P is for PPP

16 01 2011

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89 responses

16 01 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Scott,

PPP is often (fiercly) defended as a good model for beginner teachers to follow. Gives them much needed structure and helps them manage lessons – making them more ‘predictable’.

I would love to know your take this. Is it fair to ask novice teachers to do TBL or to cut their teeth by doing activites from Teaching Unplugged – without a coursebook if possible? This is a real sticking point with many people I speak to. They just can’t imagine beginner teachers doing anything other following a standard coursebook. How could they function otherwise?

If real engagement with the langauge is the goal here, I don’t think PPP has enough merit. All the criticisms you mentioned are ample reason to reject it – especially considering the viable alternatives for more organic approaches to the classroom.

The priming effect is an interesting point, but this is just a step away from the priming that surely occurs anyway throughout a good lesson. Let it happen as we go along.

All in all, I think it’s fair to say that PPP can be knocked into something not unreasonable by an astute teacher (letting learners decide topic/material is a good start), but again why bother with the model if there are alternatives like Teaching Unplugged?
🙂

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

The argument that PPP provides a secure launching pad for novice teachers is one I’ve used myself — but I’m conscious that other models are viable (Anthony deals with this below and in his own video). I would like to think that a TBL and/or dogme model was feasible, even for novice teachers. At the very least it might be offered as an alternative to PPP, which after all does still seem to be the current orthodoxy, and is enshrined in the coursebooks that teachers are likely to be using.

16 01 2011
Glennie

I think part of the problem teachers have with PPP is that they just get so bored with it. This happens in particular when they are using a coursebook which, unit after unit, in sometimes more and sometimes less disguised ways, uses the PPP approach.

However, what I’m not sure about if students are aware of this methodological repetitiveness or, if they are, if they actually find it tedious and so become less motivated as they proceed through the book.

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Glennie – in fairness, the boredom problem may be less with PPP than with the way that teachers use it: a boring teacher would make even task-based learning boring! It also depends on the kinds of activities you choose: if the presentation is simply a board-focused explanation, and practice activities are nothing but drills or exercises, yes, then it’s likely to be fairly boring and repetitive. But if the presentation is contextualised into some kind of scenario, which in turn is either acted out or viewed on video, and the practice activities are less mechanical, more meaningful, and personalised, then there’s no real reason that PPP should be boring.

16 01 2011
DaveDodgson

Nice to see a balanced view on the merits and flaws of PPP. As you noted, it seems to receive more than its fair share of criticism. This came up in a discussion concerning approaches and methods in my MA but I sometimes wonder if things like PPP are dismissed just because they’ve been around for a while.

Anyway, I agree with you that it provides a useful framework. Often when I’ve been asked to cover a lesson at short notice, PPP has provided a simple way to direct the lesson. I also use PPP when doing an isolated lesson covering a single grammar point (unfortuntely, a common occurence as I’ve been directed to prepare my students for the Cambridge YL ESOL Tests this year).

However, as with almost any ‘formula’ for teaching, it suffers from over-use. Furthermore, as you said, there is a tendency for too much time to be spent on P for Presentation (which contributes to some people’s negative view of it) and not enough on including personalisation in the Production phase. Room still needs to be given to meeting the needs and preferences of our learners whatever approach we are using.

Dave

P.S. As you posted this on YouTube, I assume you’re not planning any plenaries on PPP anytime soon.😉

16 01 2011
David Venezia

I can share an experience from an MATESOL Teacher Practicum course. It’s a course in which candidates video record lessons, post them, critique eachother’s lessons, etc.

I had the experience of taking this class with somebody who was a fierce proponent of ppp. On message boards, she often made statements like ‘our objective is to implement a methodology…’

I think struggling with the model has allowed me to know myself as a teacher better, and also hold myself to some kind of standard. Now, I agree the standard may not always be good, nor productive in teaching situations, and this is a problem, of course. But in general I think it’s good for teachers to encounter PPP, if only to see what they get from wrestling with it.

David

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Dave, and David, for your comments.

Dave, yes, the problem with the presentation stage is it often expands to fill the time available for it. In fact, this seems to be a liability of any stage that comes at the beginning of the lesson, where the teacher — conscious of the time ahead (‘deserts of vast eternity!’) and maybe worried about having underprepared — tends to drag his/her feet. Also, however finally we chop up the grammar, there always seems to be more that could be said about it than there’s time for.

David — I take your point about ‘wrestling’ with the PPP model, but I’m not sure what feature of it is so intractable: is it the overall design, or is it trying to find appropriate activities for each of its stages?

16 01 2011
Luiz Otávio

Scott,
Mark my words: this will be your most commented on post yet.

I am at a stage in my career where I have made peace with the PPP.

In the mid to late 90s I was part of a team in charge of course design / training for a huge language institute in São Paulo, which had a had a long-standing – and perhaps undeserved- reputation for being too grammar-geared. In an attempt to fight that reputation, the school spent most of the nineties/early 2000s bravely trying to replace the PPP by something else, a mission which I wholeheartedly embraced.

It so happens that a fairly loosely-defined and flexible task based approach ended up being chosen as the new paradigm (David Nunan had just written what he described as a task-based book for adults and that certainly played its role in the process) and our job was to create a TBL model that was compatible with all the constraints we were operating with at the time: linear syllabuses, exam preparation courses, tests, fairly large groups, higher than usual teacher turnover at the time. This is what we tried (not necessarily so neatly in that sequence):

1. Quick diagnostic tasks before the first P so as to gauge the right amount of practice (if any) before the last P. Stumbling block: heterogeneous groups with very different linguistic needs.
2. Last P right at the beginning, followed by presentation and practice on a remedial, sort of “this is how you should’ve said what you said” basis. Needless to say, students seldom produced the structure of the day to begin with, so the presentation phase became a “this is what you should’ve said” sort of phase.
3. Since tweaking with the sequence just wasn’t cutting it (especially at the lower levels), we started playing with the nomenclature: text (for presentation), enabling tasks (practice) and a final task (production). Some teachers were quick to point out that we were simply doing PPP with different labels, to which we replied that:
4. (a) An enabling task is not your usual second P exercise because, well, it must be a task to begin with. This means we would spend hours and hours in the academic department splitting hairs over the sheer “taskness” of different activities and never agree, of course.
(b) The first P is not your usual teacher-led presentation. It must be based on a text or dialog + noticing activities + grammar discovery questions. This, of course, was the one bit that everybody could do well since it was already the coursebook orthodoxy at the time.
5. We even tried using John Dewey’s Experiential Learning Cycle as a post-modern, post TBL model: engage learners in some sort of concrete experience with the language (Concrete Experience), show them people doing what they tried to do (Reflective Observation), enable them to analyze the language used (Abstract Conceptualization) and then, finally, try it themselves (Active Experimentation). Guess what – PPP again: concrete experience = quick diagnosis / reflective observation = presentation text + noticing / abstract conceptualization = analysis and practice / active experimentation = production. This is what you get when you try to use a general learning model as a one-size-fits-all solution to a language teaching problem…

I think what I’ve learned from the school’s admirable and relentlessly ambitious attempts to innovate is that no matter how you label what you do, given the current ELT orthodoxy, you will, at some point, need to (a) show students a new piece of language; (b) show them / enable them to discover how it works; (c) provide some amount of practice via text manipulation/creation and (d) help students take a stab at performing some sort of more realistic task possibly using this language.

I don’t think the labeling matters anymore (at least not for me) nor does the sequence in some cases. As a teacher / trainer / writer, what I want today is a lesson that is appealing, hangs together well, keeps to the same theme throughout, doesn’t create problems that weren’t there to begin with, doesn’t spend too long on grammar analysis and provides controlled practice that might include gap-filling but goes way beyond it.

So, could it be that John Scrivener’s ARC, which he always intended as a DESCRIPTIVE rather than prescriptive tool, is the one acronym that we can depend on?

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Luiz, for that fascinating account of how, at an institutional level, methodological alternatives were explored and negotiated. It is interesting that, so often, alternatives to the current paradigm end up replicating the paradigm itself, but with new labels attached! This seems to be what happened when communicative courses replaced structural ones: it’s as if there are irresistible centripetal forces that drag everything — however eccentric — back into the centre again. Mind you, this does not invalidate the need to re-consider one’s options periodically, especially at the institutional level: this can often have profoundly important consequences for professional development.

As for Jim (not John) Scrivener’s ARC model — yes, it purports to be descriptive, not prescriptive. The problem is, when you’re planning your lesson you don’t start by describing it: you start with some kind of schema onto which you map your activities. The schema might be PPP, or it might be some kind of metaphorical construct derived from other genres, for example opening — complication — resolution. In refusing to provide a schema as such, and by suggesting that any ordering of stages is equally viable, the ARC model (as I have argued elsewhere) is not really a model at all, and may not be of much use to the novice teacher faced with a blank sheet of paper headed: Lesson Plan.

16 01 2011
Adam

Thank you for getting round to this, Scott. My question about PPP is how you would rate it as a model for apprentice teachers in particular?

As much as I’m among those who yearn for the move towards certain (not all) dogme principals, I can’t help but think that PPP saved me in my first year or so. If you were to make some kind of likert scale as to when a teacher should start to embrace dogme principals in favour of highly controlled techniques such as PPP, where would the respective ‘schools’ of thought would cross paths, if at all?

Genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts on this (sorry if you covered this as I also have no audio on the video clip).

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Adam — thanks for the comment (although I am concerned that you couldn’t get the audio– anyone else have problems?).

Yes — I did mention the fact that PPP provides a kind of handy, easily generalisable template for lesson design, and implied that this could be useful, especially for new or hard-pressed teachers. I’ve dealt with this above and I know that Anthony has strong views on the matter — see his video (below). Let’s see what other commentators have to say on the matter!

