It’s time to talk about TBLT

I came home from work today and I cleaned up the kitchen. Why did I do it? I wanted to, the mess from my dinner party last night, still left in the washing-up basin, quite frankly, I found quite repulsive. I guess my housemate would have done it when he came home, but I did it of my own accord. What I just described was, according to Long (1985:), what is summerised as a task:

“a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. Thus examples of tasks include painting a fence, dressing a child, filling out a form, buying a pair of shoes… in other words, by ‘task’ is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play and in between”

However much one might like to dream, nobody gets their Intermediate evening class to do the washing up – I hope not anyway. Ellis (2003: 16) jumps in with a more specific definition of what a pedagogical task is:

“A task is a workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that cane be evaluated in terms of whether the correct of appropriate propositional content has been conveyed. To this end, it requires them to give primary attention to the meaing and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance  direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills and also various cognitive processes.”

In a recent seminar on TBLT, I asked participants to make a top-five list of their favourite restaurants in Berlin. The next task I gave them was to make a call to another participant and invite him or her to one of those restaurants, give a summary of the menu, make arrangements and give directions.

Would they do that in real life?
Was there a goal or outcome of the task?
Was their primary outcome the language they wanted to use or the aim of the task?
What were the main forms used to complete the task?

Funnily enough, in the first task lots of language was thrown up in the discussion relevant to the next task: “it’s a bit pricey, anything up to €20 a head”, “It’s closed on Mondays but you can go any other day of the week”, “It’s a kind of Thai-Vietnamese fusion”, “kofte, kebab, that kind of thing”, “you know that bridge near Kottbusser Tor, it’s near there, just down the road and on the left, next to the supermarket”. In the second task, participants reused the same forms again, with the small addition that they had to negotiate when was a good time to go out to dinner.

They were, I have to admit, all native speakers – so let’s face it, choosing the right linguistic forms wasn’t much of a challenge. Had they been learners, the negotiation of meaning would have occurred in the during task phase, as Lightbown and Spada Lightbown & Spada (2006: 150) write:

“When learners are given the opportunity to engage in interaction, they are compelled to ‘negotiate for meaning’… the negotiation leads learners to acquire the language forms – the words and the grammatical structures – that carry the meaning they are attending to”

But – and this is a pretty big but – even if you think you’re running a really tight ship, leaks can still occur and it shouldn’t be taken for granted that a well-designed task alone will smooth over all gaps in meaning; while learner are attending to meaning, breakdowns in understanding can occur.

The tasks were appropriate according to their aim: the first was intended to prime participants for the language forms to come by performing a similar task with the aim of brainstorming places to go for dinner and the second provided the outcome of making arrangements for dinner. I picked two boxes from the task cycle I drew up below:
Task-Based Teaching outline copyWhile reading around, I found that there were many different types of task cycle proposed by Nunan, Jane Willis and Ellis so I took elements of all of them and fused them together in attempt to try and make a more comprehensive map. I feel it’s important to note that TBLT works best when it exploits the right blend of component parts of the task cycle appropriate to the task, the level of the class, the materials (if) used external requirements on the course.

Of the parts in the task cycle, arguably the most important in terms of learners’ linguistic development is a Focus on Form. This idea differs from the Form-focused instruction found in PPP methodology in as much as it focuses on the salient forms that emerge from the task, i.e., those immediate to the learners’ communicative purpose. The advantage that this proposes is that by achieving a task that has a meaningful communicative purpose, while receiving (overt) support from their teacher in doing so, learners will retain language better. 

It’s quite right to say on the hand that if not correctly implemented, TBLT will swerve away from the well-intentioned rationale stated and veer dangerously towards pedagogical nothingness – an important consideration to bear in mind when designing a lesson. What this means is a TBLT lesson requires a lot of thought about the right tasks tailored to the learners’ communicative needs and a teacher equipped with the right tools to second-guess relevant forms and be prepared to clarify emergent language.

Doughty, C.,  & Williams J., Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition, Cambridge Applied linguistics, 1998

Ellis, R.,  (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N., How Languages are learned, Oxford University Press, 1996

Dogme Reality

Great to see the great Phil Wade posting again on the blog. For anyone who doesn’t know the man, he’s an ELT Jack of all traits now teaching freelance in Rèunion in the Indian Ocean.  This time, he’s going to talk about how even bending over backwards to make this personal and student centred, it can be like banging your head against the wall!

I remember having a short Twitter chat with Rob Haines who used to handle the Dogme discussion group about Dogme allegedly being the ‘golden bullet’ to cure all teaching woes. Well, it’s good and brings live to classes of students used to heads down work but it doesn’t always work.

This term I’ve had problems with discipline. Students have been chatting heavily in the L1, messing around and not participating by answering no questions or doing any pair work in
English. It’s been doing my head in as I enjoy ‘Dogme moments’, student choice for activities, working with their output and a general positive attitude.

Finally, I realised that some just don’t want to pass, it’s that simple. It sounds crazy to me but logical if they get to resit a class rather than do another either more difficult one. If they don’t get penalised for failing and graduate anyhow, well, I get it. It’s not the mentality that I wish for or expect but now I understand.

Thus, we’re talking zero student contributions except for turning up and sitting down.

I think we teachers beat ourselves up over getting students on track, keeping them so and pushing them. On the CELTA we learned to push them and to keep lessons snappy and were used to eager students with motivation. Take that away and it’s not the same ball game.

There has to be a point where we admit defeat and just let things go before they consume us. In my case, this may mean letting some L1 chat pass or cutting out pairwork. My official course objectives will still get met as they are for people to complete the course i.e. attend and do the exercises. They may pass the test but many may not and thus fail for the 2nd or 3rd time.

