This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂
These are my summaries of the talks I attended.
Plenary: Engaging students with specific learning difficulties: Key principles of inclusive language teaching in a digital age – Judit Kormos
[This was a fantastic start to the conference, putting inclusion front and centre and offering useful tips for teachers of all learners, not just those with SpLDs.]
Note: SpLD = Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences
What is inclusive education?
It is NOT integration: it is the individual’s task to accommodate to the characteristics and demands of the institution. ‘You can join us, but it’s your job to change to fit us.’ There are many problems with this.
Inclusion: it is the institution’s responsibility to adapt to the student’s needs. This should be proactive.
What do we need to do to investigate and remove barriers in the learning and teaching process to help the student to be able to achieve their full potential?
It’s a cyclical process – we remove some barriers, investigate more, then remove more.
It relies on teacher awareness and expertise on diversity.
It involves making adjustments and giving specialized support when necessary.
Recognize and understand
What type of SpLDs are there?
- Dyslexia and reading comprehension problems
- Dyscalculia (numeracy problems)
- Dyspraxia 9fine and gross motor co-ordination) – included in most country’s definitions
- Dysgraphia (handwriting, spelling, writing) – can overlap with dyspraxia in some country’s definitions
- Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder – depends on the country
- Autism spectrum disorders – depends on the country
SpLDs overlap. They are placed on a continuuum: there are no clear cut-off points. They have different degrees of severity. Anne Margaret Smith uses the metaphor of melting ice cream – you might be able to recognise the underlying flavours, but you won’t necessarily know where one starts and another ends. This means we have to experiment as teachers, because a strategy that works with one student may not work with another.
What are the underlying cognitive causes of SpLDs?
- Phonological processing problems – how we hear, differentiate and manipulate sounds. This can cause problems with reading because you can’t make connections, especially when learning a language like English and especially if you add a new script on top of the sound-spelling challenges. It can mean that some students with SpLDs give up at the early stages of learning a new language.
- Short-term memory – how much information you can keep in your memory at one time. Students with SpLDs tend to be able to store less information. For example, this can mean getting lost when there are lots of pieces of instructions in one go. It’s not a lack of attention, but rather that your instructions exceed their memory capacity.
- Speed of processing – not just reading, but writing and other areas too. It can be especially difficult to adjust the pace of a lesson in a big group.
- Executive functions (attention) – their attention may wander.
- Visual memory and motor co-ordination – this may not affect students with dyslexia, but may affect students with other SpLDs.
Impact on second language learning
- Reading – not the only problem!
- Remembering information through listening
- Accuracy and cohesion in speaking
- Vocabulary, especially learning a lot of words in a short period of time
Affective aspects of SpLDs (if we don’t provide support)
- Low self-esteem and self-confidence
- Loss of motivation
- Empathy (especially students with Autism Spectrum Disorders – you generally need to be able to put yourself into the shoes of somebody from another culture when learning another language)
Social aspects of SpLDs
- Social communication
- Perspective taking – changing roles, or imagining yourself as a speaker of the foreign language
- Collaboration and co-operation – including not being able to pay attention to the partner
- Following rules and norms – for example, sitting still for 45 minutes
Strengths related to SpLDs
- Peripheral vision
- Holistic thinking
- Spatial knowledge
A lot of these overlap with 21st century skills which employers want. We can capitalise on these strengths. This is why neurodiversity is such a useful term – we all think differently!
Universal design and individualized support
What is universal design?
It’s a relatively new concept in education, introduced with the advent of online materials. Here are three of the nine principles:
- We should give learners different opportunities and choices for accessing information. For example, read, read and listen, watch a video without/with captions, and many, many more. The emphasis is on choice, not on deciding for students.
- Multiple means of action and expression should be offered when students practise what they learned or demonstrate their knowledge in tests. These different means for expression can involve physical action, or choices between writing and speaking. For example, offer different options for the results of a project.
- We should use different ways of engaging students, arousing their interest, maintaining their motivation and helping them with regulating their own learning, i.e. with appropriate learning strategies.
An example of options for expression
Options for expression: Learners have the option of choosing whether to write a message to their mum or record it on their phone.
Graduated levels of support: There is a written text, and recording students can listen to.