16 01 2011
AG

Hi Scott and other commenters,
Thanks for this thought-provoking post – and for all the equally interesting comments. It was thought-provoking enough to get me to follow suit and make a video response, which you can watch here if you like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M5hd9k5iHQ

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Anthony — I love the multimodal character this discussion is taking. Anyone fancy inserting a PowerPoint? Glove puppets?😉

Seriously though, you make some very good points — all the better for being grounded in your actual teacher training experience, where you have seen for yourself how even novice teachers can dispense with the safety-net of PPP.

16 01 2011
Duncan

Anthony and Scott, you make the point that PPP could be or is effective if done well. The tendency to overdo the first “p” could be rectified, so that more balanced and effective lessons emerge. The main problem with PPP as a training tool, in my experience, is that it misleads teachers about what makes a good lesson. A PPP lesson, even done well, is not necessarily a good lesson because learners, I think, have more fundamental expectations, namely to learn and practise some useful language and enjoy a positive learning atmosphere. These expectations can be met in all sorts of ways and with all sorts of procedures, of which in my experience PPP is one of the least effective. By its nature it drives teachers to waste time presenting language which is not useful or needed by their learners, to put the cart before the horse, (as you point out Scott) and by frontloading the part of the lesson where the teacher is usually less at ease and the centre of attention, it tends not to help with the atmosphere and enjoyment either.

16 01 2011
AG

Hi Duncan,
You say: “By its nature it drives teachers to waste time presenting language which is not useful or needed by their learners, to put the cart before the horse…”

I agree that there are many other approaches to lesson structure which are valid for the reasons you give, but I am not sure I agree that this tendancy to use PPP to foist unneeded and unwanted language on learners is in the “nature” of PPP.

I DO agree that PPP has been (mis?)appropriated and (mis?)applied by initial teacher training as a pragmatic way of making teacher learning visible and measurable. In other words, PPP is the scapegoat for poor approaches to teacher training, the result of which is, naturally, teachers being trained year-on-year to use PPP poorly, insensitively and inconsiderately.

While that seems true to me, I still don’t see that this is necessarily the nature of the beast when it comes to PPP. For me, the reason PPP has such a bad rep is more to do with how it has been handled by trainers working on initial teacher training courses – people like you and me, in other words – than its own inherent qualities😉

18 01 2011
darridge

Great post, which deserves to be in the N is for Neoliberalism blog. PPP absolutely seems to me to be straight from administrative science – eliminate the variable of the learner and concentrate on the thing to be inputted. It makes teaching measurable, so teachers can be rated on how many people get it.

18 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Good point, Darridge. There is something about PPP that is inherently ‘production line’ – i.e. the delivery of grammar McNuggets.

Also, the metaphor of ‘presentation’ casts the teacher in the role of the one ‘giving the present’ of his/her own knowledge to the ever-grateful, teacher-dependent, and never-quite-as-knowledgeable student. This is what Paulo Freire referred to as the ‘banking model’ of education, where the educator makes ‘deposits’ of knowledge in the learner’s knowledge bank. Compare this with the dialogic model, where knowledge is jointly constructed in the interaction of all parties.

18 01 2011
AG

Sorry – have to reply to my own post because darridge’s and Scott’s replies don’t provide me with a reply option!

Hmmm – you both seem to be viewing PPP in isolation from any other teaching decisions, then ascribing negative aspects to it which would require teaching decisions to have been made.

I’ll try to say that more clearly: on the one hand, you suggest that PPP is guilty of promoting random, disconnected, teacher-selected but not necessarily student-needed language study. I don’t see this as a given. For example, why can’t a teacher, based on careful observation and analysis of the learners’ emergent language use, perhaps in discussion with the learners and shared agreement of the area of study, and perhaps even the type of context which would make it maximally meaningful for the learners, then use a PPP approach to explore, rehearse and then pressure test this piece of needed language focus?

A teacher makes decisions about what language they explore with their learners – this decision may be unilateral or bilateral, but a decision is made. And the decision to select something random and unneeded by the learners, or the decision to approach it within a PPP framework with disregard for the learner’S desire to be engaged or see relevance in the work, is not the fault of the lesson structure, it seems to me, but that of the teacher not doing their job on a fundamental level – and this would be a problem whatever the lesson approach or shape.

Just because a lot of teachers may be using a lesson structure or methodology indiscriminately, does not mean that the lesson structure or methodology is at fault or is causing this – is’t PPP really being used as a scapegoat for poor teaching decisions?

18 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Nice point, well made, Anthony. I particularly like this wording: explore, rehearse, and pressure-test — as an alternative to present, practice, produce. More to the point, I think you’re right that a PPP sequence can be embedded, as it were, into a more task-based/dogme approach – the difference being that the target language item has been targeted, not by the absentee coursebook writer, but by the learners themselves.

18 01 2011
AG

True – I think PPP tends to get conflated with or equated with coursebook-driven teaching. And to borrow from the other thread in these comments, that of research methods: there may be a strong correlation between PPP and coursebook-driven, grammar-mc-nuggeting, but that does not prove a causal relationship!😉

18 01 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Anthony,

I think you’re right about many of us here making PPP a bit of a scapegoat, but when it comes to it, doesn’t PPP still represent a linear approach to teaching?

Something too neat and too convenient for its own good?
🙂

18 01 2011
darridge

Yeah i completely agree AG – that PPP in itself is not inherently evil – its the first P that is the point – where and who does it come from in terms of the content…
However as Mr Darkbloom points out it does represent a linear approach to teaching, which is not how learning works in my experience.

18 01 2011
AG

I agree that learning isn’t a clearly linear process, but from some point of view teaching might have to be, occurring as it does within fixed parameters of space and time, as it were.

As learning is a natural, organic, emergent process, but teaching – especially in the shape of formal classes – is an artificial contrivance (cf. Widdowson in any number of books/articles), is it right to actually measure the fitness for purpose of the one against the natural characteristics of the other? Might it not be a case of saying an apple is bad because it does not conform to the nature of an orange?

Just being provocative now – feel free to ignore!

Anthony

19 01 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Anthony,

“[…] teaching – especially in the shape of formal classes – is an artificial contrivance”

This is something I’m really interested in. Where does everyday life stop and classroom life begin? Quality of classroom life.

An ‘artificial contrivance’, it may be, but that needn’t imply ‘articficial’ activities that learners would never engage in outside the classroom. To my mind, having a group discussion, doing a quiz, playing a parlour game etc may more effectively mirror things likely to be done in other group/social situations, than say, all working on gap-fill exercises or even taking tests.

I have a hunch (and it’s only a hunch, as I’ve only been teaching a few years and still very much a novice with these issues!), we should try to make classroom activities not stuff that only ever happens in a classroom.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.
🙂

PS: I need to check out Widdowson – do you have a particular book/article recommendation for me to start with?.

16 01 2011
osnacantab

Scott, Once again thanks for a stimulating P1 that has already sparked off some fascinating P3’s, including one by video. The discussion is already so rich it is necessary to be selective in one’s comments.

First, some general points. Hovering somewhere in the air in this discussion, by implication at least, is that elemental human yearning for just one explanation, one reason, one way to do things although we all know perfectly well that all explanations, reasons and methods are multi-faceted or just one of several options. Coalition methods or approaches are legitimate.

Linked to this fact, again a truism, is that, to limit the discussion to methods or approaches, it depends so much on how , in this case PPP, is done. Is it done mechanically, too often, too long, too top-down in terms of content or is it done imaginatively, sparingly, with gusto and arising out of demonstrated learner need or interest?

And a final point – What kind of learner audience in what circumstances are we considering? It was AG from Hamburg, I think, who briefly discussed students’ perception of PPP as a relevant procedure, and there was a general concern about a pragmatic matter – how would new teachers get on if PPP as a principal were removed? so, it seems to me there is a mixture of discussing whether PPP is theoretically well-based, whether it is a helpful tool for new teachers and if it has good perceived cred. by learners.

However, let me leave those questions unanswered. I want to concentrate on a different point.

A couple of time Scott mentioned the playing of a musical instrument and I have always thought that, given the habit we have of explaining one process or object in terms of another – that some aspects of what is involved in speech, in speaking can benefit from comparisons drawn from learning to play a musical instrument.

Of course multiple multiple factors are involved in the production of discourse, in the process of saying things with meaning in a social settings, and motivation, emotional drive etc. probably have primary force, but there is no getting away from the fact that wherever and how a language learner manages to learn and eventually acquire, once a learner utters sounds they have to be understood and they have to mean what was intended and that means being able to make one’s phonemes distinctive, get the stress system working effectively and getting the intonation right, too. And at that level it is very similar to learning to play a musical instrument. You cannot avoid the rudiments of guitar playing if you want to play a tune that will be recognised as a tune.

Scott suggest that the PPP approach, especially P1, if I understood correctly, can be justified because it makes the learner notice, raises his or her consciousness.

I would go further and say it can go a step further than priming and constitute practising the first sounds, lexical items, “structures”. This is not unlike practising scales and doing finger exercises on a musical instrument. But as soon as you can , you can start playing real tune, having real conversations and not merely manipulating language attending to form.

Mr. Darkbloom as AG formally addressed him, asked why bother with PPP when one can just go unplugged. I’d say that even with the most anarchic version of unplugged that one can imagine some carefully balanced PPP could be useful by enabling unplugged learners to spit out what it is they want to say.

16 01 2011
DaveDodgson

Another issue with perceptions of PPP is the assumption that it represents 3 stages of the entire lesson. As you allude to with your closing comment, it can be utlilised in short cycles within a lesson to address specific language points that have arisen.

16 01 2011
AG

ah, you beat me to it, Dave! I also wanted to make that point in my earlier response. Just as some (like Scott and Luke) talk about “unplugged moments” during conventional classes, might it be fair to suggest a place for “PPP moments” in unplugged lessons? This would certainly go some way to removing the kind of objections which Duncan reasonably holds against PPP when it is done (in my view) poorly.

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for this juicy comment, Dennis.

