water?
  • I haven’t got my …..
  • Can you say it again?
I also teach them some things I am likely to say regularly in each lesson:
  • Repeat after me
  • Listen to the CD
  • Look at the picture
  • Come to the board
  • OK, start
  • See you tomorrow! etc
Of course, I don’t introduce them all at once. This is done gradually over the first couple of weeks as we go over the ones we already know each day and add some more. There are no punishments for not using them but there’s plenty of praise when they do. I write the phrases on the board each lesson and add new ones each day and use flashcards and gestures for the classroom instructions. However, this is only the case at the beginning of the school year. After a while I remove the visual support so they start to use the language from memory. Slowly, it becomes more and more automatic. Soon, they are able to make other questions and phrases from the ones they already know. So ‘can I go to my locker?’ soon becomes ‘can I go to my bag?’ and that turns into ‘can I come to the board?’ . As we move through the units in the book, they realise the language can actually be used to talk and get to know their teacher. They will ask me about my likes, my pet, my family etc whereas in the past they would ask me such things in Turkish.

After that, it all flows easily. Instructions can be given in English. Words can be explained and examples can be given in English. We can even do self-assessment activities and answer reflective questions at the end of the lesson in English!

I always ensure the whole class gets praise for their efforts. I get their main class teacher in on the act too and she will tell them how impressed she is that they can communicate with me without relying on Turkish. Together, we stress to them what a big achievement it is to be able to learn in this way and this has helped me establish some of the best rapport I’ve ever had with any class I’ve taught.

Maybe I’ll get a video uploaded one of these days so you can see it all in action!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Help or hindrance? Teacher use of L1/L2 in the classroom

When I first started teaching, at a language school for adults, there was a strict ‘no Turkish’ policy within the walls of the school. Anybody caught talking or communicating in Turkish on the premises, whether a complete beginner or in an advanced level class, was promptly kicked out with their money for their current course refunded. The owner of the school explained that he had struggled as a youngster to learn English and it was only when in a total immersion environment that he started to speak more fluently (granted, that total immersion consisted of 6 years studying and working in the UK) and so he felt it best to maximise the talking time available to his students. It soon became clear to me that this was also a marketing ploy as keen bosses and parents sent students to the ‘English only’ school.

Whatever the reasoning behind it and the rights or wrongs of its enforcement, the rule made little difference to me as I knew hardly any Turkish at the time. I could just about tell the guy in the greengrocer what I wanted (though he often pointed towards the supermarket when I mispronounced mantar, the Turkish for mushroom, as manti, a mini-ravioli style dish!), ask the taxi and bus drivers to drop me off at the next corner and get another beer but that was it.
By the time I started teaching kids, much had changed. After nearly 3 years in the country, I had an ever expanding vocabulary and I was able to communicate with most people, albeit not entirely fluently. A friend whom I had worked with at the language school until he started teaching kids a year before me told me that one of the biggest changes I would have to get used to, apart from classroom management issues, was starting to speak Turkish in class. “You’ll have to”, he said. “There’s no other way.”

I took his word for it at first and started to use Turkish when they didn’t understand words or activities and when dealing with discipline issues. They giggled a bit at my mistakes but I used the opportunity to discuss how it wasn’t nice to laugh at other people’s errors and generally everything was fine. For the first couple of years that was fine until one day with a new class, after just having worked on ‘What is this?’ questions and responses, the children started to point at unfamiliar objects in a picture in their course book at ask me ‘Bu ne?’ (that being the Turkish for ‘what’s this?’). I tried to encourage them to ask me the question they had just learned but they wouldn’t. It then occurred to me that outside class they were generally talking to me in Turkish as well saying things like ‘merhaba’ and ‘iyi günler’ when passing me in the corridor.

