Trascendiendo el salón de clase: aprendizajes de inglés dentro y fuera del aula de alumnos de Enseñanza Secundaria
Ponencia realizada en la Cátedra Alicia Goyena, Montevideo, Uruguay.
14 de noviembre de 2019.
Descarga la presentación.
Ponencia realizada en la Cátedra Alicia Goyena, Montevideo, Uruguay.
14 de noviembre de 2019.
Descarga la presentación.
This is a summary of my talk Students’ Voices about English Language Learning at School and beyond at the SouthernCone TESOL Conference in Curitiba, Brazil. July, 17 – 20, 2019
Questions and suggestions about the topic are greatly appreciated as well as feedback on the presentation itself.
Thanks for having joined me at the event!
Really interesting post about assertions in ELT we take for granted because of who claim them and how misinterpretation (conscious or not) of research findings shapes the ELT world.
In response to a tweet from David Cullen, here’s a summary of SLA research that I think needs to be taken more seriously by the ELT community.
From time to time one sees well known “experts” on ELT refer to SLA research. The standard message is that researchers work in labs, know nothing about real-world classroom practice and that most of their findings are either irrelevant or unreliable. A few trinkets from the general dross are trotted out as evidence of scholarship, including these:
Such accounts of the research are, I think, cynically frivolous, so, within the confines of a blog post, let’s take a slightly more serious look.
The empirical study of how people learn…
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The idea that EFL learners have limited amount of exposure to English may not be true anymore. If you teach in a context where internet access is limited or too expensive and you don’t have enough books, magazines, audios, films or other resources in English which cater to your students’ level and interests, then the answer may be: true. Otherwise, the answer is: False.
Ten years ago, I started to get interested in High school students whose high level of English could not be explained by the time they had been studying English either at school or with private tutors. I realized these students used English just for pleasure through activities they found interesting: listening to songs or reading whatever book in English they could get.
The world has changed a lot since then, now the accessibility to material and technological resources in English is much easier and cheaper. Two years ago I decided to research the topic for my master thesis (that will be available to be shared in a few months). You can see a poster with some data from my research at Research Gate.
One of the aims of my investigation was to analyse the uses of English outside of the school of 122 High School students (16-18 years old) in an EFL context (Uruguay) and these were the main results:
N/S: not specified
N/I: not identified
No private lessons: students who do not attend private English lessons outside of school.
The most common practice in English carried out by students beyond the classroom is watching films and series, followed by watching videos online.
Surprisingly, the students who get more involved in English-based activities autonomously do not attend English private lessons.
More girls than boys get involved in out-of-class activities in all modes except for online games.
Therefore, students are exposed to different types of English input outside of school, so teachers may take advantage of these affordances (Menezes, 2011) and integrate them into their classrooms. Below, you will see some ideas:
Whatever option you choose, remember to take into account your students’ interests, as it is this personal interest and the student’ s capacity for autonomy which make these affordances so powerful for language learning.
Also, try to encourage these kinds of engagement by valuing them, offering suggestions and helping less motivated students to try out new ways of being in contact with the English language.
Menezes V. (2011) Affordances for Language Learning Beyond the Classroom. In: Benson P., Reinders H. (eds) Beyond the Language Classroom. Palgrave Macmillan, London
If you are not a native English speaker, you’ll probably find your English being corrected more often than you’d want or need.
This is especially common in social networks where people feel free to give opinions without much consideration for others or the consequences that such opinions may have on other people’s lives. Online forums, Facebook groups and pages, even personal profiles can be the arenas for unsolicited corrections.
Don’t get me wrong. I know my English is not perfect and I still have a lot to learn, but believe me it won’t help that you correct me in public.
I don’t know if it is an occupational habit, but many ESL teachers are very prone to doing that. There are students who want to be constantly corrected, it is their way of learning, but for the rest of the mortals it is disrespectful.
Language is not a neutral medium of communication, it is a site for struggle where voices fight to be heard (Heller, 1987) and I fight with my bad English because I know you can understand me.
I write (or speak) to express my opinions, to share my knowledge and experience, to connect with other people, I don’t write to be exposed by the ‘deficiency’ of my language. I write because, in spite of not being a native speaker or a highly proficient English speaker, I have something to say.
