Category Archives: Resources/activities

PARSNIPs: Controversial topics in the English language classroom

 

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Our April Twitter chat is happening on Sunday 2nd April at 8.30pm Sydney time – click here to see the time where you are – and don’t forget the clocks have gone back! Hope to see you there!

We have a controversial topic this month! Or is it? It’s true that publishers of global ELT coursebooks try to avoid certain issues that may cause offence, often summarised under the handy ‘parsnip’ acronym:

P          for Politics
A         for Alcohol
R          for Religion
S          for Sex
N          for Narcotics
I           for “isms” (eg communism, atheism…)
P          for Pork

But this is controversial in itself, with different teachers (and authors, and publishers) responding in quite polarised ways. You can read Scott Thornbury’s insightful overview of the issue here: https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/t-is-for-taboo/ and do have a look at the comments as well.

So what does #AusELT think about this? Here are some questions to get you thinking

  • Have any ‘taboo’ topics have come up in your classroom? By accident or design?
  • How did you/the students respond?
  • Are there issues we **should** be raising with our international cohorts in Au/NZ?
  • Are there any specifically Australian taboo topics?
  • Do you have any tips for how we can handle sensitive material in the classroom?

See below for some useful further reading and help with Twitter. Hope to e-see you on Sunday!

Further reading

#ELTchat have discussed this a couple of times if you need some ideas:

There have also been some useful published resources for teachers wishing to engage with controversial issues in the classroom:

  • Taboos & Issues by Richard MacAndrew & Ron Martinez
  • Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone (various).Vol.1 &Vol.2. These 2 free ebooks were crowd-sourced from the online ELT community including #AusELT regular Mike Smith as one of the authors!
  • 52 by Lindsay Clandfield & Luke Meddings, reviewed by Mike Griffin in the English Australia Journal here.

Not sure about Twitter?

Why not have a go? We can help you out. Get in touch with any of the AusELT admin team on Facebook or Twitter (eg, @sophiakhan4,  @heimuoshutaiwan or @Clare_M_ELT) or by leaving a comment below. Here are some posts that should also help you get started:

This post by @sophiakhan4

Using phonics in the adult learning context (#AusELT Twitter chat summary)

The last #AusELT Twitter chat of 2015 was on the topic of using phonics in the adult learning context.

With apologies for the long delay, you can now read the summary of what we discussed and pick up some great resources. Enjoy!

This post by @sophiakhan4

5 Things to Remember when……..Covering a Class at the Last Minute

If you missed last month’s post, the first in this series, you can read our reflection on 5 things to remember when listening to your colleagues complain right here. This month, we turn to that dreaded moment….the one that happens to the all of us:
It’s 8:55, you’re nervously watching the clock thinking I’m almost there….five more minutes and my morning will be free (and I can finally get around to culling all those friends of mine on Facebook)….and in walks your DOS, silently, slinking in the morning shadows cast by shelves and shelves of dusty copies of Practical English Usage. She clears her throat and nervously taps you on the shoulder, your index finger quivering with excitement over the left mouse button as you feel time ticking down with a certain sense of cruel, twisted fate….happy Monday!!!

1) Stop, don’t retaliate and listen!

