DELTA Module 1

This time last year, my thoughts were mainly concerned with DELTA. A few months down the line I would be sitting the module one exam. So strange is it might sound, here I am again, thinking about the same thing one year down the line. This time however, a colleague of mine, Giovanni @GioLic1976 and I have the task of delivering two seminars to this year’s module one candidates.

A brilliant idea came to us the other. Why not involve our PLN in the planning of the seminar? Since we’re tapping the wealth of the experience and ideas around us, we thought we could also share our project on this blog so our research serves as a resource for anyone to access during their preparation for the exam.

My research questions have been as follows:

  • What sort of exam techniques are there to boost and maximise marks in the exam?
  • What are the dos and especially the don’ts of the exam.
  • Revision activities that you have found helpful in preparation for the exam.
  • Timing, structure, layout: how do you/did you do it?
  • Activities/materials you find useful for teaching exam technique.

So far, I’ve been collating my findings on this google doc. It’s open to the web, so anyone can contribute.

Leave a comment, make a suggestion on the googledoc, tweet us, anything you can, add extra questions you think we’ve missed. We’ll include it in our seminar and add it to the collection here. We hope to build a resource that is relevant for candidates for years to come.

Thanks very much,

Dale

Strategies in vocabulary learning

Last week I published a post on vocabulary. I’d like to start out by thanking everyone for their great responses, I came away with a lot of ideas and lots to think about. In the post, I gave a run-down of some of my aims for the next few weeks/months/years. since starting though my focus has taken me off in different directions and I’ve realised consequently that what I will actually publish might not resemble the initial post.

Vocabulary learning strategies are divided into categories by Schmitt (1997: 207-8),  Stoffer (1995), Nation (2001: 218) and Gu and Johnson (1996: 650-651). I came across these taxonomies here on Magda Kadubiec’s wonderful blog and I owe her a reference in this case. For more information I suggest you visit her blog or get hold of any of the literature mentioned above. I have sorted the strategies into a table and put it in the appendix and will try and link the strategies I’ve come across and thought of to this, just to keep it a little bit theoretical.

Strategies

1. Appealing to the senses

  • This technique works especially well with young learners. A colleague of mine varies the pitch, the volume and the speed of her voice when introducing vocabulary. The difference in sound is thought to increase the chances of vocabulary retention. 
  • Another colleague has young learners spell words on each others’ backs to help solidify the image of a words shape in memory. This technique is also useful with dyslexic learners because the mind creates a link between the sense of the word – feeling the word – and eliminates the block between hearing  or reading a word and making mental image of it.
  • Young learners again: get learners miming actions, miming nouns (eat pizza, take the dog for a walk, do homework).
  • Stange movements, for example, pronouncing a word while doing a funky yoga style movement.
  • Using sounds for abstract concepts like feelings, music works very well for this.
  • Alternatively, instead of making a connection between a word and a sense, you can use a sense to find connections to words. Place learners back in the situation in which they came across new vocabulary, establish how they felt, what they were wearing, how they were sitting, what could they hear. Give them a word that came up in class and see how much they remember. More detail on this idea  here
  • Making a mental image of a word upon encountering it. Take 5-10 seconds just to visualise a scene to connect to the world, then visualise the word and spell it out in the air with your finger. For example, ‘mettere troppa carne al fuoco’ in Italian I made a vision of a bbq with a man panicking because there are too many steaks to fry – the idiom means to have too many things on the go at the same time.

I would categories many of these as ‘Encoding strategies’, ‘activation strategies’ or ‘Consolidation – memory’ strategies.

Organising Strategies

1. Encoding

The strategies below are focused on ‘encoding’ a word over ‘decoding’ a word; going from word level to a higher, more complex level of information. For example, searching for the definition of ‘extreme’ is decoding, while finding ‘extreme weather conditions’ or /ɪkstri:meʒəz/ would fall under encoding. To empower students, work on the following strategies is helpful:

  • Monolingual dictionary training: teaching learners to go beyond just the definition and look for information on collocations, register, frequency, colligation, pronunciation, examples, derivatives and word class. Also, using context to select the most fitting definition, i.e. not taking the first example.
  • Online dictionary training and paper-based dictionary training.Using bilingual dictionaries. Using suitable online dictionaries to find word information (mentioned above).
  • How NOT to use google translate.
  • Training students to use language corpora for their own research into language. Words and phrases is a good place to start. This strategy has the added bonus of providing practice of guessing meaning from context. There are drawbacks, beware of these. You can find many of them here.

2. Finding

  • Practise mining texts for vocabulary in class, sorting them into collocations and storing them.
  • Set homework for learners to find texts that interest them and repeat. It’s also worth highlighting the difference between mining and reading… so that they don’t see every time they read as an occasion for mining vocabulary.

More on texts in this informative and helpful post by Michael Swan 

3. Storing

  • Creating word lists according to theme/topic/ or perhaps wordlists of words more similar to or different from L1 cognates.
  • The writing of vocabulary cards at the end of class, the start of class, during class. Use these as store of vocabulary, available at all times to use as revision. Hand them out during activities for student to record new vocabulary as it emerges, use them for vocabulary input during activities and ask learners to explain to each other after or recall the context in which the lexis was introduced.
  • Training in keeping a lexical notebook. See my post on lexical notebooks previously for more information.

These are strategies for students. I’ll be addressing strategies for teachers in my next post in which I’ll look at the topic under ‘rehearsal strategies’.

Below are a few lesson skeletons if anyone is thinking of implementing vocabulary strategies in their classrooms. If you have any comments or additions to make they’d be very welcome.

Lesson skeleton: Discussing strategies

Preparation: draw up a list of vocabulary strategies suitable for your learners.

  1. Start the lesson by asking learners how they feel they learn English best, how they were taught at school to learn English and how much time they spend learning English outside the classroom. Push them hard to find out any beliefs or habits that might shape their views, e.g. teacher never tests them, learnt words with translations in school out of context, never kept a vocabulary book.
  2. Explain what a strategy is and have learners draw up separate lists of possible vocabulary strategies. Have a representative of each group move another and explain their choices.
  3. Make a consolidated list and compare to the list you have drawn up. Have learners compare and discuss which they think are useful/not useful for them and why. Finish off the activity by having learners make a list in their books of which strategies they are going to try out in the coming weeks.
  4. Provide feedback or examples of any strategies discussed in class or make a list and make it the focus of the next lesson.
Advantages: 
  • Having learners discuss strategies raises their awareness of the topic.
  • Discussing the suitability of strategies involves them in the process and means the ones they choose are more likely to be tried.
  • Discussing their previous learning experiences helps you to understand their current vocabulary habits and make appropriate suggestions in feedback.