I say goodbye to Dogme hopes for this class and put aside my interesting ideas and student-based activities. Sad but the reality is that Dogme doesn’t work with everyone and in every situation. Sometimes it can be a real uphill struggle changing students attitudes and getting them to see the benefits, this can lead to complaints too and if your colleagues are sticklers for teacher-based lessons then you may even face a serious chat.

My Dogme approach will live to fight another day but as it’s now an integrated part of how I always teach, it means I must teach unnaturally. For me, doing all the interesting and responsive stuff is what I like and what teaching should be about.

Flexibility

“Be formless… shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You pour water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend…”

Bruce Lee’s famous words, which I came across after some post-Way-of-the-Dragon research on the martial-arts master. These words have something profound to say to professionals intent on providing the best service possible. Good – better – best practice, however, conjures up a notion of the one perfect form for a teacher of a second language. On the contrary, Lee’s quote made me think that you are the form, the liquid form – not the Trevi Fountain of teaching – and you adapt to the cup, bottle, teapot, dirty old bucket full of mould (we’ve all had that class, right?). There seems to be, therefore, a mismatch somewhere between the notion of best practice and how it is achieved.

british-citizenship-test-failed

Last week I was asked the most important attribute of an ELT teacher, to which I immediately responded “flexibility”. There was no hesitation at all. Methods, approaches, language awareness, classroom management techniques – learnable. Flexibility – acquired on the way thanks to a combination of success and failure.

Failure: flunk, bomb, mess up, flunk – there’s so much negative stigma attached to this word. Just taking a look at the red pen the letter ‘F’ on the test on the right and let the memories come flowing back of that embarrassing arithmetic test in which you scored zero when you were thirteen. Calling out your mark, much lower than every other in the class, every week, was an absolute nightmare. Enough of my year-9 mathematics nightmares now.

There is negative stigma that doesn’t do justice the learning power of failure

Kathryn Schulz, in her talk ‘On Being Wrong’, differentiates between being wrong and realising that you are so, providing a really striking analogy of what it feels like: The Coyote chasing Road Runner off the mountain and the sudden realisation dawns on him mid stride that he’s about to drop hundreds of feet to the bottom of the abyss. Before, he runs off the edge in complete ignorance of what he’s just done, takes a few more strides and suddenly sees the ‘F’ staring him in the face, then falls. It’s about 1:08 in this video if 6 minutes of Looney Toons is too much for you.

Obviously, it’s not fun in any respect to realise that you’ve done something wrong. The double-edge sword is that firstly you cannot do anything about the mistake and secondly you often find out from someone else – losing face an having the risk of dwelling on it. Not necessarily a sword though, all of this. I’ll come to that a bit later.

I digress a little from the original point of flexibility. At this point I feel I should link the two strands; flexibility and failure. When you hit the bottom and brush yourself off after the Coyote-esque fall, to avoid yourself from doing the same thing over and over again, there comes a point when quiet reflection on your practice is necessary to avoid any future reoccurrence. In this way, failure feeds into flexibility as the protagonist; it is the reason why you end up resembling either the Trevi Fountain or the water it spurts out.

Let’s not get too hasty here though and assume making mistakes over and over again will result in flexibility. The Coyote, credit to him, experiments with a number of different methods to try and catch the pesky Road Runner. He doesn’t keep on making the same mistake over and over again (although that famous falling scene does have a habit of poking its nasty head up more than once, touché). To my mind, he is trying to be like water and should deserve a lot of credit for it; he’s only doomed to failure thanks to the script he has to follow. This might have some significance to teachers who have a script forced upon them by a third-party, too.

“Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend…”

How to be more like water: You put the teacher in a class and the teacher adapts to the class. Seems simple, 1+1 = 2, right? Trust me, this is NOT as simple as it sounds and it’s very likely that you’ll fall off that cliff once or twice. There are, thankfully, ways that can help you realise when you do in the hope that in future you see the cliff coming and take a detour.

  • Listen to your students and respond to their feedback, even if it involves doing things that don’t fit well with your teaching beliefs
  • Collect feedback on a regular basis; don’t be afraid the negative stuff – you’re water, you adapt
  • Is your classroom a cup, a bucket, a glass? Find out this stuff before and when your course starts
  • Use a variety of methods and approaches – even the ones that your not so used to or consider to be not as conducive to learning; if you’re students learn benefit, then why not?

Warning: bending over backwards too much can lead to back pain.

bend-over-backwards

Just a note to finish on: The Coyote, who finds himself messing up all the time, at least tries a variety of different methods to achieve his goal. He’s wrong, he realises this; that doesn’t stop him from trying something new. Be like the Coyote, you’ll find the right method one day. The process will make you more like water, better adapted to take the form of the vessel.

Some afterthoughts

I would like to make a call to any teacher that has ever received a nasty comment from a student, some negative feedback on an observation, below-average marks from formal training: do you consider yourself more flexible as a consequence?

Secondly, how do you go about ensuring you don’t fall off the cliff when you are handed a new class? Does this always work?

