#AusELT chat summary: Improving students’ speaking confidence (22 Nov 2012)

MR900437803Hello, @sophiakhan4 here. This chat took place on 22 Nov 2012. It was great fun, fast-moving and we were pleased to welcome a lot of new participants. It was also my first time moderating and it was a blast! I love Twitter chats because the willingness to share ideas and the flow of collective knowledge and experience from the participants is just amazing.

We launched straight in to the chat with:

WHAT CONSTITUTES SPEAKING CONFIDENCE?

Inevitably this proved a knotty concept to unpack, mingling aspects of technical skills with the complex interaction between personality, environment and experiences. The main issues we managed to unpack in this chat are as follows:

  • Fluency and accuracy: a balancing act?

@sophiakhan4 accepted that fluency was definitely a crucial factor, but added that it was “interesting that fluency doesn’t always mean accuracy – or even comprehensibility??” She suggested that it might be a bit of a balancing act according to level: “Lower levs need more confidence, higher levs need less & more accuracy?”

  • The power of personality

@michaelegriffin and @shaunwilden wondered “how much of it is is really based on level (and not personality)”. @trylingual agreed: “I think we underestimate the power of personality. Introverts must be judged harshly by others.”

  • Passion is the key

@michaelegriffin told a story of “a (sometimes ‘shy’) Chinese student that put on a show today when topic was economics”, which raised the idea that interest or passion is the key to confident speaking. @trylingual put it succinctly: “Every st has a passion. Find it and use it as leverage.” @eslkazzb was fresh off an adapted ‘pecha kucha’ lesson with elementary and pre-intermediate learners, on the topic of “5 things I love doing”. She felt tapping into the learners’ passions had helped make it a great success: “All did it & all felt more confident at end . . . [I had] 2 really shy ss. I was very proud as they spoke about their passions & other ss asked Qs . . . It was authentic as ss were genuinely passionate & others ss interested.”

  • Improvement: achieving your ‘impossible’

@thesmylers brought us back to the idea that “confidence comes from seeing yourself improve in different ways.” @trylingual elaborated on this key concept: “Confidence can come from saying/dealing with things you thought you couldn’t. Achieving your impossible.” @sophiakhan4 felt the same, and expressed a dislike of how “level” is sometimes allowed to dictate what students do with language: “Confidence comes fromachieving yr aims”.

  • Goal-setting and self-evaluation

From here, @leampri started a useful thread on goal-setting so “[students] can see where they are improving”. @trylingual asked if this meant personal or class goals, and @shaunwilden added that “sts dont necessarily see the point of the class goal”. @leampri felt both could work equally well, proposing that class goals can let students “help each other and become a community”. @trylingual suggested the further distinction of lesson/task goals, which students can be told in advance and then evaluate themselves against later. @shaunwilden agreed that self-evaluation is very important and suggested making sure there is a clear goal at the start as students often focus on the langauge, not whether they completed a task or not. @leampri suggested that showing lesson aims can sometimes heighten affective filters. She has had success in reviewing the textbook at the outset to pre-select goals, then allowing students to choose from these every day at the beginning of class, with the option to change after the break. @trylingual also proposed self-recording as an ideal self-evaluation tool – more on this later.

  • Having a ‘sympathetic’ listener

A brief discussion of our own experiences in speaking a second langauge brought other features to the forefront. @trylingual said, “In my L2 my confidence depends on context and who I am speaking to”. @sophiakhan4 agreed that having a ‘sympathetic’ listener makes a huge difference but saw this more as an issue on the part of the listeners rather than the speakers, feeling that listeners just need a bit of “awareness and experience” to adjust to the non-native speaker. @leampri said in her L2 she worried a lot about pronunciation and “sounding like a native”. @trylingual noted this as a common concern for students, but questioned how realistic it was. He added a personal observation that learners who can see past the native/non-native speaker dichotomy are usually more confident.

  • The comfort zone

Fear of the unknown was another confidence-killer pinpointed by @trylingual, who noted that when he bumped into his most confident students outside the comfort zone of the classroom – at the shops, for example – they were suddenly mysteriously tongue-tied. @Penultimate_K said she feared being judged when speaking in her L2. She felt this was clearly the same for our students: “The fear of speaking in the ‘real world’ can be terrifying for some.”

PRAISE OR CORRECTION?

We all felt praise wasvery important, and that there should not to be too much error-correction if speaking confidence was to be encouraged. We briefly dicussed the question of feedback language and whether general feedback (e.g. “Great speaking”) is sufficient, or if being more specific can help.  Although we didn’t develop this thread, it’s an interesting issue, and perhaps an idea for a future chat. We spent more time discussing attitudes to error correction. Several people noted that students may have unrealistic expectations and expect teachers to correct everything, with the result that “not enough correction” is a frequent complaint in evaluations. @shaunwilden said that a quick bout of actually correcting everything quickly changes students’ minds, and @leampri reminded us of the traffic light system where students choose the level of correction they receive on their own ‘traffic light’ (red=no correction, amber=some selective correction, green=correct everything). The teacher could also have a class light to indicate the level of correction for a particular activity, and explain why.