Heller, M. (1987) The role of language in the formation of ethnic identity. In J. Phinney
and M. Rotheram (eds) Children’s Ethnic Socialization (pp. 180–200). Newbury Park,
Does it ring a bell? Sometimes you end up discovering that your efforts and hard work were not enough for your students. If you are a school teacher, you most probably get to know about the issue through your former students’ new teacher or, because your new students make the same complaint about their former teacher.
This may happen to school teachers or to teachers who work at language institutions, where students change teachers every year. For private tutors, the issue may arise when the students quit for no clear reason.
You feel disappointed and may even ask yourself, what’s the point? What happened to all the efforts you devoted to:
How come? Well, last year I researched how high school students learn English as an L2 beyond the class (not published yet) and one of the findings was that:
What most students need in order to learn is to have a demanding teacher.
Does it sound odd? Well, in fact, it is not a new idea. Vygotsky claimed a long time ago that to learn a person must go beyond his/her current level of knowledge/competency/proficiency. If a person is always in his/her ‘comfort zone’ (sort to speak), no learning is possible. Learning occurs when the person is ‘forced’ to go beyond what he/she already knows (Zone of Proximal Development); in any other case, he/she would be just practising with his/her previous learning.
In the field of SLA, Krashen uses the idea of comprehensible input to explain how learning takes place. Learners should be exposed to input which is a bit further from their current level of knowledge to learn.
Your students won’t probably tell you that they want you to be demanding because they feel comfortable doing what they already know, but you may try talking to your former students in an informal setting asking them for their feedback on your teaching.
Besides, as important as learning is that students feel they have learned so they will feel confident about using the L2 and motivated to learn more.
However, how can a student feel that he/she has learned if nothing new is presented to him/her? What is new may be different to different students, so checking their prior knowledge is essential to offer the right challenge for each learner.
If you teach large classes, what you expect from all the learners may be the starting point, then you can suggest more challenging activities or contents for more advanced students. Let them choose their own learning path offering additional resources as needed.
If you need more ideas, you can watch Jim Scrivener’s talk Demand High
Have you ever been through this experience? Share your thoughts with us!
It is no secret that a motivated person can achieve whatever goal he/she pursues, sometimes in spite of physical or environmental limitations. And it is no secret that every now and then, teachers face one or two students in a class whose interest in what is being learnt is absolutely zero. Unfortunately, sometimes it is a whole class which is totally uninterested in learning an L2.
Let’s start talking about motivation by defining it:
The motivated individual
‘is one who wants to achieve a particular goal, devotes considerable effort to achieve this goal, and experiences satisfaction in the activities associated with achieving this goal’ (Gardner and MacIntyre 1993, p. 2).
If we analyse the definition above, supposing the definition properly describes the complex phenomena of human motivation, what we have can be simplified as follows,
A motivated learner is one who:
If you come across a class where every student has the desire, puts the effort and experiences satisfaction in learning the L2, then you are in heaven! Or you are teaching adults who are clear about why they are in your class or young learners who will learn anything you teach provided it is by playing.
For the rest of the teachers, lack of students’ motivation is usually a day-to-day challenge. Motivation in L2 learning is a complex phenomenon which can be defined in terms of two factors: learners’ communicative needs and their attitudes towards the second language community.
If learners need to speak the second language in a wide range of social situations or to fulfil professional ambitions, they will perceive the communicative value of the second language and will, therefore, be motivated to acquire proficiency in it. Likewise, if learners have favourable attitudes towards the speakers of the language, they will desire more contact with them.
Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert (1972) coined the terms
Research has shown that these types of motivation are related to success in second language learning. On the other hand, we should keep in mind that an individual’s identity is closely linked with the way he or she speaks. It follows that when speaking a new language one is adopting some of the identity markers of another cultural group. Depending on the learner’s attitudes, learning a second language can be a source of enrichment or a source of resentment. If the speaker’s only reason for learning the second language is external pressure, internal motivation may be minimal and general attitudes towards learning may be negative.
There are very good reasons to learn an L2, but for every reason, you will probably receive a good counter-argument when learners are unwilling to learn. Look at the examples I recall from my years of teaching,
Let’s go back again to the motivated learner,
We said that a motivated learner is one who:
William Glasser says, “we are born with specific needs that we are genetically instructed to satisfy” (cited in Sullo, 2007). Natural curiosity is built into our genetic makeup to help us best meet our basic needs, survive, and thrive as humans. These basic psychological needs are:
If the students enjoy the activities they do in class, they will soon start to devote more attention and effort to fulfil them and as both things happen, they will learn the L2 almost incidentally, which in turn will reinforce their desire to keep learning.