I’m always a little nervous as to how far to take these analogies, i.e. learning a language is like driving a car, learning a language is like playing the guitar, etc. As you point out, language use, at least, is a lot more complex than most mechanical skills. Nevertheless, there is an important element of achieving automaticity through practice that I think is shared by language learning and other skills. And this seems to be what you’re talking about. But recognising the need for practice doesn’t assume that one has to buy the whole PPP package, does it? Can one integrate the second P, i.e. practice, into a dogme/TBL lesson without having to present anything?

16 01 2011
David

When doing lesson planning – I always get my inservice teachers to bring in a PPP lesson plan and deliver it “upside down”. They take the normal PPP and start right off with the production part. Why?

I have found that the tastiest part for students, which is production (because we learn language by doing it, as mentioned ) is usually cut short or never gotten to! The bell rings and class is finished. So “upside down” forces teachers to teach as language should be learned – deemphasizing teacher talk, emphasizing student task time and teacher evaluation of what students can/can’t do in regards to fluency.

Though I’m not a prescriptivist or advocate of any formal “system” of lesson deliver – I do think an inductive/discovery/sandbox method is most suitable to language learning. In particular, for new teachers – forcing them out of the tired and brainwashed concept they have of a teacher in front of the classroom – forcing them to let students “have a go” and be more of a facilitator.

I’m thinking right now of Sugata Mitra’s methodology of just giving students a tool and an objective and letting the students try to reach the objective without teacher interference. The students always respond, “what are we suppossed to do? ” and he always says calmly, “I have no ideas and anyway, I’m going away”. Great slides on this here. http://bit.ly/hf9aFk

David

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, again, David. That’s a great idea about turning the lesson upside-down: I think that Jason Renshaw has written about something similar on his blog. I hope he will remind us of it.

While I’m a great fan of Sugata Mitra, I think one has to be very cautious in adopting a completely hands-off approach. Years ago (in 1966 in fact), Leonard Newmark wrote a paper called “How Not to Interfere with Language Learning” (it was re-published in Brumfit and Johnson 1979 ‘The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching’) in which he seemed to be promoting a kind of whole-language approach, in which the “new technology” of video recorders offered an alternative to presentation, arguing that “it has been shown convincingly that under the proper conditions it is possible for humans students to learn — in the sense of acquiring competence — certain very complex behaviours by mere observation of that behaviour in use”. In other words, through exposure to real-life interactions the learners would magically internalise the target skills.

In the same spirit (and in the same collection of papers) Dick Allwright argued that “if the ‘language teacher’s’ management activities are directed exclusively at involving the learners in solving communication problems in the target language, then language learning will take care of itself”.

The whole history of task-based learning since these heady times has been to find a satisfactory compromise between hands-off and hands-on.

While I agree that teachers should not interfere in natural processes of development, if they can help it, there is a difference between interfering and intervening. Sociocultural theory would suggest that the well judged intervention (e.g. at the point of need, or, in the zone of proximal development) can make the difference between the learner simply marking time and actual learning.

18 01 2011
darridge

In my DELTA, the tutors suggested starting with the practice section and working backwards. However, this is still just working backwards on something the book suggests…
Thats the bit I struggle with – the first P. Where does it come from?? Who decides what it will be? If the students have said “we want to learn language to talk about this topic”, then PPP away – they should be engaged by it.

19 01 2011
English Raven

Thanks Scott – yes, written about this more than once, but I think the posts you might have been referring to (?) were:

http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/01/a-quick-challenge-for-teflers-pick-your-potion.html

and

http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/01/esa-variations-and-the-fear-of-failure-in-elt.html

I did have another post about going upside down in the whole approach to planning and delivering lessons, but I think that is a rather different topic.

Cheers,

– Jason

22 01 2011
David

Scott,

Thanks for the “juicy” references. Helpful.

And yes, I do agree and so does Sugata Mitra that there must be more research and we shouldn’t “throw the teacher out with the bath water” so to speak. He constantly makes the point that the teacher’s role is as you suggest, “well judged intervention” on all levels.

I still wonder how all those millions learn a language without a teacher though – or for that matter, without the benefit of PPP. On some level for me, it is like the age old selling of a freezers to an Inuit. The only person who needs it is the teacher (the seller) but the students (buyers) pay in the end.

I do believe technology really allows access to great authentic input. A wonderful and liberating thing for language learners. If we can connect his grannies up with students around the world – there would be a lot more successful language acquisition in such countries as Thailand / Japan / Korea especially. And less need to suck on the dry teat of a textbook.

17 01 2011
James York

Good point on the fact that a lot of teachers “just get so bored with it”. I had never thought about it that way before.

Leaving aside evidence that seem to support the idea that other methodologies may be more efficient (such as PPP’s nemesis: TBL), as you note, PPP’s decline in popularity is also down to teachers who just get fed up doing the same lesson style week in week out.

Speaking from my own experience, students, and particularly the Japanese students that I have taught, do not seem to mind this teaching style.

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, James, yes — I think (and as I said in the video) there is less resistance to the PPP model from students than there is from teachers perhaps. The former seem in fact to expect it. And who are we to ride rough-shod over their expectations?😉

17 01 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Scott,

If many learners actually do expect PPP, are teachers who focus on TBL riding ‘rough-shod over their expectations’?
😉

18 01 2011
darridge

I’m sure there is less resistance from some students to PPP, after all, all they have to do is memorise some language “facts” to regurgitate in a test. It’s much easier than actually having to use the language in a meaningful way…;)

17 01 2011
Matt

It’s a long time ago now, but I still remember my first day as a teacher in front of a group of expectant learners. I wonder how many of us ever forget that first ‘live’ experience under fire! I needed all the help and support I could get, and that came in the form of a lesson plan which adhered firmly to the PPP model (in fact it was introduced to me as PPPP back then, with Preparation to start off with) and was taken from a coursebook which the students were already familiar with. Somehow I survived the 90 minutes!

Would I have managed without the coursebook, and the support of that PPP structure? I don’t think so. I wasn’t ready for TBL, or anything like it. It took a lot of time, and a lot of mistakes, and quite a few ‘ground please open and swallow me’ moments before I had the confidence to move away from the safety net that had been provided by ready-made materials. Before I was ready to ‘go unplugged’.

I had to acquire a lot of skills such as classroom management, understanding and facilitating groups, setting up and monitoring tasks, recording and analysing language production, giving feedback, and so on. And now that I reflect on that first teaching day, the students I was given to teach were still at an elementary level and would probably not have been able to ‘carry out a task’ in English anyway, especially one set by such a raw recruit.

17 01 2011
jeremyharmer

Hello Scott and everybody,

so there I was at my desk. Two screens. The radio was playing Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’, Scott was on the screen on the right talking about PPP, the screen front of me had some work I was doing, and Twitter kept popping up. I felt for a second that Marc Prensky would be really proud of me! Multi-tasking! Who says it is just for kids!!!

I could do this partly because Scott, your videoed exposition was clear and balanced. And some of the replies you have had really push the discussion on and situate PPP quite nicely – and far more sweetly than in the 1990s when Jim Scrivener actually wrote “PPP is not enabling, it is DISabling”, an exaggerated claim very much in keeping with the spirit of the times.

A few quick points:

1
Jane Willis described TBL back then as ‘a kind of upside down PPP’though she had been pre-dated by Donn Bynre who, in 1986 put the 3 ‘P’s in a circle and showed how you could put production first and then react accordingly (teach if it didn’t go well; don’t teach if it did – test-teach-test, I guess).

2
PPP became unpopular partly because it was THE procedure on offer in many 4-week teacher training course. It was the mystic centre of everything that was learned there – or at least that’s how it seemed. As such there was every reason to take up arms against it. Because PPP is a great and useful procedure (else how would it have survived this long), but it is only ONE of the many things that can be done in class!

3
PPP is attractive precisely because teachers can ‘learn’ how to do it. And it is attractive because it works – I mean both teachers and students can SEE it working. Of course it only really works if it has ‘primed’ – to use your words – students for noticing (and we don’t get to find that out straight away). But if students can ‘produce’ at the end of the sequence, both they and the teacher ‘feel good’.

4
You make a difference between production and personalisation, but I have always said (when and if asked) that personalisation is a vital ingredient of the production stage because it is only when you use language to say things which are true about you do you start to ‘own’ the new language.

5
I use the terms E(ngage), S(tudy) and A(ctivate) to show that 3 stages (because we like trinities in our world) can occur in a variety of diverse sequences (only ONE of which is PPP). A lesson planning tool.

Jeremy

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jeremy — there’s a lot I could comment on, but thanks in particular for reminding us that the test-teach-test model pre-dates task-based learning, and yet seems to share the same basic sequence — a deep-end one, if you like, and one that is compatible with notions such as experiential learning, teaching “at the point of need”, etc. I guess the key question, regarding test-teach-test, is what you are testing for. If you go in looking for a discrete item of grammar, as opposed to some more communicative goal, then your subsequent teaching process will look very different from a task-based lesson. I don’t think this is a problem so long as it’s not always discrete grammar items that you are looking for. And I certainly think it’s more flattering to the students’ intelligence to find out what they know first, before launching into a presentation of, say, the second conditional.

A different approach entirely (and one suggested by watching the lecture by Sugata Mitra – see the link above) might be simply to set the learners a problem, give them the means to search for answers (e.g. the Internet) and then, in Mitra’s words ‘ go away’. The question might be “How do you express hypothetical meaning in English?” As he puts it, “the question drives the whole process”. But this is the ‘engage’ and ‘study’ parts of your holy trinity — I’m not sure how such an approach would deal with the activation stage.

