When nothing really is something

 

When living in Japan, I learnt to value silence.  It was hard at first to sit for 10 minutes in the staff room waiting for my observation feedback, while my deputy head sat opposite me in the silence.  It was tempting to rush in and fill the space, that my panicked western heart felt, while those silent minutes moved slowly.  But with time, I learnt that silence speaks much louder when you listen to it.

Have you ever had the situation in the classroom where you are exasperated inside because the learner is doing nothing? Read more

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Bringing a tutoring style to large classrooms

Child left behindTo be honest, sometimes as a teacher, I struggle with the physical space that is commonly known as ‘the classroom’.  Learners also struggle.  The cartoon above was sent to me by a student because they wanted to describe their previous learning experiences.  Within the walls of the classroom there are certain conventions that students and teachers seem to find hard to break.  Students might come with the belief that the teacher should totally control the space and direct the students on when they should start an activity and end it, when they can move around, when they can take a break, who can use the projector, who can show media content and so on.  This is not the case when tutoring small groups.  They have far more control over the direction of the learning time in the class hour.  There is more flexibility about the pace, and the students make more decisions about how they learn, where they learn and what they learn.

 

With large classes, where classroom management plays a key role (in order to move everybody through the work, due to the sheer numbers involved), is it possible to have a more flexible tutorial approach.  This is a question I have been exploring with some of my larger classes as a tutorial style allows for a more learner led approach.  From various experiments I have been carrying out a more tutorial style approach seems possible.  Here are some ways that I have been including it in my larger classes: Read more

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fish

Exams: What to do when there is one size to fit all?

fish

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein

 

The above cartoon was sent to me by a student to explain how she felt about exams.  She told me that she felt like the fish.  Although, she knew the content area and performed well in more process type components, when it came to sitting down with an exam paper, the exam made no sense.  This student was the top of the class.  She knew the content, could think critically, creatively and understood the subject in depth, but faced with the exam she couldn’t get the results she deserved.

 

Over lunch I discussed this problem with a friend of mine who is very highly placed in the world of assessment.  I wondered out loud why it was with all the movement forward in student centered learning, catering for different learner needs and even theories such as multiple intelligences, English language examinations are generally narrow and do not reflect many of the practices that occur in classrooms.  All my friend could do was nod and say that I was right.

 

Examinations will not change over night, so based on work I have been doing with students who struggle with exams here are a few suggestions: Read more

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Resources and activities for discussing Genetic Engineering in ELT/EAP

GE3

Genetic engineering covers a wide range of topic areas and depending on the knowledge and the background of the students they sometimes need an introduction to genetic engineering.  Below are a variety of resources that can be used to discuss and explore genetic engineering.  Some of these resources are suitable for ELT and some become more technical for an EAP/ESL setting: Read more

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TEDx for experimenting in English for students and so much more

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For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while you might remember a post I wrote entitled TEDx: An authentic English learning experience: A Giant Leap, where I outlined the TEDx project, TEDxSabanciUniversity.  This is an independent event with a TED flavour, but organized locally.  One of my students Can Aztekin had approached me to organize a TEDx event at Sabanci University.

 

I had agreed to organize it with him because I thought that for students it is an amazing opportunity to learn how to put together a mini conference where they make the executive decisions but all of this work also involves communicating, organizing, reading and writing in English for real life purposes.  For the audience that attends, in our case, mainly university students, all of the speeches are delivered in English.  Having sat in lectures where foreign language learners find it hard to concentrate on what is being said in the medium of English for more than 50 minutes, this event lasts for approximately 5 hours with only two breaks, with 9 speeches in English.  Perhaps the format and listening to all the speakers different ideas creates a high motivation for the students.