Cover happens to everyone – we’ve all had to do it, or better yet, drop someone in it at some point as a result of a bad oyster, broken leg, bike accident or torn skirt.  There is certainly something to be said for the reciprocal, karmic nature of the way teachers handle their contractual obligations in relation to covering classes….and if nothing else, we really need to remember that one day it will be you calling in sick and in need of help.
Talking about cover to some friends the other day, we noted that the stress teachers typically feel in response to the proverbial tap on the shoulder and nervous smile from the DOS is inversely proportional to the amount of time remaining before you need to walk into the classroom; When you’re asked to cover with two weeks’ notice most teachers barely notice, but when that tap on the shoulder comes at five minutes to the hour, there are some of us who need to change their socks, others of us who manage to fit a surprising number of cigarettes into the morning, and others of us whose profane vocabulary comes into its own.
That being said, we also feel that once the clock ticks past the hour, the students are settled, and pleasantries have been exchanged, things becomes eerily familiar (unless of course you happen to be covering for a teacher who did all the cutting a prep for you….and then you realise that they’ve cut up the materials for the wrong class……….which has NEVER happened to us or anyone we know…..ever….).
So, when the tap comes, and it will come at some point, is there really any purpose in complaining, doing your best Napoleon Dynamite impression or burning your way through a pack of cigarettes?  Stop, don’t retaliate, and get the basic information you need: When is the class? What room is it in? Which book are they using? Is there a plan or any notes? Do you have time for a quick visit to the loo? (Hey, there are some luxuries even the most pressed teachers need….) Is there someone around who can help you for five minutes to quickly do some printing and cutting up or bring it to you in ten minutes? Are your shoes done up, your pants on the right way and this morning’s spinach omelet safely removed from between your teeth?
Remember, even if there is a serial offender in your office, be frustrated with them – don’t take it out on the messenger, or the students.  A smile goes a long, long way.

2) Taking opportunities to develop – earning your stripes

There is a a lot to be said for aiming to be the most professional teacher you can be – especially in an industry that isn’t necessarily internationally associated with fiercely competitive entry requirements and performance review standards.  The TEFL world grew largely from the spread of John Haycraft’s CELTA-style short courses which championed the reality of teachers learning and developing practical skills in front of students, and figuring out what seems right, intuitively, in from moment to moment, and from class to class.
There is arguably no better way than to get back to this fundamental alignment of variables (I mean, really, have you ever been as nervous, or felt under as much pressure in front of a class as on your first observed lesson on your pre-service course?) than being put in front of a class at the last minute, and seeing what happens.
In fact many would argue that this is teaching in its purest form – when you have no security blanket of a lesson plan, there is no choice but to listen to your students and respond to them – and some of our best lessons and most insightful moments have come from those moments when we felt under the most pressure.
So, business needs aside, we would argue that the issue of cover, and its associated stresses are not only important and something everyone needs to share, but an essential part of continuing professional development.  Teaching, as an art form, is centred around the notion of teachers thinking on their feet and responding, from moment to moment in the classroom.  Our industry was founded on this belief, and what better way to earn your stripes than by spending more time on the front line, at the chalkface, in the spotlight…hmm, out of metaphors…

3) What really matters?

There are two types of teachers – those who fill in their registers, and those who don’t.  If you’re lucky enough to cover a teacher from the first of these two groups, well done.  If not, and frustrating as it may seem in the moment, you will probably gain significant perspective on life’s important things as a direct result of covering a teacher from the second of these two groups.
At the end of the day, your shoulder-tapping DOS simply needs a teacher in front of the class – that is the ultimate reason they have asked you to help out.  If there is no plan, and no reference to the last page they’ve covered, and you’ve still got 250 friends to cull from your list of Facebook friends…..chin up.  Given the other benefits, most of which will have a direct positive result on your professional development (and not necessarily on your sweat glands) life at this very moment could certainly be a lot worse.
So what really matters? Only that you remember to stay positive, keep a smile (even it it’s a slight grimace) on your face, and a professional attitude the moment you step into the classroom.

4) Contingency plans

Not wanting to sound like your mother-cum-CELTA trainer-cum-director (and what a complicated relationship that would be…) teachers really need to be ready.  We know everyone always says you need to have something ready for fast finishers, and we all pretend that we do, but having a reserve of flexible, portable, instant lessons really can make the difference between a one-cheeky-cigarette-kinda-day, and a 2-pairs-of-undies-kinda-day.
We’d like to share some of our all-time greatest last minute lessons, for your reading (and teaching) pleasure (can you spot the odd one out?). Keep in mind, these are not necessarily our lessons, but lessons we know work most of the time, with most ages, levels and abilities.  Credit for these ideas and references are listed below.
a) Guess what’s inside my head
If you’ve never done this with a class, you’ve never lived.
Teacher: Can you guess what I’m thinking of?
Students: Is it a carrot?
Teacher: No! Guess again!
Students: Is it a chameleon?
Teacher: No! Guess again!
Students: Is it the eternal struggle of ethnic minorities in former British colonies who have since gained independence from the oppression of White colonial expansion?
Teacher: Very close, keep guessing!
Thanks to Claire Steele for this one!
b) Dialogue Building
A very flexible lesson, with minimal preparation needed that features loads of repetition, writing practice and a role play.  We got this one from Scott Thornbury’s article on OneStopEnglish here.
c) Sentence Relays