17 01 2011
jeremyharmer

Back again….

well, briefly, I would see the Mitra approach as a kind of activation stage (after the initial engagement of the students’ interest and commitment – those mysterious computers hiding in the walls…why wouldn’t a kid be engaged by that?). But ESA, like so much else, is just a quasi metaphorical way of trying to get trainees to think about what kind of thing they are doing and why…

But I am preparing/thinking of a new presentation on the value (or otherwise) of transmission teaching – provoked, in part, because of an earlier lengthy dogme discussion in ‘another place’!! In that context your analogy of music (learning an instrument) really interests me in part because I am doing just that at the moment: a new instrument, time pressure, powerful motivation etc). In one and a bit lesson sessions my attention to what the teacher was saying was absolute – even when I kind of knew it already. But it’s the practice and production that really matters if I am to succeed. What’s interesting me now is what HAPPENS when you practice. My tuba teacher calls it ‘putting petrol in the tank’, but I want to know what’s happening (is anything happening?!) in my brain whilst I chug away.

Sorry. Strayed off the point.

Jeremy

17 01 2011
Luiz Otávio

Jeremy,
The question you’ve raised (what happens when you practice) is critically important because of all its ramifications.

You see, the first P doesn’t worry me at all. Whether you do it deductively or inductively via text, there isn’t much you can do about it: students will need to be exposed to the new language, one way or another. Plus, exposure + noticing + CR, some would argue, is all you need to prime students for subsequent noticing and interlanguage restructuring. This means that even if you’re against PPP, you’re bound to find the first P useful if it’s done in a certain way.

The second P seems to be a bigger can of worms. Does practice make perfect? If not, does it work to some extent? If so, is it because of its output value (i.e., it helps students to proceduralize declarative knowledge) or because it’s yet another opportunity for students to notice the structure of the day? Assuming that controlled practice aids proceduralization, we should engage students in practice activities that bear some degree of resemblance to terminal behavior, right? So, what do we do about gap filling? What about lexical chunks? If they’re stored and retrieved as wholes, there might be a strong memory component at play here. What’s the role of controlled practice then? Could it be that this is the one thing drilling should lend itself to? These are all questions that an investigation like the one you’re proposing could shed some light on.

The third P is far from settled, too, I believe. Can we design truly communicative and meaning-focused tasks that make the use of a certain structure or lexical area essential or very likely? There seems to be an inherent tension between getting meaning across and “trapping” the structure of the day. True, there are implementation procedures that can help learners channel attentional resources to meaning/form (task rehearsal, repetition etc), but in terms of task design, how far can we go?

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

“There seems to be an inherent tension between getting meaning across and “trapping” the structure of the day.”

Exactly. This is the point that Dave Willis frequently makes — i.e. isn’t meaningful language use compromised, if the teacher’s agenda is primarily centred on form? It’s tantamount to saying: “You can say what you like but you have to use the second conditional!”

And, is a production activity considered a failure if it doesn’t, in fact, produce the “structure of the day”? Certainly, this is an anxiety many teachers have when being observed, and where the (covert) expectation is that what goes in should come out, all in the space of one lesson. The fact that the students might not produce the second conditional on cue could be due to any number of factors, such as their present readiness in terms of their interlanguage development, that are way outside the teacher’s control. You can lead a horse to water, as they say….

17 01 2011
jeremyharmer

Luiz,

well yes (practice is a lot more difficult to talk about) but, if I may continue my musical analogy a bit, I am spending time playing long notes out of context, playing an Eflat arpeggio, playing little b natural-b-flat-a-b flat-b-natural sequences to try and train my lip and my fingers. This is entirely ‘meaningless’ and repetitive, and although I MAY be called on to play these sequences at some time in the future, my reason for doing this is to (a) automatize the strange tie-up between my brain, my ears, my fingers, my lips, my breathing etc. Because if I do it enough times it should then be easier for me to automatically pitch a ‘real’ note at will at some later date.

I am learning some pieces too, and they do have ‘meaning’. But the other stuff…the exercises and progressions…has its place too?

Or is music in fact NOT a good analogy?

Jeremy

17 01 2011
Steven Herder

Hi Scott,
Here’s one more twist. Phil Brown and I were having a brief chat and it came up that we had both read 27 postings on P is for PPP. So here is the main gist of our chat:

Steven: Just read 27 posts on Scott’s PPP thread
Philip: I did that too today
Steven: Almost moved me to make my own video response cuz I really liked what Scott and AG did.

Philip: Hehe. I wish I had more time!
But to be honest, if I got started, I reckon it might end up a book, hitting on everything that’s been said, and two more points – 1) about where the learning a musical instrument metaphor needs to be taken further, and 2) about the expectations that inherently tend to be created both in teachers and students, with regards to PPP and the disappointment & frustrations that it then sets people up for…

Steven: Mine would be,
1. If you’re growing as a teacher, at some point the nagging questions will get to you. Questions like “How can they master this PPP dialog one week and lose it completely by next week? Over and over again? Dave Willis blew me away when he said something like, “Perhaps they are not learning anything, Perhaps they are just CONFORMING to get out of your classroom.”

2. PPP takes the onus off the teacher to do any thinking about what their own theory of learning or theory of practice should be. When I finally grew enough to answer those questions for myself, there was very little of PPP in any of my answers. Of course, I still present vocabulary or practice variations on a language point but it is always organically created as a response to what is happening in the present.

Philip: Right. (1) Maybe students knew it already and were thus able to produce what was presented and practiced (i.e. T didn’t find out if they knew it first) (2) Short-term memory issues re performance.

PPP – maybe better for transactional dialogues where there is greater predictability, but even then, how many students have you taught that froze when things deviated from the plan because they’d never learned to actually ‘communicate’?

I mentioned that I thought the music analogy needed to be taken further since learning an instrument and to play a piece might be like learning to perform a speech, but not conversation. For that, you need to learn how to play with other people, and not just play the same piece, but actually jam together. And improvise.

Steven: Scott, I wonder how many other spin-off conversations you inspire all over the world. This is certainly the space to catch the latest and the best of ELT. Thanks for all your time on this.

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Haha! The multimodality of this thread now embraces transcribed dialogue! Thanks for sharing your conversation, Steven and Phil.

With regard to the “learning an instrument — learning a language” analogy, let me just quote from Keith Johnson’s 1996 book, Language Teaching & Skill Learning (Blackwell Publishers), in which he draws on the literature of skill-learning theory to identify at least six characteristics of a skill:

1. Skills are hierarchically organised — e.g. skilled typists first develop ‘letter habits’, before developing ‘word habits’ and ‘phrase habits’;

2. Skills are goal-directed behaviour;

3. Skills involve evaluation of data;

4. Skills involve selection — “skilled performers are seen as choosing what action to perform from the choice available to them; in the case of skilled tennis players, they have a considerable repertoire of strokes available for them to choose from in any given situation”;

5. Skills involve ‘combinatorial skill’ — e.g. doing more than one thing at the same time;

6. Skilled behaviour is non-stereotyped — i.e. skills are not simply habits, and ‘human skills are seldom performed in exactly the same way twice’.

Johnson then goes on to rate language use in terms of these attributes, and argues that skilled language use conforms to all of the above, such that he characterises language behaviour in the following way:

Language is goal-directed, hierarchically organised, non-stereotyped behaviour. From the environment, the performer receives information along various parameters. The performer’s response is selected from a large repertoire of possible responses. It must be appropriate along all the relevant parameters (hence exhibiting considerable ‘combinatorial skill’), and in many cases must be executed speedily (p. 44).

Of course, this characterisation of language behaviour is a purely cognitive one, and totally ignores this socially-situated nature of language use (and of learning), such as the way that speakers co-construct their utterances, much in the way that you and Phil did! But the same, collaborative process surely applies to other skilled performances as well — you only have to watch the Barcelona football team to appreciate that!

17 01 2011
Jaume Prat

Hi Scott and the rest,

Just let me briefly tell you one current experience.

Novice teachers taking the MATESOL at Barcelona´s UAB university -that is, teachers who will be soon working full time in the institutional system (secondary schools)- are being trained to put content/meaning at the forefront of their lessons -whether they are CLIL or English lessons-. Basically what they are doing is to design tasks so that their students can get messages across.
Lots of cooperative learning using ICTs, some consciouness raising (CR) activities and reactive focus on form whenever learners demand it, lots of task repetitions… and if some teachers actually feel guilty about not doing their job properly (I´m not teaching -transmitting- anything; I´m only preparing tasks and helping them to get along, which is great) they assign controlled practice exercises for homework, which are corrected by the teacher, not in open class.
I´ve seen this novice teachers implementing their lessons and the results are simply spectacular. There´s no hint of PPP here. What does it all sound?

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

This is a fascinating account, Jaume, and music to my ears!

The combination of cooperative learning, consciousness-raising activities, reactive focus on form, and task repetition, would seem just about ideal in terms of what we know about the conditions for language acquisition, at least from a cognitive perspective. I would only want to add some acknowledgement of the importance of the social and interpersonal aspects of language learning, e.g. of situating the language learning/using experience within a community of practice – perhaps this is what is implied by your mention of cooperative learning. All this would make an excellent program for in-service training. All credit to you, therefore, that you have instilled these values at the preservice level.

17 01 2011
Luiz Otávio

Jeremy,

The practice you’re describing is likely to help you a great deal because you’re practicing with the tuba in front of you, producing sounds and getting feedback (hopefully not from the neighbors🙂 ). So, controlled and “meaningless” as it may be, it’s practice under real operating conditions and it bears a good deal of resemblance to the real thing.

If we are prepared to agree that practice can help with proceduralization, then it should bear at least some degree of resemblance to spontaneous communication. On these grounds, gap filling, for example, might be tantamount to your trying to get the tuba notes right on a broom or something. Or practising armstrokes outside the swimming pool.

This is why, I think, what you said about investigating what REALLY goes on during practice holds so much promise.

17 01 2011
osnacantab

Surely we are noticing the difference between wanting learners to produce genuine utterances – saying something they genuinely think or want or mean, speaking because they need to and language and form-orientated thinking: “This would be a great situation for using the passive” etc. “Tell me what you really want to achieve this year, and be careful of the tense you use” has to be a bad, non-productive procedure, surely? The language we want our learners to produce just doesn’t match teachable language at all happily. One needs at least two kinds of description – one of the sort of language one wants learners to master and, secondly, descriptions, recommendations of how to get there.