 

For the team who created TEDxSabanciUniversity this year, not only did they not need me as a mentor this year, they tackled all aspects of the production, communication, choosing and training speakers, selling tickets, publicity and so on in English.  You can see the TEDxSabanciUniversity website here.  From their own initiative they also created TEDxSalon events at the university, watching TEDTALKS and discussing each one over pizza.  I have to admit that they have blown me away.  I had made a decision for this last TEDx event that I would stay as much in the background as possible so that they could really be in the driving seat.  It about killed me as I love organizing events not to be fully involved but I am really glad that that was the decision I took.  You see what I found was that by giving them a wide space this time, they ran with the ball, took risks, solved problems and learnt so many valuable lessons.  By the end of the event they were exhausted but also proud at what they had achieved.  They learnt to trust themselves and to create and I had learnt to let go.

 

Here are a few of my favourite talks from this years event TEDxSabanciUniversity ‘I am’: Read more

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EFL With Young Learners: How to make language come alive from a simple envelope

flatstanley-bookMy mother is currently visiting Turkey and she reminded me today of a project I had done over 15 years ago, in which she took part for young learners.  This project was code named ‘Flat Stanley’, after the story of the boy who was flat and could slip under doors or travel in envelopes.  The participants in this project were about 120 10 year olds in a Japanese school where I was working.   The aim of the project was to get these 10 year olds to actually make contact with foreigners and foreign culture in a meaningful way.  At the time we did not have Internet use or the array of technological devices that we have now, but I have been thinking about this project and how to upgrade it with all the tools we have now available to us. Read more

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Play for EFL in an educational environment

PlayWhen we hear the word ‘play’, we might go back to our childhood and think of the happy hours we spent as a child whittling away countless hours in playing with an assortment of toys.  However, if we associate ‘play’ with adults it might  appear to be childish.  Apart from relieving stress in adults and allowing us to mentally renew ourselves, psychology indicates that play:

 

may in fact be the highest expression of our humanity, both imitating and advancing the evolutionary process. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.

Psychology Today

 

For language learners of all ages, the very nature of learning a foreign language requires constant adaptation and an array of environmental conditions.  This is where play can become extremely powerful in helping learners prepare for those environmental conditions through simulations and other forms of play.  Below are some of my favourite lessons that involve the element of play. Read more

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The EAP Round Up: December 10th 2012

This week in the world of EAP I wish to highlight 4 entries on the web:

 

TPACK1) The technology question or e-APing

 

Steve Kirk’s new blog the TEAPing point is a welcome addition to the EAP presence on the web.  He has posted an excellent piece on the use of technology in EAP, following on from conversations on #EAPCHAT.  The post is entitled Building e-AP Awareness.  Steve looks at technology through the theoretical lens, considers practical application of technology vis-a-vis the theory and also poses open real life questions about how to implement technology, considering problems and asking for your reflections.

 

2) #EAPchat anniversary and review questionnaire

 

#EAPchat will be a year old in February.  With this in mind Tyson Seburnt is asking for feedback on this platform so that it is responsive to its participants.  The questions he is asking are:

 

  1. Why do you/don’t you regularly attend #EAPchat?
  2. How does/doesn’t Twitter work as the platform for #EAPchat?
  3. How do/don’t the chosen topics engage you in a meaningful way?
  4. Is it a goal of #EAPchat to extend the conversation beyond the chat session itself?
  5. What would you like to get most from the #EAPchat community?

If you want to be involved in this discussion then read Tyson’s post entitled Thinking about #EAPCHAT, Year 2  and leave a comment or /and join the #EAPCHAT discussion about this topic on December the 17th.

 

The English for Academic Purposes Group3)The English for Academic Purposes Group on Linked In

 

The English for Academic Purposes Group on Linked In seems to have recently started about 2 months ago and is run by Jessie Candy.  It shares resources, has discussions and there are some posts from EAP bloggers posted here.

 

EAP Essentials: A teacher's guide to principles and practice4)For those of you starting out in EAP

 

For anyone starting out in EAP or are considering entering this field Garnet Education has a book entitled EAP Essentials, written by Olwyn Alexander, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer.  The book aims to be a jargon free introduction to teaching in EAP.  At the link above you can click for a partial online inspection copy. For a review of this book visit the review posted at English  Teaching Professional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The EAP Round Up

EAP/ESP Bloggers’ Showcase

 

 

The EAP/ESP Showcase is now up and running on Pinterest.  It collects EAP/ESP bloggers from around the world.  It has been expanded to include websites.  It has recently been updated.  If there are any more to add please leave a comment at the end of this post.  The more we are connected the more we can exchange with each other.  An interesting addition to the showcase has been The EAP ARCHIVIST:

 

 

The Archivist takes articles and examines them through the lense of what it means for EAP courses and practitioners.