Just when you thought running dictations couldn’t get any better…..Students line up in groups facing the board.  The teacher reads a sentence clearly twice for students to memorise. When you say GO! students race to the board to write the sentence, one word per student at a time, in a relay.  If you have 4 or 5 sentences ready to go, the students then write down all of the sentences they remember at the end of the activity.  This can then lead into question writing and speaking, a jazz chant, or if you’re feeling up for it, a cheeky game of guess what’s inside my head!

d) Dictaphone Stories

If there was one thing we learned from our DELTA, it was how to use a dictaphone in class.  And we mean, really use a dictaphone.  This lesson is actually adapted from Teaching Unplugged (Thornbury & Meddings), but you can find a short description here (Disclaimer: this is a link to James’ blog).  It is a speaking/listening and materials-light lesson that will challenge even the most annoying of students.

5) Enjoy the limelight

Collectively, we flog the catch phrase student-centred learning to death.  Should there be a time and a place for teacher-centred teaching?  Is it ok to be the centre of attention, add a sprinkling of funny remarks, those old favourite jokes (the ones that every class loves, even if you’ve been telling them for 20 years) and a little anecdote here and there?
Yes, of course it is, despite what your conscience might tell you.  There is a voice inside the heads of many teachers (not ours! not anymore!) that questions any move to take the spotlight, and any conscious decision to “play up a bit” in class.  Is it a CELTA remnant? No TTT! TTT is bad! Teachers talking in class ROB STUDENTS OF THEIR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS! Pish. While we use this phrase very cautiously, what we are really talking about is the immeasurable notion of teacher-student rapport.  This is arguably one of the strongest factors to influence student motivation, which in turn is the single biggest challenge to overcome for any teacher or student. So have a chat, tell a story, make them laugh, get them onside.
Students typically enjoy the novelty of a new face, a new voice, a new rhythm in class and this deserves to be indulged.  In reality, the students might appreciate their cover teacher all the more, simply from the novelty of having a change.  So, while that dreaded tap on the shoulder at 8:55 on Monday morning might fill you with a sense of endless and unrequited social media errands, you may very well be delighted and surprised to find yourself in the spotlight of an interested, curious and interactive group of students – and this really is what most of us live for.

* By James Pengelley and Jane Pyper (Hong Kong), purveyors of Australian wit and bathers tans.

The views expressed in this post are our own and not those of #AusELT as a whole, or of English Australia

#AusELT ‘slowburn’ chat summary on extensive reading (3rd April 2014)

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Many thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas) for this summary of our very first ‘slowburn’ on the topic of Extensive Reading. Read on for great tips, links and things to think about.

http://cioccas.blogspot.sg/2014/04/extensive-reading-summary-of-auselt-chat.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

 

 

 

#AusELT chat summary: Follow up to Scott Thornbury’s workshop – ‘Why are we still teaching the wrong grammar the wrong way?’ (7 November, 2013)

EAJ 28.2_CT_10 questions_Scott Thornbury IMAGEThe illustrious Scott Thornbury (ST) was recently in Australia presenting at the English Australia Conference in Perth as well as presenting workshops at other locations around Australia.  As Thornbury has quite a large fan base among the AusELT members-many of whom had the opportunity to attend the workshops and to meet the man himself, it’s no surprise that we voted to devote November’s Twitter chat to a discussion about Scott’s workshop and our musings about what works and doesn’t work in the classroom in terms of teaching grammar.

The chat was comprised of both members who attended the workshops and those who were not able to go. Although there was some recapping of Scott’s workshop, most of the participants already knew the gist and agreed with his views. The chat started out slowly, perhaps due Daylight’s Saving, noted by @sophiakhan4, but picked up in the last 30 minutes with quite a few ideas being shared.