Scott has already suggested teacher-free learning is not ideal but that statement clearly confronts us with all those damned, accursed questions though Dostoevsky was referring to the meaning of life and not how to learn and teach EFL. But “practice” , “learn”, “teach” are such basic terms and processes but we really don’t know too much about any of them, do we?

When Jeremy practices his tuba and I practice my recorders and spinet, practice does achieve results – but how and why? Has anyone done brain scan research on such things? With practice of a musical instrument what is crucial, the repetition, the attention to detail, the wish to get better.? And what succeeds and why in learning a language? How much is known?

17 01 2011
osnacantab

I can’t think the observation below through to an end, but I hope it possibly makes a tiny a contribution to this conversation. Scott’s reference to learning to type reminds me that years ago when I attended a typing course in a school in Oxford Street, London the instructors emphasised that the most important skill to achieve, apart from hitting the intended keys was mainting rhythm. To type fast, they said, one must maintain a regular rhythm. One should not concentrate on the meaning, making a slight pause at the end of sentences or the beginning of new lines, one should concentrate on achieving a steady rhythm. Perhaps what I am being reminded of here is a fact that many people in the past have referred to – it seems to be the case in language learning that learning is facilitated if attention is directed away from what appears to be the aim.

17 01 2011
Luiz Otávio

…”it seems to be the case in language learning that learning is facilitated if attention is directed away from what appears to be the aim.”

I believe this is what Dick Alwright implied when he said that learners get all sorts of grammar help by asking about lexis. Makes an awful lot of sense.

If I remember correctly, Keith Johnson referred to his manipulation of attention as form defocus. Or was it someone else?

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

You are right, Luiz, it was Keith Johnson who talked about ‘form de- focus’, arguing that a progressive de-focus of attention on form is a pre-requisite for the development of fluency: “parking the attention” he called it. This seems to be what Dennis experienced, by focusing on rhythm rather than the individual letters, as he typed.

Johnson adds that “one obvious way of decreasing form focus is to increase degree of message focus… another way of conceptualising this is to say that the principle underlying the strategy we are putting forward is one which involves the teacher in creating ‘other things’ for the learner’s attention to focus on, such that less attention is available for form focus. A major ‘other thing’ in real communication is ‘message’. This is one reason why the third P in the PPP sequence — the production stage — is so important, because at that stage most attention is likely to be focused on message, and on making the activities meaningful.” (p. 143.)

17 01 2011
Luiz Otávio

Scott,
Would it be fair to argue, do you think, that in the anecdotal account I described a few posts ago (teaching gerund contructions grammatically vs. exploring the phrase “the odds” and the almost inevitable ING pattern that follows), students picked up the structure far more easily/quickly/naturally because they were focused on lexis and de-focused on form?

17 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Interesting hypothesis, Luiz. If you could test this by, for example, teaching two evenly matched groups (plus a third, control group, where there is no explicit teaching at all) the same items, as unanalysed chunks, on the one hand, and as analysed grammatical structures, on the other — and if you could prove that the former approach led to more accurate production and more durable learning, then I would nominate you for the Nobel Prize in linguistics (if there were such a thing!)

18 01 2011
osnacantab

Scott and list, isn’t one of the problems about valid research in this area that you cannot actually form two evenly matched groups since some of the relevant variables in the inscrutable process of learning and acquisition will be the mood of the teacher and the taught, the chemistry between the teacher and each individual, the dynamics of each particular group, and so forth, even the weather!

18 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Dennis, yes, this is always a problem with this kind of research — i.e. controlling the variables — and any results are never going to be conclusive. But does that mean we should stop trying?

18 01 2011
osnacantab

Scott, heavens, no – I did not mean to imply one should not try. What I am always trying to do ,though, is get people to tell me what research there is that , if we are serious, we should have read. I asked recently on the well-known TESL-L list where a discussion on grammar raged for six weeks. No-one answered. I have just asked Michael Swan, who is currently guest blogger on Teaching English (BBC British Council) a similar question – specifically if he would care to recommend research that supports the view that the explicit teaching of grammar is productive. If there are any replies, I’ll keep this blog posted.

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/michael-swan/michael-swan-biograph

18 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Dennis, there is no shortage of evidence to show that instructed learners do better than non-instructed learners, all things being equal. The question as to what kind of instruction is less easily answered, because here all sorts of variables really do kick in – e.g. the level of the learners, the learners’ L1, the item being taught, previous exposure, durability of learning, not to mention, as you say, the teacher’s style, rapport etc. It may well be the case — conceivably — that whether you teach the grammar explicitly or not is of far less consequence than the kinds of practice and feedback opportunities that learners get. In other words, the actual teaching is just the tip of the iceberg.

19 01 2011
English Raven

Hi Scott,

Ah yes: PPP. The “method” we love to assassinate in PD sessions and in books, but then do our best to work with or around given the dominant role PPP plays in so many of today’s coursebooks.

What’s interesting to me (as a teacher who started out a rapt and naïve proponent of PPP, based on my initial training) is that PPP, like so many other methods/approaches from the past, works quite well as a technique within a range of broader approaches.

So even within Task-based Learning or Unplugged Teaching working more closely with emergent, learner-generate language, PPP can be quite a useful technique. Once interesting or problematic emergent language (personally I prefer to call it “ripe”!) has come up through natural interaction as part of a conversation or task, it can be (re)Presented, Practised in a controlled manner, then (re) Produced through a follow-up application of some sort.

The same could be said for audiolingual-style drills, grammar translation, silent method, community language learning, and the list goes on. When stripped back and applied to language that has already emerged, these “approaches” work quite well as techniques.

That is why I think it’s such a good idea for new teachers to learn about methods – including PPP. They not only show us where ELT has been (and why, at the time), but they make for excellent techniques, mish-mashed together within (what I hope) is a broader awareness of what works at the general approach level.

19 01 2011
Mike Chick

Hi everyone,

This is such a great topic!
It seems pretty certain that there is, both on this blog and in the wider ELT world, a trend away from a PPP dominated approach (or technique within weak CLT) to one that gives greater attention to many of the various options that have been outlined here e.g. ESA, TTT, CRA’s and so on.

My view is that this is great but that it does pose pretty serious questions regarding Pre-service training. For example, all of the comments below (that have been made so far on this topic) would demand a far greater degree of language awareness competency than most graduates of a one month course possess.
Please take a look:

“..difference being that the target language item has been targeted, not by the absentee coursebook writer, but by the learners themselves”

“…I still present vocabulary or practice variations on a language point but it is always organically created as a response to what is happening in the present…”

“some consciousness raising (CR) activities and reactive focus on form whenever learners demand it,”

“teacher evaluation of what students can/can’t do in regards to fluency”

“reactive focus on form”

“Once interesting or problematic emergent language (personally I prefer to call it “ripe”!) has come up through natural interaction as part of a conversation or task”

To take the approach such comments necessitate would require new teachers to have far more LA (lexis / grammar / phonology / register etc) and confidence than four weeks can instil.

This raises doubts (once again) about the pedagogical arguments that support much of current ELT Pre-service training. If we believe that teacher education does not prepare teachers to create the conditions that most of us feel are “just about ideal in terms of what we know about the conditions for language acquisition” then something is amiss.

I’d like to sign off by highlighting one more quote from this topic:

“This is certainly the space to catch the latest and the best of ELT.”

Boy, ain’t that the truth!
Best wishes to all.

19 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mike, for an excellent summary of one of the chief dilemmas underlying this whole discussion, i.e. to what extent does PPP provide essential ‘scaffolding’ for novice teachers, and to what extent can pre-service training prepare them for alternatives?

Of course, underlying your comment is the assumption that all teachers are prepared on four-week courses, and/or are native speaker teachers, with little or no declarative knowledge of their own language. Nevertheless, my suspicion is that non-native speaker teachers also tend to favour a PPP, rather than a task-based/dogme, model, not because they don’t know their grammar, but because the PPP model gives them the necessary control over the lesson that, rightly or wrongly, they imagine their non-native speaker status imposes upon them. That is to say, any approach that foregrounds spontaneity and improvisation may place unreasonable demands on their own language proficiency, in turn threatening their status in front of the learners.

I would like to think that the native speaker’s inability to deal with language issues, and the non-native speaker teacher’s ‘fear of flying’ are both myths that unnecessarily constrain pre-and even in-service training programs. But I may be wrong.

19 01 2011
jeremyharmer

It has been fun watching this conversation develop. But I have two recurring and nagging worries (which are the ones that concern me most at the moment in terms of ELT methodology, that is).

Here’s the first one:
We learn best when we ‘park conscious attention to forms’ – Scott, via Keith Johnson etc. Now ‘parking’ knowledge (focusing on something else) MAY be a pre-requisite to fluency – using all those un-broken-up lexical chunks etc, but when you first encounter new language (when I first encounter a new piece of language) I don’t WANT to park it. I want to foreground it, think about it, understand how it is made. It’s like my music practice. If I am thinking of something else while I am practising then (it seems to me) the practice is meaningless and doesn’t actually help that brain-body hook-up that is the whole point of it. Parking is NOT part of the conscious attention that PPP suggests.

Here’s the second:
students only learn what they are ready for or want to learn so grammar mcnuggets are ‘bad’. Hmm. Well. A class of 30 or 45 (often). Which students are ready for what, please? (What? You shouldn’t have classes of 30 and 45? I agree, but that’s another discussion). How do you judge with all that going on. ANY kind of conscious attention to language may be appropriate for some ready kids, but not others. It’s a great big cop-out luxury to talk about language emerging as students get into some ill-defined ZPD. Teachers have to deal with what they have got, and learning how to use the do operator (for example) is one grammar mcnugget I am happy to teach via PPP, discovery learning, song lyrics, acquisition-type listening…whatever else I and they have at our disposals.

