26th PARK Conference, 6th November 2021 (face-to-face!)

Today was my first face-to-face conference since before the pandemic started. According the Czech event law, this was required:


Covid-19 Measures
Circumstances force us to check everyone at the entrance. Please have the following ready in paper form or in an app on your mobile phone:

  • A Covid-19 Certificate 
  • Proof of having had Covid-19 recently
  • A negative Antigen test (not older than 24 hours) or a negative PCR test (not older than 72 hours).

We kindly request that everyone:

  • wear a respirator (not a normal mask) for the duration of the conference
  • disinfect their hands
  • wash their hands regularly
  • maintain distances.

This made me feel much better about going to the conference, though it did involve trying to find respirator masks in the UK. This proved impossible (even normal masks were challenging to find!) and I ended up ordering them online from a Czech company and collecting them from a parcel box once I’d arrived in Brno…the miracles of the internet!

Mark Andrews, Nikki Fortova, me, and Phil Warwick during the panel discussion to round off the conference

I presented a talk called One activity, multiple tasks, and took part in a panel discussion at the end of the day. These are my notes from the sessions I attended – the opening plenary and two other talks.

The next PARK Conference will be 2nd April 2022.

Going with the flow: Making our learners fluent, well, actually confluent! – Mark Andrews

Mark started by playing a little of Smetana’s Vltava. Write the name of a river you like, 3 words to describe it, and think about what it might be like to talk to the river. Mine: Kennet, changeable, mixed, shallow.

Confluences have been a big part of Mark’s life. He grew up in Appledore, and lived in Belgrade.

Listenership is a concept he’s interested in.

A conversation is not a monologue, it is two- sided, we not only express our thoughts but we listen to the expression of other people’s thoughts.

Harold Palmer, 1921, The Oral Method of Teaching Languages

Mark believes we need to create more activities which build confidence in our learners, but also prompt more spontaneous reactions. How do we put the con(fluence) back into conversation? There are still lots of students who do English at school for 10 years but aren’t able to speak English.

Try this structure:

  • The thing is…
  • The other thing is…
  • The (worrying/strange/etc.) thing is..

Have you ever taught this?

  • You see…
  • I see… (to mean I understand, is often taught quite late)
  • Well,…
  • OK,…
  • Right…

We separate productive and receptive skills, but what about interaction. [I believe the CEFR does highlight interaction now…]

We can use a corpus to find common phrases from interaction.

The exercise above is a kind of drill. It doesn’t separate accuracy and fluency…maybe we should be combining them more.

Teacher talking time has been a taboo for a long time, but maybe we can say short things and get students to react.

  • Did you?
  • Really?
  • What happened?

How could we react? What could we say?

The COBUILD project and John Sinclair had a revolutionary effect on language study. Developing the largest English language corpus led to many changes in research.

IRF:

  • Initiate
  • Response
  • Feedback

…is a common classroom pattern. Feedback is often ‘good’ – we don’t take the opportunity to push the conversation further. Wong and Waring (2009) showed that teacher falling intonation signals the end of conversation and closes the door for student interaction.

Discourse analysis started in 1975, finding out how real communication really happens.

Push learners beyond IRF: Tell your partner about your last week. Make sure you both speak at least 4 times.

How collocations with ‘vaccine’ have changed over the last few months

A lot of repetition is good for learning languages. Mark gave lots of examples of what linguistics calls ‘vague language’, but they’re the lubricants that make fluent communication possible. We can do this in the classroom, like this:

These writers make listeners feel like we’re fluent.

Etymology is interesting to learn too. [The slide above shows one of my favourite Czech words, and I never knew where it came from!]

Hello? Goodbye? Or…

  • Hi
  • Hiya
  • Alright?
  • See ya
  • See you later

You can introduce this kind of diversity of phatic communication even at very low levels. Get the students interested in language right from the start.

Teach them how to build relationships, not just engage in transaction.

  • Do you want a drink?
  • No. (I’m OK for now. Thanks, but not now…)

‘Must’ in spoken English is used almost exclusively for speculation, but we associate it with obligation.