Advantages of online learning for students with SpLDs
- More flexibility with timing and tasks.
- More assistive tools available.
- More project-based learning.
- Fewer timed tests – alternative assessment formats.
- Fewer demands on complex social interaction skills.
Disadvantages of online learning for students with SpLDs
- Less structured learning environment.
- Lower level of teacher control.
- Higher level of autonomy and self-regulation required.
- Potentially long screen time.
- Fewer social clues on screen, and much easier to misinterpret them.
Supporting students with SpLDs in online learning
Assuming that they have access to the technology and a quiet environment, there are still other barriers:
- Explore/discuss barriers with students
- teach the use of assistive devices, for example speech to text, text to speech, day planners, etc.
- One-to-one meetings or small group meetings iwth students with SpLDs, as they may fall behind quickly.
- Peer mentors or a buddy system – especially if you have a large group.
- Dedicate special tasks, online forums, and hold online discussions on how to learn at home
Self-regulation of learning
Planning the learning process
- What? What do you need to do?
- When? When do you need to do it by? When do you work best?
- Where? Where do you work best? Where can you find what you need to complete the tasks?
- How? How can I break down the task?
- Using the Pomodoro technique
- Helping students to realise that nobody expects them to study for a long period of time, that they can and should take breaks
Regulating feelings and motivation
- Visualise success
- Rewarding success – students with SpLDs often tend to foreground their failures, especially if they feel they are more prominent than for other students. It’s important to help them notice their successes. Help them to decide on rewards for small successes, and that those rewards can be to yourself, not just from external sources.
- Mistakes and failures are part of the learning process
- Test yourself – how do students do this? For example using apps, or asking parents or siblings to test them.
- Diary / journal
Bite-size online learning
- Break down tasks into smaller steps, for example dividing an essay into multiple days.
- Stagger instructions – wait after each step
- Adjust tasks to attention span
- Include periods of physical activity in the online session
Accessibility of online learning
- Use multiple modes of presentation (auditory, written, video, pictures, etc.)
- Allow students alternative response formats.
- Make sure instructions are short, concise and clear.
- Use a file format which is easy to convert into accessible mode. Microsoft Word has a text to speech function. pdf isn’t always adjustable in this way, so perhaps better to avoid this format when sending out files.
- Give students choices and options in tasks and how they want to complete them.
What can we adjust in our classrooms?
- Classroom management (groupwork, pairwork) – allow learners to choose
- Presentation and access to material (multiple channels, handouts)
- Environment (light, termperature, seating arrangements – for example where students sit in relation to the teacher, and whether there’s a quiet corner)
- Pacing (slow down, revise, recycle)
- Level of support (teacher, peers)
Learning strategies and teaching techniques
Spelling and pronunciation
- Look for regularities – there are more of them than you might expect in English! [Examples]
- Find word components (achieve-ment)
- Visualise, use colour
- Using songs, gestures, clapping
- Say it forward and backwards
- Use moveable letters
- Use online dictionaries to listen to how words are pronounced and repeat pronunciation
- Games and apps [I love Quizlet Spell, and students with dyslexia in my beginner group this year came on leaps and bounds when they started using them regularly]
- Orthographic and phonological awareness training
- Training in word recognition
- Explicit teaching of spelling and pronunciation regularities
Vocabulary learning strategies
Questions to ask:
- What strategies do you use?
- How do they work?
- Does the strategy depend on the type of word? (abstract/concrete, short/long…)
- Is there anything within the words or the wordsets that make learning difficult? (length, multiple meanings, lots of words within the word set…)
Students can sometimes get stuck with a single strategy, rather than drawing on a range of different ideas.
- Acting out
- Rhyme, songs, rhythm
- Activate background knowledge based on the title, sub-title, headings and visuals
- Use prediction and visualisation
- Monitor comprehension, make inferences – teaching students to regularly stop and ask themselves ‘Have I definitely understood this point correctly?’
- Subvocal reading
- Reading while listening (text to speech software)
- Annotate text, highlight, notes, charts, mind- and concept maps
- Using comics, for example CIELL – Comics for Inclusive Language Learning – they have lots of benefits
- Reciprocal reading: Students read the text section by section and at the end of each section, they have roles:
- Summariser: highlights key ideas
- Questioner: asks questions about the section (e.g. unknown words, unclear meaning etc.)