References and further reading
For a fuller treatment of the social psychological perspective on learners’ differences refer to Gardner (1985), Skehan (1989), and Ellis (1994, pp. 467- 560).
Church, E.B. (2003). Building community in the classroom. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/building-community-classroom
Crookes, G., & Schmidt, R. W. (1991). Motivation: Reopening the research agenda. Language learning, 41(4), 469-512.
Dornyei, Z. (2006). Individual differences in second language acquisition. AILA Review, 19, 42-68.
Skehan, P. (1989). Individual Differences in Second Language Learning. London: Edward Arnold Associates.
Sullo, B. (2007). Activating the Desire to Learn. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Summary of main points of ‘Activate the desire to learn’
How old were you when you started learning English?
Do you think you would be more fluent and accurate in English if you had started earlier?
Did you learn English ‘naturally’ or in a language institution? Is one way better than the other or does it depend on age?
Children, adolescents and adults have neurological, cognitive and psychological differences in the acquisition of L2. Children seem to be intrinsically better learners, while adolescents and adults have cognitive skills and self-discipline which enable them to utilize a larger volume of comprehensible input within the same exposure time period. On the other hand, older learners may be more greatly affected by the other factors in L2 such as motivation, anxiety and identity. The difference in the acquisition process demands different approaches to instructing learners of different age groups.
Age is easier to define and measure than personality, aptitude, or motivation. Nevertheless, the relationship between a learner’s age and his or her potential for success in second language acquisition is under debate.
Children from immigrant families eventually speak the language of their new community with native-like fluency, but the same does not happen to their parents. One explanation is that, as in first language acquisition, there is a critical period for second language acquisition.
The Critical Period Hypothesis suggests that there is a time in human development (before puberty) when the brain is predisposed to success in language learning. Developmental changes in the brain, it is argued, affect the nature of language acquisition.
It is difficult to compare children and adults as second language learners. In addition to the possible biological differences suggested by the Critical Period Hypothesis, the conditions for language learning are often very different.
The Critical Period Hypothesis has been challenged in recent years from several different points of view:
Patkowski (1980) found that age of acquisition is a very important factor in setting limits on the development of native-like mastery of a second language and that this limitation does not apply only to accent. These results gave added support to the Critical Period Hypothesis for second language acquisition.
Experience and research have shown that native-like mastery of the spoken language is difficult to attain by older learners. Nevertheless, there is some research which suggests that older learners may have an advantage, at least in the early stages of second language learning.
In the Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle study (1982), it was found that adolescents and adults learned faster than children in the first few months of exposure to L2. By the end of the year, the children were catching up or had surpassed the adults on several measures. Nevertheless, it was the adolescents who retained the highest levels of performance overall.
Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle concluded that their results provide evidence that there is no critical period for language acquisition. However, we should also consider that some of the tasks in the study (for example, sentence judgement or translation) were too hard for young learners.
Adults and adolescents may learn faster in the early stages of second language development (especially if they are learning a language which is similar to their first language) but young children eventually catch up and even surpass them if they are surrounded by the language on a daily basis.
Adults and adolescents can also make considerable and rapid progress towards mastery of a second language in contexts where they can make use of the language on a daily basis in social, personal, professional, or academic interaction.
The role of the critical period in second language acquisition is still much debated. Some researchers conclude that there are maturational constraints on language acquisition, but there are also others who consider that the age factor cannot be separated from factors such as motivation, social identity, and the conditions for learning. They argue that older learners may well speak with an accent because they want to continue being identified with their first language cultural group, and adults rarely get access to the same quantity and quality of language input that children receive in play settings.
Many people conclude on the basis of studies that it is better to begin second language instruction as early as possible if we seek the highest possible level of second language skills, the level at which a second language speaker is indistinguishable from a native speaker. But achieving a native-like mastery of the second language is not a goal for all second language learning, in all contexts.
In the chart below you will find a summary of the most important issues to consider when deciding on the most appropriate age to start learning an L2 in educational settings. These ideas apply to both formal and informal educational contexts (i.e.: school education and private L2 classes).
There is strong evidence of the existence of a Critical Period for L2 demonstrating the value of early exposure to the second language.
However, the initial point of learning cannot play the same role in a naturalistic and in a classroom context; the earlier may be the better but provided that it is associated with enough significant exposure, other important conditions include that exposure to young learners should be intensively distributed giving learners opportunities to participate in a variety of L2 social contexts.
