Whatever Happened to Second Life?

Well, if you’re still reading after a glance at the title, and not sniggering as you mutter “Second what?” you are probably either very interested in technology or perhaps just naturally curious. I was initially attracted to the virtual world, because, well, yes, because I like technology, but because it gave me the chance to attend conferences from my own sofa at home, and being in Second Life gave me the feeling, to some extent of “being there” rather than simply watching a video, or attending a webinar.

The image you can see here shows me, or rather my avatar, attending the SLanguages conference in Second Life in 2012, and I was so enthusiastic about it all. The delegates, it has to be said, were either young, slim and attractive or, well, just strange. It was not uncommon to see pigs flying around, for instance. The presentation theatre, you can see on the left, literally took you out of yourself. Some people used to give classic presentations loading their slides onto the screen there, but others took us on workshops exploring this virtual world. I remember being teleported to art galleries, to a reconstruction of the Bayeux Tapestries and to an amazing place where you could experience Hamlet as never before and to a Danish design place where we wandered around houses and my avatar got stuck n a bath!

An Immersive, Democratic Space

Yes, but how is that connected to teaching? I hear you cry. Well, there were, and occasionally still are, many universities and campuses and language schools at the time, including a space created by the British Council and  and it was hailed as a democratic space for various reasons. I remember stories of the disabled or elderly feeling free to move around there or not to be discriminated against. One lady said that she was doing an English course and the other students just treated her as ‘a peer’ so for her it really was a ‘second life’. It was described as an immersive space because you could actually ‘move around’ or your avatar could and one school, I remember, teaching airline safety procedures, had created an entire aircraft where crew members could practise safety procedures. The possibilities were endless, limited only by your imagination, and a lot of money was invested in ‘building’. Workshops were held to teach anyone interested how to build and create objects, and we thought the future had already arrived.

Facebook arrived on the scene

Then, Facebook arrived on the scene and the Second Life users began to leave. It was not so much that Facebook was a competitor, but rather a sea change in the general way people were using technology. Social media was becoming more and more popular and smart phones were taking off. Nowadays, phones are much more popular, in fact, than computers and Whatsapp is king…. At least for the moment. So what happened? Why did a world that promised so much actually not catch on? There is no simple answer to this, but I remember balking at asking students at the university to invest the time in creating avatars, dressing those avatars, creating inventories of objects and learning to move around in a world that looks suspiciously like a game. Intellectually, I could see the promise but my heart, somehow, was not in it. There were also a few bugs with the beta version of the software, that was introduced, and it did not really work on smartphones (although I don’t know if that is still true).

All these things, however, might not have been unsurmountable but the basic problem, I think, was another one. It was, at least, as far as I was concerned, that although this was supposed to be immersive, it actually did not go far enough and Leslie Jamieson puts it perfectly in an article in The Atlantic written in December 2017, entitled The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future:

“One day when Alice and I met up as avatars, she took me to a beach on one of the Virtual Ability islands and invited me to practice tai chi. All I needed to do was click on one of the poseballs levitating in the middle of a grassy circle, and it would automatically animate my avatar. But I did not feel that I was doing tai chi. I felt that I was sitting at my laptop, watching my two-dimensional avatar do tai chi.

When I read this it struck a chord with me, because that was how I felt too. Watching my Avatar drink a coffee was simply not the same as actually drinking a coffee. Second Life was, and is, a breathtaking place, and I went back to visit last week, stopping in at the Edunation islands where I had so enthusiastically taken part in the conferences, but it was also a very sad visit because so few of the places I used to visit still exist and the ones that do were deserted.

So where is the future?

It’s hard to tell where the future lies, and in fact, most people, I think, embrace technology as part of their real lives, rather than wanting to escape to virtual worlds. Linden Lab, who created Second Life, have now created a new world called Sansar, which was recently launched to the public, which is a virtual reality space compatible with VR Headsets like Oculus Rift as well as being able to explore it on PCs. It aims to provide a democratic space where virtual reality experiences can be both enjoyed and created. As with Second Life, it has great potential. Virtual Reality in any case is predicted as being the next big thing, and it is certainly true that my learners, for instance, find the immersive experience of rehearsing presentations or job interviews with apps such as Virtual Speech and  Oculus or Google Cardboard headsets to be extremely useful, but once again, these are being used by putting smartphones directly into the headsets, so there is an element of slotting the virtual reality experience into your normal life. Who knows if this is the future or not. I am always open to new ideas but I must say that the whole Second Life story leaves me feeling a bit sad.

Advertisements

Iatefl Day One: a lexical thread for me

IATEFL 2018 Day One: anyone for research?

The conference kicked off this morning enthusiastically as everyone gathered for the first plenary. Lourdes Ortega talked about the divide between research and teaching asking what research is good for. This provocative question is actually one that is well worth asking. So many teachers seem to fear research as being something which is inaccessible to them, or not related to what they are doing. Researchers are often seen as being unfriendly or negative towards teachers. Researchers, on the other hand, are also afraid, at times, of making recommendations for the classroom or at other times they go to the other extreme, claiming to have all the answers. If the researcher is a young PhD student this can be particularly galling for an older, experienced teacher, with a lifetime of pedagogical intuition developed by working with learners. The fact remains, however, that good research can both inform and underpin teaching, and a bridge should be built between these two worlds. Conferences go some way towards doing this, although it is true that they tend to have a bias towards either the theoretical or the practical. Iatefl, actually, has both. Publications such as ELT Journal also try to bridge this gap, as Alessia Cogo explained this morning in her ‘How to publish in academic journals’ session, stressing the fact that those who want to publish in the ELT Journal need to write about something that is both theoretical and practical, and relevant to the readership as a whole.