- Clarifier: answers questions
- Predictor: makes preductions about what the next segment of the text is about
- Directed Reading-Thinking activity
- Start by making predictions about what the text segment will be about.
- Read the relevant part of the text to check predictions.
- Discuss to what extent their predictions were confirmed.
- Summarise the key information from the text segment.
- Repeat in cycle after each text segment.
- Include planning activities such as brainstorming, creating mid-maps, outlines
- Make planning multi-sensory, e.g. organise ideas by manipulation of shapes and colours
- Break up the tasks into smaller sub-tasks
- Give enough time for writing
- Use aids for writing (e.g. spell checker, speech to text function, electronic dictionary)
- Check0lists to guide learners and assist in self-evaluatin
- Set a specific linguistic focus in the writing task (e.g. students to pay attention to the use of past tense
- Share and make writing purposeful (e.g. Padlet)
- Collaborative writing (Google Docs, Etherpad, Microsoft Word online)
- Multi-modal writing tasks
8 steps (from Marc Fabri, Leeds Beckett University)
- Think: What changes can you make?
- Adapt: Make regular small changes to your own practice
- Involve: Bring in neurodiverse students as true partners in planning and decision making
- Invert: Ask the people your previously supported what else they needed at the time
- Translate: what can you learn from other colleagues/ institutions/ teacher training events/ materials?
- Break down silos: Talk to others and raise awareness
- Share: Train others in the things you know well, share your knowledge
- Be persistent
One size doesn’t fit all: learner differentiation in trainer training – Briony Beaven
The focus here is on trainer trainers, with teacher trainers as the learners.
It represents harmony amongst divergence. Without harmony, training courses are unlikely to achieve their aims.
Differentiation needs and wishes as shown in a survey of teacher trainers
22 surveyed teacher trainers from 14 countries, in an opportunistic sample of people whose contact details Briony had
Two weeks for your own training needs, with pay, in one block, or broken up into other units of time
What kind of training needs emerged?
- Observation: learning from observation of peers, teacher trainers or trainer trainers
- Technical or micro-skills training for planning and running different training courses
- Digital skills training for research and to use in training
- Learning from or about academic research
- How to pick out useful things to read
- How to evaluate the validity or reliability of what they read
- Publishing their own research
- Emphasis on international peer interaction – being part of a wider community
- Psychological matters such as coaching for teachers, giving negative feedback, ‘awkward’ participants, mindfulness
Teacher trainers’ jobs cover a huge range of areas:
Their jobs were a complex mix of the pedagogical
They may also have other roles as administrators, managers, teachers, and much more.
- We need to base training for teacher educators on authentic situations that arise in their training rooms or in thier other work with teachers. (Bayer, 2014)
- This will necessarily involve differentiation in the training, which requires flexibility and attention to teacher trainers’ needs and wishes.
Differentiation in practice – ideas for how to meet the varied needs of teacher trainers
Differentiation can be done in a variety of ways:
- Learning environment
- Learning preferences
- Professional knowledge landscapes (Clandinan and Connolly) [Amazon affiliate link]
The numbers below show which methods of differentiation are addressed with each technique in the training room.
How can we achieve differentiation?
Outside training hours for individual hours:
- Peer coaching (technical or collegial)
- International visits
In the training room:
- Critical incidents (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8)
Relate a story about a training experience, with questions added at the end. Without the questions, it’s just an anecdote. For example:
What did the actions reveal about me?
What would you have done instead?
How did my actions reflect what you know about me?
- Arrows (1, 3, 4, 8)
Take one teacher and one goal (box one)
Take one characteristic that might make it challenging (box two)
Then work out the strategy (box three = personalisation, authentic, differentiated)
Here’s an example:
- Peer reteaching in mixed experience groups (3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
1. Give input.
2. Make groups of three.
3. Collaborate to re-teach each other the keys points in a workshop so far. Produce one short summary – they must all have the same summary.
4. Assign roles: A, B, C.
5. Regroup with the same letter. share summaries. Choose the most accurate one.
6. Plenary. What are the benefits of this approach to information input?
- Articulation by trainers of practical theory or ‘maxims’ (1, 2, 6, 8)
For example, a beliefs questionnaire which can then be discussed.