I then resolved to ‘play dumb’ when it came to Turkish with future classes. Any utterance of ‘Bu ne?’ was met with a shrug and ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’ from me. I also taught a whole host of useful phrases for the classroom (e.g. ‘Can I get something from my bag?’), which was added to on a need to know basis. It was difficult at first but it had the desired affect. Kids started to use the language they had learnt to communicate with me, sometimes startling me with the ways they were able to manipulate their limited knowledge to express themselves.

However, despite what I see as advantages in using English only (that is me using English only – I don’t prohibit the kids from using Turkish between themselves), some teachers I know are not keen on the idea and think the teacher not using the kids’ own mother tongue can have a negative impact. As a result, the issue has been discussed often and, in the rest of this post, I’ll look at some of the arguments I’ve heard against the teacher only speaking in English and my counter-arguments:

1. ‘It’s so much easier to translate words.’
They say: Why put so much effort into explaining, miming or eliciting meaning when a quick translation will suffice.
I say: Isn’t that what we want our students to do? We want them to find meanings of unknown words by themselves. We want them to process the meaning so it sticks. In one class, I was asked what wet meant. I could have just said islak but instead I poured water onto the sleeve of my shirt and said ‘Look! It’s wet!’ I bumped into a student from that class years later who said he had never and would never forget that word!

2. ‘You can’t build a relationship easily with the students unless you chat to them in Turkish.’
They say: Getting to know students early in the year is impossible if you don’t use Turkish. That prevents the building of relationships between the teacher and the class/individual students.
I say: Some of the best teacher-class and teacher-student relationships I’ve ever had have been in classes where I haven’t spoken a word of Turkish. They feel more of a sense of achievement when they have been able to communicate with somebody in a foreign language and this helps build positive relationships. Also, what do they want to know about me? Not where I’m from or how long I’ve lived here. They want to know what I like, what cool gadgets I’ve got and what I can do and they want to tell me the same – all topics that are covered early in the year anyway.

3. ‘Turkish is essential for discipline issues.’
They say: Sometimes Turkish is necessary when dealing with misbehaviour in class. It’s the only way to make the rules clear.
I say: There are just two rules in my class: Listen when the teacher is talking and Be nice to your classmates. Easy to understand. Also, those kids get lectured at length enough by their other teachers. They don’t need the English teacher to do it as well. In serious cases, I have a deal with the floor manager (one is placed in an office in each corridor in my school) that they will help me out and do the lecturing for me!

4. ‘Students lacking in confidence will suffer.’
They say: Some students will be overwhelmed if their teacher only speaks English and will lose even more confidence as a result.
I say: It is exactly for the benefit of these students that I do this! In the past, I used to speak Turkish in class and the insecure students would constantly ask for help in Turkish, ask me to repeat instructions in Turkish and ask me simple questions in Turkish. When they are placed in a situation where they have to use English, they actually start to listen and they realise they can do it. I’ve seen students really blossom and grow in confidence as they see that they can speak English and be understood as well as listen and understand.

5. ‘In case of illness or emergency, there is no other option'.’
They say: If a child desperately needs to see the doctor or go to the toilet, it’s unfair, bordering on cruel, to make them speak English to tell you.
I say: A difficult one this. However, in most genuine emergency cases, it’s obvious what is wrong and the teacher can act accordingly, calling the school doctor or letting the child out of class as required.

6. ‘It doesn’t actually help their English in the long term.’
They say: Later, they have non-native speaker teachers anyway (1st, 2nd and 3rd grades are exclusively taught by native speakers in my school with other higher grades split between NNS ‘grammar teachers’ and NS ‘conversation teachers’) and so will talk Turkish in class then. Besides, it’s all forgotten during the summer.
I say: Quite the opposite! Teachers who have taken over my old classes at the start of a new academic year always say how surprised and delighted they are that the kids speak so much English with them from day 1. Also, as they do start to have lessons later on with non-native speaker teachers who may speak Turkish with them in class, isn’t it better for them if their native speaker teachers use English as often as possible?

So that turned into a longer post than I expected! I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you use L1 with your students? If so, when and why? If not, why not and how do you cope with some of the difficulties that arise as a result?