As students advance in level other things start to happen of course – and the smaller the group the better it gets. And let’s not forget reading and speaking and writing and all the other lovely things that students need and do apart from learning grammar. But…

(Oh, and STILL…why do music teachers insist on endless meaningless repetition of patterns? Because it seems to work. I still want to know what happens in the instrument-learner’s brain though)

Jeremy

19 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Jeremy. I’ll just deal with the first query now — perhaps someone else will deal with the second. The point about ‘parking attention’ is not that you never set out on your journey (to pursue the driving metaphor) but that, from time to time, you park. That is to say, attention is not permanently parked, or parked from the outset, only that it is progressively re-directed.

In fact what Johnson is saying is that when you first meet a new item, you need to focus a great deal of attention on the form. But this attention needs to be progressively re-focused, if automaticity is to occur. This, at least, is the theory behind cognitive skill learning. And it is a view that is perfectly compatible with the argument that controlled practice is needed in order to develop this automaticity.

Here is how Johnson describes his ‘required attention minus 1’ theory:

Let us say (speaking, of course, entirely metaphorically and in a highly simplified manner) that a learner possesses 10 units of conscious attention; he or she has a channel capacity of 10. When the learner first learns the present perfect he or she requires all 10 units to get it right, and the teacher introduces no element into the situation to prevent full use of those 10 units on the present perfect. Quite soon, however, the teacher introduces an activity which requires the use of more language; but only a small amount more — just enough (we might say) to consume one ‘unit of attention’. The learner now has only nine units of attention available for the present perfect, which really needs 10. He or she is put under a small amount of pressure. Eventually, he or she will learn to give only nine units of attention to the present perfect. When a teacher perceives this, some further task is introduced requiring two units of attention, leaving only eight for the present perfect. Eventually, if the strategy is successful, the learner will produce the present perfect using zero units of attention. The behaviour will, in other words, be fully automated.

Johnson, K. 1996. Language Teaching & Skill Learning. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 139.

22 01 2011
David

Scott,

Sorry for jumping in but I’m rereading and digesting a lot of comments from you and others and this one really irks me because of its totally behavioralist underpinnings. (and also the use of such innocuous terms like “automated” and “elements” etc…). Further, it belies a lot of what we know about how the L1 is acquired (insert Chomsky here) and how successful so many learners are at learning a second language in other ways that “controlled practice” and “focus”. It also brings to mind Polyani and his research into “tacit” knowing as opposed to focal knowing – something fresh on my miind, having just blogged about. Also, we might learn the language if we focus on it but we certainly don’t acquire it – that’s an important distinction.

I think there is a place for Johnson’s ideas and “units” of grammar but I also got to call this one out. I also think such deductive approaches are very “unnatural” and really only help commercialize the learning of a language (ie. you have to have a teacher or a book so you know what to “focus” or “attend” on) — (which is partly what Dogme is against, isn’t it? ).

23 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, David, for your comment. I’m not quite sure why Johnson’s line of thought is “behaviourist” — he would certainly deny it, arguing that he comes from a cognitivist background, where the mind — far from being an empty vessel or Pavlovian dog — is a highly sophisticated information-processing machine, but one with limited capacity. Its limited capacity requires that attention be allocated selectively, whether in natural or classroom conditions of language learning. In natural conditions, in particular, one way of limiting demands on attention, so as to cope with real-time processing demands, is to deploy a memorised bank of lexical chunks. But if you want to go beyond this, and create more syntactically sophisticated utterances, you will need (so the argument goes) to access explicit knowledge of grammar, but this comes at a cost: a loss of fluency. However (so the argument goes) repeated experience of this syntactically sophisticated processing operation leads to proceduralisation and automaticity.

To achieve the same effect in the classroom, Johnson is arguing, it is important to simulate the demands of real-time language use, and one way of doing this — he argues — is to deflect attention away from them the laborious and attention-sapping process of constructing utterances from scratch. One way of deflecting attention away from these formal operations, Johnson is suggesting a staged re-focusing on meaning and communication, which is what he’s getting at in his “required attention minus 1” procedure, as outlined in the extract I quoted.

Perhaps what strikes you as behaviourist about this, is that it does assume a role for controlled practice, if you like, but where the control is progressively relinquished. However, as Jeremy has argued with reference to musicianship, it does seem that skilled performance requires a considerable amount of fairly mechanical proceduralisation.

19 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

I suspect that Steph (below) has answered Jeremy’s second query better than I can — i.e. given the diversity within a class, any class, but especially a large class, what choice do you have? 1. Ignore the diversity and just teach the ‘structure of the day’ on the off chance that someone at least will be ready/interested/attentive? Or 2. Provide opportunities for rich and heterogeneous language use, for which all students have some capability, and then work on problems “at the point of need”?

As Steph puts it “Students are often so much more eager to work with the structures ‘fed in’ to the lesson when they clearly see/notice through feedback stage how that language will better assist them in ‘communicating’”.

19 01 2011
steph

Maybe I’m thinking too simplistically.

P = Presentation (text/situation/elicit/ etc) (form/meaning/pron
P= Practice (controlled/drills/jazz chants/mill drill/ find someone who / gap fills/ etc
P= Production (Information gap/personalization/etc)

PPP puts emphasis on the language – often teachers get tied up in rules, standing at the board with explanation leaving 5 mins for the last P.

PPP assumes what the students know and don’t know

PPP is ill-suited to mixed ability groups

PPP very often results in teachers standing at the board, lecturing and getting caught up and caught out in complexities in language ‘rules’

TTT

T= lead in to a task/brainstorm/tell anecdote/ – then students do the same. This is essentially a diagnostic stage.

(teacher listens – notes down where students have difficulties, which language structures would best help in this activity?) Teachers gather the evidence of students productive ability.

T = Teach. highlight form, meaning pron. Do controlled practice, verbal/written.

T= give a similar task so students have the opportunity to put language from Teach phase into practice

TTT does have the clarity of focus on form, meaning and pron that PPP has but with some important differences.

1) TTT can illustrate the gap between students receptive and productive knowledge. (How many times do students do gap fills/receptive type skills with a yawn, “we know this”) but are unable to produce or use the language?

And if they CAN use the language the teacher can refine and feed in further phrases/structures

2) Students are often so much more eager to work with the structures ‘fed in’ to the lesson when they clearly see/notice through feedback stage how that language will better assist them in ‘communicating’

3) In the TTT model students still have the opportunity for tightly controlled, repetition/appropriation. It’s just in the middle! The teacher can adjust this ‘practice’ phase accordingly, depending on the first phase.

TTT can be done successfully with elementary through to advanced learners. I did lexical items in a TTT shape with elementary learners on my Dip course – worked like a dream!

This is the very first time I’ve been unable to ‘get’ where you’re coming from Scott with a support for PPP (you too Anthony!) Surely TTT contains (within the teach phase) all of the benefits you mentioned connected to PPP, without it being PPP!!!

19 01 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Hi Steph,

First off: I still get where you’re coming from, so I guess the fault lies with me if you can’t follow me!

I agree with you when you say “Surely TTT contains (within the teach phase) all of the benefits you mentioned connected to PPP, without it being PPP!!!”

But TTT isn’t “better” simply because it “isn’T PPP”, is it? Is our aim simply to obliterate PPP? To eradicate it? Is it that odious?

I think Test-Teach-Test is a very positive and useful lesson framework, and is especially useful when the teacher does not have a good sense of their learners’ actual performance ability with a given structure or grammatical feature.

That said, when I DO have a good idea of the specific points of challenge, and I think an exploratory stage would then simply divert time from targeted practice, then I would choose a PPP mode.

For me, PPP needn’t be un-engaging for learners, needn’t ignore their real linguistic needs, needn’t involve teacher lecture and student disengagement – in fact, needn’t suffer from any of the typical criticisms levelled at it. That PPP lessons may be these things is (I think) more likely an execution issue – but I’m happy to hear a robust theoretical demolition of PPP – I haven’t seen one yet!

The “presentation” stage of a PPP lesson could easily be guided discovery, the language area could have been selected in advance by the students – avoiding any sense of “random, course-book driven input and “McNuggeting”, the students could actually research and manage the “presentation” stage themselves, or a (self-) selected team of them could do this. In a large group, sub-groups of learners could work on different areas at the same time, each group exploring and refining what they know and can do with an area of relevance for them…

I’m NOT wedded to PPP. I guess I just tend to support the underdog, and in these circles, PPP is a dog that gets pretty consistently whipped.

As a teacher, I’d prefer to have TTT, PPP, GD, ARC, OHE, ESA, TBL and all the other trios of technique up my sleeve and have the nous to know when to use each one. Consigning one to Room 101 seems a bit short-sighted to me – you never know when you might have need of it!

19 01 2011
Steph

Hi Anthony,

Hmmmm – students themselves researching and preparing to give mini PPP lessons. That does sound interesting – almost ‘task like’ ! And thinking about what you say, if you do have an idea (perhaps through previous TTT style lessons) that all students have a huge problem with the 3rd conditional, then PPP could pin-point and ‘attack’ the difficulities. Yes, in that context, I see the relevance. Principalled PPP! I finally ‘get’ what you’re saying. And admit I’ve been pretty dogmatic in my anti-PPP leanings.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a workshop, perhaps at IATEFL, demonstrating how PPP can fit into an unplugged lesson. (hint !)

20 01 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Steph,

Is it only me here that dislikes the term and the practice of ‘drilling’?

I think the only times I really do it is when dealing with sounds the learner hasn’t got in their language, you know sounds like ‘th’. But even then, I do it a few times with them and let it go – perhaps touching on it again sometimes.

Jason Renshaw told me he thought pronunciation is generally neglected by teachers, but I have to say, in all but extreem cases (where it really puts a strain on the listener or is totally unclear), we should probably just treat it lightly and not worry about it.