To consider:

  • Learners may be used to teacher-led instruction on this topic; explain the rationale of the activity before.
  • Don’t expect too much from learners when they draw up their lists. They may simply not have any information to bring to the table. Mingle and input some ideas. 

Lesson skeleton: Lexical notebook training

Ask learners to buy a notebook to be used as a vocabulary book and bring in a lexical notebook of your own (if you have one).

  1.  Ask learners to discuss how they store vocabulary. Do they think it’s organised? Easy to read? What sort of information to they use?
  2. Mingle and discuss, adding ideas.
  3. Draw up a list of: what a good vocabulary notebook should/shouldn’t include. It’s helpful to do this after the dictionary training and discussing strategies as learners will have a better idea of what to include.
  4. Discuss any interesting points like translation, L1 cognates, notes on grammar specific to learners’ difficulties, neat and tidy presentation/structure, use of colours, highlighters, pictures etc.
  5. Ask learners to reogranise some vocabulary they have already stored on the first pages of their vocabulary notebooks they brought to class, input more information about the words and encourage learners to use dictionaries, Google, the internet, to find more examples

Extension: check vocabulary notebooks on a bi-weekly/monthly basis and give feedback on structure and language, make suggestions and add more vocabulary. Use notebooks in class to recycle language stored in them.

Advantages:

  • A vocabulary notebook is a personal thing, therefore its implementation needs to consider also individual learning styles and the final product must resemble these. Each notebook will be different. Discussing this in the lesson helps.
  • Doing this at the start of the course helps make sure learners have a record throughout the course.
  • Fosters independent learning.

To consider:

  • Learners simple may not have time to keep this up outside of class.
  • Different learning styles need to be considered. Allow learners to reject the idea on valid grounds, i.e. not laziness.
  • Lexical notebooks take time. Following up on the lesson is vital. 

Lesson skeleton: Dictionary training

Preparation: Take some lexis looked at during the course until now. Bring in some dictionaries, some paper. Draw up a list of what’s important in knowing a word (see appendix 2).

  1. Give learners appendix 2 and ask them to rank these in order of importance. Discuss answers and provide feedback according to your beliefs about language. I generally rank collocation among the top 3. See if your learners do the same.
  2. Distribute some dictionaries and ask learners where we can find this information. Ask them to use a word they have already studies in class to lower the cognitive burden of the activity and avoid them randomly browsing the dictionary.
  3. Ask them to create a mindmap of information about the word, containing as many categories as possible from the list.
  4. Give feedback on students’ findings. Give them some freer practice of finding words and encoding them with a dictionary.

Extension: Bring dictionaries into class regularly and dedicate 10 minutes at the end of the lesson to encoding new words.

Advantages

  • Learners realise there is more to knowing a word than just L1-L2 translation.
  • Dictionary trained learners are empowered researchers of language.
  • Reduces the workload on the teacher; learners are more independent.

To consider

  • Monolingual dictionaries could seem a daunting prospect. Introduce them slowly and according to the level.
  • Learners might not see the rationale of the activity; it might be worth explaining.

Appendix 1

Schmitt Gu and Johnson Stoffer Nation
Discovery – Determination Guessing
– Using background knowledge/wider context
Using linguistic cues/immediate context
Strategies with authentic language use Planning
– choosing words
– choosing the aspects of word knowledge
– choosing strategies
– planning repetition
Discovery – Social Dictionary Strategies
-Dictionary strategies for compensation
-Extended dictionary strategies
– looking-up strategies
Strategies used for self-motivation Sources
– analysing the word
– using context
consulting a reference source in L1 or L2
– Using parallels in L1 and L2
Consolidation – Social Note-taking strategies
-Meaning-orienated note taking
– Usage-orientated note-taking
Strategies used for organising words Processes
-Noticing
– Retrieving
– Generating
Consolidation – Memory Rehearsal Strategies
– Using word lists
– Oral repetition
– Visual repetiton
Strategies to create mental linkages
Consolidation – Cognitive Encoding Strategies
-Association/elaboration
– Imagery
– Visual encoding
– Auditory encoding
– Using word-structure
– Semantic encoding
– Contextual encoding
Memory strategies
Consolidation – Metacognitive Activation strategies
– memorising facts linking them to numbers or familiar words
– remembering lists by picturing them in specific locations.
– Establishing an acoustic and imagine link between an L2 word and another
Strategies involving creative activities
Strategies involving physical action
Strategies used to overcome anxiety
Auditory strategies

Appendix 2

1. What the word means.
2. Collocations, .e.g. Take a shower, take a nap.
3. The grammar we often find with the word (e.g. articles, tenses, prepositions).
4. How we say the word.
5. How we translate the word.
6. Is the word formal or informal?
7. Common phrases in which we use the word.
8. Word class (e.g. noun, adjective, adverb).
9. How the word is spelt.
10. A written record of the word.

Vocabulary Habits

Here’s a conversation from a few days ago regarding lexis and grammar:

“I’m sure if you gave on group of them (the learners) a dictionary and the other a grammar book and sent them to London, the group with the dictionary would come back much more fluent” 

So, if it’s true that a well-developed vocabulary paves the way to fluency, how can we increase the odds of getting there? Certainly, learners bring a heap of bad vocabulary habits to the classroom from their learning experiences, baggage that if not examined and dealt with will obstruct them from reaching their full potential in English. The job of getting things in working order lies in the hands of the teacher.

That’s not to say however the whole process becomes a teacher-centred dictatorial mess. But to shake up the system, change needs to come from the top.

Teaching

  1. How do you board language?
  2. Which vocabulary do you choose to correct?
  3. How do you drill language?
  4. Do you check how learners keep vocabulary?
  5. Do you test them on vocabulary? Do you recycle vocabulary?
  6. Do your learners know how to use dictionaries and research words?
  7. If you said “this is a verb + noun collocation”, would they know what you mean?

What are your vocabulary teaching habits? Try taking a picture of your board every day. Look at what you put on there. Does it reflect the ideals you’d like learners to hold about language?

Here are some questions I aim to answer in the next few posts:

1. How can you equip learners with the right strategies to find, store and learn vocabulary on their own?

2. Which teaching techniques create an optimum classroom environment for vocabulary acquisition?

3. What are the bad habits our learners have and to what lengths do we go in order to help them?

4. How do you integrate teaching pronunciation into vocabulary teaching? Holistic or not?

5. Recycling, revisiting, testing: is this our job to enforce it or to whip up motivation for learners to do it themselves?

The first topic I’d like to tackle regards vocabulary strategies and I’d love to know how you teach/foster these in YOUR classrooms. 

