A Comment for Lizzie Pinnard and David Petrie’s Discussion of the Bleak future for ELT

Image

Photo Credit: bigal101 on Morge File Free Photos

I have just finished reading David Petrie’s bleak vision for 2034 English language learning, and Lizzie Pinnard’s reply to this. David’s vision is of a bleak world (for language teachers at any rate) where learners are totally directed by what is available on the Net and left to their own devices to do placement tests and decide on courses, with no help apart from their computers. Lizzie counters this with her own discussion of how the social side of learning is  so attractive to many learners. I was writing my own comment, but as it seemed to be developing into something a bit longer than a comment. I thought I’d share it here as well. So here goes:

Adrift on the story Cyber-waves

As I read David’s provocative piece I felt quite sad for poor Monica cast adrift and at the mercy of the cyber-ocean waves that buffeted her to right and then to left. This all reminded me of the days when, in the nineties, companies tried to jump onto the self access centre bandwagon, or even earlier, when they all wanted to push language labs. The school I was working in in the eighties invested a huge amount of money in its language lab, which quickly became a white elephant, as have many self access centers around this planet. This is probably because learners generally need direction of some kind and if they are left alone like Monica in the blog post their learning will most probably be materials directed which means as Tomlinson said:

for many learners their experience of self-access materials has been restricted to basically closed activities requiring a narrow left brain focus and little utilization of prior personal experience, of the brain’s potential learning capacity or of individual attributes or inclinations.’ (Tomlinson 2011 Kindle location 8278-8284.)

Technology combined with Humanity

This is because, as you so rightly say in your title, Lizzie, I think, learning tends to be social and people need to communicate. This is why, when some friends and I recently set up a book club in Verona, and I mentioned it on Facebook, there was an immediate call for a group on Facebook where others could read the books and take part too, even if they couldn’t physically come to our meetings, or even as an added support if they could. This is technology and the Internet at its social best where people support and create learning rather than the bleak predictions for 2034 where learners are left to their own devices with no support or interaction. At the moment social learning sites such as Fixoodle are doing well precisely because people meet up on them and help each other to build their knowledge of language together.

English, holidays, cards and a fifteen-year long relationship

I personally have some learners who have been coming to class for more than fifteen years, and the English is only part of the motivation. They are now very class friends and also go on holiday together and meet to play cards. This is what happens when Holliday’s classroom “small culture” becomes a real “small community”, and what happens in that community is meaningful and socially constructed. A far cry from the $400 dollar online course, and the sad vision of mediators scrabbling for as many students as they can in call centre mode. The day education is reduced to this is the day that I’ll leave it.

 

Reference:

Tomlinson, B. (2011) Introduction. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed) Materials development in language teaching. Cambridge: CUP. pp. 1-24.

 

 

Advertisements

Blended learning as a Social Process, Sugata Mitra at Iatefl and the Aftermath

20131002-221141.jpg

Blended Learning: face to face interaction with support from the digital world.

If you look at this image, you will see the essence of what I think of as learning in action. It isn’t a mill drill, it is meaningful discussion going on in the F2F component of a blended learning approach to teaching.

Learners interact with each other and with the teacher who encourages them to find their own paths and is there providing encouragement and direction where needed. I’m not going to cite all the people who advocate learning as a social phenomenon but I’d just like to mention Mike Harrison, who, in a recent blog post, reacted to Sugata Mitra’s vision of children huddled round computers interacting with machines in a wounded but dignified way and  said that the social interaction is one of the major aspects of what he thinks of as teaching, and I agree completely with this.

This is not a new idea, it is the essence of constructivist views of learning where knowledge is built socially and in my classrooms, at any rate, learners and the teacher work together to develop the process building a community which acts as a framework within which meaningful communication and learning may, hopefully, take place.

Why was there such an outcry after Mitra’s plenary?