 

 

An ongoing EAP Discussion at Teaching EAP this week

 

This week’s ongoing EAP discussion has been around a post written by Andy Gillet entitled EAP and publishers: the danger of teaching EAP for no obvious reason.  This has centered around the production of EAP coursebooks by large publishers and whether they were relevant to the needs of EAP.  Many comments were and are still being left on this topic.  Such discussions have included:

 

  • how much the coursebooks cover the actual needs of teachers
  • how to approach material development through a corpus approach
  • the possibilities of  open source wikis as a possible avenue for material exchange
  • what people have learnt from coursebooks
  • where coursebooks fall short

Any has just posted an open invitation to comment further on the following:

 

It’s interesting that many people say they have learned from course books. I’d be interested to know what people have learned from coursebooks. I’d also be particularly interested in what people have not been able to learn because it’s not in the coursebooks.

So if you are interested go over and join the conversation.

 

#EAPCHAT & TPACK

 

One of the biggest chat on #EAPCHAT was the TPACK model for technology use in our learning environments.  Adam Simpson brought  this to the table last week and it sparked a lot of interest.  For an explanation of the TPACK model visit Adam Simpsons’ blog on Teach them English for The #TPaCK model: An Introduction.  This post also received interesting comments.  For a practical application of TPaCK in an EAP environment visit, Ssh It’s a Secret.  Secret Facebook groups in the English Language Classroom.  This post also has the original TPaCK article.

 

EAP: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

 

For those considering a long term career in EAP, it might be worth investigating the MA Teaching English for Academic Purposes from the university of Nottingham.  The advantage of this MA is that it is a distance learning course.  For more information click here


 

 

 

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The Power of the Visual Sphere

 

Doodling has never been the nemesis of intellectual thought, it has been its greatest ally

Sunni Brown

 

Doodling, drawing, colouring in the classroom,  until what age is it acceptable? Just as Sunni Brown points to the intellectual nature of doodling, how receptive are we to it in our learning environments?

 

You can usually spot the doodlers, the colourers, the drawers.  They have hard core pencil cases, with an array of upto date pens, of varied labels and thicknesses in an impressive array of colours.  They usually also have an equally carefully chosen armament of stationary and post-it-notes.  That alone says to me that these learners have come to the classroom prepared to unleash their visual, kinesthetic learning style on the their work, to splash it with colour, to draw meaningful images and push that knowledge into their memory.   However, sadly, unless it’s a poster day or vocabulary notebook time they might not unleash their true potential into their learning.

 

There are a few students I guarantee are waiting for permission to get those pens out in public, but they are slightly afraid.  You see as Sunni Brown points out, doodling, drawing and colouring are seen as something that belongs to the child, to primary school, even early teens but particularly at 16 or in the university years study, text becomes colourless.  Examinations encourage the grey leaded pencil and the classroom recedes into endless streams of text to be compiled in linear bullet pointed notes in monotone black and blue.  This is fine if your brain works that way but what if you need the colour.  What if this how your brain works?  How can you help learners with this need to work within an increasingly formal environment?

 

1-Spot the learners in question:

a-The pens, the doodles will be the first indication

b-A loss of interest at long dense text Read more

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IELTS TASK 1-Tackling the organization of multiple graphs

Writing academically at the best of times requires, concentration, language command and control.  Add on top of this multiple graphs that learners need to compare and dealing with numeracy in a foreign language, many learners find themselves dazed and confused.  This can also lead to looking for a short cut or a writing frame that can be memorized for the exam.

 

However by doing this learners can limit their written flexibility.  They try to control the graph instead of letting the graph lead them to create an organized and coherent piece of writing.  With a few simple steps learners can methodically approach the graphs in question and develop a writing plan.