Challenging Higher-Level Learners

It can be daunting to have a group of near proficient speakers in front of you; they’ve dedicated years to studying and perfecting their language. What’s more, you might find yourself faced with an advanced grammar-driven syllabus that your class would eat for breakfast. How do you make sure that they don’t finish the course feeling slightly short-changed? I’ve put together  in this post a few tips I’ve amassed over the past few years teaching advanced classes:

1. Get their hands on their own language

I bring my MP3 player to most lessons in case I’ve planned a discussion or a moment arises that’s suitable for recording the class. Of course, get their consent before recording – the first time can be a bit daunting. With the recording, you can play it back and correct as a class, transcribe it for a delayed error correction session or send it to your learners after class with a follow up activity. Either way, it gives your learners a great opportunity to get their hands on ‘their language’. At higher levels especially, motivation can be lower and there’s the temptation to become a bit complacent with their language. This added extra opens up a whole new dimension to working with what students provide you with.

You can also use this information for individual goal setting with learners or to give individual feedback on common errors or over-reliance on certain vocabulary/structures.

2. Take control of their own learning

I usually introduce my advanced classes to http://www.wordandphrase.info. I teach them about collocation and colligation and set them tasks to research new vocabulary and find alternatives across formalities, examples (with their grammatical patterns, e.g. I’m coming down with a cold – preference for the continuous). You can dedicate time at the start of class to sharing the results of the research.

3. Explore new contexts and functions for their language

Maybe they’ve done the same simulations a hundred times before. Change the paradigms a little by playing the angry client, the pushy boss, the colleague with emotional problems – these will put their linguistic skills to the test as they try and negotiate their way through new and challenging contexts.

4. Practice with longer turns

The safe zone – a collection of short turns negotiated between two or more participants in a conversation – that’s what I call it. C1 and C2 levels can comfortably remain here for a long time without pushing themselves to the limit. On the other hand, how are they at taking a longer turn? Describing a process, talking someone through the challenges of their jobs, filling someone in on the events of the previous week? Your learners will have to dig deep to find the right discourse features, vocabulary and grammar to successfully complete longer-turn tasks and feedback on this will be all the more immediate.

5. Listening

Your class can converse like pros, but can they follow a longer conversations, news programmes or a presentation and give feedback? These tasks are much more cognitively cumbersome and will add an edge to classes. You can even link it in to the recordings of previous discussions or longer turns and make comparisons between their language a more proficient models.

What are your tricks to make sure lessons leave your learners feeling challenged and satisfied with the content of your lessons?

Correction and Timing

After a discussion in the comments section of Chiew’s Dogme Diaries, I felt that my thoughts on correction in second language learning were too many to post in another comment, so I am making a first video post as part of my previously-shelved return to blogging. The task is enormous and far too much to speak about in 9 short minutes of video. For every error there seems to be a theory and a whole load of procedural knowledge to add to it, so this is very much the tip of the iceberg!

After a little thought today I have decided to add a reflection template for teachers to use during lessons to use to identify, categorise and prioritise language learners produce. I use the four boxes to note down bits of language I hear or notes on areas of difficulty. In this stage, I decide whether to provide immediate feedback or to wait and exploit the language point in later feedback; if, on the other hand, there’s no immediate need to focus on it – third person ‘s’ or misplaced stress on appreciate for example – I have a record of these still on paper for the future.

Grammarphobe

“Without grammar, little can be conveyed; without lexis, nothing can be conveyed”, David Wilkins

Various teaching practice spring cleanings in the past three years have cleared out a lot of clutter from my grammar teaching and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying I avoid teaching grammar (after all, it’s part of the language; it would be unwise to leave out a whole area of language from its teaching), I definitely avoid aspects of it. 

Spring Cleaning

“Use ‘must’ for an internal obligation and ‘have to’ for an external one”

Disclaimer: These results are two random samples I took from the BNC corpus using ‘I must’ and ‘I have to’ – they are not a fully fledged study into the use of modality. 

I’m not so convinced, I must say (or I have to admit?). Furthermore, I don’t think rules like this help students to make personal decisions on what grammar best expresses their opinion. For instance, make a ‘to do’ list in your head, what’s the most common modal that turns up? I swing between the semi-modals ‘have got to’ and ‘have to’. Now think about if there’s more external than internal obligation for each of these. All answers please include the start and the end of the thought process and send them stamped to 25, languagemoments street, London, UK.

But I think I am safe in saying that I make up part of a large pool of language teachers who have arrived at the same conclusion.

Use present progressive for a future action that has already been arranged and decided and use going to + infinitive for an intention

I know this to be true. I have experienced it to be of little help to students. In my personal opinion, the use of adverbs makes much more difference to the meaning of these two structures.

Temporal:

I’m seeing a film tomorrow

I’m going to see a film tomorrow

Attitudinal:

I’m hopefully seeing that new film tomorrow

I’m probably going to see that new film tomorrow

Can we say therefore that explicit rule-based atomistic grammar instruction should pack its bags and make way for holistic lexico-grammatical instruction? I am certain that this equips students with the analytical tools to analyse meaning as it occurs in real life; lexicalised and in context.

On that note, it’s worth taking a look at ‘have to’ and ‘must’ again. You’ll see that there are some great chunks in the two extracts from the corpus: I have to say/I really must say/I must admit.

The power of language

Not only does the idea of atomistic rules not chime with me, but also the way in which they are written I believe really disempowers the student. How many times do you hear “I must use/I have to use” in your courses? Does this make your heart sink? It does mine. It sounds like the learner is completely dehumanised in the language learning process; where’s the opinion? What about “I can use present perfect when I do not consider the time period finished, e.g. I’ve seen so much while living in Berlin” – I still live there. Swap musts, have tos, we use, you use for I can use, if I say___, it means I think____.