@sophiakhan4, who attended Scott’s workshop, moderated the chat and structured it around the two main parts of his workshop.

What’s wrong with the way grammar is commonly taught/approached by textbooks today?

@sophiakhan4 drew on Scott Thornbury’s workshop to start the ball rolling, ‘ 12 tenses, 12 units in a CB?!? We make them do the same pre-selected stuff over & over.’

The group was in agreement with ST that the grammar taught in textbooks is too linear with grammar as the ultimate goal. Even though today’s textbooks contextualise the grammar, noted by @kathywa29798411, the texts are often artificial and controlled. ‘Nothing could challenge the “rule”‘ comments  @sophiakhan4, and @michaelegriffin notes that these rules are often ‘questionable.’ Even when the tasks are communicative, they revolve around the limited grammar selections.

@MeredithMacAul1 notes that the grammar taught in the texts is not what students need as they put equal emphasis on all the tenses, e.g., future perfect and past perfect.

Scott Thornbury also pointed out that grammar books ignore things like verb patterns and collocations.

A vicious cycle?

The group noted that perhaps students’ attitudes towards grammar and what it means to ‘know’ it are a reflection of the way it is taught.  @michaelegriffin points out that ‘grasping grammar’ often is equated to being able to ‘spout off,’ the rules, often of the tenses, but students are often not able to use structures in context. Many of us agreed that there is a lot of pressure from students to emphasise grammar in the classroom at the expense of other content.

What did ST suggest we think about? Supplementing or a whole new approach? @kathywa29798411

Scott Thornbury emphasised ‘demystifying’ the tenses, as @sophiakhan4  puts it, and a large portion of the Sydney workshop was spent doing this for teachers (See his slides from his workshop)

He also seemed to suggest a text-based approach with more authentic models.  @MeredithMacAul1 enjoyed the phrases he used, e.g., ‘Ninja grammar’ which involves awareness raising activities with language so that students don’t really realise they are ‘doing’ grammar. In other words, the students will never know it’s coming…

What grammar should we teach? How?

@ElkySmith succinctly pointed out ‘teach what is salient in the context, teach what Ss need to know really about it.’ The group agreed that that students should be exposed to the type of texts they want to produce, either spoken or written. For example, students in Academic English have different needs than those in a Business class.

@lukeealexander pointed out that students must be taught how text and context dictate grammar, which seemed to be one the underlying points made by ST.

It seems that most of those involved in the chat already teach this way, addressing the needs of the individual class or course. For example, @MeredithMacAul1 pointed out that in the EAP syllabus she teaches with, grammar is drawn from academic texts and this has been successful @cioccas agreed that at TAFE where she teaches, this is also done to some extent.

@sophiakhan4  notes that using authentic texts is desirable but could be difficult for newer, less experienced teachers. Students could also be reluctant to accept a different way learning grammar but @ElkySmith points out that students are willing to try new approaches from a teacher they respect.

@sophiakhan4  asked about the ‘invisible non-tense grammar,’ that ST mentioned. It was pointed out that this is tricky to teach especially in a short intense course but the members of this group seem to have tricks to addresses such points.

@SophiaKhan4 went back to ST’s workshop: ‘ST proposes lang learning is really about FEEDBACK (not T presentation). Sts need massive exposure + problematisation + use/feedback’

This prompted many ideas about what teachers do in their classroom along these lines, based on the language needs of the students and class.

How can we integrate these feedback/problematisation aspects into our teaching?

@cioccas says most of her grammar lesson this semester are based on her students’ errors.

@MeredithMacAul1 also uses a lot of error correction and workshopping of student writing to correct errors but also to identify what grammar students ‘need.’

@sophiakhan4 reiterated Scott’s point that we need to focus more on feedback, awareness-raising, and restructuring of sts’ ‘internal grammar’.