A Rose by any other name…

My own thoughts on this are that actually it is the name ‘research’ that puts people off. Teachers, in fact, are not so afraid of research if it is packaged as ‘classroom inquiry’ or ‘study’. It makes sense to observe what happens in your classroom and learn from it, so that means that it makes sense to do research. The fact that there are those, mainly in universities, who do this on a larger scale perhaps, and have more of a theoretical interest, should not mean that what they discover is any less interesting, or more frightening. The name ‘research’, however, for many teachers is off putting, they do not read academic journals, often because they do not have access to them, which is a great shame. Ultimately as Lourdes Ortega said, research finding s should be treated like other pieces of ‘knowledge’ and if they convince you they are useful but if they don’t, then, perhaps it is as well to treat them with mistrust.

Lexis, corpora and treasure chests

I like to choose various themes when I go to a conference and today’s theme was mainly lexis. I gave my own presentation this morning on two digital corpus interfaces, which are both user friendly and useful: Just the Word and Word and Phrase. If you missed this talk and are interested, or if you were one of those who didn’t manage to get the handout, here is a link to a Padlet I’ve set up, where you can download the materials and add your own feedback and thoughts or share your own experience with corpora in the classroom. I’d be very interested to see what others have to say. I use these interfaces as well as The American Corpus and SkeLL both as a resource myself when teaching and as a reference tool for learners who need to know more about lexical usage. I am convinced that corpora are a veritable treasure chest of ‘lexical gold’, in the words of James Thomas, and training our learners to be treasure hunters can help them to learn how to use collocations, colligations (gramatical combinations) and understand the meaning and tone or semantic prosody that words take on when they are combined together. Just to give you an example of what I mean, I looked at the word ‘regular’ and asked people what it means. The idea of ‘habitual’ came up or connections with time, and a glance at the results in a combinations search in Just the Word which draws on the British National Corpus (BNC) confirms this but also has examples such as ‘regular features’ where regular takes on a completely different meaning or ‘regular army’. Just the Word did not have another very common example, which is ‘regular coffee’ which refers to size. Learning to discover such meanings and combinations can be invaluable for learners.

Do some words matter more or the frequency fallacy

After my own presentation I went to see Leo Selivan’s talk which was also on lexis and actually touched on many of the things I did as well. He began by describing the topic of frequency and why frequency is often used as a measure of what lexis should be taught, the most frequent, but went on to say that things are not as simple as the fact that ‘80% of English text is made up of high frequency items. The fact is that those items do not exist in isolation and there are many aspects such as polysemy, for instance, that cloud the issue. Leo’s talk was, in fact videoed, so if you’d like to see more, here is the link.

Champagne and Ice cream

Meanwhile, in the exhibition hall it was just one long party, as far as I could tell. Every time I went past the Nile stand there was Champagne, others were handing out ice cream and later on another stand, I think it was Macmillan, were handing out wonderful slices of cake. To top it all off the sun came out and there was even a touch of spring in the air, so all in all, a very successful first day for Iatefl 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perpetual PD or keep on learning

pexels-photo-310983.jpegKeep on Developing

As William S. Burroughs said in ‘Junky’, “When you stop growing you start dying.” and this could just as easily be paraphrased to “when you stop developing professionally you start stagnating, so in today’s post I’d like to think about how much we invest in our own professional development (PD) in a world which seems

photo credit: Vincenzo di Leo @ https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-riding-bicycle-on-city-street-310983/

to be spinning round faster and faster, where technology is evolving all the time, and where standing still and doing ‘the same things you have always done’ in class is possible but would be like eating the same pasta every day when just around the corner there is a whole array of different types for you to enjoy. One of the easiest ways to participate in PD is by attending webinars or watching streamed conferences etc. all available at the click of a mouse, without having to travel anywhere, but there is also a rather special meeting which takes place on Twitter every Wednesday, run by a group of amazingly dedicated, hard-working volunteers, who believe in social networking to share and advance knowledge and professional practice. I’m talking about the Twitter event  ELTchat. It is IMHO an excellent form of ‘do-it-yourself professional development. If you’ve never been it’s well worth investing an hour on a Wednesday.

What is ELTchat

For those of you who have never heard of ELTchat, it is a virtual weekly ELT professionals meeting, where, for one hour, anyone can join in simply by going to Twitter on a Wednesday, either at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. Central European Time (or even both, if you feel inspired) and following the hashtag #ELTchat, and joining the conversation by posting with the same hashtag. This initiative was started quite a few years ago by a group of people who believe in the power of social media to bring people together into what is known as a PLN (Professional (or Personal) Learning Network) where like-minded people meet to chat and exchange ideas, insights and questions about ELT. These meetings then actually extend to a real social network whose members offer support to each other as well as developing lasting professional relationships in ‘real life’. Each Saturday anyone who is interested can propose a topic for discussion the following week, and then everyone votes on the proposals. The top two proposals are then discussed in the Wednesday meeting.