Analysing a Graph-Flow Chart

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Teaching Teen ELT: the boundaries question

Quite a substantial part of my career involved teaching English (as a Foreign/Second language) to 11-17 year olds.  Sometimes this involved being an assistant kind of teacher, who they went to for language once a week, but the majority of the time it involved being their full main class language teacher and or their class tutor.  I had these experiences not only in my own country but also abroad and saw many ways of exploring the maintaining the boundaries question within the classroom.

 

Let’s face it, in this age group the learners want to know what the boundaries are and they are going to push the boundaries to see where the limits are.  This comes with the territory of being a teen and with working with teens.  This also becomes more intense if you are the foreigner without the native language or the automatic respect that might come with a title such as ‘sensai’ in Japanese or ‘hocam’ in Turkish.  Apart from the school’s inbuilt disciplinary procedures, how can you tackle this situation and create a conducive learning environment where our students respect the boundaries?

 

The art of conversation:

 

 

Although I don’t agree with the military discipline that I have seen in some countries where I taught for this age group, there is one very valuable lesson I learnt through being friends with the discipline head at the Japanese junior high school I worked at.  We did not always see eye to eye on his approach but the one thing I really learnt was that when learners are pushing boundaries or creating behavioral issues in the classroom, to affect long term behavioral changes conversation and dialogue are key.  He might have had an ongoing conversation with the same student for months and in one case three years!!!.  However, those conversations brought about change.  Here are some ways to use conversation effectively:

 

A:Take time to find the reason for certain students behaviour

 

 

These conversations were not disciplinary talks about what the learner should or shouldn’t do but were to explore why the learner was doing it.  What was the background story?  I have used this again and again in my own teaching experiences with teens.  Usually a teenager is disruptive in a lesson because they want attention and usually there is a background story to the attention need.  I once was the tutor of a form class.  One of my learners on a daily basis either hit someone, insulted someone, got himself thrown out of the class in another teachers’ lesson, would call someone names or on certain days would arrive into the lesson late, with the most outrageous outfits, creating so much noise that the whole class lost its concentration to work.  There were clear boundaries in the classroom about behaviour but this alone would not work in this case.  Everyday for about 30 minutes I would sit down with this student and chat about why all of these things were happening.  After a month of the why conversation it turned out that his homelife was so troubled that school was the only place where he was seen and the only way he knew how to get attention was by being aggressive.  We were then able to get to the root of the problem and look at other ways to feel good without getting into trouble.  ı also made sure ı really praised his changes in behaviour even if it was minor as these were big steps for him.  When we said out goodbyes at the end of the year, he thanked me because no one had ever asked him why or taken the time to talk with him about what was going on in his life.  He told me, “you are the first teacher who has not seen me as trouble but as a human being”.  The dialogue approach really worked.  A learner is not their label.  They are a person.

 

B: Decide on a learning contract together

 

Teenagers appreciate being included in the learning rules.  I usually at the start of the year make a joint learning contract with my classes about class conduct, homework etc.  This is a negotiated process between all of us in the learning environment.  Each learner is given a copy of our agreement and if someone breaks the contract they usually accept that they are across the boundary and change their behavior

 

C: The intervention presentation (works in my experience from 14/15+ onwards)

 

Despite all of our best endeavours their are times when the the learning environment is less than conducive and the class becomes so disrupted that intervention is needed.  I usually prepare a presentation about my concerns about the learning environment on a power point.   I will then go into the classroom and explain that I have noticed that there are a few problems, that I am not angry and that I want to discuss these issues with them.  I also make it clear that  they will also have time to express their concerns and then to comeback and discuss all together.  I give the presentation and then I say to them that I am going to leave for 30 minutes.  I appoint a class chair and someone to type on the power point with structured headings and ask them to write down their feelings, opinions and problems and also solutions to the problems.  After 30 minutes I come back and then we discuss until we can iron out the problems.  These talks are very revealing, with learners speaking honestly and openly about issues.   We are also usually able to find solutions so that the learning can continue.