The Plenary

The Interview


Sugata Mitra’s plenary, on Saturday 5th April at the end of the Iatefl conference, seemed to be suggesting that the teacher was an element that was no longer necessary. In his question and answer session that was held yesterday (April 19th) it seemed clearer to me that he was focusing on the learning process and was particularly concerned with areas of the world where teachers are not available, and how to promote learning in these places, rather than saying that teachers were obsolete, although his implication was that in the future the role of teachers must change. He advocates children organising their own learning with challenging question being asked that they can then answer or not, and with “granny figures” who provide support and admiration from afar. A key element, he said, was that the grannies should be amazed by what the children tell them and what they have learned. The teachers, then would become the grannies, as far as I can see, which is not too far removed from the role of “facilitator” which has already been widespread for quite some time.

Although there has been the whole gamut of emotions in the outcry to his presentation the question and answer session yesterday, which should soon be available as a video for all those who missed it, was interesting both for the answers Mitra supplied to the questions we asked him and for the discussion that went on in the chat box, which raised other issues.

I still have a few qualms about all this which I’d like to share with you. I’ve left it until now to publish as I wanted to hear what he had to say in the webinar first 🙂

Watching the Sugata Mitra video and the interview made me think that:

Do Learners need or want direction or not?

Actually, he isn’t an educator and doesn’t claim to be (although he is Professor of Educational Technology…). In the interview he said that the role of teachers was something he was thinking about. However, he compares a SOLE  (self organised learning environment) session with a ‘lecture’ and the key word here is lecture, as this seems to be his impression of what teaching is. This may be true in some contexts but not all, and there are many educators who already work with both Internet- webquests and group work.

My thoughts on Non directed Learner Autonomy

In the webinar he said that a SOLE differs from a webquest because a webquest is learners interacting alone with computers to go to specific web sites provided by teachers, but this is quite a narrow view of what a webquest is. Guidance may be provided, but there is no reason why webquests cannot be done in groups and sites provided when asked for but learners do not need to be limited to these sites. I mentioned, in the webinar, my experience with learners who, when left to their own devices, are not necessarily autonomous, and may, in fact, be directed by the materials they find.

They often, for instance, stop at the first online dictionary they find, rather than comparing different ones, and yes, I admit it, they are the ones that I suggest to them. I have quite a lot of experience of online dictionaries and can tell them what I think is good or bad about them, and then leave them to make up their own minds.

It is also, I think,  something of a utopian view to think that everyone, when provided with materials, will magically become a successful independent learner. In fact, in the ELT world we have seen after years of experiments with such things as self access centres, that most learners are NOT able to direct their own learning as successfully as Mitra implies. Learners will go into a self access centre and their learning will be determined by the materials, which is a completely different thing from using materials in the guidance of an expert teacher in a supportive classroom, where learners can experiment, ask questions and teachers can adapt the materials, tasks, topics etc. to the needs of their learners.

I realise that this is not what happens in many classrooms, unfortunately, and I feel that my own context in Italy is a long way away from the experiments in India, where there were few, or even no, teachers available, but I simply don’t think that findings from contexts like these can then lead to generalised statements about teaching. What we need to do is to ask ourselves what the components were that “worked” and how these elements can be adapted and combined with successful teaching in ELT contexts, if we are not already doing this, albeit in different ways.

What are the Key Ingredients in Mitra’s SOLEs ?

The key ingredients are directed peer learning, with challenging questions and affect both the fun the learners are having, their motivation and curiosity and the support provided in the admiration that comes from the granny figures. This all seems, dare I say it, fairly standard for the elt world, but is it standard for mainline schools? The emotive comment of “factoring out the teacher” could perhaps, and I say perhaps, because I’m trying to be objective here, mean factoring out traditional top down teaching and the cognitive focus on lower order skills, or dumming down of learners, which has been changing in our field for many years. This is not true, however, of education authorities who insist on, as Mitra says, ignoring the Internet and banning its use from the classroom.