- Planning workshops / courses (1, 3, 5, 6, 8)
- Role play (1, 2, 3, 7, 8)
- ‘Folk’ stories (3, 4, 6, 7)
1. Listen to the story.
2. Think how you might use the story in teacher training or trainer training.
These stories could be urban myths or anything you like – discussions of how these stories could be used in teacher training. they can be used to challenge habits and to question procedures or to challenge assumptions and belief systems. Briony shared a story about ‘we’ve always done it that way’.
- Minimalism: providing space and time for reflection – a lot of busy teachers or trainers don’t have time. Providing a training course with plenty of space in it, with the relationship between session and spaces as the most important thing, often more so than the content. ‘They may have quite enough content in their lives’ [that’s true!]
- Establish long pauses.
- Consider a ‘no new content’ day.
- Defend the boundaries of empty space. Don’t just rush to include the rest of the content.
Not the ‘poor relation’: the impact of online teacher development – Susi Pearson (Norwich Institute for Language Education – NILE)
Susi has been involved in the NILE online project since 2014, creating content and supporting tutors and participants.
Background to the study
Online and distance education is very likely the fastest growing area of education in the world today, in both the developed and developing world.Simpson (2012) in Murray and Christensen (2018)
But we must always ask ‘Where is the pedagogy?’
NILE took what was good about their face-to-face courses, and considered how to shift this online: short courses, manageable amounts of work per week, small groups, fully tutored, clear assessment.
Completion rates can be quite low on MOOCs, but on NILE courses they are 90.5%. NILE supports participants and tries to find out why they aren’t completing courses.
- The developing teacher (manager, test writer…)
- Their students (trainees…)
- Their colleagues
- Their institutions
The study was:
- In 2019
- Quantitative and qualitative study
- Designed and piloted
- 1000+ NILE Online course participants (2014-2018)
- 150 repsondents, 42 countries, many different contexts
- Teachers, trainers, publishers, writers, managers, testers
The impact on participants:
- There was a greater impact on professional knowledge rather than beliefs, but there was a considerable impact on both as well as on professional practice.
- Experimented more in their professional practice.
- Read more about the course topics.
- Presented to other teachers on the course topics.
- Took on new responsibilities at work.
The impact on students:
- 72% of participants said that the course has had an impact on their students’ learning. (18% said not applicable)
- There was an impact on both the learners’ attitude to learning, and their progress in learning.
- This was evidenced by student feedback, feedback from colleagues, feedback from parents, their own impression, and achivement marks and grades.
The impact on colleagues and workplaces:
- They shared learning with colleagues
- As a result of the training, there were changes at different levels, including some in the institution as a whole.
What created these positive results?
These are the top 6 reasons selected from a list which NILE provided (with some extra notes):
- Tutor feedback and unit summaries. Quite conversational in style. Summaries could be in different formats: text, powerpoint, short videos, etc.
- Input: readings, videos and presentations.
- Course assignment and feedback. Assignments are context based.
- Synchronous interactions. This was especially true early in the course to bond with the group.
- Learning from other participants.
- Asynchronous discussion tasks.
Implications for the industry
- High level of tutor involvement – prompt feedback and support
- Skilled online tutoring
- Pedagogically sound use of technology
- Exploit multimedia affordances
- Participant output relating content to context
- Synchronous and asynchronous tasks
- Opportunities for co-constructed learning
Murray D.E. and Christison, M. (2018) Online Language Teacher Education: A Review of the Literature. Aqueduto, Norwich.
What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year – Sandy Millin
You can find full details of my presentation here.
English in the primary school in Venezuela: a case study – Wendy Arnold, Juana Sagaray and Maria Teresa Fernandez
[I moderated this session.]
This was part of the YLTSIG showcase.
Wendy was the consultant for the British Council for the project. Juana and Maria Teresa ran the case study.
English is mandatory only in public secondary education. There are not enough trained speciality English teachers. English has been in the primary curriculum since 2007, but this demand cannot be met.
In 2013, the first opportunity to try the project in some states. In 2016, they implemented the project in all 24 states. They trained teachers to get them from A0 to A1 level.