How to join in

It is possible to take part simply by following the hashtag #ELTchat on twitter itself, but if you want a more streamlined approach Tweetdeck and Hootsuite both organise Twitter hashtag discussions into single columns which are very easy to follow. Marisa Constantinides has provided an excellent step by step guide on the ELTchat blog, to get you started painlessly with these resources. I personally use Tweetdeck, but it is simply a matter of habit.

It is a good idea to go to the ELTchat blog, housed on WordPress, in advance to get an idea of what is going on. The “latest” menu will take you to up to date posts as well as links to the topic proposal form. You can then think about your own:

ideas

positions

questions

Preparing is useful because once the chat starts it is fast and furious with public and private exchanges going on all at the same time. The first time I went, in fact, I just watched what was going on and didn’t dare tip my comments into the sea of exchanges for fear of being swept away. I also tried to follow the meeting on Twitter directly, which I found rather frustrating and was almost put off until someone recommended Tweetdeck to me, and after that I was set.

pexels-photo-541522.jpeg

Staffrooms of the Past and ELTchat of the Present

When I first started working here in Verona a long, long time ago, I was lucky enough to work for a private school which boasted a very professional team of teachers and our staffroom was a truly inspirational place (most of the time). We all taught in the evenings but we had the same 30 minute coffee break, which we spent together talking about what had or hadn’t worked in our lessons, sharing thoughts and asking for ideas for future lessons as well as social chit-chat. It was thanks to this particular classroom that I and a few colleagues published for Penguin books at the time I was involved in ‘Elementary Writing Skills‘ for instance and my colleagues wrote ‘Elementary Reading Skills’. Although they are somewhat dated now you can still find them in print and they were the direct result of a stimulating staffroom environment. Nowadays, everyone seems to be teaching at different times and this type of informal exchange is not so common perhaps, but this is precisely where an even like #ELTchat comes in and provides us with the staffroom of the present.

What is so Inspiring about it?

Twitter, you may think, is quite limiting, as you can only tweet a certain number of characters at a time, a challenge in itself. What happens, at least in my experience, is that the meeting acts as a brainstorming session and thoughts are still flying round in my head the following day. This may lead to reflection, you might find resources you want to explore further, idea for your next lesson or you might feel inspired to reflect and blog. #ELTchat is the springboard that launches you into a new process of development.

The ELTchat blog also contains an archive of all the summaries, written after each meeting, which is a veritable treasure trove of ideas, links and thoughts about all sorts of ELT topics. You can just search for the topic you are interested in to see when it was discussed and access the summary of what was said and the resource links that were shared. In fact, ELTchat was an Eltons finalist in 2012, precisely because it was such an inspiring, innovative idea, which can help so many teachers. I can also say that I have met some amazing colleagues there, and we meet up at conferences and even on our summer holidays at times!

There is a whole lot more to explore there as well, such as podcasts and videos, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. If you like the idea, just come along on Wednesday and I may see you there.

 

 

The price of freedom : a few thoughts on learner autonomy

How autonomous do learners actually want to be?

Is the quest for learner autonomy like reachinig for the stars or is it something that is both achievable and desirable? Is it something that should be explored purely outside the classroom or also in class perhaps together with teachers? Last week the TESOL Italy local group held a seminar in Verona on Learner Autonomy and Inclusiveness which raised one or two interesting questions related to my initial thoughts. The first one is the title of this post: what is the price of freedom? Or rather, how autonomous do learners actually want to be? The answers that were shared, even though this was largely on an anecdotal level, tend to confirm the idea that learners don’t actually know how to be autonomous and seek guidance. Jemma Prior began the afternoon by discussing negotiation in curriculum development and the way she does this in her Academic English courses at the University of Bolzano. One of the points that she underlined was Holec’s focus responsibility for learning lying completely with the learner:

“Learner autonomy is the ability to take charge of one’s own learning i.e.to have, and
to hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning…” (Holec 1981)
Hoping for learners to take responsibility of  ‘all the decisions’ is a tall order, particularly in a world where many contraints are imposed on both teachers and learners by institions, exams and simply the reality of living in the real world. Jemma mentioned a project in Belgium where learners had been given the freedom to design and negotiate their own course, but which had actually had very negative results and which would tend to underline the fact that learners, just like all the rest of us, find it difficult to cope with complete freedom and seek guidance. After all, the thinking goes, “I am paying to do a course so I expect some expertise for my money!”. At the time that Holec was writing, however, I thought it worth mentioning, many institutions were introducing self access centres, perhaps believing that by allowing learners to ‘take responsibility for their own learning’ they could save money and provide self access rather than teaching. These self access centres were ultimately, like the project in Belgium, doomed to failure in most cases, precisely because most of us look for direction and guidance.

Autonomy or Self Instruction?

