NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials development module (extra reading)

It’s nearly three months since I completed the live parts of the module (!) and I’ve finally got time to get back to the course input I didn’t have time for during the three weeks in July. When I did weeks one, two and three, I found it useful to summarise what I read/watched on my blog, so I’m going to do the same for this additional input too.

These are notes I’ve made while reading. The notes are there for me, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests! 

Getting learners involved

These notes are based on chapter 8 of McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching [Amazon affiliate link for 2016 edition] on involving learners in the materials adaptation/production process.

Utilising learner language

You can use learner language as ‘learning-teaching material’ in a range of ways (additional information about the benefits of each activity can be found in the chapter):

  • ‘Retrospective error focus’ (p164)
    Make them written (unless you’re focussing on pron)
    Include context
    Include correct examples
    Group similar errors together
    Keep the list a manageable length
    > “It is a good idea to keep the lists and to label them with a note of the date, the class and the activity from which they were taken.” (p164)
    The materials can be as revision with this group, or to predict problems other learners might have (see next idea)
  • ‘Prospective error focus’ (p165)
    Predict errors learners might make and give a task based on these.
  • ‘Learner transcriptions of their own stories’ (p165)
    Record a story (with permission!) as a learner tells it
    The learner then transcribes it, correcting it and highlighting any areas where they feel unsure
    The teacher checks the transcription with the recording and responds to learner questions
    The materials allow for personalised, focussed correction
  • ‘Learner generated texts for use with other learners’ (p166)
    Students tell a pre-prepared story to a small group based on prompts
    The group choose one story to develop, tell the class, and write up, along with comprehension questions
    The story is recorded
    The materials can be used with other learners
  • Drama (p167)
    Students improvise and collaborate on a script / recordings of scenes
    The materials can be used with other learners
  • ‘Transcript comparison’ (p168)
    Based on images or short video extracts, students record a description of what’s happening
    They transcribe the description
    They compare their transcript to another group
    They can also compare their transcript to a recording/transcript of a more advanced speaker doing the same task
  • ‘Picture description for exam preparation’ (p169)
    e.g. Students record a 1-minute description of photos for a Cambridge exam – they can’t make notes, but can re-record as many times as they like
    They transcribe the recording
    They can correct the transcription
    The teacher can provide feedback / prepare additional practice based on problem areas

Learner-produced exercises and worksheets

Rather than the teacher doing all of the work, students could:

  • Create flashcards.
  • Prepare a paragraph describing X e.g. a recent news event. Put all of the verbs into the infinitive. Other students then supply the correct verb forms.
  • Design a questionnaire.

McGrath suggests the following caveats:

1. exercises should be kept relatively short (e.g. five gap-filling sentences);

2. the exercise designer marks the answers of the other students and discusses with them any wrong answers;

3. the teacher circulates during the exercise-writing, answering and feedback stages and helps to settle any disputes;

4. students rewrite their exercises in the light of feedback from other students.

McGrath (2002) p170

Learners as teachers

Learners as teachers of other learners

Implicit in the argument for learner-made materials is an acceptance of the learner as a potential teacher of other learners.

McGrath (2002) p171

This section seems to build on the previous two.

Teachers also test, but what they test reflects their ideas of what is important. […] learners might be asked to construct tests for each other (with the teacher providing guidance in the form of ‘model’ test types) (Clarke 1989b). This will not only stimulate them to review what they have been learning, it may also reveal important differences between learner and teacher perceptions of what is significant.

McGrath (2002) p171 (my emphasis)

There’s a fascinating description of what happened when Assinder (1991) handed over materials creation to her class on Current Affairs – two groups preparing work for each other, getting into intense discussions about the language they heard in the video clips they were using and the activities to be created. (p172-173) She listed these effects of involving the learners like this (p173):

  1. increased motivation
  2. increased participation
  3. increased ‘real’ communication
  4. increased in-depth understanding
  5. increased responsibility for own learning and commitment to the course
  6. increased confidence and respect for each other
  7. increased number of skills and strategies practised and developed
  8. increased accuracy.

Learners as teachers of teachers

The book suggests learners preparing questions for ‘a native English-speaking teacher […] teaching a monocultural class’ about the local culture. As the book was written in 2002, I feel like this is of its time and (hopefully!) wouldn’t make it’s way into a book now. It’s also very limited in vision – there are so many things that learners can teach teachers, regardless of both of their backgrounds! I also don’t understand why it’s only preparing questions – that seems to be testing the teacher, rather than teaching them. What about creating a guide to something they know about (their job, the place they live, a particular style of cooking, their hobby…), or introducing people (famous or otherwise), or really anything that involves learners sharing what they know with the teacher.