They developed books for the teacher and the students, in conjunction with the consultant. There were manuals for the trainers too, and booklets for the students. The teachers book had the same materials, along with lesson plans. The step by step language was written in Spanish, but the delivery language was written in English. The lessons were divided into 15 minute sub-lessons to give the teachers flexibility. The teachers were mentored by their facilitator. They attended the training on Saturdays from 8 to 4.
In 2018, they started a case study to evaluate the impact of the programme. They used a profile to select the teachers to take part in the study:
- teachers in a classroom
- In 4th, 5th or 6th grade
- At last five years of experience
- 25-40 years old
They collected data in a variety of ways, including surveys, interviews, and observations.
The impact on the teachers:
- Strategies also work with other subjects, not just English, for example introducing more pairwork and groupwork.
- They learnt new games, songs and fun activities.
- Teachers were proud of learning a new language.
- They felt that they were doing something useful for their students.
- Their own self-esteem increased despite all the challenges.
- The teacher’s family was involved too – their own children learnt English, they made resources for the English classes, and there was pride and admiration from family members.
Challenges – even pre-pandemic:
- Students don’t come to class regularly.
- Hours of class were reduced to 3 horus a day.
- Blackouts (no electricity)
- Transportation (cash/gasoline)
The impact on the children:
- “The children love it. They want more and more. They want ENglish classes every day.” (Reina)
- Behaviour improved thanks to this programme, especially if they knew they wouldn’t get their English lesson.
The impact on the community:
- The whole school was curious and enthusiastic if teachers were participating in the programme.
- Willingness to participate
- Parents were very supportive, and recognised that their children would be more prepared when starting secondary level.
- Parents wanted to have English across the whole school, not just 1 or 2 teachers per school.
- Principals were very proud and supportive.
- Parents wanted their kids to go to the schools with the English lessons.
- There is a dual learning: both the teachers and the students were learning. The teacher was part of the group and this made children feel better. Children were also able to help the teacher.
- Emerging cooperative learning.
- The teacher was empowered:
- Sense of achievement
- Gaining status
- Doing something for others
- Recognition by their family, school authorities, colleagues, children
- The students were empowered:
- Gaining status
- Rising facilitator:
- Some of the first cohort of teachers stayed in the programme as facilitators for the next level.
- First hand experience of the programme
- Highly motivated
- Good at strategies
- Still need more language
- Transition towards a communicative class
- Classroom environment triggers learning
- Integration between the school and the community
The programme in numbers:
- 289 tutors and facilitators trained since 2016.
- More than 78,651 public primary school students introduced to English.
During the pandemic, they created an app which can be used via phone and computer to continue learning from home. As not everyone has computers or internet access, they also developed a radio programme using the same content as the book – 70 radio programmes, broadcast by local radio stations across the country. This allows more acccess.
Because of the monitoring and evaluation, they have been able to show the impact. PNFA is Programa Nacional de Formacion Avanzada. They ran the programme (I think!) and it’s now accredited by the Ministry of Education and they are now running the 4th cohort. It’s an annual programme.
(Re)-shaping teacher selves: an exploration of teacher identity and development – Josie Leonard
This was part of the ReSIG showcase (Research SIG).
This is particularly connected to some doctoral research Josie did.
Background to her research
There’s been an increase in research connected to teacher identity in recent years (Barkhuizen, 2017). This means that there are multiple definitions, and it’s quite a challenging concept to define.
Becoming a teacher of English: there are many diverse worlds of TESOL and becoming a teacher can take many different routes.
Josie worked in overseas contexts, with teachers from many different backgrounds. This prompted her to reflect how her assumptions and her identity seemed quite different from people she worked with. She wondered how identities as teachers and trainers became shaped in particular ways. This developed as she worked in the UK with students on MA programmes.
What does becoming a teacher mean?
We know that teaching is complex, and there is a lot of personal investment into it.