I’ll no doubt get shot for these assertions, but to be clear here… just like Scott theorizes a ‘slow-release’ grammar effect, mightn’t there be a similar effect for pronunciation?

In this case, should we drill grammar structures as well as pron? It is an obvious route to more efficient learning?
🙂

19 01 2011
steph

Regarding the expectation that students should ‘produce’ the language item (either in the Production phase or the final Task stage)

Simply – this is a false expectation, and another major downfall of PPP. Since when was language acquired so quickly and neatly?

All we can do is, with as much clarity, as much meaning, and as much enjoyment as possible, provide students with countless opportunities to produce language. We have to keep returning again and again to the language, to raising students awareness of the language, through giving countless opportunities for them to practice the language in both controlled and then meaningful ways.

For example, if a student needs to be exposed to a set of prepositions of place 30 times before they start to produce them – how tedious to drag through 30 PPP type lessons on prepositions of place. How much more interesting and realistic to look at a variety of tasks which lend themselves to those prepositions and thereby raise students awareness (oh – we need these AGAIN, for this) and at the same time, giving the opportunity for practice.

When I observe a teacher – no way do I consider the lesson a failure if students fail to produce a structure in a task. As long as the task was well modeled, realistic, the language was clearly and accurately taught/practiced and most importantly opportunities were given for the students to use the language—–if the students then still cannot produce the language in follow up tasks, that’s fine. It takes time for language to move from being noticed, to being understood receptively, to being produced accurately.

When I observe a teacher stuck at a board trying to explain a language point, verbalizing their own ‘workings out’ out loud, OR when I see a teacher who does a gap fill from a book where all students can accurately fill in the structure – and then they fail to give the students the opportunity to produce those structures and thus notice the gap between reception and observation – then I would give feedback.

19 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

I guess what is emerging from this discussion, Steph and Anthony, is that, even if the PPP model itself is a discredited one, its three different components are still valid elements of effective teaching. That is to say, there is a place for presentation, particularly if it is in response to learners’ needs (as identified, for example, in some diagnostic production activity). And there is a place for practice — even of the quite mechanical and repetitive type (this is to placate Jeremy, and his need for five-finger exercises!). And, of course, there is a place for production. How you integrate these elements is of course another thing altogether. We seem to be coming back to the kind of non-prescriptive model (if that’s not an oxymoron) that ARC represents.

19 01 2011
Peter Fenton

Fascinating discussion and very interesting and thought provoking to read through all the comments.

It’s interesting that you mention priming as being as one of the benefits of PPP (and I agree) although I would argue as others have above that it is often a rather unnecessarily time-consuming process when done via a PPP approach. Like Steph mentioned above though, I think this priming is best done when learners are able to notice the gaps in their output. This is because the language is seen to be more immediately relevant or, as you put it “at the point of need”.

However, this priming could also have negative effects as it can lead teachers to falsely believe that learners have ‘mastered’ structures that they in fact haven’t. Obviously, It’s often only because of this priming that they are able to produce the structure of the day. Proponents of PPP might argue that as a good thing and shows that it works. However, put learners in a situation without any priming of say, the second conditional and there’s a good chance that the same ones who were able to produce it before won’t be able to do so again.

Unfortunately for learners though, in real life there aren’t too many opportunities for priming before they try and use language in real situations. This is another reason why I generally prefer a deep-end approach to a PPP approach. An approach which gives learners a false sense of security by overly preparing them for language use. A better way I think, is to help prepare learners for the unexpected.

One the other hand, when pointing out the shortcomings of PPP in relation to how languages are learnt, it’s seems to me that often these failures are in fact often only implicitly referring to how grammar is learnt. I think we can all agree that it takes a long time to learn the present perfect, but what about lexis? Can we not learn and use lexis effectively in a short space of time? If this is the case (and I’m pretty sure it is) then doesn’t that make PPP a more suitable approach for teaching lexis, even if not grammar?

My teacher and learner intuition tells me that the way we learn lexis and grammar are completely different. I can subscribe to grammar being an emergent process but surely not lexis? Can anyone fill me in on any research behind it?

19 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Nice point (among many), Peter, about lexis. I remember that Paul Meara was complaining, at the workshop I attended a few months back, that all SLA research and theorising went on as if vocabulary didn’t exist.

In his 2001 book, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language (CUP), Paul Nation says that “there are three important general processes that may lead to a word being remembered.” (Note the magic number three!) He goes on: “These comprise noticing (through formal instruction, negotiation, the need to comprehend or produce, awareness of inefficiencies), retrieval, and creative (generative) use” (p. 63).

Now, doesn’t this seem uncannily like presentation — practice — production? Although, of course, the noticing can take place without formal presentation, but through, for example, noticing-the-gap type experiences, when learners, pushed to express their meanings, come up against a shortage of vocabulary. This would seem to suggest a deep-end strategy for teaching vocabulary as well. In fact, I wonder if learning grammar and learning vocabulary are that different. Please discuss!

20 01 2011
Steph

I’d say there is little difference between grammar and vocabulary – at the end of the day it’s all just word patterns isn’t it?

I think the difference between a PPP lesson and a lesson where you might create a context, task or use anecdote to ‘host’ the language is this. In the latter you’re operating on the level of meaning first and form later. In the former you’re looking at form first – and meaning later.

When I say create a context, I’m not referring to a contrived siuation where the teacher draws a picture of prisoner bill on the board and elicits his story in order to eke out the third conditional. (Situational presentation)

In fact in such a meaning based lesson, I probably wouldn’t be teaching the 3rd conditional. And this is where we come to your point again, grammar or vocabulary. I might have a chat with a friend about life regrets/or how my life might have taken a different path – without a preconceived idea of structure. In other words, I wouldn’t be articificially peppering my conversation with lots of, “well, if I hadn’t met that Swiss man, I’d never have moved to Switzerland” instead – I’d listen afterwards to see how people “really” express such concepts and then work with those.

So probably we’d find phrases like, perhaps I’d have done……….Maybe I’d have done……..I’d doubt I’d be doing………..

They would then be the target chunks of language I’d eventually work with.

But first – I’d stay on the meaning level – provide a model – ask students to talk about the same thing, see what they produce – feed in some above structures/drill etc/ or show a tapescript and ask students to underline those structures then drill etc. Then ask students to interview each other about their ‘alternate’ lives.

20 01 2011
Peter Fenton

‘I’d say there is little difference between grammar and vocabulary – at the end of the day it’s all just word patterns isn’t it?’

That reminds me of an interview I saw just over a year ago where Scott argues that grammar is just another form of collocation.

http://www.livesofteachers.com/2009/11/23/an-interview-with-scott-thornbury/

However, I’d still assert that it takes longer to learn grammar than lexis. My experience from teaching higher level Polish students tells me that very few of them can generate a 3rd conditional sentence accurately or even choose when to use the present perfect/past simple without any problems. This is despite the fact that they may have ‘learnt’ this grammar many times over a number of years. On the other hand, they can often effectively use lexis that has only been learnt quite recently. This to me suggests that there IS a difference in how they are both learnt.

If one of the criticisms over PPP in that it takes a short-term or nugget-like approach to learning language holds up, then doesn’t it also follow that language that is quicker to learn might be more suited to a PPP approach?

Therefore, even if a deep-end strategy is still better for learning vocabulary than grammar, as Scott suggests, could we not say that a PPP approach is at least ‘less bad’ (for want of a better term) for learning vocabulary than grammar?

20 01 2011
Steven Herder

Here’s another threesome that I’ve been sharing with my students recently:
input, intake and uptake. I think they were curious that even though these three words all sounded similar, they were in fact different. The quirkiness seemed to catch their attention, and they appear to like it because I hear it coming up in their own pair work activities and in group discussions.

INPUT – Teacher driven, Presentation, addressing a gap

INTAKE – Teacher led, student re-enforced noticing, Practice, cognitively processed, consciousness has risen!

UPTAKE – Student led, Presentation, Personalized, automaticity, fluent, used by Ss, making it their OWN language

So, for me PPP is about the teacher’s TEACHING and all of the inherent control and safety in a method. It used to be my starting point, but not any longer.

I got completely tired of both PPP and focusing on my teaching after about 20,000 contact hours. Of course I did many other things besides PPP (projects, drama, speeches, posters, cooking, tasks, songs, games, etc) but PPP was the bread and butter method whenever using a textbook.

My own paradigm shifted to focusing on the student’s LEARNING as my starting point. Students don’t seem to care which three letters of the alphabet that we use to express our approach. The following factors seem to matter more:

1. They need to be emotionally connected to what we are asking them to do,

2. They need to perceive it to be “do-able” and meaningful in some way,

3. They need to have a sense of trust within the group both with the teacher and among peers (affective filters…)

Perhaps PPP, TTT, III, ARC, TBL et al, can all work to varying degrees of success depending on the students’ reception to us and our “methods”.

As fascinating as this conversation continues to be (A-Z of ELT is the undisputed energizer bunny of ELT) does shifting the focus from teaching to learning make the discussion of PPP become moot?

20 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Steven — yes, I think moving the focus from teaching to learning is paramount, and I guess one of the problems with PPP is that it describes what teachers do, rather than what learners do, especially with regard to the first P.

The only issue I would take up with you on your input — intake — uptake formula is that it does rather construe the learner as a free-standing, de-socialised information-processing machine. That is to say, it uses the computational terminology we associate with electronics (feedback and filter are two other terms in this lexical set) but fails to take account of the social and cultural factors involved in language learning — something that, of course, sociocultural theory attempts to do. Perhaps we should look to that theory for different metaphors for the same or similar processes, such as the move from other-regulation to self-regulation, through processes of mediation. Is that the process that PPP is attempting to capture?