There are, of course, reasons why this is done too, and working s a teacher who has to juggle institutional constraints, aim for good exam results and promote motivated learning as well is no easy task. The criticism, I feel, however, should be aimed more towards the ministerial programmes, the systems that look at learning as a matter of ticking the boxes, and testing systems which are archaic and do not perhaps meet the needs of learners in many parts of the world.

So… I conclude that what he is saying, as many people have protested over the past two weeks, is not particularly new, on the one hand and an emotive response driven by fear for our jobs may well make us throw up our hands in horror, when what we need to do is think about how to organise our own systems and in particular our testing systems as the washback from these inevitably affects our teaching.

Finally, I still think Mitra was speaking more as a researcher, even though he said he was ‘trying to find a way for children to learn where there would not be a teacher’ so he did not give the children in India any help, but we are educators and we can give our learners help. We, as educators can focus on how to direct their learning so that it is fun, constructive and challenging, just like the image at the top of this post, where learners experiment with different ways of learning until they find what suits them best, in a supportive, meaningful community that is created in the classroom…. I think that’s the positive message, and many of us already do this, don’t we?

An Energy Dip: approaching high demand teaching (Part One)

imageAfter all the excitement of Iatefl last week, I hit reality back in the classroom this week, and what with all the to do about Sugata Mitra’s ideas and the need to make up a whole series of lessons I suddenly found myself in a very dark professional place. I am teaching a group of learners, or rather, trying to help them, prepare for the Cambridge Advanced Exam in June this year. However, do we have an academic year to prepare for this? No, we have 7 lessons, and now, due to Easter and various national holidays we are about to have a three week break. This, as is understandable, has caused a certain amount of panic both for the students and for me. Far from following high demand teaching, something I truly believe in, we have been focusing on exam strategies and they have been doing practice tests at home, independently.

Learning or Devouring exercises?

Focusing on exam strategies! Good idea, I hear someone say. Well, yes, that is what I thought too, until I realised that what they are doing is trying to do as many tests as possible, swallowing entire volumes of tests, emptying the library and then coming back for more. They are definitely motivated, but my energy dip and depression came from the realisation that this is all very shallow, and that I really have no idea if they are actually learning anything at all. I had just finished gong painstakingly through two exercises designed to make them aware of the need not just to focus on single words but to focus on words and the other words they collocate with. It was an exercise where they had to look at sentences, which were examples of candidate errors in the Use of English exam, and decide where the preposition errors were. I went over the activity and they got the answers right with very little trouble.

I knew I was in trouble, though, when I saw someone checking “something” could it have been a train timetable? on her phone. This activity was so far away from engaging these learners that they may as well have been on the Moon.

Time to stop and Reflect

So, what did I do? Well, I said, “OK”… and they were already focusing on the next exercise, when I said “No, let’s think about this.” The smartphone was put aside for a minute. I said. “Yes, you can identify the prepositions very well but can you use these expressions? Will you remember any of them five minutes after you have walked out of this door?” This was said humorously and so greeted by  nervous laughter but I then took pity on them, smiled, and said “So how can you remember new language?” This was familiar territory and someone, with a rsigned expression said “write sentences” and I replied that yes, they could do that, but today we were going to do something different.

Mechanical study or “Meaningful” study?

Stage 1: Cognitive Study

I then asked them in two groups to take one exercise each and paraphrase the phrasal verbs and expressions( these were things like I congratulated him on getting a new job. Absolutely not memorable for these students or anyone else for that matter) I asked them to think about the context the expressions were being used in, and monitored. It soon became clear that there were several problem areas. What could you set up, for instance? Could you only set up a business or could you set up a committee as well? This led us naturally into dictionary work, and they found out how to use these expressions in a lot more depth. They then mixed the two groups and shared their findings, and by this time the questions were coming thick and fast. The smartphone was being used for the dictionary app and the train timetable was a thing of the past.