 

Talking, negotiation and solution finding also give learners important lessons that they will need throughout life.  Often teenagers like and enjoy raising to the challenge of taking control of their lives at a time when they are searching and striving for their own identity and independence.

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Edublog Award Nominations 2012

 

 

This is the first time I have ever actively submitted nominations to the Edublog Award.   With the new 2012 EDUBLOG AWARD Nominations now open, I wanted to give a big thank you and give back to the people who I have read and been inspired by most this year.  So here goes:

 

Most Influential Post:  Tyson Seburn: Academic Reading Circles

This is by far and hands down my most visited post of the year and has guided me through my teaching of academic reading and gave me the courage and a way to break out of a limited model that was not working in my classroom.

 

Best ed tech / resource sharing blog:Joe Pereira IF only: Interactive Fiction and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL/TESOL)

Through Joe Pereira opening my eyes about interactive fiction and the effects on my students, I started experimenting with IF.  This blog is packed full of lesson plans based around the electronic game genre of Interactive fiction.

 

Best Teacher Blog: Adam Simpson: Year in the life of an English teacher

Adam Simpson follows through the highs and lows of teaching as well as giving all round excellent resources and posts on the reality of teaching.

 

Best Educational Use of Social Media: Teaching English British Council’s facebook page

I have watched this page grow from the beginning.  It is versitile, responsive to its followers and extensive, covering and supporting teachers and teaching in all aspects of ELT.

 

Best Individual Blog: Jeremy Harmer’s Blog

Although from one of the big names in ELT, this blog encourages open discussion and Jeremy’s human approach and honesty draw me back again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Neuroscience, ELT and the MIT Robotics Connection

All three of the entities mentioned in the title above have an interesting connection.  You might be thinking how on earth could Neuroscientific discoveries, ELT and MIT Robotoics (artifical intelligence department) have any kind of connection.  MIT scientists trying to push robotics processing power to the complex abilities of  humans have discovered that the main and vital ingredient is understanding human emotions.  They hold the key.  Brain scans and studies written in the neuroscience field have also confirmed that inorder for more complex processing to occur the emotions are an essential ingredient.  If the emotions are out of balance they can actually hinder complex processes needed to learn.  Which brings us to the ELT part of the equation.  Deep learning it seems cannot take place unless the emotions are operating to open learning.   This actually is one of the clearest transportable findings from neuroscientific studies for us as teachers.

 

At this point I want to ask you to take a pause and think about your ELT classroom experiences.  I also want you to reflect on the situations in your classrooms where learners have been emotionally blocked.  Here is a quick list of some of the learner behaviours that might suggest there is an emotional block to learning:

 

  • the learner disrupts the class
  • the learner does not engage in the lesson (looks out the window, does not bring the material needed, does not seem to do anything)
  • excessive sleep
  • aggression
  • boredom

I am sure there are more behaviours that could be added to the list.  The next questions are slightly more tricky.  How much do you take into consideration the possible emotional blocks when planning the lesson?  How do you react to these situations?  Some negative reactions might be:

  • I am not a psychologist, this is a classroom.
  • I know it’s not interesting but we have to do it.
  • Either work or get out
  • Relief that the student in question has not come to the lesson
  • anger
  • frustration
  • accusation (i.e: The learner is lazy)

Kathleen Graves in her conference plenary at Bilkent University this year spoke about how teaching tradionally has focused on scaffolding content and skills needed in the learning environment but that it is becoming clear that affective scaffolding of learners is also equally important.  From my own experience, addressing emotional needs head on actually enables learners to overcome their learning obstacles and put themselves in the direct driving seat of their own learning.  The transformation can be profound.  So how can we go about doing this effectively in our own classrooms?

1-The getting to know you tutorial

Within the first couple of lessons of any new course make sure there is a getting to know you tutorial and casually asks the students how things are going?  Some learners quite openly will tell you if they are uncomfortable about study or even life.