STRATEGIES FOR BUILDING STUDENTS’ SPEAKING CONFIDENCE

We discussed several general ways to help learners with lack of confidence, and also support them linguistically in order to set them up for success. Our top tips are here but note that they are in no particular order, you might use some strategies and not others at particular times (depending on the activity/context):

    • Topics – choose (or have students choose) topics they want to talk about
    • Aims – teachers should have realistic aims for what they hope students will achieve
    • Tasks – teachers should set achievable tasks for students
    • Scaffolding – provide some  pre-task input of useful language
    • Safety – for example, assure them that you will not be noting and correcting every error, but that you just want them to complete the task; small group or pair work often feels safer to students, etc.
    • Thinking time – invaluable to some students but often forgotten by teachers
    • Support – provide assistance as needed. Slowly withdraw assistance to gradually build up autonomy and confidence
    • Challenge – students only get that sense of real achievement when they have pushed the boundaries of their comfort zone, so don’t ignore activities that might challenge them. @trylingual referred to Krashen’s “pushed output” and @michaelegriffin to Swain’s view of comprehensible output. This post by Scott Thornbury might be a good start if you would like to know more on this.
    • Repetition – we tend to do tasks only once but being able to repeat the task with the benefit of experience, whether in the same lesson or in a later one, can be big confidence boost.
    • Improvement – ensure students have a sense of progress (e.g., of pushing boundaries, of being able to repeat a task and do it better,  etc.)

ACTIVITIES FOR BUILDING STUDENTS’ SPEAKING CONFIDENCE

@forstersensei reminded us of the important of classroom management techniques when running any activity. He suggested, for example, playing music when students are discussing and slowly  raising the volume to force them to speak louder –  and also using the music as a classroom management tool, i.e., when the music stops, students stop talking. So think about tips like this, the best ways to group learners and move them around, when and how to give feedback etc. Thanks to all  participants for sharing their favourite activities here:

  • Think-Pair-Share: no explanation needed :)
  • Don’t stop!: speaking to a time limit without stopping (can be done in pairs for safety)
  • Listen and draw: e.g., Student A recounts an anecdote, Student B draws a storyboard to go with it (puts the focus on the task rather than the speaking) .
  • Presentations: experiment with motivating formats, such as poster presentations prepared in groups. You could also try pecha kucha (20 slides with only 20 seconds per slide) or an adapted version of this, e.g., for elementary/low pre-int students you could try just 5 slides and let students can prepare and rehearse 3 sentences per slide.
  • “Speed-dating”:  students sit or stand in pairs. Set a time limit and a topic. Sound the buzzer and students start talking – when the buzzer goes again they move to a new partner. Repeat!
  • 3-2-1:  sometimes known as 4-3-2, this is similar to “speed dating” but students tell a story first in 3 minutes, then 2, then 1. Can build confidence as they are usually much quicker and more confident by the 3rd go.
  • 1-2-3: the opposite of 3-2-1 – students expand their ideas each time.
  • Drama and roleplay: a dress-up box can be surprisingly popular whatever the age of the students. It’s great fun enables them to take on a new persona easily. Give students a skit or radio play to prepare. They are very motivated to rehearse and really have to think about pronunciation, intonation and sounding natural. Often the more melodramatic, the better, and sound effects can be fun, especially if there are gunshots, slaps and screams.
  • Recording: This has obvious applications with some activities, such as drama/roleplay and presentations, but you can also make ita normal part of speaking tasks – it makes feedback a lot clearer and more specific, and makes improvement more visible. You can even build activities around it, for example: get students to record an interview of each other then pass the device onto the next pair who listen/take notes, and then report back.
  • Dictation activities: These are sometimes thought of as writing activities, but can be a) great fun and b) of great benefit for speaking. Try running dictation, dictagloss, pairwork dictatation, information gap dictation for starters.

TECH TOOLS FOR SPEAKING SKILLS

Thanks to all  participants for sharing their tech tips here. I’ve included their Twitter handles in case you need tips and added the product links – let me know if any are wrong.

And that wrapped up the chat this time. I’d strongly recommend following any of the great teachers who took part, and who, incidentally, come from range of coutries and teaching brackgrounds. If you have a look at the original transcript on Storify you can see who said what and click directly on people’s names to go to their Twitter profile – and follow them! By the way, don’t forget to join the #AusELT Twitter directory if you want to see who’s who in our community and get ideas for who can be part of your Personal Learning Network.

Thanks everyone!

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