Wednesday, 10 April 2013

#IATEFL13 - From my beginnings… (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Jim Scrivener is a name always associated with my early days in TEFL as I used to clutch to his Learning Teaching book when in need of help (as I often was in those days!)

Jim’s talk given yesterday was about ‘Demand High’ teaching - that is pushing the boundaries or what we expect from our students to make language learning more challenging for them. I have checked out the blog he created on the topic together with Adrian Underhill a couple of times but this was the first time I had the chance to see a talk about it.

If you can’t see the video, click on this link to view the session.

My reflections and thoughts were typed ‘live’ as I watched the recording so they may appear to be in a ‘tweet’ style. I would welcome your thoughts on the talk and my reflections through the comments section below. :)

  • The session started by looking at typical student complaints. While I have encountered the “it’s boring” and “I want more grammar” phrases many times during my career, I find the claims to want more advanced language and study at a higher level are often misplaced with students believing this will automatically make them better…
  • I liked the way ‘Demand High’ was situated as ‘an idea with mileage’ rather than a methodology.
  • It interested me how Jim explained the idea was born out of observing teachers ‘covering material’ in superfluous manner - much like Scott Thornbury’s comments about the origins of dogme.
  • The discussion around checking answers from a simple coursebook activity was an interesting reminder that there are almost unlimited ways to approach and utilise a task in the classroom.
  • Avoiding ‘rubberstamping’ - this is something I’ve been trying to work on recently. Too many times I find myself saying ‘good’ after a student has given an answer and only asking something like ‘is that right?’ or ‘any other answers?’ if it is wrong. I need to use other ways to get the students to rubberstamp answers themselves and think about why an answer is right as well as why one is wrong.
  • Playing “devil’s advocate” - I sometimes deliberately give wrong answers or dispute an obvious one (although this is usually born from my sense of humour). I fin this does push the learners to explain their answers in more detail. However, it also becomes routine and expected quite quickly, a lot like ‘rubberstamping’.
  • The ideas about mistakes were interesting - asking students to recall their mistakes or highlight their favourite mistake could provide a good way to get them involved in self-analysis by reflecting on their language use.
  • Adding elements of role-play (different ways to say a sentence, using facial expression, etc.) is a good way to demonstrate to students how language really works and how things like word stress, intonation and body language can affect meaning.
  • While I agree that allowing processing time when drilling or working on pronunciation is important, I’m not sure that repeating the sound in your head is that useful. I tried it myself during the talk and with some Turkish phrases I could hear at home and I didn’t feel I particularly gained anything from it. Maybe the EFL teacher in me automatically wants some kind of verbal confirmation!
  • Fully agree with the point that we should avoid just ‘fixing’ errors in the classroom. Getting students to do the repairs themselves is a much better idea!

A few final thoughts

There are, of course, ways we can demand more from our students and get more use out of the activities we do in class, even a dry coursebook gap-fill. The session also reinforced my belief that one of the biggest problems in ELT today is teachers following the coursebook to the letter, allowing it to be the central dictating focus of the lesson rather than something to be referred to when needed.

However, one issue kept bugging me throughout this session, something that stems from the high demands that are often placed on teachers - time. Sure, it would be more productive and beneficial for our students to put them through their paces as we check answers to activities but if I were to spend a whole lesson on one small activity like that, I would probably only be up to the start of November in the yearly plan by the time the summer holidays came around! With the school, parents and other stakeholders demanding ‘more’, it would be difficult to justify having spent this much time on this much material…

Before we start to think about demanding more, we need to look at lightening the burden placed on teachers and students alike. If the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ we are expected to cover is reduced (I’m obviously referring heavily to my own context here), then we can spend more quality time exploring and building on the materials and tasks we have to work with. So, I guess what I’m saying is we need to work with less to free up the time and space to demand ‘more’.

You can follow the IATEFL conference online at: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2013/

2 comments:

  1. Hi Dave!

    Great post about Jim Scrivener and Demand High teaching. which I want to look into more this year. I love how you typed the reflections as you were watching the video! I think all educators need to keep those points in mind.

    Thank you so much!
    Vicky

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment Vicky!

      I originally started making notes as I watched so I wouldn't forget anything but then I thought why not just write the post that way? I think I'll do the same for my next one as well.

      As for 'Demand High', I do feel we need to move away from the 'wow! That's great!' mode of rubberstamping, especially with younger learners. However, getting students (and other teachers) used to the idea is an issue...

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