2-Noticing quickly and checking in

We are in a unique position as teachers where we can understand quite quickly our learners needs or obstacles because we are in quite frequent contact.  If you notice that a learner does not seem themselves, privately ask them if they are ok.  I usually grab them in a breaktime and privately chat to them outside the classroom, just once again asking them how they are.  If they have shared something with me, the next time I see them I will just check in with them to see how they are.  Just knowing that they can talk about study, life etc. can relieve the emotional block.

 

3-Know where you can be helpful and where you need outside help

If your learner is facing a really difficult private problem it is important to refer them to a professional psycologist when needed.  If you have one in your establishment make sure that you ask the learners’ permission before making an appointment for them or before emailing the psychologist.  The learner should be included in all the written correspondance.

 

4-Patience and talking

Rome was not built in a day and emotional obstacles usually take some time.  Some emotional issues around study etc. do not disappear after one conversation.  I have found that being open to talk about the same issue again and again, with the learner, helps them to process how they feel.

 

5-Keep calm

We have all lost it at one time or another in the classroom due to various reasons.  If you feel the behaviour is becoming challenging, breathe, count to 10 and then address the situation with the student outside of the lesson.  This does not have to be on the same day if you are agitated by the behaviour.  Calm yourself first and remember to use the ‘I’ language.  For example:  I feel that you were not comfortable in the lesson last week, I was wondering if everything is ok’. This is much better than ‘you continually keep disrupting the lesson, why is that?’.

 

Just those five small steps have really helped change the learning environments I have been working in.  If we ignore the fact that learners need a place to explore emotional challenges in the learning environment we are not really addressing a person’s whole learning needs.  However, if we include and acknowlege the central role of emotions in learning and have affective strategies to help them remove these barriers, the learning flourishes and the learner is able to reach their full potential.

 

For more neuroscience related posts have a look at: Bloom’s Taxonomy, Neuroscience and ELT

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The White Elephant in the Room: Extensive Reading in ELT/EAP

Thanks @UEfAP for sharing this with me.

 

 

In order to process effectively, read fluently in an L2/L3 and not use up cruicial real time online working memory research seems to indicate that you need to recognise and know 95-98% of the words alone in a reading text (Koda, K 1997).  You also need other automation features such as automated syntatic parsing, orthographic, semantic, and phonologicial decoding.  All of these need to be automated.

 

 

Renowned researchers in the field, Grabe, Stoller, Johns, Nation, Koda, the list is endless, line up in favor of extensive reading in the curriculum and in the classroom.  We all know this, but frequently due to restraints such as time pressure, learner resistance to reading, the long term commitment and lack of testability means that while extensive reading is acknowledged as important it is often sidelined or seen as the element of reading instruction that can be left for home and checked for homework.  In the classroom reading activities might focus on strategies, critical discussion of reading texts, analysis of language or various comprehension activities.  How effective are these activities in bringing about the kind of automation needed?  One of my favourite quotes on classroom reading and vocabulary acquisition comes from Nagy, Herman and Anderson (1985: p.252) who were researching vocabulary learnt in context.  Here were the conclusions from their results:

 

Our results strongly suggest that a most effective way to produce large-scale vocabulary growth is through and activity that is all too often interrupted in the process of reading instruction: Reading.

 

Every time I read it I weigh up its simple truth.  Our classrooms are not exactly conducive to learners being able to focus and actually read.  We set time limits and the physical environment of the classroom is not usually enticing to settle down for a good read.  How many of us when reading an article, enjoy sitting at a desk under time pressure?  Some of us will but others won’t.

 

However, by relegating extensive reading only to the homework environment might actually be doing our learners a disservice. Over the course of sixteen years, various needs analysis, interviews, off the record conversations with learners perhaps our assumption that they know how to read extensively is misplaced.  My own work environment is set in an cultural environment where the majority of learners never went to the library or grew up in a print culture or where there is a greater emphasis on oral culture.  Reading from early childhood is still seen by some as the job of the school and there are still many people who cannot read.  The learners I have come across have some of the following dilemas:

 

1-They don’t know where to begin.  The majority of learners I have met have a desire to read, they just can’t find their way in.

2-They feel anxious and confused by library referencing systems (despite sevral orientations) and panicked by the level of quiet in the library building itself that they want to leave.  One learner told me that if the library was like a popular bookshop he would actually pick up the books.