- The concept of ‘being’ a teacher implies something stable – a state of attainment, a fixed sense of how a teacher should be and act (Mulcahy, 2011)
- There is a belief that it teachers are shown the ‘right’ tools and techniques they will teach accordingly (Britzman, 2003; Mulcahy, 2011)
- Identity is a process of becoming – teachers are not technicians applying particular methods they have been assigned; they are significant actors shaping teaching and learning (Varghese et al., 2005)
- Becoming a teacher conceptualizes identity as more complex – it recognises continual change, ambiguity and instability (Gee, 2000); it involves teachers’ interactions with others in their social and professional environments (Beauchamp and Thomas, 2009)
- Becoming a teacher is a continual process of negotiating identity options (Britzman, 2003; Mulcahy, 2011)
The part Josie highlighted in the definition below emphasises how identity is formed through interaction and material things, all over time.
Outline of the study
- Two UK universities offering postgraduate TESOL programmes.
- 15 teachers from different countriess.
- All had teaching experience, from a range of different contexts.
- What factors have played a part in shaping participants’ professional identities as English teachers in past teaching experiences?
- What factors have shaped participants’ identities as English teachers engaged in postgraduate study programmes in the UK?
- What kind of professional identities do participants imagine for their futures?
- In what ways (if any) has postgraduate study been influential in shaping participants’ imagined future professional identities?
Josie focusses on who and what influences identity formation. This includes people, the syllabus, the coursebook, the spaces and environments.
She looked it through a lens of social materialism:
Socio-materialism: social practices such as teaching involve both human and non-human actors; these practices are produced, ordered and disordered through relations and interactiosn between both humans and non-humans.(Michael, 2017, p. 5)
As Josie put it:
- The ways in which social and material acrots interact and function together produces different effects – forms of knowledge, routines (ways of doing things) and identities.
- In other words: how might people (supervisors, fellow teachers, mentors, students, parents) and material resources (such as technologies, clsssroom tools such as whiteboards, coursebooks, syllabus texts, exams and tests influence teacher identity formation?
Becoming a teacher is a relationship process guided by interactions with both social and material actors in teaching environments.Mulcahy, 2011
Identities become shaped through interactions with people and material things; they can be ascribed by others, resisted, negotiated and adapted. These relations are significant in processes of becoming teachers.Mulcahy, 2011
She used a narrative framework for her methodology. The data was gathered through face-to-face interviews and focus groups. She was interested in the kind of stories and short stories which teachers told about their experiences. The researcher is involved in the construction of the stories, but she wanted to make it as participant-centred as possible. She gave them a set of themes based on identity literature to think about before the interview, then bring a mind map or other visual to discuss during the interview, to help them to direct the interview. In the focus groups, she had questions but didn’t restrict other lines of discussion.
Short extracts from the findings
This is a small sample across time.
From past experiences:
- Mentors – often discussed as a support
- Supervisors – often mentioned related to control, referring to the syllabus or the tests – coordinating with other factors below
- Syllabus texts
- Coursebooks and teachers guides
- Workshops, for example on language learning games
- Fellow teachers
- Visuals – digital
- Students – motivation
- Presence of exams and tests
Factors shaping identities in postgraduate study:
- Experiencing different assessment practices
- Becoming a student again
- Self-reflection, and connecting this to the experience of their students
- Learning about different methods
- Seeing things from other perspectives
- Questioning beliefs
- [there were more but I missed them!]
What about imagined professional selves?
- Becoming teacher-researchers
- Becoming teacher-educators
- Becoming materials designers
- Becoming assessment designers
- Becoming teachers (continuing to work on this area)
She concluded that post-graduate study seemed to play a role in identity formation in the following ways:
- Re-shaping identities teachers brought to post-graduate study programmes.
- Re-becoming a student: awareness of self as student and seeing own students (and their challenges) with renewed empathy
- Participants linked the theoretical and pedagogical knowledge they were introduced to their past experiences: deepended critical awareness, understanding from different perspectives.
- Becoming more adept at academic writing skills, developing research skills
- Considering identities which had not previously been feasible, like teacher researcher or publication: feeling empowered and confidence in themselves to consider becoming someone other.
For Josie, she learnt a lot too:
- Giving teacher-students more opportunity to talk about their histories, their ideals, challenges and possiblities, though reflective activities, and comparing teacher-selves at the beginning and end of their studies.
- Integrating more ‘identity’ work into activities and discussions.
- Recognising the functions of both social and material actors in relation to institutions and classrooms, and the significance of both for pedagogy.
- Learning about other worlds of TESOL and making sure these are represented in her teaching.