Phil Wade’s Course Skeleton

Course skeletons I love using Dale’s skeleton idea for classes because it lets you create or adapt a basic lesson format which can be used, reused, adapted for different levels, topics, learners etc. This ‘bare bones’ approach also lets you ad on anything in your ‘teacher toolkit’ as it is referred to a lot nowadays.

While, this approach seems great for one-off or general classes, the question of (as with much Dogme-related work) how well will it work in formal/academic situations is another matter. Well, being an ‘all or nothing’ kind of guy I have jumped feet first into this predicament with Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings under one arm, well a copy of their Teaching Unplugged, an assortment of board pens and paper in the other. Trial and error, hit and miss, pass and fail. I’ve probably experienced all of them but now that I’m planning another lengthy uni-level course I am confident that a ‘course skeleton’ works, so here are my ideas on what this involves. It feeds off Luke Meddings’ idea of a ‘back pocket syllabus and aims to reduce course planning to 1/2 pages and with it very minimal lesson planning is needed as you keep an ongoing ‘living syllabus’ from reflections after each lesson which feeds into the next.

The course Plan

1)Clarify what the course is, it’s aims

2)What must be taught/learned

3)How long is it?

4)What would the students like to do?

5)What do you think would be useful?

6)How will it be evaluated?

1 page 3 bubble syllabus in progress

1)Draw a bubble and write possible topics

2)In another language/grammar you think needs covering

3)In the last write a few activities you think would work well Make sure to leave space in the bubbles for later additions+amendments

Lesson skeletons

Write down what sections you would like in each lesson.Such as discussion, writing, language, debate, role-play etc. Try to have about 5 things, So, for me and my new English conversation class I have:

1)Input

2)Pair discussion

3)Group discussion

4)Class discussion

5)Language work

6)Writing

Now, before each class I just arrange/rearrange these as a tentative framework but depending on how the lesson goes I can move them. then I add on my toolkit ideas/activities.

After each lesson add/change your syllabus notes depending on: What works/students like What needs covering more, less What topics/areas would work well in the next class Here’s a sample class:

1)Students watch a video clip (in class or at home)

2)Pairs discuss what it was about and reactions

3)I elicit opinions and then help establish a discussion

4)Groups continue discussion

5)I focus on some areas of weakness on the WB and provide some practice activities

6)I refocus the discussion/topic

7)New groups discuss

8)Pairs write up

As you can see, I used the main elements but extended some of them. In the next class I could choose a topic and actually show a video or give a reading at the end which would help students compare their ideas. In another I could just do a whole class discussion activity or even start with some writing. After this class I would look at my bubbles and add and even change them and then tick of what I’ve done and choose what would be good for the next class. In this way, the syllabus is constantly changing and improving after each class and at the end you have a very concise summary of what has been done, ideal for testing.

Advs

Having a basic skeleton helps me keep each lesson similar but different Changing stages helps keep lessons fun and surprising The flexibility lets you choose the next best activity depending how the lesson evolves There is lots of room for personalisation You always feel that you have a plan

Dsdvs

You do need to be flexible and let things happen You need to think on your feet A good relationship with your class is important

Beating the Humdrum

Flicking through your courseboook, have you ever thought the reading texts all seem a little bit….

…Dry?

…Bland?

It’s hard to get teenagers to interact with a text about Prince Charles.

Exam course books with page-long texts sap energy from the classroom and tire students out.

Can students bring their cultural knowledge interact with an anglo-centrically themed text?

Read, underline, read, underline, answer questions… seems a bit repetitive, doesn’t it?

So here are some ways of adding a little zest to a reading text. They are not failsafe and obviously aren’t applicable to every text you come across but I have found them very useful lately to increase student participation in reading and make it a bit more than just the humdrum comprehension.

1. Rewrite

Take a more informative text – exam books are full of them, like on the founders of some juice company or how children spend their free time in the UK. Put students into groups and give them each a part of the text. They then underline five sentences they think express the opinion of the author. Discuss them as a group and check with the teacher. Ask each group to rewrite the part of the text using the 5 sentences (like a writing guide) but stress that it must be rewritten in their opinion! Swap and guess which part of the text the rewritten version comes from.

2. Interviews

Again making use of the numerous ‘informative’ texts or even a true story human interest text, ask your class to make three of four interview questions to interview the class with. To add some support for this activity you might use the same key sentences for opinions activity or perhaps by putting a question box on the board.

what would you say is______/let’s say you were_________, would you?

3. Pictures

This one works well with short-story or human experience texts or just a part of the text. If the text describes one scene, give students a piece of paper, if it’s a sequence of scenes, give them paper with boxes on. One reads the text and the other draws it unfolding. Compare pictures and explain their stories to different groups. Some groups will have understood different vocabulary and at this time they can explain these to each other, the teacher can also intervene to add to this and supply more information.

4. Game shows

Give the text to your class for homework to read: half the class reads the texts and creates 3 questions and the other half only has to read. In class, have the other half of the class write their questions on the board. Those who didn’t make questions now have to read the text one final time and will work in groups of two to answer the questions, like a game show with one point for sufficient detail, two for lots and three for detail plus opinion.

5. Jigsaw summaries with longer texts

Mark a number one each paragraph. Distribute parts of a text like a in jigsaw activity. Students summarise the paragraphs they are given. Having done this, they pass their summaries to the other groups, who read the rest of the text and match them to the correct paragraphs.

6. Character

Take a character from a short story or text from a course book. Make two questions about the character, ambiguous questions which students would have to infer information in the text in order to answer like “would X prefer a night in with friends and pizza or a wild night out on the town?”. Once students have answered these, ask them to make two of their to share with the class.

#ELTchat ‘Reflective Practice in ELT: The What, Why, and How’

This is a summary of the #Eltchat from 23/11/2011 at 2100 (GMT). The theme of the chat was ‘Reflective Practice in ELT: The What, Why, and How’. The chat was moderated by Shaun Wilden (@shaunwilden) and Marisa Constatinides (@Marisa_C), who, as always, played their part in a stimulating debate, which touched upon the things we do as teachers after we leave the classroom before entering it again.

A Definition of Reflective Practice

We narrowed down a definition for Reflective Practice fairly early thanks to @JoHart

For me Reflection = mulling over what worked, what didn’t, why & how to improve

Reflective practice: How and When to start?

There was some debate about when is the best time to start reflecting, the general consensus was that, little by little, there is no reason why it cannot be immediately after qualifying.

  • Ok, how long before you can really start to reflect? Should you do so straightaway as a new teacher? @harrisonmike
  • Start small, build it up. For a new teacher reflecting on the little things is important. Reflection-light @dalecoulter
  • I don’t see why not … new teachers should set themselves realistic goals and learn to reflect on lessons @reasons4
  • Great to bring reflection into your teaching from an early stage, but isn’t there too many other things think/worry about? @JoshSRound
  • The rest won’t get “thought about” without reflection. @AnthonyGaughan

How do we reflect?