Stage Two: personalisation and experimentation: making the language your own

Then I asked them to choose five of the expressions and to make them into questions to interview someone in the other group. This was where the meaningful action came as they asked “real questions” and created content that neither I nor the traditional exercises could have predicted. “to congratulate someone on something” was transformed into “Has anyone ever congratulated you on passing your exams? Much more meaningful for these students as was the reply: “Yes, my parents have… when I deserved it.”

Before long we were involved in a discussion about Starbucks and why the concept probably wouldn’t work in Italy. This was communication and, I think, it was definitely demand high teaching.

Reflection again

At the end I asked them why we had spent 30 minutes of our precious lesson on two exercises. They answered that it had helped them to really understand this language. At that point I felt that the energy dip had passed and I was back on track. I agreed with them and warned against mechanical exam practice without going into the language in depth and sent them of with a series of things to do over the three week holiday including the idea that they should “Make the exercises they do really work for them”.

I’m quite excited to see what they bring back with them 🙂

 

 

 

So, what do you think?

merry go round
All the fun of the fair

Hi everyone,

I decided today that rather than give the highlight of the sessions I went to I’d talk to people at the conference to find out their thoughts about the conference. I aksed the people I spoke to just one questions:

“What has this conference made you think about?”

So, it’s only fair if I start the ball rolling myself and tell you what I think.

A Fantastic Roundabout of ideas and meetings

I’m actually exhausted at the moment, but in a positive way, and I’m fully intending to get my second wind and go to the Pecha Kucha soon. What I have to say though is that this conference has been packed with inspiration for me. last year was not so good as I hobbled around on two broken ankles (Yes, I know you’re tired of hearing about it but it feeds my martyr complex 🙂 ) so it was all a bit of a haze. This year has been one of the best conferences I’ve attended for ages, and I’m sure that when I get back these incredible ideas will begin to fall into place, so watch this space for more blog posts. But the social aspect was also really important and I’ve caught up with so many people here this year and connected with others who I only really knew through distancelearning or ELTChat.

So, I went to the Pecha Kucha, which was fantastic and caught up with more friends along the way, rounding the evening off with Yorkshire Sausages in Betty’s. (If you haven’t been there yet, make time to go before you leave, if only for a cup of their lovely tea.) Anyway, here are a few of the things people said to me, which are anonhymous, but I’ve specified the place these people are working in. I’d love to hear from you as well, so please add your answers to the question in the comments space below if you’d like to. 🙂

 

The Social Side of things

This of course got some positive comments despite the hangovers that were walking around this morning after the CUP party last night:

The world is a very small place. (Jersey)

It’s about seeing people and catching up. (London)

The organisation

I admire the organisers and I’m enthusiastic about the whole project which is Iatefl: it’s quite unique. (Germany)

Inspiring! Everyone is always so supportive and the mentoring system works really well. Everyone’s friendly and the audiences are supportive. (Germany)

Thoughts about language, teaching and teacher training

ELT teachers are not following the Edtech trends easily which is not the case with secondary teachers, who are applying the technology. (Dubai)

It made me think how far the DELTA is behind the current thinking and what people are saying here. It also made me think about levels after David Graddol’s plenary when I was talking to people in India at a call centre for help with my mobile phone, and was passed along a chain of people with different levels until I reached somoeone with high levels who had enough language to be able to reassure me.  (Leeds)

The principle behind lexical priming is so beautifully simple. (Dublin)

There is a long way to go to bridge the gap between what is being discussed here and what happens in the classroom. (Russia)

I realise that there are many different routes open to me and that it’s easy to branch out. Culture can be an asset in the classroom and I got lots of practical classroom activities too. (France)

Organising your time at the Conference

Collaboration, communication and development. Sharing and networking (Rumania)

It’s really important to know how to choose what to go to and what not to go to. My conference has been a bit more hit than miss this year, and it was better last year when I had very specific aims about what I wanted to see. (Germany)

So there you are: a quick taste of what different people are taking away with them. 🙂

 

 

The Demand keeps growing higher, and higher…

Confusion
Am I just feeling stressed?

