P is for Practised Control

29 05 2011

Practising control

A Swiss student who I was teaching on-line produced the following short text, in response to an invitation to introduce himself:

“I like to play piano very much. I enjoy to watch TV. I love really to eat pizza. I don’t like to drink tea at all. I like to read newpapers and magazins a lot”.

This is how I responded:

Thanks H***. – nice to hear from you, and to get an idea of your interests. What kind of music do you like playing, by the way – classical or modern?

Just note that verbs like like, love usually are followed by the -ing verb. Enjoy is always followed by the -ing verb. So: I like playing the piano (note the use of the here, too); and I enjoy watching TV etc. Speak to you soon. Scott

The next day I received the following (Task 2: Describe your computer and what you use it for):

My computer is 2 years old. He has a Pentium Processor. The harddisk is unfortunately to small. My children filled the disk always with computer games. So I have not anough free disk space for important software.I really like to work with computer. My wife enjoyes to send E-mail to her friends. Our computer is in our lumber-room,so I can work also early in the morning.

It appears that the student only then received my feedback on his first task, because he immediately re-sent the above work, self-corrected, thus:

Thanks for your e-mail!

Dear Scott

My computer is 2 years old.  It has a Pentium Processor. The harddisk is unfortunately to small. My children filled the disk always with computer games. So I have not enough free disk space for important software. I really like working  with  the computer. My wife enjoyes sending  E-mails  to her friends. Our computer is in our lumber-room, so I can work also early in the morning.

Notice how the student has picked up on the -ing errors, and self-corrected them. This would seem to be an example of what, in socio-cultural learning theory (e.g. Lantolf 2000), is called self-regulation. According to this view, learning is initially other-regulated (as in the first feedback I gave the student) and then it becomes increasingly self-regulated. (Note that in the process of regulating the -ing forms the student has noticed other minor errors in the text and corrected these, too).

Central to the notion of this transfer of control is the idea that aspects of the skill are appropriated. Appropriation has connotations of taking over the ownership of something, of ‘making something one’s own’.

This is a very different process to what is often called controlled practice. In fact, rather than talk of controlled practice, it may be more helpful to talk about practised control.

Controlled practice is repetitive practice of language items in conditions where the possibility of making mistakes is minimised. Typically this takes the form of drilling.

Practised control, on the other hand, involves demonstrating progressive control of a skill where the possibility of making mistakes is ever present, but where support is always at hand.

To use the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle, it is like being allowed to pedal freely, but with someone running along right behind, just in case. In practised control, control (or self-regulation) is the objective of the practice, whereas in controlled practice, control is simply the condition under which practice takes place.

So, through drafting and re-drafting a text in the context of a supportive feedback loop, my Swiss student is practising control of –ing forms – and a lot else besides. What other kinds of activities are consistent with the notion of practised control, I wonder?

References:

Lantolf, J. (ed.) (2000). Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Some of this post originally appeared in Thornbury, S. (2005) How to Teach Speaking. London: Pearson.

Illustrations by Quentin Blake for Success with English, by Geoffrey Broughton, Penguin Education, 1968.


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72 responses

29 05 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Thanks Scott.

Maybe it’s not exggerating to say that most tasks we do in the classroom could utilize the idea of practiced control.

In the case of writing texts, I always love pointing out to learners that it was much more they who corrected it, not me, after giving them the minimum of prompts (e.g. it’s great, but please just read it again to yourself and check the verb forms. Where do you want to express the past?). If they manage to notice and change some verb forms (and often, other changes), I congratulate them on this, making sure they understand that I only said something very general in my prompt.

Whether writing a text and speaking, I also find paraphrasing activities can be valuable too. Sometimes just asking them could you say the same thing using a different expression? means they often come up with a viable alternative (with perhaps a slight help from me or their peers) and all I have to do is say well done, why not write that down also?
🙂

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, David – yes, the simple exercise of proof-reading, or even of re-writing (easier if the text is digitised), always seems to result in improvements, and often in areas that might not have been targeted by the teacher’s ‘minimal’ prompts, as you put it. Witness the improvements in my Swiss student’s text which went beyond the -ing forms.

29 05 2011
Carolyn Shoe

Are you reading my mind? This week at work I shared the suggestion that giving the student the opportunity to self-correct was far more valuable than correcting (this was an online writing course using email). I’d also like to suggest (tentatively) that Google Docs has the drop on email because it makes it easier for the student to recognise the process (it’s an explicitly collaborative editing application in which the teacher can suggest changes using the “by the way” approach you’ve outlined above, rather than stonking in with the digital equivalent of the red pen). The learner ends up with a nice clean piece of writing if they hide the changes, and a record of the process if they don’t.

But then very few people use Google Docs for real world communication, so maybe email is a more authentic way to do it.

Practised control with speaking – allowing people the chance to do it again better – rarely occurs naturally in class conversations, I think. The “iterative feedback loop” has to enter the culture of the class quietly. It’s a lot easier to do with writing, perhaps because the need for immediate response is removed and there’s more time for reflective production.

Thanks! Great to see you at the IDSIG last weekend – seems a long time ago after the Barcelona mayhem this weekend!

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Carolyn. I’m glad that great minds think alike!

As I said to Mr Darkbloom (above), the fact that texts are in a digital form – whether on Google Docs or in an email, or in a wiki – does make the process of individual or collaborative re-drafting so much easier.

