Following an intensive spell of travelling, this month’s instalment is a little belated I’m afraid. Still, better late than never, and to begin with once again, a couple of quick reminders:
1) My A-Z of areas is not meant to be definitive or exhaustive. Please feel free each month to add you own!
2) I will comment only briefly on each of my areas. Please expand on them or discuss them as you wish!
C is for…
In some ways, it’s a little surprising that ELT methodology took a while to get round to the notion of language being for communication. Beginning over a hundred years ago, grammar translation dwelt upon enabling learners to appreciate the written word more than to enable them to engage in spoken or written communication, and as we saw last month, behaviourism gave rise to the ‘drill and kill’ repetition approach to language instruction. In the late 70s, luminaries such as Chomsky, Krashen and Tyrell – and later still Willis and Willis (Task Based Learning) and Michael Lewis (The Lexical Apparoach) helped to popularise communicative language teaching. So how communicative is your classroom? Here’s a simple test. Ask yourself why we communicate in everyday life outside the classroom, then see if your classroom approaches and activities are preparing your students to do this. Here’s my list of reasons for ‘Everyday Communication’:
- To give and receive information
- For entertainment
- To share opinions
- To solve problems
- For survival
- For ‘social and emotional’ reasons (ie to create and maintain contacts and friendships)
Obviously, there is some overlap here, but that can be considered a good thing – there’s nothing wrong with killing two birds with one stone!
Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)
At one time it was common to ask ‘What do your students know in English?’ but increasingly these days we are asking ‘What can they DO in English?’ ‘Can do’ statements relating to the various skills are of the course the centrepiece of the CEFR, and provide students and teachers alike with a way of measuring communicative ability, rather than counting the number of phrasal verbs that students ‘know’ (but can’t use). This shift towards describing students’ competence gained momentum with the creation of the CEFR by the Council of Europe back in the 1990s. As well as providing a means of describing competences through the ‘can do’ statements, the document also serves to provide a scale of level descriptors that can be used for all languages in all countries – thereby making it easier to understand a student’s level irrespective of where they have studied. Find more information online at www.pearsonlongman.com/ae/cef/cefguide.pdf
It’s interesting to note that despite the title containing the word ‘European’, through experience I have seen the influence of the CEFR spreading beyond the borders of Europe as far afield as South America and South East Asia.
To what extent has the existence of the CEFR affected your ELT classroom, and in what ways? It would be interesting to hear any thoughts on this.
My German teacher at school used to recite a lengthy list of grammar rules, then follow up with the ‘killer question’: “Do you understand?” An all pervading silence would follow, with a few barely perceptible nods from a bemused class. Clearly, ‘Do You Understand?’ is among the least useful of questions we could use in class, as few learners will ever say ‘no’, thereby exposing their weakness in front of their peers. Students need to be given the opportunity to demonstrate understanding, and this is where concept check questions come in. CCQs are usually closed questions about the target structure addressed to the class allowing the teacher to gauge how well the point has been grasped.
For me, the world of concept questions began sometime last century during my interview for the CTEFLA course at IH Hastings, when the interviewer, Mr Adrian Underhill, asked me to provide concept questions to ensure students understood the difference between the following pair of sentences: ‘I remembered to lock the door’ and ‘I remembered locking the door’. After 15 minutes of me not having the faintest idea, I recall the ease with which Adrian provided the following:
- ‘How many actions are there in each sentence?’ (2)
- ‘What are they?’ (remember and lock)
- ‘In the first sentence, which happened first?’ (remember)
- ‘In the second sentence, which happened first?’ (lock)
Wow, I thought. And a whole new window on the world of teaching opened up before me.
What means do you use to check meaning? Do you ever use straightforward translation?
Discipline, interactions, involvement, instructions, timing… It seems there’s a lot to this vital area, so we’ll visit it bit at a time when we get to ‘D’, ‘I’ and ‘T’ respectively. It’s not that I’m shirking responsibility by not covering it all here, I promise.
Conversely, there’s no need to wait for ‘P’ (for pronunciation) for this – connected speech is big enough to get an entry of its own here.
Following an input session on this topic, one CELTA course trainee once said to me ‘So we use connected speech because we’re lazy, then?’ That could be one way of putting it, in that the movement of the mouth and tongue from one word to another does sometimes produce certain phenomena that result from labour saving… Commonly, we refer to four kinds of connected speech:
- Elision: Where a sound vanishes at the word boundary (eg the ‘d’ in fish and chips)
- Assimilation: Where a sound changes at the word boundary (eg where ‘nd’ becomes ‘m’ in ‘hand bag’)
- Intrusion: Where an extra sound appears at a word boundary (eg law (r) and order)
- Catenation (My favourite) where a word boundary appears to shift, giving rise to word play such as ‘fork handles’ becoming ‘four candles.’ See this immortalised by the British comedy duo ‘The Two Ronnies’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cz2-ukrd2VQ
What difficulties do you students have with connected speech, both receptively and productively? How do you help them with these issues?
Christmas (or Winter Holidays)
For those celebrating or simply taking a well earned break, make sure it’s a good one. Looking forward to hearing from you with your comments – and additional ‘C’s of your own. We’ll be back with ‘D’ at the end of January! Happy teaching.