Self access centres are self instruction centres and learners need to be autonomous to want to use them but self instruction is by no means the same as learner autonomy. Autonomy could be considered a psychological quality or a behaviour but it starts with the individual rather than being a collection of resources for learners. This is also one reason why very few learners are able to follow online courses independently or the sort of self access language learning courses that used to be available as cassettes with magazines etc. Nowadays we have a wealth of self instruction materials available in the shape of online courses, sites etc. some of which are more effective than others but despite this wealth of potential sources of learning many learners still do not know where to start, or lack the motivation and knowhow to be able to use them well. The eighties s was a time when many were thinking about autonomy and what it meant, and that is even truer perhaps today, with the increased onus on learners to ‘take responsibility’ for their learning but the definition of what autonomy is is not such a simple matter and David Little in fact calls it a ‘slippery concept’. For a concise review of some of the research see Little’s description here.
In our digital age this debate is beoming even more heated and urgent in education. One noteworthy case is Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments which in his case, came to the attention of TED among others, and which then led  to further investments and research.  What he did, basically, was to set up computers on street corners in under-priveleged areas of India, like our ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines. These were provided in bright colours and designed for children to be able to sit comfortably at. He then simply left them to it in attempt to remove the teacher and to prove that children learn more effectively when their learning is more self directed. In his plenary at Iatefl in 2014 this had an electrifying effect on the audience (most of whom were teachers) and the debate continued long after. If you are interested I wrote about it at the time. He seemed to be heralding self direction as something new, although it was the self direction + technology that interested him, but I wondered what had happened a few years on and the results are, unfortunately that many of the ‘holes in the wall’ have been vandalised or are being used by older youths to search for all kinds of things that are not necessarily related to education.
Mitra, in fact is more interested nowadays, it seems, in his school in the clouds, which is more about self direction within existing  educational frameworks. I have no doubt that much of what Mitra says makes sense, and many educators are already doing this, but once again providing children is not enough and it is certainly not a magic solution to the problems of failing education systems. Tom Bennet, writing for TES in 2015 bemoans the fact that so many fell for this apparently ‘easy solution’ which he describes in damning terms:
“It seems to me that the more outlandish the magic bullet  claim in education, the more someone is willing to pay to subsidise it – and the less critical people become of it. But Mitra’s work taps into zeitgeists that are very, very groovy indeed: student-guided learning, the perpetually-approaching-but-not-quite-yet tech revolution of education, and the need to replace the ossified dogma of factory-farm learning. It’s like Ken Robinson regenerated into the next Doctor and the Sonic Screwdriver became a laptop.”
Well, teachers feel threatened when self direction rears its head, but scaffolded autonomy within a specific learning framework , is, to my mind, part and parcel of respecting learners and their needs, and in fact nothing new. I have, in fact, frequently given learners a problem or a task and asked them to solve it in small groups with the use of digital resources, and this type of guided learner self direction when monitored closely but not invasively by an educator, can lead to exciting results.
Photo credit: Comfreak on pixabay
https://pixabay.com/it/luna-star-artigiani-carta-da-parati-2077332/

Scaffolding

Complete resonsibility for learning, or to return to Jemma’s Academic English in Bolzano, course design, then, even if the learners did want it, is difficult to achieve as most institutions have certain expectations in the shape of standard exam requirements and standard syllabi.  Jemma, in fact, explained that much of here course is not ‘up for negotiation’ but one part that can be is the portfolio which counts for 25% of the final exam. scaffolding learner autonomythe level of task negotiation or topic choice etc. is much more realistic and ultimately rewarding both for the learners and the teachers. Learners, who are provided with clear guidelines, within an existing framework, are, in fact, often very happy to ‘take responsibility’ for certain aspects of their learning, and teachers are able to help them taking on increasingly the role of facilitators of learning rather than providers. This leads me on to the second theme that came up in our seminar, which was the need for scaffolding, which all of the speakers underlined in one way or another.
Ann Margaret Smith from Lancaster, who talked about learner autonomy and inclusive education as being two sides of the same coin, mentioned how splitting thinigs into manageable chunks can help learners, telling them that they will be working on a 3000 word essay may be daunting whereas saying that the overall aim is to write an extended essay but that for the moment they would be focusing on ‘titles’ is much more manageable for learners. Elizabeth Beck from the British Council Milan, described their experiences in deveoping ‘learning to learn’ strategies with adult learners, and once again she mentioned that she had initially been quite surprised by the lack of awareness of how to go about studying, but was encouraged by the results achieved by integrating learning strategy work in class supported by separate clinics with materials developed to help learners navigate the world of language learning. I talked about using corpora in class, and once again stressed the fact that it is not enough to simply provide learners with tools. After all, you wouldn’t give a 17 year-old a car and say here’s the key, off you go, would you? Learners need to be provided with the right questions to ask, strategies to use resources effectively and also systems about how to motivate themselves.
Scaffolding, I strongly believe,  means providing the support for our learners to indeed be able to reach for the stars and actually be able to grasp them and even create their own starry firmaments. To reach these dizzy  heights one or two things that we can do to help is to provide the means for both learners and teachers to find out how to establish:
  • goal setting techniques
  • effective/ fun learning strategies
  • an awareness of the outcomes they would like to achieve
  • the motivation to keep up with it all.
  • what useful resources are available and how to use them one step at a time

 

Non embedded Reference:
Holec, H. (1981), Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning.Oxford: Pergamon.