All the tweeters who took part in the #ELTchat have their own preferences when it comes to reflection. The variety of ideas for ‘how’ suggests that Reflective Practice has no pre-defined structure and can be adapted to the style of teaching; it is not a one-size-fits-all.

  • I think different styles of reflection suit different teachers, just like learning styles for Students @theteacherjames
  • Some teachers have a preference for blogging and twitter as the lynchpin for their reflection:
  • Just an obvious one but aren’t blogs and Twitter just the best sites for reflective practice in ELT? @inglishteacher
  • Reflection is the reason I started my blog, so I definitely agree! @theteacherjames
  • I bookmark webinars I’ve attended, make notes, blog (sometimes) keep an (occasional) reflective journal @esolcourses 

The sharing of ideas was also prominent in how practitioners reflect, firstly in the staff room:

  • I find the most stimulating reflection takes place in the staffroom-bouncing ideas off each other @LeaSobocan
  • How many of you work at schools where “reflective conversations in the staffroom” are the norm? @AnthonyGaughan
  • Agreed but does it also need help to have someone to discuss it with? @Shaunwilden
  • In fact, peer pressure in most staffrooms is AGAINST reflection, I agree, in sum it’s all about moaning @Marisa_C @jemjemgardner
  • So a sharing culture (whether blogging or not) encourages reflection? @Marisa_C
  • #ELTchat forces me to reflect (in a good way!) by challenging me & questioning my values, based on my experiences. @theteacherjames
  • Yes! Sharing & non-judgemental is essential @JoHart
  • Encouraging team teaching can encourage reflection #eltchat – 1 way management can maybe help? @cerirhiannon
  • Sometimes I risk something in class, reflect then write & colleagues say what they think…Invaluable @hartle

Sharing, also in terms of the students and the teacher provided some insight into how we reflect:

  • I think asking students is important as they often see a lesson completely differently from you @Shaunwilden
  • Why not ask what students think of lessons? Could it work anyhow? I asked Students to write short twit-like notes – opinion and areas to improvement @AlexandraGuzik

 Teachers also spoke about their preferences for written reflection or spoken or thought-based reflection:

  • E.g is reflection journals. Think it’s a brilliant idea, but wouldn’t work for me. Couldn’t keep a diary! @theteacherjames
  • Not writing down – no record – how can you keep track of development? @dalecoulter
  • Especially if you have a poor memory like me! I HAVE to write things down, reinforce the idea and provides a record @chrisjw133
  • I think it’s possible, continued internal conversations @cerirhiannon
  • I guess bottom line is has to be “post event” but the form, the precise when and how can vary to suit people, circumstances @cerirhiannon
  • I think reflection needs to come from within – be something you feel you need to do – for it to work – peers can help, but can’t do it for you @cerirhiannon
  • I think usually people have to be taught to reflect (I use journal templates with questions to start students off when 1st using reflection) @JoshSRound
  • Does structured peer mentoring aid reflection? Does your school do it? @pysproblem81
  • When teaching 25-30 contact hours a week I kept a logbook. Wrote quick notes at end of each class used them to recall & plan for the next class @cerirhiannon

So what does these thoughts or written accounts consist of?

  •  Teach – reflect – put reflection into practice – reflect – reflection into practice @cerirhiannon
  • Stop-recall-alternate-evaluate? @AnthonyGaughan

The conversation then turned to new teachers and reflective practice in training, the problems during and after training :

  • How many teachers move from course reflecting into their first jobs though?  @Shaunwilden
  • The question is how do teachers who haven’t gone through such training can be helped to find tools for reflection and CPD @Marisa_C
  • I was just thinking that and it is a hard skill to learn in 4 weeks with everything else anyway @Shaunwilden
  • Doesn’t mean teachers are given a space for it in their first job > reflection doesn’t need too much time @eannegrenoble
  • I think many institutions don’t have a ‘micro-climate’ that encourages reflection @Marisa_C
  • Perhaps training sessions on how/where to do it, ideas / advantages etc. @jemjemgardner
  • I think all Celta does it set out the ground rules for good practice but that is off the point @reasons4
  • Hopefully those on their own will look on the web and then find a support network @Shaunwilden

Back planning

Ideas then focused on how we plan a lesson in a reflective way. The trend seemed to be that most experienced reflective practitioners plan their lessons after the lesson, preferring to learn from what happened to move forward. How teachers ‘back-plan’ and why they do it.

  • I worked in a school where they asked for lesson plans in advance. Better if they wanted them after & asked me how it went. @theteacherjames
  • What is your own best way of reflecting on your current/past practices? #Eltchat // through lesson plans, after the lesson @Marisa_C
  • Current way – plan, reflect on what might work -post-plan reflect on what did/didn’t work – talk to colleagues/blog @cerirhiannon
  • Reverse planning, that’s what I’ve really started to do now. Outline, then fill in the details later. @theteacherjames
  • My lessons are never tightly planned but then I sit and think why things did or didn’t work after @cerirhiannon
  • With long term objectives clear – back-planning becomes the only way to go @eannegrenoble
  • Shall we have properly planned aims b4 lessons and roughly planned procedure? and then write down the proper way it worked?  @AlexandraGuzik
  • Make a plan – see how you deviated from it, why? @dalecoulter
  • Definitely Student friendly and Student centered – maybe lesson plans are a little teacher-centered if we are honest?! @shaznosel

In the dying minutes of #ELTchat the topic moved onto evaluation and measuring progress in reflective practice. It is a shame we did not have the chance to look at this topic in more detail. I think this is the link between reflective practice and long-term development, especially for the newer teachers starting off in the ELT world.

  • Reflection leads to new insights…these then should be put into use – to what extent do u measure how much this happens? @JoshSRound
  • I review my journal. Create mini action research projects and include them in my teaching. @dalecoulter
  • This is the essence of the experimental practice on DELTA courses – shame it’s only one  assignment @Marisa_C
  • How do you evaluate what you do? Learning outcomes? Learner reactions? Learner reflections? Or just your own? @Marisa_C

A big thanks to all those who took part for a very stimulating #ELTchat. See you all next time

Lesson Skeleton: IELTS news-based writing class

This skeleton has been kindly donated by the debate-master Phil Wade. No materials needed, just blank paper, students, pens and a teacher.

Exams don’t exist in a bubble, or rather they shouldn’t. It’s easy to just ‘teach the test’ but with the speaking and writing it’s also fun and educational to show and use the real world. This is useful on several levels. Firstly, it gives students a wealth of realistic ideas to use (often only the realm of CAE+), it creates a positive and practical purpose for speaking/writing classes and it also avoids students only learning IELTS writing English or memorising examples.