In the end, more important than the starting age of acquisition is the amount and frequency of exposure to the L2.
Lightbown, P; Spada, N. (2001) Factors affecting Second Language Learning in English Language Teaching in its Social Context (pp. 28-43)
Muñoz, C. (2010). On how age affects foreign language learning. Advances in Research on Language Acquisition and Teaching: Selected Papers. Gala
Qin Zhao, A; Morgan C. (n.d.). Consideration of Age in L2 Attainment – Children, Adolescents and Adults. Asian EFL Journal
Some weeks ago I shared a post about the decision of using a coursebook (or not). If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link To use or not to use coursebooks? Suppose you have decided (or are compelled) to use a coursebook and you are free to decide which coursebook to use, or you have been using a coursebook for some time and you want to change it because it is out-of-date or you are just bored, what issues should you consider to make the best choice? There are thousands of coursebooks in the ELT market, which one will be the best fit for your students and your own teaching approach? Well, this post intends to help you in that choice.
If you have been teaching for some time, you probably know some of the coursebooks, especially those published by the most famous ELT editorials. Maybe some of your colleagues have recommended the ones they are most comfortable with (or the ones you should never consider!). Maybe, there are some limitations in the availability of some of the coursebooks and there are only certain books you and your students can access. Taking these considerations into account, choose two or three coursebooks to evaluate (of course you can evaluate as many coursebooks as you want, but the decision will be harder if you have to evaluate many options).
Remember that after choosing a coursebook and telling your students (and sometimes their parents) which one/ones they will need to buy, it will be troublesome to convince them later that they will have to buy another book (coursebooks are not cheap for some educational contexts) because the first one was a bad choice (your bad choice!). So, take time to evaluate your options so that you end up with the best coursebook.
Tomlinson and Masuhara’s (2004:1) definition of materials evaluation is: “Materials evaluation involves measuring the value (or potential value) of a set of learning materials by making judgements about the effect of materials on people using it”.
Teachers interested in the evaluation of ELT materials can find many frameworks and criteria developed by researchers and coursebook authors (Byrd, 2004; Cunningsworth, 1995; Harmer, 2007; McGrath, 2002; Sheldon, 1988; Tomlinson & Masuhara, 2004; Williams, 1983). However, as McDonough, Shaw & Masuhara (2013: 52) state “(…) there does not seem as yet an agreed set of criteria or procedures for evaluation”.
In this post I will discuss two frameworks: McDonough, Shaw & Masuhara’s (2013) which attempts to provide a comprehensive framework which might be applied in the majority of ELT situations worldwide; and, Littlejohn’s (2011) framework which aims to evaluate the materials ‘as they are’, not the ‘materials-in-action’ (i.e. as the teacher thinks the material should be used).
McDonough, Shaw & Masuhara (2013) examine materials in two stages: an external evaluation (cover, introduction, table of contents) and a more detailed internal evaluation.
The external evaluation “(…) aims at examining the organization of the material as stated explicitly by the author/publisher by looking at: the ‘blurb’, or the claims made on the cover of the d/students’ book, and the introduction and table of contents” (op. cit.: 54). To achieve this the following information should be gathered (op. cit.: 55-58):
According to these authors, after this stage and having in mind the profile of the learners, we will have enough information to identify if the material is potentially appropriate and is worth a deeper inspection.
The internal evaluation seeks to find information about:
Then, an overall evaluation can be made considering:
However, these authors as well as Tomlinson (2004), state that the success or failure of a material can only be fully determined after a while and post-use evaluation.
Littlejohn (2011) does not take into account the ‘superficial aspect’ of materials or their content, his framework focuses on the methodology and the linguistic nature of the coursebook.
The author identifies three levels of analysis: objective description, subjective description and subjective inference.
In level 1 ‘objective description’, we will find the information about:
In the ‘subjective analysis’ in level 2, we analyse what teachers and learners will have to do in each task to test the claims made by the material (a task is defined by this author as any proposal made to students whose aim is bringing about the learning of the L2). For each task we need to identify:
Based on the previous levels of analysis we can determine the aims of the material and the basis for the selection and sequencing, the following step is to identify the teacher’s and the learners’ roles implied in it. Finally, a conclusion about the material as a whole can be done (subjective inference).
Littlejohn proposes a further step which is to analyse the teachers/students/institutions situation and their expectations from the material to decide its rejection, adoption, adaptation or supplementation.