Can you use that image?

fullsizeoutput_31d
photo credit: Sharon Hartle

Well, I’m back from Iatefl, and am gradually settling back into my normal Italian life. One of the highlights of the week, last Wednesday was a lesson I did on ‘Intellectual Property’ with my advanced C2 class, who have to do presentations as part of their final exam. Many people use resources such as prezi or emaze to do this, which are public, open platforms, freely accessible by the world and his wife. As we live in a world where remix is the norm and images, video, music and other media are shared at the speed of lightening, often without much thought for ownership, it is important, I think, every now and then, to stop, take a deep breath, and question all this.

I have added a photo credit to my own image above, which I would probably not normally do,  (This is my photo, by the way, ) in a rather ironic way to make the point, but for many taking time to think about who owns ideas and content really did seem to be a wake up call, that meant looking at their practice, if not their lives, with new eyes.

What did we do?

Part One: Discussion and Reflection

The lesson began with reflection and the discussion of these two questions:

  1. “We live in times of theft, intellectual theft. When you can download just about everything and make it your own what incentive is there for artists to create any more?”
  2. “A remix is actually an original reworking of someone else’s idea, so as long as credit is given where it is due, it belongs to the remixer.”

This gave rise to various points such as the distinction between piracy and theft, which was not immediately clear to everyone. There is also a fine line between plagiarism and intellectual theft which we also explored, and it seems, at times, for some to be difficult to distinguish between expressing their own ideas and expressing someone else’s. This may seem obvious but when does an idea become so commonly accepted or shared that it is no longer necesary to cite its author? We, obviously, cannot cite everything so in our comunity, for instance, we  refer to ‘scaffolding’ because everyone knows what it means, without having to cite Vygotsky every time we do this.

Part Two: So, in practice?

So far, this was all rather theorectical, however, so the next stage reinforces what this actually means in the way we use technology. I had created a Facebook exercise for the Student Group (which is a closed group on Facebook), with an image I had created by adding special effects to my own photo of an art installation, inspired in fact by J.J. Wilson’s plenary at Glasgow Iatefl.

//www.viddler.com/embed/1b29327f/?f=1&player=arpeggio&secret=84815357&make_responsive=0
During this motivating plenary one of the things he asked the audience to do was to look at differnt classrooms and create ‘I wonder……’ ideas with each other. I asked my learners to do the same, (and there are  prizes for the most ‘liked’ ideas). This time, though, I asked the class to look at this video and to say whther or not they thought it was intellectual theft. (I had added a link to an article about the original installation as well, both for those who were interested in reading about it and to give credit to the author.

Reactions

The class decided that this was not intellectual theft because the installation was in a public space and I was using my own photo, not claiming that the installation was mine. The power. however, of this exercise, I felt, was that it really made people think about how they use Social Media and the content they post. Some went away from that lesson looking rather worried and talking about closing accounts, a reaction that they would probably not have had from simply taking part in the discussion.

So, why is all this important?

SEC Conference centre Glasgow
Reflection

Well, reflecting on what you do before you do it is a skill that often needs to be relearned in our world where everything can be shared at the speed of light, by the click of a mouse. I personally believe that respecting other people’s work, ideas and insights is etremely important and I hope that they will respect mine too. When you have experienced your own work being plagiarised or stolen in some way you will know how hurtful it can be. Why do we need to steal other people’s work when we can give them credit for it, ask them for permission to use it or…actually, even better, use our own work? Oh, and by the way, the reflection image above is my own photo taken in Glasgow, just in case you were wondering :-).

 

 

What are you ‘sinking’ about? The ELF Debate continues…

The Elf Debate

The elf debate is still at the back of my mind, as it often is and the other day, here at Glasgow Iatefl, Peter Medgyes, in a very well presented speech which supported the importance of learning English as a language in its own right, rather than learning a not very well defined ‘elf version’, quoted this video as an example of one reason why in real life situations we need to be able to speak ‘proper’ English.

There is so much wrong with the stereotyping of this ad, which is actually a Berlitz advert, that I’m not sure where to start, both as far as language learning is concerned and as far as stereotying the Germans… However, my point here is not the stereotyping in itself but how relevant this is to the question of ELF. The point being made here seems to be very much in favour of traditional English models although who, in their right mind, in a context such as this, would react in this way??

I, personally, keep thinking that there is a distinction to be made between ELF as the traditional researchers such as Jennifer Jenkins or Barbara Seidelhofer, and others, see it and Global English as described by david Crystal as the usage of English as a lingua franca on a global scale. There is no denying that English is a global language, and this means that it is in rather a different position from other languages perhaps that are studied with the express purpose of contributing to or integrating into L1 communities. This means, in my view, and as I have said before, that when it comes to assessment we need to take into consideration the notion that our learners need to aim for clear expression rather than to adhere to unreachable native speaker norms, which has to be taken into account in assessment. When it comes to teaching, however, there still needs to be a clear model to present in the classroom, and this is the closest native speaker variety to those learners, so that in Europe this will probably still be British English to a great extent. After all, I may, in a test situation, decide that using ‘informations’ as a countable form rather than the traditional, uncountable ‘information’ does not impede the message particularly (although it will affect the grammar and text references that go with it when writing, which may well hamper reader comprehension). So, when testing this may be acceptable but when teaching we are sulely doing our learners a disservice if we do not point out that even though many now use this word in a countable way it is, actually, uncountable. The model that is presented, in fact, is often just that: a model, and then each individual will, as they do in their own language, develop their own voice and means of expression. As Peter Medgyes also said in his presentation, this is actually not ELF but simply the way we use language.