Quality teaching means helping the learners to learn without feeling stressed.

The theme of High Demand has stayed at the back of my mind all day today, beginning with Katherine Graves’ plenary this morning, when she spoke very eloquently about the way that what is often perceived as an inefficient use of classroom time in ‘bureaucrat speak’, where the key is efficient, cost effective outcomes, actually means quality teaching; to my mind this is an application of Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener’s “demand high teaching” meme that I was talking about on Tuesday. What it means is that classroom feedback does not stop at merely eliciting an answer and moving on, regardless of whether the learner has really understood all that it might imply. Katherine Graves’ example came from a mathematics class where learners needed to know the technical term “perimeter” but said something like “goes all the way round” and the teacher accepted this, as the concept had been communicated, but did nothing to help the learner come to terms with the word “perimeter”, which they would need to know for their school work. In the same way in a language class, it is not enough to go round the class merely eliciting answers and replying “Good” even when the answer is not particularly good, which does not help the learner. What helps the learner is to respect the fact that he or she is having trouble with something, finding out what that is and helping them to work through the process of understanding and producing the language, or understanding the problem, without feeling threatened or belittled along the way.

Words or Phrases?

My other main focus today was lexis, and Michael McCarthy’s presentation was as memorable as ever, as he discussed some of the data from the Cambridge Learner Corpus that shows learners have trouble with delexicalised verb + noun phrase collocations. He gave a series of examples which occurred across the board ranging from B1 to C2. What was interesting was that the same problems occurred, just that the word choice tended to become more complex as the level increased. With the example of “make” and “do” being mixed up, for instance, at B1 learners might say “make sports” at B2 “make work” at C1 the instances of confusion were fewer but they were still there with example like “make business” and at C2 “make wonders”. Some items occurred from B2 to C2 like “make research”. His point was that, as he said, when quoting Sinclair, that collocation is not fringe and although he did not really go into the teaching side of all this the implications are once again that it makes no sense to teach single words. Learners need to be focusing on collocations, phrases, and chinks as single units, right from the start.

What is lexical grammar?
What is lexical grammar?

The Lexical Approach or the Lexical Dimension

At the moment, grammar is still probably king with lexis coming second and being fitted into the lesson around the grammar. Michael Hoey will probably tell us tomorrow, in fact, that this is the opposite of the way we use language where it is the grammar that seems to be generated as a result of lexical choice. Michael Lewis also wrote about chunks, collocations and precisely the problems that were mentioned today but the problem of his “Lexical Approach”, which generations of teachers have tried to apply, is that it is not systematic enough for educators to build a curriculum around. Materials and teaching approaches need to be developed along systemic lines and based on sound principles, and whilst the principles here are sound, in my opinion, the system is lacking. This is why Ivor Timmis article in 2008 in the Modern English teacher was such a breath of fresh air to so many of us, because he put down in words what we were all feeling but couldn’t find the words to express. He said that what we need is not to radically change the syllabus we are teaching but to add a lexical dimension to it. This again brings me back to the demand high teaching theme, because what it means is that is not enough for learners to look at single words, which is still so often the case in the materials that are commonly available, but to look, as McCarthy said at “the company they keep“, to look at the collocations and the chunks and to work with them.

Collocation, of course, varies from one language to another, but, to come back to Katherine Grave’s point of respecting the learner and their language, this could actually be used as a resource rather than a problem, working on contrastive analysis in class, and playing with this phenomenon.

