In the previous post from our Cambridge Papers series, we looked at the challenges of implementing blended learning. In this final article, Vanessa Pasini looks at practical implications of new developments in ELT in relation to the findings of our latest research paper by Silvana Richardson and Scott Thornbury: What’s new in ELT besides technology?
My main interest is in the real life experience of teaching and what we DO in the classroom. We can theorise as much as we like but we’re dealing with people, diverse, unique, changing people and groups of them at that! The 4 factors I’ll be looking at in this post respond to this idea of people and are connected by the focus on language learning as a contextualised, social process. Each point could easily fill a post of their own so, I’ll mostly be looking at the practical implications they’ll have on teaching.
In other words, we learn by using and being around language, not necessarily by deliberately focussing on grammar points. The more we interact with a language, the more we notice patterns and are able to remember and retrieve them for our own use. You see this is in action in the classroom when incidental learning occurs and students pick up on items they’ve heard frequently and not necessarily studied. Of the 4 points this is the one we’re probably most familiar with. So, what does this mean for teachers?
- Syllabi that bring together grammar, vocab and skills or perhaps no external syllabus at all. Of course, this kind of goes against the reality of lesson planning and weekly plans most colleges use but there’s always room for dogme or TBL type lessons.
- As much exposure to authentic texts as possible. This is probably the easiest one to incorporate. There are plenty of online resources available for listening and reading and even simple IRL examples like free publications.
- We should include more noticing activities like counting how many past forms are in a text or putting sentences in order to form a paragraph. Or, it could be a listening or reading gap-fill where all the gaps are examples of the target language.
- And, finally getting students to write and perform scripts, which can support memorisation of language.
There’s a lot of overlap with the first part of this post but it’s inevitable these two will have a connection. Language doesn’t exist on its own in a grammar textbook or as a collection of knowledge. And language learning is all about context, student needs and being part of a group. How can we bring socialisation into the classroom?
- Group work, pair work or even just acknowledging the listener or reader. This type of activity highlights the context of utterances and has students actively using language, not simply learning about it.
- Rather than always striving for accuracy we should be mindful of developing students’ communicative strategies and coping mechanisms. That might mean embracing non-native varieties and code-mixing.
The Use of L1 in the Classroom
Fifteen years ago, I’d have rejected this out of hand but, times and minds change. If you’ve ever learned a language, you’ll know it can be exhausting relying on L2 all day and sometimes a quick translation or a bit of time to plan or chat in L1 can be beneficial. It’s impossible to separate the learner from the impact their first language will have on them so, why not exploit it? But how?
- We’re always going to compare systems, so make this an active part of learning. Getting students to compare L1 and English sentence structures can be effective. It can be useful to notice similarities as well as differences. This can work even in a multilingual classroom. In the past, I’ve boarded a sentence and number each word, then had students translate and number the corresponding word in their own sentences. Students usually enjoy getting a chance to explain language rather than be explained to!
- It’s OK to have a bit of L1 in the class. A quick translation of vocab between students of the same L1 group or time to think or plan in L1 before speaking or writing can help. Each class is going to respond differently so the rules for using L1 need to be clear and have set time limits.
Teacher-Led Research in ELT
In the past teacher-led research was viewed as being more focussed on changing classroom practices than following strict research methods. It was also criticised for having too small a sample (ie a class) for conclusions to be drawn. But, interest in teacher-led research has been revived because of the emphasis of context and socialisation on language learning, this affects not only learners but teachers too. But what do we need to do first?
- At a basic level, this means highlighting why and how to conduct research. Then developing how and in what manner to share findings and possibly connecting them to CPD. But more than that, it’s about thinking of ourselves as “knowledge creators” rather than “knowledge consumers” and realising the value of being placed in the active teaching context.
- In practical terms, this has great potential for CPD. A lot of CPD is one size fits all, which directly contradicts our teaching approaches. With teacher-led research, there’s the opportunity to have more contextualised findings that will be able to reflect real classroom behaviour in a more specific way.
We encourage using language, recognising the influence of context and exploiting L1 in language learning. And, we try to empower learners and encourage them to investigate and grow their skills so why not apply this to ourselves?
Make sure to find out what’s new in the field of ELT by downloading the related research paper by Silvana Richardson and Scott Thornbury: What’s new in ELT besides technology?