Maybe it’s just a powerful metaphor, or perhaps it was being on the waterfront at Liverpool’s Albert Docks, but it seemed like ‘bridging the gap’ was a popular chunk in this year’s programme. My own talk aimed to bridge the gap between intermediate students’ passive knowledge and productive ability, while the title of Sandy Millin’s presentation was ‘Bridging the gap between the classroom and the autonomous learner’, and Ceri Jones opted simply for ‘Bridging the gap’.
It got me thinking about how many other types of gaps had been tackled over the course of the conference. So here’s a bridge themed approach to my round-up of IATEFL 2013!
Bridging the gap between… advanced students and authentic language
Michael McCarthy – ‘Corpora and the advanced level: problems and prospects’
- At advanced levels, grammar loses its sense of progression and tends to be a rag-bag of difficult and arcane items. Where do you go after the main structures?
- All the vocabulary you learn after the first 2,000 words will only be encountered very infrequently (for a description of vocabulary for each CEFR level, look at the English Vocabulary Profile).
- Higher level students often have very clear goals, such as preparing to study at university or needing negotiating skills for business, so we need to know what it is that’s going to be most useful for our students.
- We need to help students to forge new networks of associations of vocabulary, rather than just teaching new lexis.
- We need to teach new or not typically taught functions for known forms. For example, corpora show us that the most common usage of the future perfect is in examples such as “You’ll have heard about the terrible earthquake”, but we often present it to students in examples such as “By 2015, I’ll have finished my degree”.
- Examiners can tolerate the odd missed article, or a mistake in an irregular past participle, but what they love are patterns that are not always entirely obvious to the naked eye (e.g corpora show us that good CVs use a high level of nominalization, but just looking at a CV, you wouldn’t necessarily notice this pattern).
- We become fixated with what we think is the advanced grammar point. We can use corpora to bridge the gap between our own preconceptions of what advanced grammar is, and what it is that students really need to know about those forms.
Pic courtesy of ELTpics @SandyMillin
Bridging the gap between… teachers and journals
Graham Hall – How to get published in a refereed journal
The process of getting published:
- Some articles are immediately rejected because they are sent to the wrong journal. The article doesn’t match the aims of the journal at all.
- After 30 days, peer reviews are sent back to the editor, and the editor summarises and replies to the author.
- There are four possible responses: reject / request revision / conditional acceptance / accept.
- Most papers go through ‘request revision’. Very rare for anything to just be accepted.
What are peer reviewers looking for?
- Relevant and interesting to the readers of that journal. Be familiar with the journal you’re submitting to. Know the style and read the ‘aims and objectives’ part of the journal.
- Clearly and coherently written.
- ELTJ is looking for articles that link theory to practice. There needs to be some kind of systematic evaluation (not necessarily empirical).
- Needs to have relevance beyond just the author’s context.
- Needs an appropriate balance between theory and practice all the way through. It’s not just a journal of teaching tips or experimental practice.
What are they not looking for?
- Too theoretical (not sufficiently linked to practice) e.g just experiments. Where’s the classroom?
- Too little theoretical underpinning provided to justify or clarify the work.
- Lack of awareness of other work in the field. Reinventing the wheel.
- Too much concerned with the specifics of a local situation.
- Interesting idea, but not developed sufficiently. Need to evaluate limitations or evaluate why it was a success.
- Write with a specific journal in mind.
- ELTJ = 3500 to 4000 words and 15 references max.
- Get the author guidelines. On the website, there’s a link to instructions for authors.
- Maybe start small. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary. Professions edge forward. It can be quantitative or qualitative research, and it can be based on case studies, or broad surveys, or action research, etc.
Pic courtesy of ELTpics @SandyMillin
Bridging the gap between… publishers and teachers
It seems to me that one of the main gaps bridged by the conference as a whole is the gap between publishers and teachers. I felt like there was really constructive dialogue in presentations, debates, in the exhibition hall, and at networking events, and I felt that I came away with a much better understanding of the publishing industry. Here’s one of the presentations that taught me a lot:
Nick Robinson – ‘What’s next in my career as a teacher?’