Gap-fills

I’m happy to say that they have very little place, if any, in my classroom. Shouldn’t language be introduced and practised in context? If so, then 12 different contexts, all different from each other, just for the purpose of practising a structure is not entirely conducive to this. What’s more, it’s a focus on form, not meaning. Any chance of focusing on meaning is dealt a serious blow from the constantly changing contexts. That said, I do give them for homework, woe betide me for bowing to student expectations.

I would be fascinated to know of any other grammar-teaching pet-peeves people have. Likewise, if someone wants to completely disagree with me, I’d welcome a bit of a grammar tussle.

Also, watch this space. I feel a number of skeletons coming on.

Apps n’ Dogme

 

Phil Wade 

To cut a long story short I’ve recently taught some 121 classes with ipads n’ apps. No books, copies, even handouts, just an ipad. Now, 

I’m not convinced about the ‘wonders of the ipad revolution’ as many seem to be. 1 ipad costs a lot of money for a teacher to buy and from my own experimentation not a lot works on them except specifically designed expensive apps. Another problem is that the student uses it and you can’t see what they’re doing.

In one place I work we have a couple of ipads and I have to use them but never seem to know how. Thus, with a TOEFL 121 and a Philosophy 121 I set about seeing what I could find that was ipad possible at 0 cost. Not easy if you don’t have a Mac or ipad trust me. 

A great FREE vocab app with several sections and useful questions. It’s available for Apple or Android.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.xuvi.pretoefl&hl=fr

“Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @alice_m, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”

I often use it as a warmer to check what my student knows and then to advise what to work on at home. It’s useful to kick off the lesson, also as a topic change or revision after another activity or even as a bit of fun to end the lesson. Simply select the topic based on the texts or listenings you’ve been using and away you go, instant vocab support.

TOEFL speaking

http://itunes.apple.com/kz/app/toeflspeaking/id476983599?mt=8

Another freebie but only for ios I think.

This has various questions and sample answers and lets you record your answers. It’s perfect for the first parts of the speaking. It can be used as a warmer, a whole speaking part 1 or 2 section or to end a class.

Where’s the dogme?

I like to think of each app as a tool that can be utilised in countless ways, just like a reading in a book. they are used as, well, readings, to introduce grammar, to contextualise vocab, to set a theme, to provide content for a discussion bla bla bla. So, why not the same for an app?

Now, imagine you have a 1 hour TOEFL ibt class. For anyone unfamiliar with the exam it is online and has all the usual skills. The 2 apps are inherently limited to vocab and speaking so I’m not going to lie and say make them into a TOEFL ibt reading or listening. No, for those bits just find and use online samples or Edulang’s TOEFL sim. The apps are flexible so can fit around what you are doing or be exploited on their own.

Getting back to the 1 hour. Now, I start off with the speaking app. I select a question, my student answers it while I record it then listen back and work on the mistakes and areas of improvement. Next, we look at another question and analyse the sample answer before doing another recording. To bring in the integrated aspect of the speaking section, I could either go TOEFL and show her a sample reading and play a listening from this part or just select similar material from the net. Again, I can use the app to record the student, play it back, discuss and then improve it.

Next, I could add a bit of vocab by choosing a similar category on the app, trying 10 questions then practising all the words, not just the correct ones in speaking style. After all, why not some listening? Like before, I can play a TOEFL listening online or choose a similar one from Google. The key with that is notetaking. I always check to see if my student is doing it well and then if there aren’t questions for the listening I can make up my own that are TOEFL style. A better approach is asking the student to think about what could be asked. Here we can go through question types.

So, 2 apps are quite handy but it’s also worth remembering you have internet access. I do tend to go on about early prep and laying the foundation at the start but in this course I did just that and collected loads of useful sites and put them on a Scoop. This means I can use them when I need.

Tip: At the start of the course I began building a Scoop which is my virtual resource board. I add to it when I can and keep a mental note of what’s there and how it could be used. In following lessons I pick out what I need (check that they work on your ipad please) but also am safe in the knowledge that I have the others ready for a if/when situation. Lately I’ve even started making my own Quizlets for revising language in the next lesson. They have a free app and even related ones, many of which are free:

“Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @europeaantje, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”

http://quizlet.com/mobile/

http://www.scoop.it/t/toefllinks

Phil, the idea of a scoop is a brilliant idea to support learning outside the classroom. I was discussing learning a new language only last night with a friend who admitted to not studying at all outside of lessons; it adds an extra platform for students to use that’s not tradition head-in-books studying. One part that stood out particularly to me was recording and playing back students’ spoken language. I think there’s a lot to be said for this to capture their language to work on, what’s more it’s a handy learning strategy for outside the classroom. Thanks for sharing some useful ideas on using apps, all of which seem to work with student needs and student language – Dale

Supporting a student-centred classroom through a blogging platform

I started nostalgically glancing over a map of Rome the other day and all of a sudden a wave of memories, charged with bitter and sun-drenched emotion, came charging into the window of my memory, opened by such a small gesture as briefly gandering at a map.

I dare to imagine that such memories are not too dissimilar from the creation of many different interactions and learning experiences in a learner-centred classroom like a Dogme classroom. Memory is a fickle being though, a fair-weather friend ready cut you out with time; after a period of time such seemingly unstructured learning is volatile to cracks. Thus, during an intensive two-hour per day course I created a wordpress blog as a way of giving learners the opportunity to write their own map for the the course, in the hope that some of them might look back in a few months and open a window in their memories.

The blog took form in my mind as a place in which we could extend our discussions outside of the classroom, a way of stimulating more discussion on topics we had enjoyed and a hub for gathering resources we wished to offer to class as input. Very soon off the mark, the class having responded very well to the amount of control I had given them of classroom content, I began using it as a quasi-report/practice stage, not dissimilar in my opinion to the task-based learning cycle.

