Hello – anyone listening?

Day 8 – the new cohort

8.20 I arrived in a ‘teacherish’ flurry of papers, whiteboard markers and drippy coffee cups and dashed around making some last-minute prints and copies and fetching keys before setting off to the building where I have my classes. A couple of nervous looking men were pacing (“polar-bearing” as they say over here) outside my classroom – they are two part time students who were waiting to present their research. We had agreed that they would present in the first half hour of class and could then dash back to their schools while I got on with the ‘normal’ teaching.

08.45 The class was ‘complete’ (a couple were sick and some more have already quit – we have quite a large dropout rate as students discover that education is not what they hoped, or that they are not as suited to education as they hoped) and, after a brief introduction from me, F&J started presenting their research.

F&J present their research:

The topic is motivation to speak i.e. what is the best way of motivating teenagers so that they are willing to speak (monologic + dialogic) in the class (and not just whenever the teacher happens to walk past). F&J had designed a number of lessons based around four concepts mentioned by Gardner  as being the aspects which encourage motivation.

 I noticed my students sitting on the front of their chairs and scribbling furiously. At the end they had lots of questions (actually during the presentation though I encouraged them to wait until the end rather than disturb the flow). They were concerned about the apparent flimsiness of the theoretical framework (F&J have hung their research on Gardner and only briefly touched Dornyei and Guilloteaux in spite of my not so subtle pushing of various articles and books in their general direction). The class was also curious as to the validity of the research: two fourth form classes (aged 15+16) in two separate schools with two different teachers. Luckily F&J were able to ‘defend’ their research very capably and I’m under the impression that when this class gets round to starting their research they may well use F&J’s as the basis from which they carry on.

I think it’s great that our students have to present their research to their peers, both their own and the new cohorts, generally during a symposium but in times of need (such as part timers who work to a different schedule) it is often done during a class (like in this instance). What I notice is that the new students are critical and interested and use and adapt their predecessors’ instruments and data and build on them thus generally creating a line, which, in turn, tends to add to the general improvement of their/our education.

How do you deal with research at your institute?
Listening = covert process (not product)

Coffee and continuation

09.30 It was time for a coffee break. After the break we discussed listening skills. I wanted to get the students thinking hard about what they believe with regards to listening so posed them some questions, such as:

Why do we listen? what is the aim?

Should listening be treated as a separate skill at school?

Should listening be taught together with speaking skills?

How much time should we spend focussing on listening strategies?

I’m pleased to report they had picked up the  essence of last week’s introductory class with my Spanish colleague i.e. the importance of introducing the topic (activating prior knowledge) rather than just throwing in a CD and using it as classroom management (i.e. when the pupils hear the CD they shut up).

4 processes operate continually but at different levels of efficiency

Should/can we teach listening strategies?

We discussed “what is a good listener?” and  listening strategies and then went on to look at and discuss the role visuals play in listening. I used two clips of Wuthering Heights (with humble apologies to my male students as I’m a true ‘girly girl’ who loves the Brontës and Austin!) to demonstrate that some visuals are more helpful than others (and some diction is clearer, even if you are a fan of the original;) )

This created some hilarity – as of course the tune sticks in your head and, let’s be honest, Kate Bush’s version is pretty scary!

Checking/assessing listening

10.20 We were then moving very rapidly because it was nearly the end of class. So after another YouTube clip for demonstration purposes we zoomed in on ‘assessing listening‘. Generally, when listening, you show signs of listening and comprehension (nods, aha noises, etc) but in the classroom setting listening is often reduced to a form of memory test. We listen to chunks (of varying lengths) and are then expected to answer top-down or bottom-up questions. Only at lower levels are listeners invited to ‘follow the map’ or ‘tick the box’ which is a more realistic ‘test’ (check) of listening as opposed to reading or writing from memory. I finished by inviting the students to check out an exam available nationally (but the not the standard one most schools tend to use – I’m not a fan!) which incorporates listening into speaking and external examiners in much the same way the old British O’levels used to be run.

10.30 Just after 10.30 we were done and the students hurtled off to their next class. Judging by the discussions (I’m keen on discussions in class as I believe the students learn a lot from each other and from having to put their thoughts into words). I’d say the students have fine-tuned their attitude to listening and have absolutely incorporated the theory they read prior to this class into their vision on good EFL listening didactics.

a few resources used/mentioned above:

Gardner, Robert C. Social psychology and second language learning: the role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold, 1985.

Guilloteaux, Marie J. en  Dörnyei, Z. Motivating Language Learners: A Classroom-Oriented Investigation of the Effects of Motivational Strategies on Student Motivation. Tesol Quarterly  Vol. 42, No. 1, March 2008.

Schwartz, Ana Maria, Listening in a foreign language :Schwartz

Ur, Penny, Teaching listening comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984


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