- There are lots of similarities between cookbooks and coursebooks, including the fact that they both have small groups of big names writing them, and it’s hard to break into that group.
- You need to be thick-skinned to go into writing, and be prepared for lots of rejections.
- It’s not necessarily that your idea is bad, but it might just be that it’s not the way the publisher wants to go.
- “Being a good writer is 3% talent, and 97% not being distracted by the internet”
- You need to be the type of teacher who uses coursebooks and adapts them. It’s no good saying you want to be a coursebook writer if you never use them!
- Don’t sell a book to a publisher, sell an author. You need to sell yourself, so build a platform by doing things like speaking at IATEFL, blogging, being active on Twitter.
- If you have a fan base already online, then the publisher knows people will come when you’re promoting their materials.
- Look at yourself as a potential content creator, because the future of publishing isn’t necessarily books. The most frequent question that Nick is asked is ‘have you got anyone who can write for digital?’
- Try and work with an editor. It will improve your content no end.
- If you’re self-publishing, then think about marketing. ‘Small Epic’ is an open space for teachers to sell materials.
- It’s hard to be creative under time pressure, so try the Pomodoro Technique: set a timer for 25min and after the timer starts you can’t do anything else except work. When the timer goes off, set it again for 5min and at that point you can do anything. Then set it for another 25min and get back to work.
- “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas” so make sure you collect all your ideas, however random, in a notebook, because you never know when they might come in handy.
- If you want Nick to consider representing you, send your CV and a short paragraph about why you want to write and why you think you’d be good at it. See his website for more information.
Pic courtesy of ELTpics @aClilToClimb
Bridging the gap between… accuracy and fluency
Jason Anderson – Accuracy and fluency: practical ideas for achieving both simultaneously
- The dichotomy between spoken fluency and accuracy is often too simplistic.
- Trainees sometimes feel they can’t correct their students because the class is focusing on fluency, not accuracy.
- Materials are often too polarized. At one end of the cline, you often find very free, fast activities with a focus on meaning, like debates and personalisation tasks, aimed at developing fluency. At the other end, we find much slower, form-focused activities like multiple choice or gap fills, to develop accuracy. But what about the middle ground?
Jason got us to try out some great activities that are fast, yet focus on form, and slow, yet focus on meaning, to try and bridge that gap. Here is the link to Jason’s detailed instructions on how to play the games, but here are a few comments on the activities:
- Because students write answers first, there’s a focus on accuracy, and because they have to recall the answers, it helps them to hold the language in chunks, and so promote fluency.
‘Whose line is it anyway’
- The advantage is that seeing other people’s ideas makes students more willing to take part in the discussion.
‘Verb conjugation cards’
- Our group had so much fun playing this that we played two rounds and protested loudly when Jason made us stop because time was up!
Pic courtesy of ELTpics @aClilToClimb
Bridging the gap between… the coursebook and emergent language
Rachael Roberts – “Of course! Using a coursebook AND engaging with emergent language”
Important ‘ingredients’ in the classroom:
- Exposing students to motivating and relevant language in context.
- Providing opportunities to ‘notice’ language.
- Scaffolding these ‘affordances’ so students can ‘notice the gap’.
- Providing opportunities to use the language in motivating and relevant materals.
- Engaging + noticing and restructuring + repeating and recycling = if you do these things, language will emerge no matter what.
- Use the comprehension questions to get students to predict what the story is about before they read. Get students to invest in the story.
- Give students real reasons to write (e.g write letters to Amnesty).
- Translate a text into their own language, and then a week later translate it back again and compare it to the original.
- Extract chunks from a listening text and use these chunks to move onto emergent language.
- Students can record themselves and make transcripts of themselves. You can help them to reformulate it and give it back. Or you could select a sample to do, if it’s a big class.