One of the questions at the forefront of my mind was how I intended on using all the data; did want to exploit it as a diagnostic and running assessment of the class’s language competence, thus removing some of the spontaneity and enthusiasm – this is quite evident if you happen to glance at the articles we chose to translate – and diminishing the blog’s person value. I trod carefully in this area, correcting and offering suggestion upon request and devoting classroom time in which I could focus on individual teaching on a one-to-one basis as a way of giving learners a tangible outlet for this. Some of the class decided on the correction which came in the form of a discussion on their posts, which was done through a specially created email address and the ‘save draft’ option on wordpress (necessary to be in line with some of the rules of conduct on student-teacher privacy in place at school).

Translation

I will only briefly comment on the nature of this activity as it shall play a big part in a future blog post. After some discussion on how to translate a Spanish phrase correctly into English we decided to put our skills to the test and translate articles from students’ native tongues into English but attempt to be as accurate as possible in terms of tone, register, lexis and syntax.

Poster Presentations

After watching and being quite intensely engaged in a TED talk by Dan Pink on the science of motivation, the class designed poster presentations to adapt the idea to some of our specialist areas. As a listening task, I asked the class to concentrate intensively on one presentation in particular that interested them and to use their notes as a guide to write a review of the talks.

Marketing competition

Researching and working within a framework of constraints, the class designed holidays on a budget of £2500 that embodied the sense of a word they had chosen. All the data had to be researched and checked on the internet and the sales pitch came in the form of a blog post. Unfortunately we ran out of time on this activity and were unable to give oral presentations.

Learner training

I set the task of commenting on other classmates’ blogposts and after inputting their comment into the http://www.wordandphrase.info text analysis. Once inputted, students evaluated their style according to the frequency of the words as they appear in different genres. To some I gave the task of reducing the formality, increasing the formality, or making the comment more of an academic style. To those whose comments had a lower lexical density, using very frequent words and less pre-modification I gave the task of searching for collocates in the ‘collocate’ function on the site.

Perhaps it is idealism to hope that in a few months this group of motivated and fascinating people might look back on the blog they created and open that little window again in their minds. Of course, the process of writing the blog will have undoubtedly been an engaging experience which provided writing practice on a previously unknown social-media platform for some which lent itself nicely to the reflective and interactive content of the class – just imagine that at one point we became engrossed in discussion on the difference between a female escort and a prostitute and the current scandal taking place in France – nevertheless I hope it may play a role in the future for reactivating their learning. Here’s to hope.

Take a look for yourselves

Study Skills High

DELTA Module 1 – Paper 2

Please note: I am very grateful for all the feedback that has been kindly been left on this post. Also, best of luck to all those taking the module one exam. It would be great to include all of these changes in a new and more accurate document for everyone to use.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to make all of these and the current posts will have to remain the way they are. 

Heads met once again for the second installment of the DELTA Module 1 Exam seminars, this time focusing on paper 2.

Paper two is divided up as follows:

Task 1 – 20

Task 2 – 30

Task 3 – 10 

Task 4 – 40

With a large chunk of marks to be gained in the fourth question, there’s no surprise in saying that a large amount of of your time will be allocated to that question. That’s not to say, however, that task 1 and 2 – 50 marks altogether – should be overlooked.

Task 1

In this task candidates are given a test and a student profile. They must evaluate the test for its strengths and weaknesses according to the student’s needs. The question requires you to first identify the purpose of the test, then evaluate its effectiveness according to the learner and the situation using also concepts of reliability, washback and validity. I think it’s important to underline at this point that task 1 does not aim to test how much testing terminology you have learned. Granted, a solid grounding in the concepts of testing will give you an enormous advantage but simply regurgitating testing terminology, however correctly defined, will not get you the marks.

Here is an example question we made to show you structure of task 1

Important points to remember when approaching task 1:

Of course, all the normal rules apply: Do not pre-prepare answers and give generic and seemingly regurgitated pre-learned muck, this will not obtain marks.

  • Use terminology accurately and relevantly according to the student’s needs and the purpose of the test. Keep these in mind at all times, i.e., do not discuss the test’s validity overall but in relation to the student.
  • Make a student needs analysis, practice at this so that it becomes like second nature come the exam.
  • Include answers that look at the style,skills, and spoken situations of the language needed to complete the task and relate it to the context in which the student will be working/studying
  • Use a well-organised and clear layout, making good use of titles for point (P) and application (A) and underlining key terminology when it is used.
  • State the purpose of the test!
  • Do not make terminology your heading, e.g. Negative backwash
  • Negative backwash is not possible  if you are evaluating a diagnostic test.
  • Use different applications for each point.
  • Use terminology judiciously and don’t be afraid of using it in the development of a point or application.
  • You must include six points, both positive and negative. The balance can be 1-5, 2-4, 3-3 although we’d advise either 2-4 or 3-3.
  • Avoid using generica answers, e.g. subjective marking.
  • If it is a speaking test, comment on the difficulty of the role of the interlocutor in both speaking and marking at the same time.
  • Evaluate the test as a WHOLE, not each individual question.
  • Do not repeat motivation, irrelevance in applications. (we repeated motivation once, whoooops).
Here is a model answer that we think demonstrates the above-mentioned points:

Disclaimer: nobody’s perfect, and neither is this answer. We are mere mortals, after all!