1) Elicit a controversial decision/opinion in the news which is causing debate.

2) Write FOR and AGAINST on the board and elicit one example for each

3) Ask pairs to brainstorm more arguments

4)Set up and run a debate scenario with For/Ag sides

Possibilities

1)Groupings

1 to 1 (for new debaters and higher levels or with more structure for lowers)

2 to 2 (bigger classes and weaker students)

3 to 3 (very big classes and very weak or very organised students

The class is divided into 2 teams

2)Format

30 second arguments in turn (for lower levels or new debaters)

1 min arguments in turn (for medium levels)

2 min arguments+support (for experienced debaters)

2 min arguments including criticism (for seasoned debaters)

Open debating (for discussion or informal debate classes)

5)Give FB on languag, pron, grammar, delivery style

You might cover

Presenting a clear opinion statement e.g. I believe that..

Presenting an opposing view e.g. I do not agree that

Using linkers to give reason e.g. because, on account of, due to

Adding support (cover the logical links and the language)

Adding polite criticism e.g. You failed to consider that

Pausing for dramatic effect

Intonation (rising before pauses/drops on important words/large drops on final sounds)

stress (moving the main stress for effect)

6) Move students/groups according to your observations:

a)Who didn’t speak much

b)Who was not challenged

c)Who was domineering

d)Who felt too comfortable with their friends

7)Make new pairs and ask them to note down and match 2 main arguments.

8)Write an essay style For/Against question on the board, then draw 4 boxes labelled Intro, Main1, Main2 and Conc.

9)Choose 1 student to explain if he is For or Against and why

10)Ask him how he would structure the essay to reflect his opinion.

You might cover

Intro-summarise topic and give your opinion

Main 1 For+support (examples, explatanations, quotes)

Main 2 Against+support (examples, explatanations, quotes)

Conc-summarise the arguments and give a last statement

Or

Intro-summarise topic and give your opinion

Main 1 For+Against+support (compare and contrast)

Main 2 Against+For+support (compare and contrast)

Conc-summarise the arguments and give a last statement

11)Ask new pairs to plan their own essay and present it

Possible areas to cover

1)Logical counter-arguments

2)Strong vs weak support

3)Reprasing the question in the introduction

4)Comparative language

5)Essay writing phrases

6)Including ‘lexical items’, ‘grammar stuctures’ and ‘cohesive devices’ at the planning stage.

12)HW

Write the full essay and post it to the website/VLE

Practical Ideas for Retrospective Planning in a Reflective Journal

I want to offer my thanks again to the audience in my talk on Reflective Teacher Practice at TESOL France, who came up with a number of very practical ideas to create a retrospective plan to use in a reflective journal. Their wealth of experience they had to offer helped me come up with a number of ideas. I owe you all a big thankyou, and maybe a drink next time we see each other, you can hold me to that! I have synthesised the ideas into a few frameworks that could be of use to someone thinking of starting a reflective journal:

Circular snapshots

Hard-data stored in your brain is more easily accessed through emotions and visuals, in my humble opinion. This model encourages the teacher to first go back into the lesson and take a visual snapshot of it, then, give it an adjective. Having entered the lesson in this way, you’re ready to look at the focus, needs, opinions and feedback.

Questions about the teacher/questions about the learner

Reflecting and writing a journal has a number of benefits which I would espouse. However, at times, alone with your thoughts, it’s possible that reflection becomes inflection. By this I mean the teacher is the centre of everything. We are professionals and we take our practice seriously. Basically, we flagellate ourselves. This framework rebalances the situation by addressing the learners first and then the teacher. The questions in the first box focus the reflection on the learner, then expanded and refocused on the teacher; it’s beneficial not only to learners but also to the teacher to bear them in mind when retrospectively planning/evaluating.

Reflection into research

An area I touched upon in my talk was action research. This is the area in which I feel I short-changed my audience slightly. There was a missing link between how to synthesize the journal content into a well-focused and fruitful action research project. The idea below goes some way to bridging the gap; it takes you step-by-step through the lesson running order. The first part elicits your thoughts on the lesson. Unpacked, the most salient points are then questioned and re-packaged in the form of a focus or action research (by this point the number of point should reduce). By the time you arrive at the action research box, you’ll have a few ideas in mind. At this point it’s a good idea to get the opinion of other teachers. This could be done by asking them to read your journal or through an informal staff-room chat. Finally, you’re ready to start picking out literature to help research.

The two classroom pillars

I used this framework to analyse a Dogme lesson I did last week. I found it useful to start with the learner pillar. They focus on interactions: firstly communicative interaction, then the interaction between learners and the content of the class, difficult and easy.

Answering the three questions on the teacher-pillar accesses the teacher’s decisions through the lesson in relation to learner interactions. What I find helpful about this framework is that you can draw conclusions on your decisions in the classroom and link them directly to the learner.

It could be beneficial to revisit the lesson or start an action research project in the case of an imbalance between these questions e.g. Learners found it difficult to produce X language/I found it difficult to help them with X language, learners found it difficult to understand what was required of them in the lesson/I found it hard to give instructions.

Surprises and moments

It doesn’t always go according to plan, does it? Emerging interactions can come as some surprise. It’s how we deal with them that makes them learning opportunities. In reflecting on them, consider the cause: internal or external. E.g. students had a bad day, it’s 5.30 p.m. on a Friday and my teenager group wasn’t exactly thrilled to check into grammar 101, the material was pitched too high, etc etc. If these were surprises the next step is to reconsider your plan or classroom behaviour.

At the end of the process, give yourself a mark out of ten. It’s better at the end than at the start – again, reflection is better than inflection.

Moving from one lesson to the next

This idea focuses on how to move from lesson to lesson. As I mentioned in my talk, I often find the focus for the next lesson in the leftovers of the previous. Reactivating could be to address any one of the questions presented. This doesn’t necessarily have to something identified as a negative; one might want to reactivate to revise, add continuity or to introduce a new focus in the context created in the previous lesson.

Challenge

Here’s my challenge. To anyone out there: teachers: newly qualified or expert, trainers: teaching or training. Directors/ADOSs: running development sessions or teaching, try it out with a class. Maybe two if you have the time.

1. Which of these structures best fits your teaching style/beliefs about teaching/context? 

2. Do you find it helpful to reflect in this way?

3. Have you noticed and areas for improvement in your teaching? Would you like to improve these?

4. Have you identified any strengths? If so, how could you ensure your planning/preparation/teaching exploits your strengths?

TESOL France: Reflective Teacher Practice for Newly Qualified Teachers (and everyone else)

Firstly, I’d like to send out a big thanks to all those who came to and participated in my presentation at TESOL France. I’m planning another post and a few challenges to include the excellent contributions given by some of the participants.