Good listenership involves responding.

We can drill this kind of thing fairly easily – getting students to respond in simple phrases.

Going back to the start of the talk: I talk like a river is the Best Children’s Book of the Year 2020 according to Publishers Weekly. It was written by somebody who stutters, about overcoming it. It could be a way to think about how to encourage children/ students to talk. Some people have a bad experience in the first year of English classes, and are quite ever after.

Here’s Ed Sheeran reading the story:

Definitely worth watching!

The Sounds and Shapes of Words: Teaching reading effectively – Steve Lever

Steve was presenting a hybrid session from Greece, something I think will be increasingly common in future conferences. There was a facilitator in the room and Steve was on the screen.

He discussed teaching early literacy for young learners, including how frequency can influence your choice of what to teach.

We watched a scene from I Love Lucy where Lucy’s Cuban husband is reading in English, demonstrating the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation.

How many characters are there in the English alphabet? Not 26 as you might think, but 52, as capitals and lower case look different.

How many sounds are there? 44, depending on the variety.

How many spellings represent the English sounds? 250

How many consonant clusters are there in English? 30 initial and 100 final

Why have capital letters increased in importance? Because keyboards use them.

A letter may have more than one phoneme. A phoneme may be represented by more than one letter or combination of letters.

These are all issues those learning to read in English have to contend with.

We associate meaning with sound. Reading is not an innate, natural skill. Learners go from the letter to the sound to the concept. Readers become prudish when we see the image of the word and automatically get to the concept of the word.

Early literacy teaching has moved towards a frequency focus: what are readers most likely to encounter?

A possible sequence:

  1. Introduce most common sound pictures in CVC words. Single letter consonant pictures: b p t d l m. Single letter vowel pictures: a e i o u.
  2. Introduce consonant blends (2 letters, 2 sounds): st, br, bl, gr etc.
  3. Introduce digraphs: sh, ch, etc. (2 letters, one sound)
  4. Introduce split vowel digraphs – explore magic ‘e’: Tim/ time
  5. Introduce proper vowel digraphs: ai in rain, ou in house etc.
  6. Make learners aware of initial, mid, final position sound pictures.
  7. Present alternatives: snow/now, dog/egg.

Frequency: /k/ in duck (3), kitten (2), queen (5), school (4), cat (1). Which is most common? I think ‘cat’ – I was right! The numbers in brackets show you the order from most to last frequent.

/i:/ is tree (3), key (4), me (1), pony (5), beach (2)

3 key skills:

  • Blending (running sounds together)
  • Segmenting
  • Phoneme manipulation (how a word sound changes if you change one of the letters within it)

We’re not looking at saying the names of the letters, we’re looking at the sounds of the letters.

Sight words (e.g. the, and, to, he, she, that, in, it, is, are, be, but, one, said, was, at, I, you, he, she, his, her…):

  • Build learners’ confidence
  • Help children focus on more challenging words
  • Provide clues to understanding the meaning of a sentence/ text.
  • Many sight words defy decoding strategies.
  • Builds learning behaviours that will help learners read new and more complex words.

Practical tips:

  • Balance ‘sound’ approaches with letter pattern and ‘sight word’ activities. Encourage recognition of patterns, getting learners to actively focus on words in a text. Work with words systematically and in context.
  • Get learners into the habit of ‘looking with intent’ – paying attention to the eyes.
  • Point out that print is all around them (this really helped me with Cyrillic). You could have labels or word cards around your classroom.
  • Take an interest in words as you read. Ask them to predict the spelling of one or two words before you read for example.
  • Encourage students to take mental pictures of words in their mind.
  • Get students to write down words and to see if it feels right.
  • Be multi-sensory.
  • Word shapes – what words are above, below, on the line? You can draw lines around the word for the shape, or have hand up for above, down for below, flat for on.
  • Show words on the screen. Close your eyes. Which word is missing?
  • Bingo works for writing and reading.
  • Overwriting/Tracing works for letter formation. Green dot where we start to write it, and a red one where we stop, without fully writing it.
  • Visualise words within words. An animal in education: cat. A part of the body in learn: ear.