- Textivate.com allows you to revisit a text by looking at it in different ways.
Pic courtesy of ELTpics @HarmerJ
Bridging the gap between… playing and learning
Sandie Mourao – Priniciples of early childhood education and VYLs
- Children need play, and language is a part of that play. Child-initiated play is best, but in low exposure contexts, there’s little time for that.
- We don’t acknowledge how important peers are in the learning process for very young learners (VYLs).
- Children participate in directed play (formal instruction) where they are interacting with educators and peers. There is whole-class interaction and clear roles / scripts / sequences. Then there is free play (informal instruction), where they’re interacting only with peers in groups / pairs. They imitate the teacher, taking on the roles / scripts / sequences they saw in the directed play. In this way, they can freely explore and investigate
- Create ‘learning areas’ for children to play with self-chosen tasks that they can explore if and when they want to. It could be an area like a play ‘hospital’, where children pretend to be doctors and nurses. Or it could be much simpler, like just a box of materials and games that children can take out whenever they want.
Carol Read – How to survive and thrive with very young learners
- It’s more effective when learning the language is not an end in itself.
- Paradox 1: The more we address the whole child, the more language they learn (more than in a language-driven approach).
- Paradox 2: The more control, the greater the freedom.
- Paradox 3: The more the teacher leads, the more child-centered learning becomes. With VYLs, you are not a facilitator, you are a teacher. They’re copying, imitating, and you’re leading until they become autonomous. Your energy and enthusiasm encourages them to take part and gives them confidence, and helps them on their way to becoming autonomous.
Think about space, time, activity patterns, and routines:
- Space: where do you put the coats / crayons. Where do you read stories? Don’t underestimate the challenge of orientation and visual space.
- Time: VYLs have a shorter attention span. Sitting for five minutes for a three year old is a real challenge.
- Activity patterns: For example, at storytime, the children always sit down in a circle, cross their legs, and draw a circle around them to mark their space. The repetition in the way it’s done means they know it’s storytime.
- Routines: the safety and security of routines allow for internalization. For example, using flashcards with pictures of weather and going to the window and asking ‘what’s the weather like? Is it raining?’, can later be reduced to ‘what’s the weather like?’, and then reduced to no picture cards, and just actions.
Carol suggested a generic / flexible framework to organize learning for VYLs:
- On the carpet (all together time) for the key input at the beginning. Get out the class puppet as a visual signal that English is going to start now.
- Transition from carpet to desks. Think about how to do this to avoid chaos. For example, they get up and come up to you one by one and tell you their favourite colour and then sit down at the desk. Or they march to the desk in pairs pretending to be gorillas.
- At our desks. Individual work. Need to build autonomy.
- Make sure you end on a good feeling. Children need to take ownership of the lesson.
Pic courtesy of ELTpics @SandyMillin
Bridging the gap between… the syllabus and the students
Ceri Jones – ‘Bridging the gap’
- Can the coursebook bridge the gap between the student and the syllabus?
- It can be a useful route into the syllabus.
Five main strategies:
- Use high impact images.
- Make the familiar unfamiliar.
- Seek out current contexts.
- Put students’ texts first.
- Look for the big picture.
- Use a mosaic of images, for example images of hobbies, but choose more unusual situations, like chess being played in a swimming pool.
- When you’re doing something like shop vocabulary, think about the fact that nowadays it’s more about malls, not the butcher and baker. Malls are not just about buying things, but also about entertainment.
- Set an image homework between one class and the next.
Me at IATEFL 2013 outside the arena in Liverpool
For me, the whole experience of IATEFL felt less like a bridge and more like a pier under construction. I was plunged out of the comfort zone and into the unknown, as the pier ploughed its way out to sea. With every passing day at the conference, the pier got longer, my perspective broadened, and I felt I could look back with increasing clarity at where I’d come from, even if it wasn’t so evident where it would all take me. I hope this sense of exploration will help me continue to push myself further from the mainland, even as the docks of Liverpool fade beyond the horizon.