3-They are demotivated by graded readers.  My learners are 18+ and to them using a graded reader, even though they know it might help, does not feel authentic.

4-They don’t know where they like to read, or how to experiment to find that place.

5-Some learners hate reading or do not really read extensively in their own language.  They have a large affective obstacle to reading.

 

Faced with the importance of extensive reading, I have been experimenting with extensive reading in and out of the classroom that goes beyond setting up a library system, or a homework only approach but combines extensive reading in classroom time as well as outside.  The outside suggestions actually came from a working group of learners who wanted to explore this problem for themselves and to help their peers become motivated to read.

 

Some Classroom Solutions:

 

a-Entice the learners by laying the ground work:  

i-For the first two/three weeks of class, every morning I dump my bags on the desk before class, leave the books I have been reading on the way to work, and say I need to go to my office.  When I come back, the learners are usually flicking through the books.  I also leave ones in Turkish as I am about their level.  Then they start asking me strategy questions such as, how much can I understand?, How much do I look up in a dictionary?, Is it enjoyable?, Is it possible for them in English?  This often becomes a discussion among themselves and over a couple of weeks they ask more and more questions.

 

This main aim of this technique then allows me to indirectly plant the idea that reading in a foreign language is not only possible but that it might be interesting and enjoyable.  Sometimes, I might even begin the lesson by asking about cultural references or a word I was reading and they teach me something that I didn’t know etc.  Usually, one learner in the class raises the question of whether I think it’s possible for them, and then they ask me to recommend a book.  I read alot so I usually ask them what they are interested in and then lend them one.  This also then gets the other learners curious.  This sometimes has a snowball effect where other learners come to get books or ask for them.

 

b-Change the classroom environment: I usually begin on the regular textbook readings just to get them used to a different environment)

 

There are several possibilities I use when we do any kind of reading:

 

i) Let the leanrers sit in the classroom as they want to.  When we do any kind  reading I have learners sat on the windowsills, the floors, the desk.  They can put their feet up, listen to music through headphones etc.  I do not mind how they do it as long as they are reading.

 

ii) Let them go outside of the classroom to read in classtime:  One of the biggest problems I have found is that learners do not really know where they like to read.  My learners sometimes have long academic texts that they need to focus on and read.  I will actually give them 50-60 minutes in classtime to go out and read.  Here are some of the places they go to:

 

a-the coffeeshop

b-their dormroom (we are on campus)

c- the grass

d-sat on a wall outside

e-in the corridor

f-in the seated break area

g-in their car

h-by the lake

i-2/3 leaners stay in the classroom

 

When I talk about this with fellow teachers they are worried that they might not read but take time out.  Usually this doesn’t happen.  The learners arrive back having read and ready to discuss or to ask questions.  This is one of the most effective strategies I have used to increase reading exposure and uniterrupted interaction with text.

 

c-A structured approach to extensive reading:

 

Once we have dealt with their motivation, created a belief that it might be possible to read in a foreign language and identifying where ro read, I slowly introduce an extensive reading programme. Here are a few pointers:

 

Explaining the importance to learners: It is really important that you discuss why extensive reading is crucial to becoming an effective reader.  I actually tell them what research has found and how it is an essential part of learning.  I also link it to tangible outcomes or problem areas tht theyhave been experiencing.  For example a student might say to me, ’I memorised the word, but couldn’t retrieve it fast enough’.  I then explain the scientific basis for this and how extensive reading can help fix it.

 

Reading Material Choice: I do not mind what the learners are reading.  For this to work they have to have choice and more importantly interest in what they are reading.  I begin with short extensive reading sessions in classroom time, and try to lengthen these to an hour throughout the term.  The reason we begin with short bursts is so learners do not panic.  For some learners who are not used to doing this in their L1 this can be a very daunting first step.  I will also accept the material in any medium.  It can be a book, a magazine, a newspaper, the back of a packet!!! It can be electronic or in paper form.  The most important thing is that they read.  They have had some interesting choices that sometimes surprised me:

 

1-Ayn Rand-Philosophy

2-Wiki Business

3-The New York Times

4-New Scientist

5-The History of Heavy Metal Music

6-Vogue

7-John Grisham

8-The Twilight Series

9-A brief History of Time

 

Once they have started reading, sometimes, they need to rethink the choice as it is too difficult.  I know that this might happen but for learners to discover this themselves and then realise this through experience means they are more receptive to looking at how to make more infomed choices abour reading materials for their own level.