20 01 2011
steph

Hi Peter,

But perhaps the students have taken longer to acquire the 3rd conditional for the precise reason that it’s been taught as an isolated ‘grammatical structure’ subject to analysis, dissection and rule formulation – as opposed to just another ‘collocation’ we use when we’re expressing regret – and in reality how natural is the ‘pure 3rd conditional’? Next time you listen to someone express regret, I’d hazard a guess that the structure they use to express that is less likely to be a classic, “If I hadn’t done X, Y wouldn’t have happened” and more likely some variation or shortened form.

Honestly, I’ve learned much of German through repeated exposure to structures either in discourse or use. This way, you just automatically say “auf dem tisch” (on the table) you’ve heard it many times, it’s just another chunk. You don’t sit and think, hmmm is tisch male or female, does it take der, die or das? How does der, die or das translate into the genetive (or whatever it is it becomes when teamed with the preposition auf dem). I mean – talk about totally over-complicating something, instead of just noticing a chunk in context, being exposed to it many times, and integrating it into your own language.

I suppose my point is, I don’t think speed in up-take is connected with whether it’s vocabulary or grammar, more with is it contextualized and meaningful or not? There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the rules – if this can be done rather quickly and the rule has value.

What if instead of tying ourselves up in knots with the complicated rule-system connected with article and preposition usage – what if, right from the start, we just taught the vocabulary item in combination with its preposition or collate?

22 01 2011
Peter Fenton

Maybe the 3rd conditional wasn’t the best example of grammar that students find difficult to learn being that it’s a very long and complicated collocation, if you want to call it that.

However, my point still holds true about the present perfect/past simple problem and numerous other so called beginner level grammar such as 3rd person forms being used incorrectly. These kind of problems persist with my students despite repeated exposure/feedback/correction in contextualized situations. I suspect that many other teachers can also recognise this problem.

Do students still have problems with ‘low-level’ vocabulary too though? My own experience tells me that it isn’t the case to anyway near the same extent as it is with grammar.

22 01 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Peter,

It’s only a guess, but perhaps part of the reason why many learners don’t automate (right word?) certain ‘grammar’ points after ‘knowing’ them for a long time is that, rather often these kinds of inaccuracies don’t impair communication.

The context is usually quite clear enough for the listener to know what they mean.

Most of my upper-intermediate/advanced learners are still in the habit of mixing up personal pronouns or verb forms etc…

A nice example would be when a learner recently told me what he’d done the previous evening:

“I was having dinner with *your* wife”, he said with a smile.

It was another learner who noticed his slip and, after having a good laugh about it, we all decided it was a good example of how mixing up possessives could get you into shit!
🙂

22 01 2011
Josh Kurzweil

One part of this discussion that has really struck me about this conversation is how PPP can actually be a very flexible tool. This was one of the points that my colleague Brian Long and I made when we wrote the article “PPP Under the Microscope” some years back in the “English Teaching Professional” (Issue 25, October 2002). While I appreciate the usefulness of PPP, one of the inherent problems that I always had with it is figuring out who the actor is i.e. the teacher presents while the students practice and produce. I found in my training courses that just the inclusion of the word ‘present’ often led my trainees to feel that they needed to lecture or do a long board presentation. As a result, I often felt myself in the unfortunate position of trying to show them how to create a student-centered presentation, which felt rather counter-intuitive for many of them.

After struggling with this for a while, I felt the need to create an alternative framework, which puts the learning at the center and focuses on what the students are doing with the target language as they learn. Working with Mary Scholl, I created a learning framework called ECRIF that was included in a book published by McGraw-Hill called “Understanding Teaching Through Learning”(2006) and has now been adopted on most of the SIT TESOL Certificate Courses. We also have a website that explores ECRIF in more depth (http://www.ecrif.com). Below is a brief description of the framework and how it relates to other frameworks.

ECRIF stands for: encounter, clarify, remember, internalize, fluently use.

As mentioned above it is important to note that each stage is an action that the student does with the target language or skill. For example, it is the student that encounters a new word and tries to clarify the meaning or form. Rather than trying to ‘present’ it the teacher needs to think more about how to set up a situation or text in which the student will encounter and want to clarify it. These stages highlight the point that a teacher can ‘present’ language in the classroom that the student neither encounter nor learns. As Jeremy Harmer notes above, the student must be ready to learn. This idea ties in closely with the literature on noticing, also mentioned above. Likewise, it is the students that must work on ‘remembering’ and ‘internalizing’ target language/skills, so that they can move toward fluently using it (i.e. automaticity). By thinking about these student needs, teachers can make more informed decisions about the type of practice activities they provide and the choices they give students in those activities. In short, rather than thinking about what a teacher ‘should’ do in a lesson, the ECRIF framework encourages teachers to pay attention to what the students need to do as they learn.

In looking at these stages, it is important to remember that they are not meant to describe a linear process. For example, one might be fluently using language in a conversation, which then leads to encountering an unknown word. The student might then clarify the meaning and work on remembering it. However, as often happens, they might forget it and need to clarify it again. Likewise, the student might be in the processing internalizing the word only to realize that they just encountered something about the pronunciation or its collocation that leads them to clarify more about the word. The point for a teacher is not to try and make students learn in a regimented way, but rather to see how they are learning and support them in what ever ways they can. In this way, ECRIF is a descriptive framework that can be mapped onto different lesson shapes such as PPP, TTT, or TBL.

I apologize if this seems like a promotion of the ECRIF framework. I do not mean it as such, but rather include as part of my history of wrestling with this issue of PPP, training and learning. I would love to hear any feedback or comments on it and hope it might be helpful for other trainers and teachers as it has been for me.

22 01 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that very useful contribution to the ongoing discussion of teaching/learning models, Josh. having worked at SIT myself I should have been familiar with this one. It certainly captures the key elements of a cognitive skill learning approach to SLL. What I particularly like is, in your description of the Encounter stage (“students see or hear new language and realise they don’t know something”) not only do you avoid the term presentation, you also suggest that there is an element of problematizing involved — that is, the learner comes up against a difficulty, or gap in his/her knowledge, which, with any luck, triggers a learning episode, as the learner engages in the cognitive work involved in filling that gap, or solving the problem.

Perhaps what I miss from the model is some acknowledgement of the socially mediated nature of learning, which needn’t necessarily reintroduce the teacher back into the equation, but which would situate the learning process in a context that extends beyond the learner’s own mind. However, as a description of what is happening in that mind, the model would seem to capture key processes in language learning that trainee teachers will understand.

22 01 2011
Josh Kurzweil

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply, Scott. I really like the way you use the word ‘problematizing’ to capture what happens in the encounter stage. I also agree that ECRIF as it stands focuses primarily on the cognitive process the learner goes through. I see it primarily as a tool or lens that teachers can use to see what is happening as students learn.

You mention how learning is socially mediated, and I completely agree. I have seen that the social aspect of the classroom often acts as the motivating force that gets students onto ECRIF cycle. Here are some ways that ECRIF can describe that social aspect:

1. When two students are speaking in a fluency-focused task, one uses a piece of language that the other does not know. They desire to communicate and understand the other creates a context in which the listener encounters and may seek to clarify that piece of language. The same could be said for teacher/student interaction. In this sense, the social aspect of language learning can be the motivating force for students to learn i.e. begin to ECRIF a piece of language.

2. As a teacher, I am always thinking about how I can help students encounter new language. By recognizing the fact that it is students that must actively do the encountering and clarifying, I must figure out socially meaningful contexts that will create need among my learners. This is one of my favorite aspects of TBL when they have noticing tasks. It is often fascinating to see what the students encounter in an activity that I hadn’t thought about.

3. Another social instance of ECRIF can come when students are engaged in practice activities together in class. For example, let’s say students are involved in some kind of ordering/ranking activity in which they are working in pairs or small groups to R/I vocabulary related to jobs. One student might be at the stage of internalizing a word while the other doesn’t know it or forgot it and is back at the E/C stage. In this case, the activity can lead to peer teaching. The fact that students all learn at different paces and bring different prior knowledge is an essential aspect of how ECRIF works in the classroom. In addition to the fact that students often feel safer clarifying language from another student, the desire to interact with classmates can add to their desire to engage in an R/I activity.

4. This brings up another key function of ECRIF. While it can be used to design a lesson by thinking about the main aims of an activity, it can also be used by teachers to assess where individual students are in their learning. As teacher monitor students during activities they can use ECRIF to get a sense of where the student is in their learning and what they may need. This, in turn, can help teachers more effectively reflect on and make decisions about what to do in a lesson.

22 01 2011
Luke Meddings

Scott, I was working independently on a ‘PPP’ post last week before I got distracted by a frivolous piece on authors! This comes late in the comment trail for this post but I am offering it as a somewhat unorthodox response piece (because mainly written before I saw your vid!) at http://lukemeddings.posterous.com/

31 05 2011
Dinh Phong

Hello!
I’m a TESOL student and I’m studying about the PPP model. Actually, there is one point about this model that confuses me: in practice stage, what kind of practice the students will do? I’ve read some materials and they say that it’s controlled practice (practice with the context and information given by the teacher- substitution drills, repetition drills); however, some others say that there’s another part, that is meaningful practice (students can have more than one answers to the same question of the teacher: Ex: What is your hobby? – I like reading, I like going fishing,…). So, theoretically, is it right that we only have controlled practice in this practice stage, or we also have meaningful practice?
Thank you!

31 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Good question, Dinh Phong. The traditional wisdom is that the practice should go from controlled to less controlled, the latter including more communicative practice activities, and certainly meaningful ones. Meaningless practice, even in a strictly audiolingual approach, doesn’t seem to have much validity.

In my latest post (P is for Practised Control) I am suggesting that the best kind of practice is that which gives the learner control over the targeted item, and I suggest that not all controlled practice does this.

11 04 2015
manar

Interesting idea, but to what extent can we trust learners’ errors when giving them control over their practice. I think that the practice stage is the most important stage, because it builds the bridge between what was presented and what is to produce. Hence, total control over practice will affect the production stage, and this confuses teachers as to the stage in which they interfere to provide remedy.

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