Reflection

I want to share with you something that happened to me a couple of months ago. I had just moved city and I was going through the interview process. Now, I consider myself a rookie when it comes to interviews, but this one in particular will stand out in my memory for years to come. We were about half way through when I was asked:

“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”

Now I’ll be the first to admit how much I dislike this question. I even felt quite inclined to not answer it. Let’s face it, who in their right mind would reveal potentially harmful information in front of their prospective employer? It seems like interview suicide!

You see, it’s not what the question is asking that troubles me; it’s the way the question is asked. I have never sat on the other side of the table, but If I did, I imagine the perfect candidate would respond like this:

“Well, at the moment I’m in the process of improving…”

I think you’ll all agree that this is quite different from the original question, but is that not what it’s asking? There’s something curious about this: taking a different perspective on a question I’d been asked many times before provided a very positive outcome, one which no doubt will make me more confident for the next time.

In this presentation, I’m not going to treat a weakness as a problem. Instead I’m going to propose, like in the response, that it makes up part of a proactive process towards improving. Confront the issue with a different mindset so that, in essence, the question remains the same, but the results you obtain are different. That’s how problem solving works, right?

I have not been in the EFL world for very long, two and a half years to be precise. In that short time I’ve come across many teacher trainers who are passionate about their work, who are an inspiration to their trainees which, in turn, speak very highly of them.  These courses provide lots of support – regular feedback with an experienced tutor, post lesson evaluation, setting action points to improve on, help with lesson planning, a focus on language awareness and language teaching methodology – trainees are never on their own.

I remember my first job in EFL very well. After a few months working where I trained, I moved to a school in Italy. Let me tell you now, you’re left to your own devices. You complete your pre-service training, you move away and you’re more or less ‘autonomous’ – which is a nice way of putting ‘on your own’.

Now I’m sure all of you remember being a newly qualified teacher or you work enough with them to recognise some of the following thoughts:

Journal writing

Very soon after starting my first job I began to write a journal. I had a class of badly behaved teenagers on Friday evenings and needed a place in which to track my efforts to pacify the warzone, where I could record my actions in lessons and how students responded to these. I have a confession to make though: I didn’t manage to resolve all their behavioural problems by the end of the course. What I did manage to do however was to learn a lot about the teenage classroom. This learning experience taught me two things: firstly, classroom interaction between a teacher and teenagers differs from interaction with adults. Secondly, that writing about my thoughts after a lesson, making a connection with what I planned before crystallises the experience in your memory.

I spent the next year keeping a record of my lessons, writing what I felt happy about and what didn’t work so well and asking myself why. In my experience, it works. My classroom practices became a lot clearer to me. I pulled them out of the dark and put them on paper. If there’s a something to work on, and it’s clear, improving it is much easier. If there’s a record of what’s good, continuing it is no problem.

The best thing is that I had a record of my ritualised practices, be they positive or negative. You slowly pick up your own style; the things you do, when you do them, which can be used to get in touch with your teacher-self – the teacher you are in the classroom.

There’s an element of self-evaluation involved. It’s got a lot in common with pre-service training courses; in fact, it’s more of a continuation of what one learns during training. The structure I’m partial too is likely to be very familiar to any teacher trainer out there, it includes: What I learned from the lesson, what I think the learners got out of the lesson and how I would do the lesson differently if given the chance to.

What about our newly qualified teacher’s thoughts? First of all, bad lessons aren’t thrown in the bin. They aren’t forgotten but instead used as learning moments for the teacher. Not only this, but also, keeping such a record lets you know what your strengths are as a teacher. We all have them, but it’s easy to focus your evaluation on negatives and fixate on improving these. In actual fact, identifying your strengths is just as important.

Retrospective planning

Now the question I’m going to put to you is this: does it always go according to plan? One of those questions we all know the answer to. What interests me is the moments in which we put the lesson plan down and respond to what is happening in the classroom.  One of the fears about this for newly qualified teachers is they are stepping into unknown territory; if you go down that road you might not know the way back.

But we are curious beings; we want to know what’s out there. Let’s just have a quick show of hands: how many of you have recently dropped your plan and ran with something that came up in class? I have spoken with newly qualified teachers about this and, as it turns out, we (I include myself still in this bracket) do in fact go with the flow at times. Now, this leads me to think: how do I deal with these moments, when my teaching skills are put to the test?

Let me give you an example. I have just moved to Rome, you know, Julius Cesar, The Coliseum, a big church where some important religious people live… well… naturally, the first thing I bought before leaving was a map. The first few days I clung to my map with my life, never leaving the house without it. Two months down the line and my map is gathering dust in my desk drawer. I’m walking around the city, taking in the sites, the alleys, street names and landmarks. What I’m getting on at is, every new discovery remains in my memory that much more with my head in the air, not to mention the world passing me by that would otherwise go unnoticed with my head buried in a map.

There’s something important to be learned from these experiences, and doing a sort of retrospective plan of the lesson accesses and unpacks these. I like retrospectively planning, it gives me feedback on the decisions I made during the lesson and the learning opportunities that presented themselves. I feel more confident after reflecting on them and that, the next time they arise, I will be better prepared to exploit them to the students’ benefit.

A retrospective lesson plan might resemble a normal pre-lesson plan. You write down, say, each individual stage as it unfolded, with timings, aims and interaction patterns. Place yourself back into the lesson and reassess what difficulties learners were having at each point during the lesson.

Another question: But but but, I hear you say, doesn’t this lead to more planning time? It depends on the mindset towards planning. Well, actually I hope it’s quite the opposite. Since I started using a journal and including retrospective planning the amount of time I spend planning has reduced. It’s question of efficiency. Take the idea of a new city and a map. I’m a cyclist too, and it’s not always possible to look down at the map, there are a million and one things to concentrate on, especially when trying to negotiate a safe passage through the frantic Roman traffic. I check the map after my ride, trace my route through the city and compare it to what I had planned out, and then I’m ready for the next time I use that route. The same can be said for retrospective planning.

Why spend so much time investing time into a lesson if there’s no review of the investment? Tracing your route through the lesson, the corners and one-way systems encountered along the way bridges the gap between one lesson and the next. By reflecting on the last lesson in this way you’re immediately in the mindset to tackle to the next lesson; I can’t tell how many times I’ve found the stimulus or language focus for my next lesson in the leftovers of the previous.

Action research

So here’s another question: what to do with all the information in the journal? Personally I found at first that there was more than I knew what to do with, so many thoughts about my classes. It was a case of prioritising what seemed most immediate at the time and synthesising it into an action research project.

