22nd June – The perfect student?

What makes a perfect student? I’m sure you can recall people in your courses who were a real pleasure to have. They did their homework, asked engaging questions, helped their classmates, made notable progress, and continued to sign up for the next course. Likewise, you’ve probably had poor students who showed none of these traits. There are also the mystery cases, when someone stops attending the course at some point for some reason, and we never find out why.

Read this short article for some insights. How do the factors listed fit with your experience? Can you use the strategies in order to foster more “perfect students”?

Come to our next get-together on 22nd June at The Fitting Room at Welle 7 in Bern and share! Hope to see you there.

Discussion: Testing and Assessment

This Friday Springboard will be bringing teachers together to chat and discuss testing and assessment. I’ve read an article by Dave Allan, which got me thinking about some questions that might be good discussion starters. What do you think? Post your comment below, and we’ll bring them to the discussion!


Discussion Questions: Testing and Assessment in Language Training

What’s the difference between testing and assessment?

Which is a better evaluation of a learner’s English capabilities: an objective test or a teacher’s assessment?  Why?

Do learners want to be tested? Why? Why not?

For assessment that involves various processes which go on over time, and measure more abstract traits such as discourse skills, fluency, flexibility and range, how can we give learners clear, formalised reporting on their language competence?

What are some best practices for teachers to integrate testing into a task based, communicative learning environment?

Dogme ELT

At our meeting last month, I mentioned Dogme ELT and people wanted to know more about it. As I understand and use it, it’s less a method than a philosophy: always put learning and learners first. The Dogme ELT “movement” started as a reaction to what Scott Thornbury felt were overprepared lessons, where teachers had so many materials and photocopies that there wasn’t any room left for the students. Here are the main principles (copied from the Wikipedia page):

  1. Interactivity: the most direct route to learning is to be found in the interactivity between teachers and students and amongst the students themselves.
  2. Engagement: students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
  3. Dialogic processes: learning is social and dialogic, where knowledge is co-constructed
  4. Scaffolded conversations: learning takes place through conversations, where the learner and teacher co-construct the knowledge and skills
  5. Emergence: language and grammar emerge from the learning process. This is seen as distinct from the ‘acquisition’ of language.
  6. Affordances: the teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.
  7. Voice: the learner’s voice is given recognition along with the learner’s beliefs and knowledge.
  8. Empowerment: students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks.
  9. Relevance: materials (e.g. texts, audios and videos) should have relevance for the learners
  10. Critical use: teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases.

Initially, Dogme started with a “vow of chastity”, where teachers promised not to use any pre-prepared materials at all but only what students brought in with them. This led to some negative reactions and I don’t think it’s necessary to reject materials to use it. Rather, I try to give learners and their questions and input at least as much value as the materials that we’re using–I really try never to interrupt someone’s story just for the sake of completing a few more exercises.

Dogme ELT has an active web community and there’s also a book explaining how to incorporate Dogme into your classroom.

Eight myths of learning/ teaching vocabulary

Do you have a go-to vocabulary activity that you use in class?

Do you ever have vocabulary that needs to be reviewed, and you’re not sure exactly what the best way to do it is?

Is vocabulary study best done as a homework task? How often do students study vocabulary on their own?

What exactly is the best way to learn vocabulary?

At our last get together, we debunked eight myths to vocabulary teaching. We shared experiences and best practices, and had a productive discussion about practical ways to do what sometimes seems almost impossible– get learners to expand their active vocabulary.

Click here for what the research says, and what you can do to teach vocabulary effectively.

One conclusion from our discussion was that what works depends on the learner. Now it’s your turn. Share your comments! What do you use that works?

On Friday the 27th of November …

… we’ll be meeting for a captivating, charismatic and compelling discussion! Come join in!

Do you have a go-to vocabulary activity that you use in class?

Do you ever have vocabulary that needs to be reviewed, and you’re not sure exactly what the best way to do it is?

Is vocabulary study best done as a homework task? How often do students study vocabulary on their own?

What exactly is the best way to learn vocabulary?

Come and debunk eight myths to vocabulary teaching, share your experiences, and learn from others.

We’ll meet from 8:00 to 9:00 pm at the Lehrerzimmer in the Progr, Friday, 27th November. Optionally, stick around for more networking opportunities afterwards.

Comment below if you can come!

The Impotence of Proofreading

Oh, how we rely on technology… Everything’s good here, right?

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a quay and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
It’s rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
It’s letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

by Martha Snow*

I searched for the origin of the poem and most links led back here, where he takes no credit for it either. Ms Snow, thanks for your poem!

Learning with texts

I added a few links in a comment on Alex’s post about Links of Interest but there is one that I think  deserves its own page. Learning with texts is a really incredible tool that I try to use myself for learning German and that I’ve gotten one or two students to try for English. Watch this video to see a demonstration:

It’s a brilliant concept, in my opinion. Once you get it set up properly, you’ll see which words you know and don’t know in a text before you start reading. You can get translations and make flashcards directly from your texts. And you’ll be able to instantly check other texts in which a word has appeared. It’s not a perfect tool, by any means (not the most elegant UI, a bit of work to get set up, no use of word tokens (“dog” and “dogs” are unique words in its database), phrasal verbs and phrases are tough to put in the system, you need an internet connection and electronic texts, it takes some effort to make it work well), but it really is something that I think will be the future of language learning.

Imagine if you had a database that linked all the times you had read (or heard! imagine once usable text-to-speech is really here) a word. Imagine the connections you’d be able to make with meanings and experiences. Now imagine that you’re a teacher and you could see the real “learner corpora” of all of your students–you could run your texts through their databases and see which words your students have actually never seen before rather than just playing a guessing game. Could it happen in our lifetimes?