It would be foolhardy to say that testing terminology doesn’t play a part in this task. It does. Nevertheless, it’s the understanding of the concepts of testing and their application to the test type and the learner that will help you receive higher marks. Remember, the task is graded; 14 marks (12 for positives and negatives with point and application and 2 for terminology), which means there are 6 marks available in weighting. This question has the potential to nail down 17+ marks in the first 20 minutes of the exam.

Here is another other student profile which to use as practice for the same question:

1. Dee is a ballet dancer from Pakistan who has just moved to London and is currently in the sixth week of her semi-intensive general English course. She has been tested as a low B2 level.  She has expressed that she would like to learn English to communicate better with her dance company, speak to her colleagues and friends, and to find a permanent job in the United Kingdom. Her visa requires that a mid-course report is sent to the embassy and the teacher has selected this test to fit the purpose. 

As we have mentioned, testing terminology helps, so here’s an exercise with what we believe the be the key testing concepts to use in task 1.

Task 2

Task Two

Part A

Procedure:

The text for the task is reproduced below. The purpose of the material in the extract is to recycle and teach the multiword verbs targeted in exercise 4.

Identify the purpose of the exercises below in relation to the purpose of the extract as a whole.

Refer to each exercise at least once.

In this section, it is important to remember that you are required to write about the purposes of a whole piece of material. This means that firstly, you are not required to write about what the student is doing; you are writing about the purpose of the material. Secondly, you need to look at the piece of material as a whole. 

Some areas in particular to focus on are as follows:

  • Look at the subksills on which the extract is focusing on. E.g. reading for gist, reading for specific information.
  • State the target language! Having this point clear will make the purposes easier to find, e.g. focus students’ attention on the target language, check meaning/form/pronunciation of the target language.
  • Stick to the exercises included in the rubric.
  • DO NOT PRODUCE GENERIC PURPOSES! E.g. to prepare students for the language in the next exercises.
  • Focus on how exercises progress; link back and forward – in this way you look at the piece of material as a whole.
  • Aim for around four purposes per exercise.
  • Only comment on the tasks they give you in the rubric. Last year there were some tasks in the rubric that were not examined in part 1, keep an eye out for this!
Here is an example that we feel demonstrates an answer worthy of higher marks:

From our experience of doing the exam and doing these seminars, one of the main complaints candidates have made about this task is that they don’t know the language to express things in the same way under exam conditions. We might suggest that, should this be the case, you might want take some of the phrases you find here, dehydrate them and memorise them to use again, e.g.

Provides practice in X subskill of X skill

Activates procedural knowledge of X or schemata of X

Provides opportunities for X practice

Focuses learners’ attention on meaning/form/pronunciation of target language (state the target language).

Learning these does not mean remembering lots of pre-learned answers. In essence, it’s the same as pre-learning terminology for the exam. As it’s not applied, e.g. provides practice in X subskill, its use will not lose you marks. Make sure you apply it though, of course.

* many of these can be found in the examiner’s report here

Part B

Comment on six key assumptions about language learning that are evident in the exercises:

Exercise 1. p. 122

Exercise 3. p. 122

Exercise 4 p. 122

Exercise 5 p. 122

N.B. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the rubric for this task; chances are that you will be given different activities from those present in the previous part. You do not want to find yourself half way through the task only to realise you have focused on the wrong exercises.

A few tips for this section are:

  • Produce more than 6 assumptions and reasons
  • Label them: Assumption (A) and Reason (R) or underline the because to flag it up to your examiner
  • Underline key terminology
  • Use a variety of assumptions and reasons; we strongly advise you not to repeat.

Here’s a checklist of the most common assumptions present in the materials we use:

  • Personalisation
  • Collaboration/pairwork
  • Visuals
  • Learning styles
  • Language in context
  • Activating previous knowledge or schemata.
  • Integrated focus on skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing)

Nevertheless, avoid regurgitating these at the first opportunity in the exam, even if they are present. Candidates who do well in this task demonstrate that they have looked at the material as a whole, focusing on sequencing, focusing on the increase in challenge, the methods that influence the sequence/flow.

  • Does the focus on meaning come before form?
  • Are students required to look at the form and meaning of the language before practising it?
  • Is the focus on form explicit?
  • Is the material making use of a text for language input? (text as vehicle of information)
  • Is the topic controversial?
  • How are the rules about language presented? What do they require students to do?
  • Are the materials requiring students to use their top-down or bottom-up processing skills? When?
  • Is the language presented in a holistic or atomistic way?
  • What kind of tasks are supporting learners and at what stage?

Here are some sample answers we made for task 2 part b

Task 4

With a high percentage of marks available for this task (40), it’s important to dedicate the right amount of time to completing it. The problem with task four is the question can require you to analyse absolutely anything, which makes it somewhat difficult to revise in the old-fashioned exam preparation method; holistic revision, anyone?

There are three areas you can focus:

  • Methodologies and approaches
  • Second language acquisition theories that influence these
  • Teacher’s role and beliefs

A certain flexibility using the concepts and terminology for these three points will give you an edge in the task 4 section.

Here’s an example question we made:

Look at the two lesson plans below:

Comment on the principles informing the teacher’s approach, the teacher’s role and the appropriateness of the lesson in different teaching contexts. 

The second lesson plan was adapted from http://www.willis-elt.co.uk/

And here are the answers:

What you might notice is that many of the answers are similar to the reasons and assumptions in task 2. This is true, and the answers you are likely to give should reflect task 2 in some way, albiet on a more ‘macro-ELT’ tangent.

For a bit of extra practice, have a think about what theories of second language acquisition are behind the following quotes:

All language – 1st or other – is socially constituted. Dogme is about foregrounding the way language is used & learned in the here-and-now.