Learner-based teaching

What is novel about learner-based teaching is the idea that all activities can be based on [students’] wealth of experience, be they grammar exercises, exam preparation, games or translation…

Campbell and Kryszewska 1992: 5; original emphasis, in McGrath (2002) p174

This immediately rang alarm bells for me (see my notes on ‘Towards less humanistic teaching’ in the MAT week three post). Thankfully on p175 (and in the caveats below), McGrath details some of the disadvantages of this approach, but also notes that:

For teachers working within an externally-defined course framework, the answer may be to use learner-based activities as a complement to other, textbook-based work; for teachers who are more autonomous, it is probably still desirable to introduce such ideas gradually […]

McGrath (2002) p175

Deller (1990) suggests periodically handing potentially interesting materials which she has previously stored away over to learners to classify or select from.

This material [created by the learners] has the advantage of being understood by them, feeling close to them, and perhaps most importantly of all, being theirs rather than something imposed on them. As a result they feel more comfortable and involved, and have no problems in identifying with it.

Deller 1990: 2, in McGrath (2002) p175

Tudor (1996: 15-16) suggests a typology of learner-generated activities (McGrath, 2002: 176):

  1. activities in which learner knowledge is utilised as a source of input
    bringing their own content to lessons
  2. activities in which the learners’ L1 is used
    bringing L1 into the classroom
  3. direct learner involvement in activity development and organisation
    handing over responsibility from the teacher to learners for materials selection, explanation, and ‘diagnosis and evaluation’
  4. affectively-based activities
    giving ‘learners scope to use their imaginative skills, creativity and sense of fun’ (p16)

Caveats

McGrath lists three caveats to getting learners involved (p177).

  1. “It needs to be recognised that if the materials used are restricued to those produced by learners this will have an effect on their ability to cope with other types of text (Gadd 1998). A combination of teacher-selected and learner-generated texts is therefore likely to be preferable.
  2. Handing over control may be seen as an ‘abdication of responsibility’. It may take time and patience to prepare learners to participate in learner-centred teaching.
  3. The relationship between learner-centred teaching and learner autonomy might not be as direct as it may seem.

Summary

Worth reproducing in full I think:

The focus in this chapter has been on learners producing materials for use in class by their classmates or other students. This has a number of positive effects as far as the learner is concerned, both in relation to motivation and learning. When learners are actively and creatively involved, motivation is increased; such activities as peer teaching (including correction) consistute a valuable and valued learning experience and can contribute to group solidarity. There are also benefits for the teacher. Monitoring learners as they discuss and prepare materials raises the teacher’s awareness of individual or general difficulties. Some of the material is potentially re-usable with learners in other classes. Teacher-preparation time is reduced. And because there will always be an element of unpredictability, the classroom is a more interesting place for the teacher as well as learners.

While the use of most of the activity-types described here is likely to lead to increased motivation, one type of material – that is, spoken (and recorded) and written texts produced by learners – is likely to be the most relevant from a linguistic perspective. Careful in-class analysis of this type of material, which is as finely tuned to learner level as it could be, is sure to be helpful not only for those involved in producing that text, but for others in the same class.

McGrath (2002) p177-178

I’ve used transcription with students before, but mostly only in one-to-one lessons, and only very rarely. I feel like this is a missed opportunity, and is definitely something I’d like to experiment with more if/when I get back into a classroom again.

Fluency revisited – Mike McCarthy

This was a recording of a guest lecture for NILE which is not publicly available – you’ll need to do the MAT course to get access to it. 🙂 Interesting points/reminders for me:

  • Fluency isn’t just a quality of the speaker, it’s a quality of the listener too (and the CEFR recognises this – see B2 criteria)
  • Fluency is an unusual term in our profession, because it’s one that’s understood by the general population too – we all have an idea of what fluency means.
  • If you translate fluency into other languages, it’s always related to the idea of ‘fluid’.
  • The two qualities of fluency are ease and readiness – we have to be able to start speaking pretty immediately, or listeners will wonder what the problem is. That’s why we use fillers when we’re thinking.
  • Fluency is an aspect of social capital for immigrants.
  • Our fluency can affect other people’s perception of us.
  • Conventional criteria for spoken fluency:
    • Speed of delivery
      Depending on the context – e.g. presentations v. conversations with friends (120wpm!) are different speeds
    • Pauses
      When, how often, how long, again depending on context – in conversation the average length is 0.6 seconds according to research
    • Dysfluencies
      Coherent messages
    • Automaticity
  • McCarthy’s suggested extra criteria
    • Can the learner use chunks accurately and automatically? (e.g. you know what I mean, or something like that)
      Most chunks are 2-5 words. We can process 7 chunks of information at once, after which we restart – this speeds up processing. These expressions are often culturally loaded, but are required for natural communication – without them we can sound like a robot or far too specific and detailed. There shouldn’t be pauses within the chunks – they are generally spoken very quickly. We cannot be fluent if we don’t have a range of chunks in our vocabulary, and if we can’t use them immediately and readily.
    • Can the learner use a repertoire of small interactive words? (e.g. just, so, actually, then, etc.)
      The lack of these words can affect our perception of fluency. These words carry a lot of extra information: compare Can I just ask you a question? to I don’t want to interrupt you but I need to ask you a question.
    • Can the learner link his/her turn smoothly to the previous speaker’s, using linking words and phrases, to create ‘flow’? (The technical term is ‘confluence’)
      20 or so words regularly start our turns in a conversation (see below). Without these words, the conversation sounds much less fluent / more robotic. Fluency is about being a speaker, but also showing you’re a listener at the same time. If students can react appropriately to something, we don’t need to test listening in a more traditional way – we shouldn’t test listening skills separately from speaking skills. “Good listening materials allow you to be the speaker and the listener at the same time.”

I had a look at Mike McCarthy’s website afterwards, and found a long list of videos you can watch, including (I think) a similar talk on fluency to the one I watched. The list also includes three videos for learners on how to use the chunks ‘you know’, ‘or something’ and ‘the thing is’.

Learner preferences and affective learning – Martin Parrott

This was another recording of a guest lecture for NILE in 2015 which is not publicly available – you’ll need to do the MAT course to get access to it. 🙂 Interesting points/reminders for me:

  • We tend to teach in the style we like to learn in. It’s important to remember that our learners are very varied, and have lots of different preferences.
  • Affective = to do with feelings, think about ‘affection’
    Effective = efficient, works well
  • Affective teaching = our learners can grow as people
  • SEAL = Society for Effective and Affective Learning, originally begun by the teachers who created Suggestopedia, and is an organisation for teachers interested in humanistic approaches. (I can’t seem to find a website for it through – not sure if it still exists?)
  • Benjamin Bloom – educational psychologist, known for Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain (Parrott says that we need to remember that we need comprehension before application), but he also created a taxonomy of the affective domain (Parrott particularly highlighted the fact that ‘value’ is repeated three times)
  • Carl Rogers – American psychoanalyst who became a psychotherapist – wrote about the relationship between the psychologist and their client, and has had a huge influence on teaching indirectly through the counselling model (and therefore Community Language Learning). Important features are:
    • Unconditional positive regard
      Not judging the client
    • Empathic understanding
      Moving away from your instinctive reaction to what is happening and finding out what students are really thinking – our perceptions of what learners are thinking are not always correct
    • Genuine-ness
    • Congruence
      Matching your body language and your words
  • Learner-centredness = consultation/involvement about content and style, the teacher keeps low profile, activities are collaborative and self-directed

This is a questionnaire Martin Parrott used to do some research with a class of 10-year-olds he was teaching and two other similar classes. He wanted to find out whether his learners valued affective or cognitive factors of lessons more.

The affective factors can be sub-divided into ones which the teacher can control directly (4, 5, 14 (8)) or only indirectly (1, 10, 11, 15).

His 10-year-old students said 7, 10, 11, 14 and 15 were not important, four of which are affective factors (!) 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12 were all important. 4 and 13 were considered very important: one is affective, one is cognitive, and both are about the teacher. This goes against what we might think about learner-centredness.

He emphasises the importance of finding out about our learners as a group, and as individuals, and what they want, not what we think they want. We should also remember that their priorities might change throughout their time in the group based on their experiences in the class.

Martin also asked them what makes effective learning. They said they wanted a teacher who is funny, strict and fair – Martin hadn’t asked specifically about the teacher at all.

Martin has some warnings:

  • Don’t turn ‘affective learning’ into a method.
  • One model doesn’t ‘fit all’.
  • Don’t impose your own cultural values onto learners.

But remember that for many learners affective = effective – if learners feel they are learning, then they are happy. We need to find out first-hand from the learners want they want, and aim to provide this if we can.

One thought on “NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials development module (extra reading)

  1. Thanks for sharing your notes, Sandy! McGrath’s book sounds fantastic. Love the ideas! Hope you’re enjoying the assignment-writing process 🙂

    Like

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