It’s quite late and I fear I may be rambling now, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and leave you until tomorrow, when the day starts with Michael Hoey’s plenary. I want a good night’s sleep so that I’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed for that. (there are a couple of lovely collocations to sleep on 🙂 )

Highlights from My Day One at Harrogate Iatefl 2014

Making the most of texts: each one a world to discover
Making the most of texts: each one a world to discover

So the first day has finished and it seems to have gone by in a whirl or ideas, discussions, meetings with old friends and encounters with new ones. I said in a previous post that a theme tends to emerge during the conference and this year my these is materials, tasks and getting the most out of them, both as a materials designer and teacher.

Demand High Teaching

My first session this morning was with Adrian Underhill who focused on “Demand High Teaching” the meme (they don’t like to think of it as an approach, but rather a cultural notion that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.) Basically, the idea behind this is that many of our classroom routines have become mechanical, and a matter of following the coursebook instructions without really “teaching”. This, as Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener rightly say, leads to lost learning opportunities, and half baked routines that do not benefit learners. The focus today was pronunciation but this may be true for many areas of teaching, and what it means, in a nutshell, is to bring back the skill of teaching, exploiting coursebook tasks or any others to get as much out of them as possible, with the learner and his or her problems and needs right at the centre of the process. By focusing on individuals and helping them to do the very best they can, we bring back teaching in a vocational sense.  To see more, visit the Demand High Learning blog.

What do Teachers want from their Coursebooks?

My day moved on seamlessly to a discussion of what teachers want from their coursebooks, where Heather Buchanan from Leeds Metropolitan University and Julie Norton from the University of Leicester presented the results of their questionnaire, which had been circulated among teachers to find out what they want from their coursebooks. As might be expected there were many different answers but one illuminating comment that struck me came from a teacher who had more than 20 years’ teaching experience, and who wanted a coursebook that would be a sort of “store” of various different activities, approaches, images and texts, that could all be accessed and combined in different ways. In fact, this already exists in sites like Onestopenglish and on the English360 platform, to mention only two examples. So what I wondered was whether the problem was lack of information, and marketing of these resources. The question is how to reach teachers to let them know what is out there in a digital world which is often overwhelming including so much information that the pearls are often buried in the mass of data.

Do Materials Writers have Principles?

Jill Hadfield looked at a whole series of theoretical principles and asked whether materials writers have similar principles or not. her conclusion was that there are similarities but that the materials writers’ underlying principles, even when implicit rather than explicit, tend to be more practical but also more complicated, combining a wealth of underlying principles that reflect the learning process and the practical needs of classrooms in a way that is perhaps more difficult for theorists to do. She also talked about what she refers to as “core energies” which are not the writers’ principles but rather the “passions” that drive them and that come through as being their own personal styles or voices. A core energy is what tells us that a material has been written by Raymond Murphy or by Mario Rinvolucri, for instance, even if both are working from the same principle that materials should foster communicative language competence.

Networking and sharing

As I said in a previous post, though, the conference is not only about the presentations. It is also about talking to people and networking, and my focus on materials writing has brought me into contact with a whole group of materials writers yesterday and today. Writing can be a very lonely process, as we all sit behind our computers working away. Nowadays writers can work together across great geographical distances and sometimes never meet their co-writers when everything is filtered through their editors. This was really useful as I found about a whole range of sites for writers including a great Facebook page : eltT2W (Elt teachers to writers) where materials writers can share ideas, and problems with each other, making the whole process just a little more social. 🙂

Final Thoughts

My final thoughts today are that so much is a matter of communication and keeping channels open. Information is a key word of our times but we need to know how to access and share it so that we can create knowledge together and go on to get the very best out of ourselves as teachers, writers and students. Learning is a lifelong process both for students and teachers, and I forget who said this but it seems to be quite appropriate:

“A great teacher is someone who aims for improvement rather than perfection”

Being open to new ideas and to new opportunities can enrichen your professional experience. Someone told me the other day, that there’s not much call for data driven teaching approaches, and that can be interpreted two ways: either you give up thinking that nobody wants it or you see it as a whole new market who, in the words of Benjamin Zander, see it as “a glorious opportunity” as those people “don’t know yet” how much they can learn from this approach.