Thornbury, S.

Native-speaker teachers – even if bilingual- cannot put themselves into the shoes of L2 speakers of English”

Jenkins, J.

Without grammar, little can be conveyed; without lexis, nothing can be conveyed

Wilkins, D

DELTA Module One Exam: Paper One

Please note: I am very grateful for all the feedback that has been kindly been left on this post. Also, best of luck to all those taking the module one exam. It would be great to include all of these changes in a new and more accurate document for everyone to use.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to make all of these and the current posts will have to remain the way they are. 

Heads met in an epic afternoon-spanning planning sessions yesterday for a module one exam seminar my colleague and I are giving for the DELTA candidates at our school. This sessions will be dealing exclusively with paper 1 of the exam, to be followed by another dedicated to paper two a few weeks after. Basically, there is a way ‘things should be done’ in the exam, which is what we would like to focus on. Obviously, you need to know your present perfect from your ZPD, your subordinating conjunctions from your coordinating, but it would be a shame to see all that knowledge ruined by sloppy exam technique.

Question 1

The most helpful thing to remember for this part is the fact that it contains six marks. Therefore, avoid spending too much time. The fact of the matter is that either you know the word or you do not. A few pointers might consist of:

  • Make sure spelling is correct
  • Have clear layout and only one answer. If you change your mind about a word, make sure it is clearly crossed out.

How many basic definitions can you make for the words in the picture?

Alternatively, if your brain works in a more ‘schematic’ way, i.e. you like learning in mind-map style clusters of information with connections between words etc, you can take a topic area such as ‘pronunciation’ and start with the most obvious definitions like ‘phoneme’ or ‘intonation’ or ‘connected speech’ and then go deeper into each topic, creating more words stems with more definitions relevant to each topic.

Question 2

The secret to this part is clear, easy-to-read layout. Last year my tutor drummed this into me and it stuck. I found the following structure helped me in my exam; it’s very clear and highlights the point made. Make sure you give a key at the top too.

(D)definition; (F)further point; (E)example

With a basic structure down, you’re already half way there. Another important point to make is the candidates often confuse the basic definition with the further point. Make your definition too wordy, for example, and the points you could gain for a further point are already made, leaving you with nothing. Also, get the definition wrong but make a good further point and the marks available for the latter will not be given.

For example:

Audiolingualism: A method of second language learning that emphasises the teaching of speaking a listening over reading and writing (definition), discourages the use of the mother tongue, uses dialogues and drills, contrastive analysis (further point).


To which of the words in the word cloud above does this example pertain? Where is the basic definition/further point/example?

A type of consonant sound that is made through a restricted but not completely blocked release of air to create a turbulent airflow. It can be voiced or unvoiced. Sibilant or labio dental, alveolar consonant sounds. /f/ /v/ /s/ /z/.


There are a few examples on quizlet of how you could write basic definition/further point/example flashcards to help your revision.

Question 3

As the tasks get more complicated, the more one needs to be careful about what information to include and how to structure it. The clock starts working against you and there’s a whole load of information you need to communicate to the examiner. It’s no surprise then that candidates start making more and more mistakes. So, we’ve made a simple list of Dos and Don’ts for this section:


DO

  • Give one example
  • Give a wide variety of features including style, organisation, function.
  • Avoid vague expressions
  • Include very clear terminology
  • Give one feature of writing or speaking subskills that can be grouped under the same heading. E.g. speaking skills- turn taking – language to take a turn.
  • Give very specific examples to the text type.
  • Focus on what the rubric instructs you to.
  • Be very specific and narrow down your point. E.g. Present perfect question forms to talk about life experience.
  • Give a very clear and organised structure.

Don’t

  • Learn lots of language features that can be given for any question
  • List lots (too many) of features pertaining to grammar and lexis
  • Spend too much time on this task (15 marks remember!)
A good dos and don’ts list of course needs to be followed by some application.

The extract for this task is a writing activity for advanced learners (CEFR C1) level learners. Identify a total of five key language features learners at this level would need in order to complete the activity successfully. Provide an example specific to this activity to support each choice.

Kenny, N., & Newbrook, J., ‘CAE Gold Plus coursebook’ Longman, 2008
A good way to practise this task is to take a variety of speaking and writing tasks and brainstorm with your colleagues as many key language features as possible. What we came up with is in the appendices. Have a look, there are both good and bad examples; try to match the examples to the points on the dos and don’ts list. We’ll have a look at a few examples below:
1. Lexis: Compound nouns related to sporting sporting activities
E.g.swimming pools would be a good addition.
  • Specific point made
  • Clear example
  • Relevant to the task
  • Not relevant to the level: Advanced.
2. Discourse: Hedging devices to give the writer’s opinion
it could be considered beneficial to include a selection of after-school activities.
  • Accurate use of terminology
  • Point is narrowed down; does not seem like pre-learned.
  • Example is relevant to the task
  • Specific to the text type (report – making recommendations – writer’s opinion).
3. learners will need to be able to use the present perfect
e.g. we have seen a drop in numbers recently at the sports centre.
  • Too generic. Not narrowed down enough; it seems pre-learned.
  • Which present perfect? Simple? Continuous? To talk about what? Life experiences? Events relevant to the present? Not enough information.
  • Good example, specific to the task.
Here are all the answers we came up with. We’ve annotated the bad examples.
Practice: take examples from the coursebooks with which you regularly teach. Make extensive lists of key items. Not only will it familiarise you with the task type, avoiding the possibility of applying pre-learned points to the exam, but also there might be knock-on effect on your teaching; you willl know what to expect students to produce in a task and consequently you will be more able to find the holes in their language skill to fill.