What do you think?

Iatefl 2017- Exploring digital footprints and Elfies

I can’t believe we are already half way through the conference. So far, in fact, it has lived up to its reputation of being a whirlwind of events, learning, meeting old friends, working and networking. Yesterday was the first day and there were various sessions that I attended, In fact they were all inspiring. I went to an extensive reading presentation by Marcos Benvenvenides, which I liked because I have long been a fan of reading and need to remind myself from time to time of how useful just ‘reading for fun’ at a non demanding level, can be for everyone, and particularly for learners.

I also went to a lovely session on ambiguity by Jonathan Marks, talking about punctuation in the tradition of ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ but many other aspects of language that go to create ambiguity. In the end he concluded, however, that the context of use determines the meaning and that most of us deal with ambiguity n practice with no trouble at all, no matter how funny we may find such things in jokes.

Both of these talks were  informative and fun, but I would like to write about two different sessions in more detail here.  The first of these was a session by Sophia Mavridi who was speaking about ‘Portraying Yourself Online’. This was of particular interest to me, not as a teacher who portrays herself online, although that is true as well, but rather for my undergraduate and post-graduate students who are tying to enter the world of work. Her session provided me with several interesting points that I can pass on to my students to consider:

Your Digital Footprint

Sophia talked about the digital footprint each of us leaves behind us in our daily trek through social media, what we post, how permanent it may be and how unwary posts can come back to bite in the future, Examples of this were things like:

  • posting yourself drinking alcohol
  • posting yourself in a swimming costume
  • posting unguarded thoughts and opinions

The point was also made, however, that at times others may post images of you in a swimming costume, for instance, and the nature of socila media means that this is largely beyond your immediate control.

On the other hand she also talked about the things you can do to make sure you leave a postivie digital footprint:

  • blogging
  • posting comments to other people’s posts that go beyond the ‘great post’ level and actually say something more like ‘great post! I enjoyed it because….’ so that those who read can learn something from you as well.
  • Drawing a fine line between showing off and showcasing your skills
  • Creating an eportfolio on sites like ‘linkedin’ etc.

In any case, and Sophia did not prescribe her views of what was or was not apropriate but left it for us to decide, the talk  provided food for reflection for both me and my university students.

The World of Elf

The second event that made me think, and is still making me think aday later, was the ELTJournal Debate about the motion:

“ELF is interesting for researchers but it is not important for teachers and learners.”

You can see the video of the event below:

//www.viddler.com/embed/c73a4cd5/?f=1&player=arpeggio&secret=102511449&make_responsive=0

WordPess embed

Peter Medgyes spoke for this motion saying that ELF is something that has been created by what he called ‘elfies’ who have invented their own ‘elfiology, which bears little resemblance to the English that learners aim to learn in order to express themselves in the ‘real world’. Alessia Cogo, on the other hand said that “Applying ELF in the classroom is a challenge but it is a challenge worth taking up”. The members of the audience had several comments to make on the subject including my own. I said that I feel the subject to be a complex one and three issues that come to mind are:

  1. the language you teach depends on the audience you are teaching. If, for instance, you are teaching Academic English writing to PhD students who would like their work, perhaps, to be published, you would be doing them a disservice not to teach them a model of English that is accepted in that world. I could add, that whether or not it is fais, those preparing for external certification also need to conform largely to native speaker standards in the ‘Use of English’ sections of the exams they take. Jennifer Jenkins may claim that countable or uncountable nouns ar eon the way out, but if you use ‘informations’ instead of ‘insformation’ in an exam, you will prbably still be penalised. Of course, there are other factors to take into account. (I said it was complex) and most speakers, in actual practice. will willingly accommodate to each other if they want to communicate, this is not necessarily true of assessment criteria.
  2. I said, in fact, that I think a distinction needs to be made between teaching and assessment. Whereas, I truly believe that assessment in the C21 needs to take Elf into consideration and could easily, partularly in speaking tests, take elements such as negotiation r accommodation, into account, it is more difficult when it comes to teaching. There is a danger of an ‘anything goes’ approcah being adopted at one end of the spectrum, where accuracy is not taken into consideration at all. This is also a disservice to learners, because whereas it is true that I can understand you if you do not use the third person ‘s’ in the present simple, it may be helpful for you to know that it exists, and that you may well have to understand it when it is used by others.
  3. I also mentioned the issue of non native speakers, which I know is another subject, but which I thought was worth bringing in. Here I think that many excellent non native speaker teachers are pensalised around the world for their status, which I personally consider to be both unfair and unwarranted. Many of these teachers are in a unique position to help their learners precisely because they have gone through the process of learning the language themselves, so that they know where the pitfalls may be. These teachers, however, have also started from a native speaker model and this is the model that they teach to their learners.