Ideas for feedback, restructuring and awareness-raising raised in the chat included:

  • Mini-grammar lessons based on what students need
  • Grammar auction
  • Text mining activities-making students aware of ‘small’ grammar and setting discovery tasks based on texts in class, e.g., Give a list of words in text and sts find surrounding word patterns. Sts match to meaning.
  • Make a cloze with a text students previously read
  • Sts make their own word ‘webs’ with corpora/collocation dictionary with words from the text & teach other sts  @lukeealexander
  • Ask students to highlight ‘grammar’ in peers’ writing-eg. pres simp, passive, complex sentence-Is it used correctly? @ MeredithMacAul1
  • Dictogloss or grammar dictation – good for providing feedback to groups or whole class, identify grammar which requires revision @cioccas
  • ST suggested learning thru song/putting common expressions to song=exposure/awareness-raising
  • ‘Grass skirt’ with error correction@MeredithMacAul1
  • ‘Error correction maze – sts turn left or right depending on whether they think a sentence is right or wrong. You can only get out if you identify the right sentences as right/wrong’ @SophiaKhan4

In summary, among the teachers in this chat, the best approach is an individualised one and one in which ‘emergent grammar,’ often takes precedence over what is planned. It is acknowledged that perhaps this comes with experience and would be difficult for newer teachers to carry out.

I’ll leave you with two quotes:

@cioccas ‘Most of what we’ve been chatting about comes down to working with whatever comes up with class – works for written & spoken.’

‘YES with what the students want/need to do with English and coming at it from that end, not our end.’@SophiaKhan4

In the last few minutes, two books were mentioned for follow-up. See references.

References

Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings available on e-book via http://www.amazon.co.uk/Teaching-Unplugged-Luke-Meddings/dp/1905085192, recommended by @ElkySmith

The English Verb: An exploration of Structure and Meaning by Michael Lewis: http://www.amazon.com/The-English-Verb-Exploration-Structure/dp/090671740X, recommended by@SophiaKhan4 and @kathywa29798411

Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals: http://moviesegmentstoassessgrammargoals.blogspot.com.au/ recommended by @cioccas

Slides from Scott Thornbury’s Workshop at the English Australia Conference  http://www.englishaustralia.com.au/visageimages/about_us/conference/2013_Conference/2013_Thornbury_PCW.pdf

Scott Thornbury’s official website: http://thornburyscott.com/  and Twitter handle @thornburyscott

Thanks everyone for an enjoyable chat!

This summary was written by Meredith MacAulay @MeredithMacAul1

“Well done Josh! +1 for teamwork!” Gamification and Crabs – a guest post by Paul Driver

A decorator crab covered in borrowed bling. (Photo by q.phia)

A decorator crab covered in borrowed bling. (Photo by q.phia)

“Well done Josh! +1 for teamwork!”

Gamification and Crabs

By Paul Driver

http://digitaldebris.info

Nobody seems to know what gamification is. I used to think it was a pretty straightforward case of appropriating certain elements associated with games and then applying them to systems that are not games. These typically include creating multiple levels (or levelling up in gaming jargon), adding points, leader boards, virtual badges and medals. The idea is that these things all work so well in games, so why not apply them to address real-world problems? Simple.

But as the popularity of the term has spread so its meaning has become similarly smeared. It is now often used to refer to anything from game-based learning, serious games and problem-based learning to company loyalty schemes and marketing gimmicks designed to increase “customer engagement” (in other words, spending).

While video games are increasingly being embraced as valid and practical learning tools, regardless of whether they were designed with that in mind, the practice of gamifiying education seems to have thrived on this ludic zeitgeist.

One prominent example, Class Dojo, which describes itself as “Behaviour Management Software”, claims that it can “improve behavior in class with just one click of a smartphone, laptop, or tablet” . It enables teachers to send instant customizable notifications such as “Well done Josh! +1 for teamwork!”. Apparently, Generation Y is particularly responsive to such positive reinforcement.

So why is it then that so many people who appear to know an awful lot about games are so vocal in dismissing gamification as, at best, an over-hyped and misguided fad, and, at worst, an evil and manipulative strategy for getting people to do things they normally wouldn’t want to? Ian Bogost, award-winning author, theorist and game designer, has described gamification as “exploitationware” and “bullshit”.