 Question 4

The task which contains the most marks in paper 1 (40). Let’s start with another dos and don’ts list for part 4:

Do

  • Include as much information as possible in part B, even if it seems superflous.
  • State the obvious about language
  • Use correct terminology
  • Specify terminology e.g. pronoun  personal subject pronoun
  • Give full names to tenses e.g. present perfect  present perfect simple
  • Use the phonemic script
  •  Comment on style of the text in part A
  • Give an example of each feature
  • Have a clear way of marking connected speech
  • Use subheadings and underlining to signpost
  • Consider doing this task first if you panic or have bad time-management.
  • Spend a large proportion of your time on this task
  • Refer to the context of the language in part B.
  • Consider doing this task first if you panic or have bad time-management
  • Spend a large proportion of your time on this task
  • Use bullet points in part B


Don’t

  •  Give more than 5 features of the text.
  • Use very generic features
  • Analyse everything: meaning, form, use, pronunciation; only analyse what they tell you to in the rubric
  • Stick to ONLY features of connected speech when analysing pronunciation. Mention sentence stress too!
  • Learn lots of problems students have in general and apply them to each question
Here is a task Giovanni made that resembles Task 4 paper 1.

Part A

  • The danger here is to spend too much time. Make your answers brief and relevant to the text. i.e. don’t reel off a load of generic pre-learned items like “using anaphoric references to make the text cohesive e.g. this and that”. NO.
  • Include one point on organisation or layout. You need to include a variety.
  • This question should not take up more than a page.

Part B

Let’s have a look at what makes a question receive higher marks in this section.
The left hand column represents a set of weaker answers. Can you see which dos and dont’s they include?
  • Less information throughout
  • Not stating the obvious e.g. “third person plural” or “noun, uncountable”
  • The wrong language is analysed e.g. the passive voice instead of ‘due to’.
  • No reference to the context of the language e.g. “Students might fail to recognize the cause/effect relationship between park closures and missile testing, i.e.due to+ noun (prepositional phrase)”
  • Less eloquent grasp of terminology, for example a stronger answer includes “Indicates the amount of people available in the staff (semantic field of the text); subject of the participle clause”

Here is a copy of a ‘higher marks’ answer key and a ‘lower marks’ answer key:
Higher marks
Lower marks

Quick disclaimer: Giovanni used Standard American phonemic script, which is perfectly acceptable in the module 1 exam. Also, we’re not perfect, so you may find some extra points to add to some of these answers. If you do, any feedback would be welcome. We don’t claim to have created ‘the perfect answer’ but a helpful guide to achieving it.

Practice: take a number of texts and analyse them for key features. Make sure you have a variety of genres. That way you build up experience examining texts for their features and improve on noticing the features rather than applying pre-learned features to texts. You could do as Giovanni did and make your own version of part 4, with a good key and a bad key to practice part B. Analyse language, don’t limit yourself to reading grammar books.

Question 5

In task five it’s just as likely that candidates receive a speaking text as a writing text. Make sure you feel very confident about phonology for this question, it could make the difference if it happens to be a speaking text like June 2011.

Part A

As far as organisation goes:
  • Headings for each part. Consider underlining examples.
Here is a copy of the speaking text given in the June 2010 examiner’s report.

Identify three key strengths and three key weaknesses of the text. Provide an example of each strength and each weakness. Your answer should focus on some or all of the areas listed below:

Organisation and cohesion
Accuracy of grammar
Accuracy of lexis
Accuracy of pronunciation: stress, individual sounds and sounds in connected
speech.

You may notice that:

  • A strength can also be repeated as a weakness. Look for limitations in the students’ ability.
  • Examples are given with phonemic script. Very important, this one.
  • The topic areas are narrowed down e.g, “accuracy of pronunciation – individual sounds and sounds in connected speech’
  • Only one accuracy of grammar weakness. Try to look beyond grammar and lexis and to discourse/organisation/task achievement (written) or pronunciation/organisation/speaking sub skills (spoken)
There are also four extra marks for stating how strengths and weaknesses could aid or impede the learner. I have listed those below the strengths and weaknesses for you to connect with them. In the exam, it is highly advisable to include them with the strength or weakness.
Here is an example of a set of answers that would obtain much lower marks
The general problems are:
  • Answers are too wordy. The candidate wastes time writing in prose when simple and accurate terminology would suffice.
  • Errors are incorrectly identified
  • The candidate focuses on errors that are not prevalent
  • Candidate does not use the phonemic script
  • Candidate does not give and example
  • Further points are very generic and seem pre-learned.

Part B

 This is the section in which you have to choose an area to prioritise to develop. It’s important to choose a correct area to develop (i.e. one you’re sure you got right!). This part of the exam seems to be one of the only areas in which pre-learned reasons can be applied to questions (although, be careful).
Focus on these areas:
ineffetively

Practice:  record your learners and analyse their language. Take their writing and do the same, prioritising weaknesses to then teach. The positive backwash of this task is that the skills you use in the exam are relevant to your teaching.
A note on validity: we have noticed that a spoken text in the form of a written text is somewhat contrived. The skills it is attempting to examine are done so effectively, as a teacher would have to listen, note down language and analyse it as they hear the learner, not with a transcription in retrospect. A recording of a student would fit the purpose much more. Testing terminology anyone?

Useful websites: 

DELTA flashcards with definition, further point, example

Module 1 examiner’s report for June 2010 and June 2011

Lots of flashcards on quizlet on terminology for module 1

Another set of flashcards