Ultimately, I think it is unrealistice to expect our learners to aspire to native speaker standards when they use the language, but what we teach them has to at least start from a native speaker model. I may be wrong, and, in fact, at the end of the debate the voting was even on both sides. I voted against the motion, however, this was not because I believe that ELF should be taught but because I believe that English is being spoken as a global language and this does affect the way people use it so our assessment of use must evolve to reflect this, but not perhaps the initial models that we teach.

Well, the jury is still out so what do you think?

 

Joy in the Classroom

Filling the learning process with “Joy”

Yesterday I talked about various elements that I want to emphasise this year in my teaching so I decided today to explore one of these in more detail and the first one was “joy”

Frequent cooccurrences with joy from SkeLL
Frequent cooccurrences with joy from SkeLL

What is Joy?

A glance at the similar words, identified by SkeLL https://skell.sketchengine.co.uk/run.cgi/thesaurus?lpos=&query=joy in a search for joy as co-occurring with the noun the most frequently, show that the sensation of joy is more than happiness it is a sensation and is extreme, a synonym of delight, passion, enthusiasm, for instance. If we take a look at common collocations we can see:

tears of joy

fill with joy
sheer, pure or even unbridled joy

All this suggests that joy is a sensation that liberates us, it gives us a moment of release, where we feel such pleasure in something that it moves us to tears or laughter. The moment itself may be short but the memory of the emotion stays with us and perhaps brings a smile to our face when we think of it. How can all this translate to everyday life and the classroom in particular? Well I want to choose the elements of liberation and passion, which means going beyond the conventional, or received, breaking out into something innovative that you really believe in.

University, Exams and Breaking away from Basic Tasks

My learners are university students who are concerned with their exams and their grades, but to study just to pass your exams is missing the point. Sometimes it is important to remember what it is that drew you to this particular degree course, what it was that made you want to develop it further, and what your real motivation is. In short, where is the joy in the subject you are studying? What new heights can it take you to? These are very personal questions and the answers will differ for each one of us. I can only answer for myself.

Taking the first steps, walking and then running.

As a student I was motivated to pass my exams initially because qualifications are a key that may unlock doors in the future, but if I am honest, on some level I also craved the approval and acceptance of those I looked up to. As I have grown older I have learned that the criteria people use to evaluate students in exams is not always objective and that sometimes the most important thing is to live up to your own expectations of yourself. Those who do best or get the most out of a university course are those who go far beyond the basic requirements of a course, and who are passionate about what they are studying, the curious, the motivated, the ones who are brimming over with questions. In English exams students are often asked to write and speak and some do this as if they are following a basic recipe. Dictionaries contain guidelines for “problem/solution” essays for instance and show learners how to structure their writing. Whilst know these things is a crucial first step, it is just that, a first step. I don’t mean to belittle this first step as to know how to structure your thoughts or writing is essential, to know how to put words together to be able to express yourself wecropped-216363_10150554698405324_561635323_17737736_8234560_n.jpgll is also important, but learning is rarely a linear thing so we don’t often progress in a straight line and the fictional, structural aspects can be combined with other aims. This is when simply doing an exercise becomes transformed into the joy of a ride on the merry-go-round.

Spreading the Joy

Those who study languages supposedly want to use that language to communicate rather than simply going through the motions. Those who communicate best are the ones who speak or write because they have something to say, rather than just because they want to impress someone, or “do the exercise”. I find joy in language, for instance, when I express an idea well, or put together an utterance succinctly and clearly. I love language for the power of expression it gives me and the way it takes me to places and thoughts that I can explore like whole new worlds. I love reading other people’s thoughts too, and travelling for a while with them and then moving on, taking some of their wisdom with me on my journey and spreading it around for others as well.

 

Time Travel: One Example of how this works in Practice

https://pixabay.com/en/time-clock-head-woman-face-view-1739629/
https://pixabay.com/en/time-clock-head-woman-face-view-1739629/

To return to the ideas of liberation and passion, I think that liberation may well mean breaking through the confines of mechanical interpretation, particularly when it comes to classroom tasks. Passion means expressing something that is truly meaningful and relevant for you. I tell my learners, for instance, not to stop at the requirements for the exam but to set their own requirements that are even higher. So, for instance, if you are a B1 level student who is being asked to describe where you think you will be 5 years from now, close your eyes and visualise that situation with all your senses:

Where are you?
What is the situation?
Are you alone?
What can you see?
What can you hear, smell, feel etc.?
Are you talking, thinking, listening etc.?
Are you going somewhere or are you already at your destination?

By asking learners to really put themselves in the situation and to “time travel” the whole exercise goes beyond the requirements of the “exercise” and may create an experience where learners express their own “journey” in individual ways that tap into personal depths that they had not imagined possible. These learners may need help with the language they need to express these things but that is the beauty of the activity, and this is what brings an element of joy to learning. This is a classic visualisation process that may have different stages:

1) Visualise by listening to the questions and silently visualising the answers. (I don’t insist on people closing their eyes if they don’t want to.)
2) Preparation phase where learners write notes/ ask for vocabulary etc. rehearse their stories in their own minds.
3) Describe your experience to your partner(s) and ask each other questions about details.
4) Look at the exam question: in this case it was “tell your partner where you think you will be five years from now”.