What does supportive trainer talk look like? – Simon Smith and Martyn Clarke
[I moderated this session.]
Simon and Martyn worked together on a Trainer Development course in 2019, and discovered a shared interest in how trainers talk. They decided to investigate it.
What is supportive trainer talk?
Talk which intends to support a teacher’s construction of knowledge or thinking.
Why are they interested?
Simon read Vygotsky and Bruner in the late 1990s when working on an MA programme. He realised that learning is related to the company we keep and what we say and do together.
Martyn experienced trainer talk while studying it as a learner on an M.Ed. in Training over an extended period. In his reflective journal, he found himself constantly coming back to how people were talking within the sessions.
They believe trainer talk is a Cinderella topic in ELT. There’s a lot about teacher talk, learner talk, but not much about trainer talk apart from a little connected to observation feedback.
- Convenience sampling: variety in trainers, groups – working with different types of groups
- Standard ethical procedures
- 6 sessions x 90 minutes from NILE 2019 summer courses recorded and transcribed
- Ethnographic approach to transcript analysis: solo analysis, highlighting and annotation, leading to shared categorisation
- Cross-checking and refining
What were the main findings?
3 main categories to emerge:
- Content support
- Process support
- Group support
Trainers have talk tendencies, though all 3 categories appeared in the talk of all trainers.
The term is adapted from Neil Mercer (1995). This was related to the content of the training session.
- Eliciting knowledge or views from teachers, for example their opinions on particular topics.
- Responding to what teachers say, for example answering their questions.
- Describing or providing content.
This was related to the understandings of the learning processes within the training session, possibly more prevalent in training than teaching.
- Providing a commentary on the intended training/learning process: an explicitness about the learning processes that are planned within that session.
- Commenting on the learning process as it happens: highlighting when a learning process happens.
- Reflecting in action: the trainer thinking out loud in the moment to share the experience and model reflection openly and transparently. [Jason Anderson shared an article he has written where he called this ‘acknowledgement’ – he’s talking about this tomorrow and I’m planning to be there, so watch this space for a summary!]
This was related to creating a cohesive group and fostering the environment which allows a co-constructed course. They found this was a quite a strong process for many trainers.
- Creating a group discourse: inviting participation, and acknowledging that ‘we have a group culture and we understand each other’
- Making the pedagogical natural: interacting as a person, not just as a trainer.
- Sharing personal experience: giving a personal human touch.
Conclusions: what does supportive teacher talk look like?
- These were one-off snapshot visits, which generated more questions than answers. They know that this is just an overview.
- They found audio recordings practical and there were advantages to this.
- They’d want to have more follow-up, for example by speaking to participants, or adding research into the context of the training event – they were treated equally here.
- What they’ve learnt:
A lot of the trainer talk had an emotional, supportive, affective function, designed to support the trainees. Simon would like to research this more.
Martyn would like to research more about the difference between what the trainer thinks they’re saying (intention) and what the trainee actually received. He’d also like to investigate sequences of how talk can be structured more.
- Next time:
- More on supportiveness as seen from participant and trainer perspective
- More than a one-off visit
- Better mikes for participants
As a result of this, they’ve added an assignment to the NILE MA module connected to teacher talk.
Martyn and Simon kindly gave me permission to share the handout, which includes a full reading list.
Mind the ______: rediscovering gap-fills – Leo Selivan
Like John Hughes yesterday, Leo started by showing historic gapfills. In Leo’s case, this was from Developing Skills by L.G. Alexander from 1967. He says they became much more common in the 1980s, in part at least due to Headway.
What’s the difference between a gap-fill and a cloze?
According to British Council TeachingEnglish:
A gap-fill is a practice exercise in which learners have to replace words missing from a text. These words are chosen and removed in order to practise a specific language point. Gap-fill exercises contrast with cloze texts, where words are removed at regular intervals, e.g. every five words.
…but researchers often use the terms interchangeably, as below!
Criticism of gap-fills
From Luis Octavio Barros (April 10, 2014): Life beyond gap-fill?