What aspect should you consider to evaluate the coursebook itself? Littlejohn summarizes them with the following image
With the analysis of the material and the analysis of your teaching context in mind, you might have enough information to reject, adopt, adapt, supplement or use the material with its pros and cons and discuss them with your students (it would be a great source of discussion at least).
What is a project in an educational context? Can we work with projects in the same way we usually work? Is a project a longer version of a lesson? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of Project-based learning? Is it incompatible with traditional ways of evaluation? In this post, I intend to give answers to these questions acknowledging that more questions may come up from my writing.
Project work is defined by Ribé and Vidal (1993: 5) as “(…) a full implementation of a second or a third generation task”, but it is longer and more complex than a task, it is a macro-task. It consists of micro-tasks that can be expanded or reduced according to the negotiation carried out between the teacher and the students. The steps, length, process and product are pre-planned by the teacher, “but not totally predetermined” (Idem).
Grant (n.d: 1) states that Project-based learning is an instructional method centred on the learner that allows in-depth investigation of a topic. Having more autonomy, students take more responsibility for their learning process (Tassinari, 1996; Wolk, 1994; Worthy, 2000 in op. cit.: 1); “(…) project-based learning and the construction of artifacts enable the expression of diversity in learners, such as interests, abilities and learning styles” (Grant, n.d.: 2).
Project-based learning takes ideas from constructivism in which learning is seen as the construction of knowledge through interaction (Perkins, 1991; Piaget, 1969; Vygotsky, 1978 in op. cit.: 2), and constructionism (Harel & Papert, 1991; Kafai & Resnick, 1996 in op. cit.: 2) which takes the notion that people learn best when they construct an artifact that can be shared and reflected upon (ibid).
From a language learning point of view, project work requires comprehensible language input (Krashen), comprehensible language output (Swain), the process of content and language learning, negotiation of objectives, and self-access materials (Ribé & Vidal, 1993: 6-7).
Project work is also aligned with Widdowson’s notion of ‘authenticity’: how the reader responds to a text (in Ball & Hockly, n.d.) See my post Reading in an L2: the idea of ‘Authentic Reading’ for more details on authenticity. From this perspective, a text may elicit an authentic response from the reader independently of its nature (i.e.: whether it is an original text in English or an adaptation of one).
Project work or Project-Based Learning (PBL) has many advantages such as,
However, some teachers may be overwhelmed by the changes necessary for its implementation. There are three main aspects of PBL that teachers and learners might find challenging:
To overcome these problems, it is important to begin slowly, a short-term project about a topic students are familiar with might be a good choice (Grant, n.d.:9). Working with group dynamics before starting the project is advisable. Assessment should provide constructive and authentic feedback; to achieve that, the most appropriate assessment tools are rubrics, learning diaries or portfolios.
In a project work, different types of assessment are needed to evaluate content, language, presentation, effort, attitude and cognitive development. Therefore, we will need both formative and summative assessment tools. Each aspect of the project can be evaluated from different points of view (Ribé & Vidal, 1993: 82). Common tools used in project work are,
However, as teachers usually must fulfil institutional requirements too, traditional testing can be included in the project and integrated as another way of evaluating students’ progress.
In this section, you will see how I planned a project about a tourism blog for teenagers or young adult learners. The name of the project is Show the world why your city is worth visiting. A collaborative blog.
Cover of the project
Below, you will see the first two pages of the Teacher’s notes to show you how I included the main and some of the instrumental elements of a project into a teaching plan.
*If you want to get the rest of the Teacher’s notes and the students’ handout for this project, you can buy it at Teachers Pay Teachers
Have worked with projects? Which projects are you proud of? Would you add more advantages to Project-based learning? And more disadvantages? What have you learned from Project-based learning?
If you haven’t worked with projects yet, what prevents you from doing so? Do you think it is too time-consuming? Do you think it requires too much effort and skills from teachers? Can all learners benefit from project work?
Share your thoughts with us!
BALL, P. AND HOCKLY, N. (n.d.). Developing Language Skills in the Classroom. Funiber.
GRANT, M. (2002) “Getting a grip on project-based learning: theory, cases and recommendations” [online], Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC, Vol. 5(1). Available at https://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/project-based.pdf [Retrieved: 19th February 2016]
RIBÈ R. AND VIDAL, N. 1993. Project Work; Step by step. Heinemann. England.