I am constantly amazed by the experiences that emerge from exercises like this which are meaningful and relevant as well as taking my learners to exotic destinations in their own imaginations. Getting into the habit of wanting to express this in English is just part of the fun.

 

Celebrating Shakespeare and our Language

william-shakespeare-62936_1280400 Years since Shakespeare’s Death

 

 

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on 23rd April 1616, a day which, as Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent rightly says marked a day when ‘a man died but a legend was born.’ His legend, in fact, is still very evident in the very language we speak. He is a character who is very dear to our hearts here in Verona, so I decided to dedicate a blog post to him today.

Shakespeare and Iatefl Birmingham 2016

One of the things it was hard to miss at the recent Iatefl Conference in Birmingham was the centre stage in the middle of the exhibition area, where mini performances had been scheduled for the whole conference, an excellent idea.

One day when I was wandering around the book stalls and being handed cupcakes and sparkling wine (just thought I’d add that detail) I heard the amazing sound of Shakespeare as ‘hip-hop’. So I found out who was doing this amazing performance and it turned out that this was a group of people who, among other things, perform  educational events. They come under the name of THSC or The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company. Check them out to hear Shakespeare as you’ve never heard him before. Here is a video to see what I mean: a comparison of hip-hop with Shakespeare followed by the hip-hop version of Sonnet 18:

Shakespeare and Our Language

Whether you like the hip-hop version or not is probably a matter of taste, but one thing is clear: much of the language we speak today (and this is true not only of English but others too) has been influenced by Shakespeare, partley because so many have read his works or seen them performed, but the pervasive nature of expressions that he coined is a tribute to the poetry of the language he uses itself, I think.

Yesterday, Sian Morgan, a friend of mine on Facebook shared an image of ‘Things we say today which we owe to Shakespeare” which is a picture of a notebook page written by 20-year-old Becky in London and published in September 2011 on Tumblr (See the link above).  It was simply an image of the notes she had taken of simple expressions from everyday language that come from Shakespeare’s work, but it very quickly went viral. Sian’s post reminded me of this image, so I have decided to celebrate the Bard by giving you all a mini lesson plan. It could be used as the starter to a lesson or as a follow up activity and may be related to:

Literature

Language

Linguistics

Personalty

Interculture

Poetry

Music

… and many more.

Here is the updated image and the original, which Becky generously gives her permission to everyone to use. (I actually prefer the original, spelling mistake and all!)

 

rescannededitedshakespeare

Mini Lesson Plan

  1. Project the image of the language without the heading and ask learners what the connection between these ‘chunks’ is or where they think they originate from;
  2. Ask learners to choose the chunk or saying they like best (this is best done quickly, instinctively);
  3. Ask them to write their saying on a slip of paper;
  4. Collect the slips of paper and redistribute them randomly to everyone in the class;
  5. Ask learners to ‘mill’ around the classroom and their aim is to find the ‘owner’ of the ‘saying they have been given. They can do this by asking questions or guessing but they cannot simply ask; did you write X? They could, for instance, for a saying like ‘vanish into thin air’ ask:
    1. Did you choose something about escaping/ superhuman powers?
    2. Did you choose an image related to ‘air’?
  6. Finally group learners in small groups (with their original slips of paper) and ask them to discuss why they chose their expressions with questions such as:
    1. Did you like the sound?
    2. Did you like the image?
    3. Did you like the idea?
    4. Did you like the language?
  7. Optional stages:
    1. ask them discuss what they think their choice says about the way they are feeling at the moment;
    2. ask them discuss the influence of Shakespeare on their language: do they recognise any of these expressions?
    3. ask them discuss the influence of similar literary figures from their own culture: in Italy an obvius candidate would be Dante, for instance.

I coould go on but I think that is enough for today. Any comments or more ideas would be very welcome 🙂

 

Using Socrative

Introducing Socrative

http://socrative.com/

Since I’m doing a training session next week on using Socrative and Quizlet as part of a BYOD (Bring your own device) approach to teaching, I thought I’d share a little video with you that I made this morning just to illustrate the basics of the teacher dashboard.

Learner reflection, revision quizzes and a whole lot more

I use this tool mainly because I have large groups and it can be used in all kinds of ways. The description says that it has been designed to use quizzes, which might be tests, revision or practice etc. It can also be asked to ask questions, prompting learner reflection at the end of a lesson. I also use it a lot for writing asking, for instance, my advanced learners to summarise a text and then post it in the “Quick Question” function of Socrative, which I set up for them quickly in class. They can then read each other’s work and vote for the version they like best 🙂

Records

Socrative, which was designed by educators for eductaors, also has an inbuilt record keeping feature. This means that any work my learners do, such as summary writing, can then be sent to me by email, or simply accessed from the site. I can look at this for further assessment, feedback or simply for my own reflection. It is a feature which I have also used to run informal impromtpu polls and surveys that can then be very helpful when designing courses, or simply lesson planning.

Sharing content

You can also share the content you create either with colleagues by sharing the number of the quiz etc. or by going to Socrative Share Garden where the community uploads content for everyone to use. You can then edit this content further to adapt it to your own needs if you want to. My colleague, for instance, created a very challenging Christmas quiz, which she then shared with me and my learners.

So, if you want a really versatile tool which is fun and lets your learners use their telephones and tablets in class, why not try it out…