So that’s it for today, let’s see what tomorrow will bring. 🙂

 

Plenary, plenary, plenary

Why do we have Plenaries?

Plenaries are a recognisable feature of most conferences, but what makes us go to them and what do we get out of them? I think I can say that over the years I have learned so much from Iatef plenaries that it-s hard to know where to start, but I’ll give it a try.

1) Theatre

First of all there is the theatrical aspect. Sitting in a dimly lit auditorium full of people with the spotlight on a central stage is possible not a very popular image these days when it comes to education. There is, however, definitely, in my experience, an element of magic coupled with a sense of expectation, when a hush falls over the audience and the presenter appears on stage. Plenary presenters are the gurus, those who are at the top of the profession, and for many they are “names” that we only know from their books, or from references we have heard, but in a professional sense they are household names, at least in our ELT world.

2) Telling Stories

These are not presentations where there is a limited amount of time to put across one or two central ideas, there are moments where individuals tell their stories. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge, developed over years of practice and reflection, which they communicate to us. I have learned so much from inspiring speakers at Iatefl, that stays with me over the years. Some, inevitable strike a chord with me more than others, and others will strike a chord with you for different reasons. Iatefl often invites a speaker to close the conference who is “a bit different” connected to “English” but not directly related to teaching. This year it is the turn of Jackie Kay, who writes for various media including stage and television, she will, in her own words “be reopening the border country of the imagination.” Unfortunately I’ll miss this event as I have to leave on Saturday morning but it will be a lovely way to look back on the conference, watching the video once I get home. So don’t despair if you can’t go to everything. Iatefl Online is there to help you.

3) Themes

The plenary sessions tend to “set themes” for the conferences and these speakers ask important questions that help us to look at the “big picture” in ELT. David Graddol will be asking whether the message that “learners need to learn English for economic reasons” is really true, and whether or not that English is a good investment. Sugata Mitra will be telling the story of his “hole in the wall” experiments with children organising their own learning in public and open spaces.  Kathrine Graves will be looking at learning, teaching and curriculum design ans asks whether “inefficient” approaches to learning, that focus on the learners and their needs rather than getting through the curriculum as quickly as possible, are really as inefficient as they might appear. Finally, Michael Hoey, who is one of my personal icons will look at Lewis and Krashen, both of whom have been criticised, to see how corpus-linguistic research backs up much of what they say, and what the implications of this are for teaching.

5) A personal reflection

When I saw that Michael Hoey was going to give a plenary I went to my bookshelves and got out “Lexical Priming” (Hoey 2005) which I had read with excitement when it was first published and then not focused on too much in the intervening years, I admit. What I found when I was sitting on the airplane suspended somewhere between Venice and Amsterdam, and I reread the introduction, was that even though, consciously, I had not looked back at this book, subconsciously the ideas were there, in the background, colouring the way I think about and, therefore, teach language.

Priming is, in a nutshell, what happens in an individual’s mind when we hear or see a word or piece of language. We are “primed” by the word itself, by our own history and background, and by the context we are in, to expect a specific piece of language that will be combined either collocationaly or colligationally (grammatically) with that language. As I was sitting on the plane, mulling this over a (Dutch, I think as I was on a KLM flight) came past and asked me:

“Would you like a sweet snack or a salty snack?”

I answered without a second’s hesitation that I’d like a “salty snack” please, and it was only after she had moved on that it occurred to me that something “felt wrong” about that. Then it came to me that what I would normally expect was a “savoury snack” (In fact that it what it said on the box on the trolley, I later noticed). I understood this exchange, however, with not trouble at all, as the “sweet snack” primed me to expect an alternative. The intonation helped too, and I accommodated by automatically using the same expression. This is a process that I find fascinating and I’ll be reflecting on it length later but right now, I’m afraid I have to go to get ready for the first plenary.

Hope to see you there…