Angels or Demons? ADHD and other white elephants – Claudia Molnár

What does SEN look like? All of these people have/had one or more of dyslexia, ADD or ADHD.

Fragile X syndrome was new to me – it’s a mutation in the X gene which brings many other things with it: dyslexia, dyscalculia, limited short term memory, limited executive control, emotional behavioural diaorder, autistic spectrum disorder etc. It’s rarely tested for.

Many people with SEN go undiagnosed for a while.

Teachers of English do not usually get adequate preparation for teaching children with SEN, or we might not be told about a diagnosis, or we might suspect but not be able to communicate that with parents.

Meeting the needs of children with SEN requires a lot of commitment, energy, professional knowledge and skills. Not only do English language teachers need specific knowledge and skills to accomplish this important task, but the crucial pre-requisitve for success in the EL classroom is their cooperation with class teachers, specialists in school or local community, and parents.

Claudia Molnar

How do children learn a foreign language? Exposure, repetition, etc. These are hard enough anyway, but can be much harder with the additional barriers to learning caused by SEN. Building confidence is important.

Inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity: 3 features common to ADD/ADHD, though they might be differently balanced for different people.

Symptoms of inattention:

  • Failure to give close attention to detail or making mistakes
  • Often forgetful in daily activiites
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Often losts things necessary for tasks of activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Difficult sustaining attention during activities
  • Difficulty in following instructions for activities
  • Avoidance of activities that require sustained mental effort
  • Often has difficulty organising tasks and activities

Hyperactivity can easily exhaust people. Symptoms of hyperactivity:

  • Often fidgets with hands or squirms in seat
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is not appropriate
  • Often leaves seat in situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often ‘on the go’ or acts as if ‘driven by a motor’

Symptoms of impulsivity:

  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Makes important decisions without considering long-term consequences
  • Reckless behaviour and accident-prone
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn

Potential knock-on effects, which can also influence each other:

  • Segregation
  • Anxiety
  • Motor skills problems
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Phobias
  • Insomnia/sleep disorders
  • Emotional disorders
  • PTSD

What does that mean for language learners? Bilingual learners with ADHD have more difficulty with code-switching, not necessarily being able to keep up with which lanugage they are supposed to be in. The lesson they had immediately before might influence their ability too, for example if they had a German lesson before their English lesson. Translation activities could be quite challenging. Claudia is running studies on this now.

Dyslexia manifests itself in different ways with different people. Again, it can have huge knock-on effects on other areas of people’s lives, not just the stereotype of problems with reading. [Note: Dyslexia Bytes has excellent resources to help you.]

People with dyslexia might use their peripheral vision more than those without it.

Ways we can adapt our lessons in a range of ways for successful inclusive practice:

  • Applying appropriate teaching methodology
  • Using appropriate teaching material
  • Having extra time for individual work with the child
  • Acquiring specific knowledge, skills and experience in dealing with diversity in class.
  • Adapting the curriculum

Considerations when planning:

  • Pre-teach vocabulary
  • Give learners a title/ context when writing
  • Allow learners to draw rather than write everything, they speak it loud
  • Give them the opportunity to discuss the difficulties they have and share possible solutions through peer discussions.

Go back to basics. Think about how to make things easy access.

Reading:

  • Don’t insist that all learners read aloud
  • Use prediction techniques for each upcoming section
  • Read short sections
  • Stop and ask Wh- questions for comprehension and clarification, and to check predictions
  • Use visuals – images, comic strips (see the CIELL project), etc.
  • Repeat these steps for each section.

Writing:

  • Build in planning time (as a group)
  • Brainstorm text organisation
  • Create sub tasks for the writing process
  • Give enough time, release the pressure of in-class writing (though might be a problem for exam prep)
  • Set a linguistic focus (e.g. use of mixed past tenses) (Komos, 2020)

All SEN students can learn! But we may need to find ways to change our teaching to help them to learn.

Claudia finished by sharing this video:

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