If then we see that what’s most needed comes up in the journal, it can be followed up on with action research. I saw that the most common areas for improvement had to do with language awareness and ideas for engaging students in lessons. I kept my focus narrow and my goals reachable. This is important too. There’s so much out there to know that a well-thought out goal for action research is necessary.

I want to give another example of how I did this. I remember a lesson in which I ‘did a reading’ and faced the blank confused stares of ten students. I had gone through the necessary stages and checked comprehension, all regular, all how I was trained to do. Something didn’t seem right though and in my ‘how would you do things differently’ section I found myself brainstorming ideas to tackle reading texts without comprehension questions, to engage students in reading.

There’s an interesting pattern here. This kind of teacher-centred research, involving what’s immediate is what I’d outline as important for newly qualified teachers in facing low language awareness and a lack of ideas in the classroom. Base it on what you do. We teach our students on a what-they-need-to-know basis, so why not centre our teacher development on the same sort of things?

Indeed, this sort of way of approaching lesson-planning, from reverse, puts the teacher at the centre of development. Imagine an environment lacking in external support for a newly qualified teacher; you might feel pretty lost, right? For many of us, this is the reality. Nonetheless, remedying the situation doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. Assuming that teachers want to develop, they can place themselves at the centre, in charge of their own pathway.

So why not try it for a month. Keep a journal of your lessons and at the end of the month review it. Make a list of the most common areas of your journal and write an action plan. Include points of reference for reading up on the topic, brainstorm ideas to include in lesson planning and try them out in the same classes. Include retrospective planning to get the bigger picture of how things happened. After two weeks, do an intermediate review to see how things are going. Then at the end of the month, have a look at what has changed.

Obtaining subjective feedback

It’s fair to say that in the last two years, a lot of changes have happened as a result of my keeping a journal and the action research projects it gave birth to. Yet comparatively, an equal amount has been also as a result of student feedback. Now I might hear you say: there’s nothing new about that, is there?

Allow me to now give another example, this time of when I was learning Italian in language school. One of my teachers came to class most days and told us a story, which used to be the highlight of the lesson. You see, Italians are great story-tellers, it’s got something to do with the fact that they rarely get to the point, which makes their stories full of imagery and rich in detail. Anyway, at the end of the of course we were given feedback forms to complete, by then it had been two months since I had last had this teacher and it didn’t cross my mind to write about how much I liked them.

Now, the question I want to ask all of you now is: how do we make feedback more useful for the newly qualified teacher? I know for sure in my case that I didn’t give truthful feedback at the right time. It’s a shame, it really is, and I could have changed my class for the better. But there’s a reason for this; feedback wasn’t subjective and it didn’t come at the right time.

So the question poses itself: how can we make it so? One idea I have had success with is keeping a teacher-student journal, in which students write to you and you respond to the content. I started this idea as a way of giving students practice writing informally about what interested them. Over time the conversation turned to class. What I found striking was that students felt freer to write what they think about class in this space, what’s more there’s more trust involved; it’s a dialogue between you and your teacher.

To repeat: feedback is most helpful when it’s subjective and at the right time. A teacher called Adam Beale is currently using student diaries to gather subjective feedback on an unplugged course in Spain. If you haven’t had a look at his blog, I really urge you to. Students write about their lessons in a diary, using either L1 or L2, which ever they feel most comfortable with. Now I think that’s a fantastic idea, how much feedback, especially at low levels, gets lost in translation?

Another idea is to dedicate 5-10 minutes of classroom time to gathering feedback based on the following aspects: What have you liked about class? What would you change about class, how much do you think you have learned? The important thing here is to collect it regularly; weekly for an intensive course or monthly in a course lasting the academic year. If you’re short on class time, setting feedback as homework via email can remedy this problem.

In addition to this, I have also tried a class suggestion box. Place a pile of cards next to the box and learners are free to post a suggestion at the start, in the break, or at the end of class.  Take them in at the end of the week/month and include them in a review of your journal.

Now I’ve had the same thoughts as I outlined at the start many times: “I feel like I’ve run out of ideas”, “I think my lessons are boring”, “I’m really not sure how my teaching went”. But you know, how much of it can be resolved by obtaining the opinions of your learners? In fact, taking action on constructive feedback from your students – a collaborative effort – indicates to learners that their teacher listens. What’s more is the feedback can be included in your diary and matched against your own evaluation of your teaching.

It’s fair to say that one size doesn’t fit all; everyone out there has their own way of doing things, one of the important parts of reflective practice is that you find what works best for you. So, in light of this, can you now work in groups of two or three to come up with a scheme with which to evaluate a lesson in a journal

Mentoring

Can I just have a quick show of hands from those of you have been mentors or have been mentored? It’s great, isn’t it? I remember my mentor, Chia Suan a person who helped define the teacher I am today, whose ideas and enthusiasm still remain a constant inspiration to me. I also remember being a mentor for the first time, last summer, to two newly qualified teachers. In both cases what I found most benefiting was the exchange of ideas – someone to offer a second opinion.

So I started thinking and my question is this: how can mentors play a role in the reflective practice of a newly qualified teacher? Imagine writing a journal in your first year of teaching – it’s fair to say that many of your questions will remain unanswered. Which is not much of a consolation. Now imagine that your mentor has the opportunity to read your journal – a mentor that can nudge you in the right direction when you come to a dead end – a mentor that can offer some direction and support. What I am proposing is that alongside the content of the journal there’s also a dialogue between teacher and mentor.

Peer observation

Here’s a thought: it’s nice to get a second opinion on your strengths and weaknesses and official observations can be a bit daunting. What I am going to suggest is that colleagues review their journals and observe their teaching. Take a review section including the strengths and areas to work on and have a colleague watch you teach to see if they agree. Like I said, it can be a bit disheartening when there are no answers to your questions, likewise if you focus too much on areas to improve. To this end, I had a fellow teacher read my diary and observe me when I was trying to make my classroom environment with those rowdy teens more conducive to learning. From there we discussed what was in my diary in relation to my lesson and set some action points.

So where are we now? We have a significant number of newly qualified teachers working autonomously on action research, using the situations that arise in their classrooms. Now there’s definitely a huge benefit to the institution regarding the sharing of this information. It’s grassroots teacher development. I don’t know how many institutions out there involve their newly qualified teachers in running development sessions, but here’s a thought, why not?

I want to take you back to the start, when I asked, “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” I said it was not what the question is asking which bothers me; it’s how the question is asked. In the same way it’s not the problems for a newly qualified teacher that should bother them; it’s how they deal with the question. In contrast with our teacher we saw at the beginning, I’m going to show you another:

It can work on three levels: the teacher, the teacher and students and the teacher and institution. Depending on the situation you find yourself in, any of the three levels is possible to achieve.