- Not authentic
- Suitable for testing – not for teaching
- Learners do not have to create sentences – only manipulate them
- Learners should be putting meaning into words, not the other way around
Zou compared the effectiveness of a gap-fills (called cloze exercises in her research), sentence writing and composition writing for vocabulary gains. She found that cloze exercises gave a post-test score of 8.3, sentence writing 12.3, composition writing 15.9. She said that this was because of the need to create meaning. [Zou, D. (2017) ‘Vocabulary acquisition through cloze exercises, sentence-writing and composition-writing: extending the evaluation component of the involvement load hypothesis’. Language Teaching Research, 21 (1), 54-75
However, if you look closely at the original sentences from Zou’s experiment, Leo points out that the sentences students produced don’t necessarily demonstrate that learners have properly acquuired the language.
On the other hand, Keith Folse supports the use of gap-fills rather than sentence writing:
Student original sentences with new vocabulary often resemble a word heap.
He says that gapfills are easy to design and correct, and that students will always end up with a correct English example sentence to study. In his study, he found that when the learners had to repeat the gap-fills 3 times with slight modifications, they had the highest vocabulary gains. [Folse, K.S. (2006), ‘The effect of type of written exercise of L2 vocabulary retention.’ TESOL Quarterly 40 (2), 273-293
Unfashionable though it is, repeated practice testing is known to work. In vocabulary learning, a gap-fill repeated a number of times is likely to lead to more learning in the same amount of time than a more creative or imaginative exercise.Vocabulary gap-fills: from testing _____ teaching Philip Kerr (March 10, 2016), OUP English Language Teaching Global blog
Modifying vocabulary gap-fills
Note: you can get very high quality example sentences from dictionaries if you’re creating your own gapfills.
- Add distractors / red herrings.
- Provide two blanks e.g.
The authorities closed public access to the _____ historic building after it was declared a safety ______. [fragile – hazard]
Sometimes the words might be reversed within the pair in the list of options you give.
- No blanks – students have to work out where the adjectives belong in the sentences. This only really works with adjectives.
- Without a ‘word bank’
- Multiple sentences: three sentences all missing the same word (as some Cambridge exams used to have) – you can use this to revise collocations. Alternatively all missing the same chunk of language – Leo says students find this easier when they have the right number of lines for the gap, e.g. 3 lines for 3 gaps.
- Provide a first letter clue – one or two letters for each word. http://www.lextutor.ca/tests has examples of receptive and productive level tests which use this approach.
- Collocations: you can gap one of the key words in the collocation e.g. meet, make, pay.
- Collocations: you can gap the whole collocation e.g. make a suggestion, do business, pay attention – this is more effective when first learning a collocation as it minimises the risk of error, and they’re less likely to remember the wrong collocation.
- Definitions: as in the example below, Leo prefers definitions following style C. ‘A’ is from a dictionary for native speakers, not language learners. ‘B’ is from a learner dictionary. ‘C’ is best because it gives examples and co-text, not just a definition.
- Definitions: you can use it as recall practice, by sharing the definitions again later on.
The main problems according to Leo:
- Tend to focus on producing the correct form, the opposite of vocabulary gap-fills which tend to give you a word bank without retrieval practice.
- Very often of the ‘open the brackets’ variety.
- They don’t necessarily need to read the sentence as they’re told what form to use.
- The target form is usually blanked.
- Pairs of words – either ‘don’t’ or ‘didn’t’ across the whole exercise, or pairs of words to match as in vocabulary. This practices receptive grammar.
…the recognition of grammar as a receptive skill, and exercises need to be devised and which encourage the perception of different of meaning.
This is an area which is hardly touched on at all in contemporary language teaching, which too often equates grammar with the students’ ability to produce correct sentences.Michael Lewis (1993) The Lexical Approach: the state of ELT and a way forward, Hove: LTP
- Why do we always gap prepositions? Why not give them the correct preposition and ask them to provide the content? They have to really process the language. e.g. The museum is usually closed on ___________.
- Ask learners to replace a word in the sentence with their own.
- Ask learners to place a whole clause with their own idea e.g. I was in a hurry so I didn’t call. > I was in a hurry so…
Other ways to spice up gap-fills
- Oral gapfill – read them out and gather suggestions
- Round the room cloze
- DIY gapfill – learnesr craete their own
- Sticky board gapfill – the word bank is on the whiteboard, and students have to stick the sentence where it belongs.
If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day two, and day three.