 

Various Reflection Activities based on Reading:

 

Learners try out the reading for about a week.  They then feedback to me about their reading.  All I ask them to feedback on is this one request: Tell me how it is for you when you read in English.  There are various ways that they can feedback:

 

a-write a reflection, but I ask for it like an informal letter as many of them stress out about their writing

b-a chat in my office

c-A comment in our facebook group

d-A facebook message

e-via video

 

Based on what they say, I then can encourage them to keep reading, identify emotional blocks to reading or frustrations.  One of the most common responses is ‘I am bored’.  Do not be discouraged by this answer.  I have often found that when you ask them about boredom there are important reasons beneath it, such as not being able to follow the story line, or vocabulary overload.

 

This exercise continues over the term. I also keep following it up with them.

 

Other activities:

 

1-Presenting the Book Back To the Class: Depending on the group and how they feel I might ask them to present something to the class about the book.  This could be a written, spoken review on our Facebook group wall, turning a part of the book into a graphic book, a prezi presentation.  However, I do not always do this as I do not want to decrease motivation by turning this into some type of assessed performance componenet.  There are other types of reading activities on our courses that are assessed or product oriented.

 

2-As part of classroom fillers: If learners start to lose concentration on an activity in the classroom or they finish early on an activity, I get them to read.  Sometimes it might be their own material, sometimes I have added 2-3 options to the facebook wall for them to take a look for 5-10 minutes.  This also increases positive feelings towards reading.  I try to chose for interest because then they will stick with it.

 

Some Outside Solutions From the Learners:

 

1-Have a more reader friendly environment in the Library:  We often have quiet areas with formal seating but what the learners pointed out that if their was a noisy area where they could sit on the floor or a couch they might read more.

 

2-Stealth: For a long time I have been collecting literacy projects used in communities around the world.  The learners have come up with several ideas on this front:

 

a-A Book crossing style system for the campus: Books or QRC barcodes mysteriously appear all over the campus.  Learners are able to pick up a book randomly, read it and then drop it again randomly on the campus.  The book has a code which links to a website and then the book can be tracked. The website also catalogues books that are available for pick up in the area.  Book Crossing is also active in most major cities around the world, so you even get the learners book hunting.

 

b-A randon book dropping point around the campus.  People leave books and pick them up.

 

c-Facebook groups and lists: Learners are doing this already in Turkish on our university campus. Using the same style book list systems for adertising books could also be effective.

 

Conclusions:

 

Interestingly when extensive reading is active in and out of the classroom learners reading becomes more fluent.  Leaving it out of our learning environments we are actually signalling to our learners that it is optional when it really is not.  Currently writing the curriculum objectives for reading, I am experimenting with how to make this focus on extensive reading a written part of the curriculum document so that it is not overlooked.  With workshops, discussion and training plus a concrete approach, perhaps extensive reading will filter into the classroom and be given its righful place.  Will this work?  I don’t know.  What could the objectives look like?  That is still being worked on.  Any ideas would be gratefully received.  All I  know is that it’s definately worth trying to make the reading classroom more about reading than ongoing interruption.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Grabe, W. & Stoller, F.L. (2002): Teaching and Researching Reading. Great Britain: Pearson Education

pg170-171 has some examples of action research to investigate extensive reading in your institution

Koda, K. (1996): L2 word recognition research: A critical review. A Modern Language Journal, 80:450-60.

Nagy, W., Herman, P.  and Anderson, R.C. (1985): Learning words from Contexts.  Reading Research Quarterly, 20: 233-53

 

For more articles and ideas on reading please visit The Reading Space section of Sharonzspace.

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