Other high-profile members of the gaming community like Jane McGonigal, world-renowned designer of alternate reality games and best-selling author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, has distanced herself from the concept. In a 2012 NYT article she states,

“I don’t think anybody should make games to try to motivate somebody to do something they don’t want to do. If the game is not about a goal you’re intrinsically motivated by, it won’t work.”

The problem is, many of gamification’s leading proponents often produce substantial amounts of evidence to support that it works. Student grades and behaviour have been shown to improve, absenteeism has demonstrably decreased. On the surface, rewarding learners with points and badges might sound like a very pragmatic and efficient way to get them to do what we want, but is this just a short term solution? What happens when the rewards are removed? What happens when the learner is already motivated to learn or complete a task? As McGraw (1978) notes,

“Incentives will have a detrimental effect on performance when two conditions are met: first, when the task is interesting enough for subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious.”

Personally, I find it hard to get past the awkwardly glued-on suffix “ify”, which implies that the characteristics borrowed from games are mere adornments, designed to deviate attention or disguise something that has fundamentally remained unchanged. I’m reminded of the decorator crab, an otherwise unremarkable crustacean that sticks sedentary plants and other colourful animals to its shell in order to conceal its presence.

Similarly, although gamification may be an efficient way to produce better-behaved students who perform better in standardised tests, is it also concealing more fundamental problems with the ways we educate people? Is it being used to dress up and disguise anachronistic systems of ideas of what school and learning should be? How might gamification be used instead to challenge the status quo? Also, are teachers qualified to design gamified systems? Is it ethical to haphazardly apply operant conditioning techniques and half-understood game mechanics?

Perhaps these are some of the questions we can discuss at the next #AusELT chat?

Further reading:

The #AusELT chat with Paul Driver is on Thursday October 3, 2013, 8:30pm AEST.

Gamification

Our next #AusELT chat (3/10/13 8:30pm AEST) is going to be on the topic of gamification. On behalf of the #AusELT community, I would like to thank in advance Paul Driver (@paul_driver) for joining us for a discussion of gamification. Even more generously, he has written a fascinating article on the topic to get people thinking about gamification and its implication for Australian ELT. I’ve posted this separately, but I’d like to provide a short introduction.

'Burning Pac-Man' by Patrick Hoelsy

‘Burning Pac-Man’ by Patrick Hoelsy

Gamification and Paul Driver

Gamification is fashionable. The term is gaining increased currency in Australian ELT. Like other such terms – the flipped classroom, mlearning, dogme, even communicative language teaching – it evokes responses ranging from excitement, through boredom, all the way to revulsion.  Like other fashions, it is often misrepresented and misunderstood; often the most prominent examples of it are also the worst – little more than simplistic and/or cynical attempts to capitalise on a temporary buzz.

I recently came across this bold claim from the website of a popular language learning app:

Learning, gamified.

Lose hearts with incorrect answers, practice against the clock, level up.

I tried the app (briefly, I admit) but found that the gamified aspect to it was much less motivating than the simple reward of applying my existing knowledge of French and learning something new.

At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘Dragon Collective Trilogy’, a ‘transmedia alternate reality game’ developed in part by the University of Melbourne’s Chinese Teacher Training Centre and Education Services Australia. In the game, students engage in a wide range of (learning) activities with the aim of ultimately defeating the ‘Doom of Not Knowing’.

Along similar lines is the inspiring work of Paul Driver. According to the bio on his Digital Debris website, he is “a language teacher, researcher, teacher trainer, graphic designer and illustrator working at a university in northern Portugal” who is engaged in “exploring the educational application of pervasive games, mobile technologies and locative storytelling for second language acquisition.”

Take some time to look at the Digital Debris pages dedicated to his pervasive game projects, Spywalk (for which he received an ELTon 2013 nomination) and Urban Chronicles. I’m sure you will quickly see how enviable a combination of skills Paul has acquired (teaching, researching and designing) and how this combination has allowed him to lead the way into thrilling new territory which highlights the hollowness of most ‘learning, gamified’ claims.

Please also join Paul and others for our chat, Thursday October 3, 8:30pm AEST. It is a great opportunity to find out more about Paul’s work.