Thoughts

Could these ideas be incorporated more into teacher training? Certainly they are transferable skills that would be useful to a teacher embarking on their career. Are they worth squeezing into an already packed schedule of input sessions in a pres-service training course? There are already some incredible trainers out there taking steps to include more reflection in their timetable.

Secondly, as in institution, could there be the possibility of including some of these ideas in teacher development? Handling the demands of a busy timetable is time consuming to say the least. Could there be benefits of adopting this sort of mindset?

If you’ve recently started teaching, or even if you are a seasoned professional, would you consider making space for reflective practice? If so, I’d be very interested to hear about the results.

Whether you’re part of a teacher-training team, in charge of hiring new teachers, in some way involved with teacher development or training, or you are a newly qualified teacher, I am going to leave you with this thought: the end is not the really the end, it’s just the beginning.

Lexical notebooks

In a previous post, I talked about lexical notebooks without really explaining their make-up or meaning to me. I need to admit right at the start of this post that I am no expert in keeping a lexical notebook or linguistics, nor do I consider myself a good language learner. However, I have found that keeping everything in one place, using a few techniques which I hope to demonstrate below, and a bit of revision, I have become a better learner of Italian lately and above all more confident and secure in my learning.

1. Idioms

The learning of idioms, especially for exams like CAE and CPE, is vital for many of our students. I dedicate pages of my book to lists of idioms which have come up in conversation or which I know there is a corresponding phrase in English I use. What are the problems I have encountered when learning idioms in Italian?

The learning of idioms, especially for exams like CAE and CPE, is vital for many of our students. I dedicate pages of my book to lists of idioms which have come up in conversation or which I know there is a corresponding phrase in English I use. What are the problems I have encountered when learning idioms in Italian?

1. Lack of context 

I never remember idioms when I read them listed on a page of a book of idioms. To remedy this I type the idiom into Google in various forms (past, future, infinitive) and look at the different contexts in which it appears. I take a few examples and write them in my book.  The more information you have about a word, the more likely you are to remember it and reproduce it. 

2. They are not always clear

I either ask a housemate to give me a paraphrase of the idiom or try to think of one myself. This expands my vocabulary, utilises more of my linguistic resources and gives me a point of reference for meaning (in Italian) when I need to revise.

Learners of English are lucky enough to have a plethora of online resources available to them in the form of websites and corpora. In a recent development project a colleague of mine and I developed some materials using examples from The BNC and Google Corpora to encourage students to deduce meaning of idioms from context. There is definitely some promise in this idea, I would like to include this in my learner training this year, including exercises with idioms and teaching students to use these tools available to obtain more information about a phrase/idiomatic expression on their own.

2. Collocation trees

David Warr’s Language Garden blog and seeing a student of mine using these inspired me to start doing the same myself. It is visually stimulating and adds a little variety to my book.

In fact,  I found that I kept making mistakes with this word ‘cena’ and realised it was time to put things straight, so I dedicated a page of my notebook to remedying this problem. I am the sort of student that self-monitors a lot, correcting myself and being very aware of the mistakes I make. On the plus side, it gives me lots of material to learn by myself.

3. Colligation: The grammar contained within a phrase

One of the most challenging obstacles to overcome in Italian is when to use their subjunctive tense. Ask an Italian and they will rant for hours about the inflection of Italian verbs and how hard they are to learn, but I have certain reservations about the difficulty of learning verb endings; there’s no thinking required, no depth.

Having not had much success with the pedagogical grammar rules recited to me in Italian class a few years ago, I thought a new solution was needed. I came across something called colligation, which I understand to be the grammar patterns which are contained within the DNA make up of a chunk. E.g. ‘have an affair’ appears in the BNC in almost all cases in the continuous tense (past or present). It seems worth making a record of these syntactical secrets when teaching and learning to help students use phrases in the forms in which they are found. 

In this case I have opted for a longer distance colligation, based on general usage of the subordinate clause with a verb. I have heard the term ‘based on usage norm’ and this is what I have used.

So what does this mean?

I keep a record of what type of verb follows certain expressions (indicative or subjunctive) and base my usage upon that. 

It means I have a store of chunks I know are followed by a subjunctive, reducing the cognitive load while I speak and cutting out the need to learn too many confusing grammar rules.

I can keep a record of style-sensitive changes in the use of these two moods in Italian. That way I do not end up sounding like an academic in a chat with some friends when I am out and about. In English this could take the form of the stylistic differences between ‘will’ and ‘going to’.

How do I find this information?

Mostly on Google, looking at the context in which the phrase is used: facebook or social networking sites = more spoken, newspapers etc = more formal, interviews with political figure = more formal. I admit it is not fail safe, but for learning independently it helps.

4. Pre/post modification

Add an adjective before a noun and you pre-modify. A noun which has a pre-modifier can then be extended with a post-modifier. Students studying English who need to use more complex sentences could really benefit from this knowledge. OK, that is enough demonstration of pre/post-modification. If you have been seduced by them then I suggest reading Dave Willis’ ‘Rules, Patterns and Words’ (2003).

I keep a record in my book of the lexical and grammatical patterns of Italian syntax. Italian is a heavily post-modified language so I focus my efforts on noticing the types of structures that occur after the nouns. As I have no Italian teacher, I try and paraphrase the example to help me understand it more and ask friends to help me.

How does this help me?

1. I am better able to deconstruct complex Italian sentences.

2. I can contain more information in a spoken sentence.

5. Collocations in context

Words attached to a context are of course of great benefit to a learner of a another language. For this reason I make sure I keep pages of vocabulary I have found or heard concerning topics I usually talk about.

You might notice some highlighted areas. These are areas I need to be careful of because of mistakes I know I have made in the past.

How does this translate to my teaching?

1. I encourage students to find as much information about an idiom as possible, as it makes it more like to be produced. Training learners to find examples and decide which idioms are useful for them i.e. are they likely to use them? One does not buy films or books that are of no interest, so why idoms?

2. I teach ways of keeping vocabulary organised in a notebook, giving learners a push away from long list of decontextualized words and towards fewer words and kept in the company of their lexical friends.

3. Show students the importance of knowing the grammar contained within the phrases we use, where to find it and how it can help them learn fewer grammar rules and use grammar better and more naturally.

4. I teach and encourage students to improve their use of phrase structures, like formulaic expressions but formulaic structures.

5. I want to encourage students to ask more questions about the the grammar they find in use, noticing common structures and recording them in a sort of basic form to be called upon and used when needed.

6. I give homework that involves mining articles which interest students for lexis/collocations/phrases that interest them, hoping that this might become a habit.

In this post I have looked at form and meaning, using examples of how I have adapted what I have learned about language to learn Italian, translating my second language learning experience into how I teach. I have missed out pronunciation, which will form the basis for a future post.