As for speaking tasks, the notion of the ‘iterative feedback loop’ (as you nicely put it) can be built in without too much artifice, as in the case of the ‘onion’ or the ‘carousel’ type format. Here’s how I describe these in How to Teach Speaking:

The Onion – if the number of students in the class is not more than about twelve, they can be divided into two equal groups. As many chairs as there are students are arranged in the centre of the classroom in two circles, the outer circle facing the inner circle. The students sit opposite one another and perform their speaking task – it might, for example, involve telling their partner about a current worry that they have and getting advice. The students in the outer circle then move round one chair so that they have a new partner, and the activity is repeated until all the pairs in the ‘onion’ have interacted. At the end, they can then report to the group on the advice they received – which was the most helpful, unusual, impractical, etc.

The Poster Carousel – this is similar to ‘the Onion’, in that half the students move while the other half remain in the same spot, and at each move the speaking task is repeated. This time, however, the activity is done standing. To start with, the learners, working individually or in pairs or in groups of three, prepare a poster on a pre-selected theme. It may, for example, represent a particular hobby or leisure interest, or it may illustrate aspects of their job, or their biography, or their family, or a trip they have recently been on. Or it may be based on a text they have read. For example, if the class has an ESP (English for Special Purposes) focus, they could each be given a different article or academic paper to read, which they then reproduce in the form of a poster. Half the students then stand by their posters while the others circulate, moving from poster to poster, asking questions about each one, with a view to getting as clear as possible an idea of its content. Once all the presenters have been ‘interviewed’, the roles are reversed, and those who have been asking the questions then stand by their own posters and become the interviewees. This activity is good practice for students who may in fact be preparing to attend conferences where this kind of poster presentation occurs. But it is also an excellent way of building in repetition into a speaking task. To encourage learners to engage with the task, the teacher can set an objective, such as deciding on the most interesting presentation, or writing a summary of the similarities and differences between different presentations.

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Coincidentally, MissLadyCaz posted this comment under another thread (R for Repetition), but I thought it might be worth attaching to the ‘Onion’ comment in this thread. She wrote:

Just wanted to mention that I used the ‘onion technique’ today after reading it in this post last night. It worked brilliantly. I came up with 3 questions about the chapter in our serial reader we began today. The discussions were so rich and it was great to hear the way they refined what they discussed as they spoke to a new person. When it came time to share with the whole class some of the key points they’d discussed it was wonderful to hear how they were using evidence from the text to back up what they were saying – something many of these Grade 3s had struggled to do with any depth during other discussions.

So a big thank you from me🙂

29 05 2011
dingtonia

I have spoken about “practised control” (or indeed “practising control”) ever since I read your article in the ETP – I think it was called “Speaking in the Spotlight”? It is my most favourite description of what we do.

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Candy – it’s nice to know that these ideas resonate!

29 05 2011
Luan

Hi Scott,

Practiced control is certainly a more spontaneous and holistic attitude than controlled practice. Control is something of a dirty word generally and is probably put to best use in the hands of the student rather than the teacher. Perhaps this is most notable in the development from PPP to Task-based Learning and a movement from grammar-heavy to communication-heavy classes.

For me, a large part of handing over control is in switching the roles to let students re-explain the rules of a game, to reiterate the steps in an activity, to summarise an activity and tell you the point of it, or tell you why the ‘no L1 rule’ is in place.

Skills have to be learnt through practice but giving people a larger degree of space to figure things out for themselves makes them much stronger learners in the long run even though it takes longer at the beginning. Practiced control is about being a more passive teacher; letting people do things for themselves, addressing errors after the fact and using target language implicitly. More so, it is about allowing people to take part in the teaching of themselves, which has the positive consequence of creating a much healthier learning culture in the school as a whole.

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

“For me, a large part of handing over control is in switching the roles to let students re-explain the rules of a game, to reiterate the steps in an activity, to summarise an activity and tell you the point of it…”

Yes, Luan – I agree. I’m particularly interested in the ‘summarising’ phase, which I suspect is often neglected, partly because there’s no time left for it, but possibly also because a basic teacher instinct is to ‘keep the lesson flowing’, and stopping to elicit a summary runs counter to that instinct.

31 05 2011
Luan

Right, and that’s why getting students to repeat what others have said using reported speech is so useful yet so overlooked by teachers.

1 06 2011
mrdarkbloom

Skills have to be learnt through practice but giving people a larger degree of space to figure things out for themselves makes them much stronger learners in the long run even though it takes longer at the beginning.

I couldn’t agree more, Luan.

Balance is obviously what we all strive to have as teachers. Like you say ‘control’ is a dirty word.

I wondering where your very interesting Semantic Translation Method fits into this. Would you say it was Practised Control or Controlled Practice? Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but it seems to me that it is fundamentally Controlled Practice and that you advocate this kind of approach for ostensibly ‘quicker’ access to the language for beginners before, as you see it, a lot more control should be put in their hands. Am I right?

Thanks.

1 06 2011
Luan

Good question Mr D. I had pondered this a bit and I think you’re right, it is controlled practice essentially and this makes it efficient and most useful at the very lowest levels.

But two things I will say in its defence are it is based on the learner’s own phrases so it is creative and student-centred. Secondly, the teacher’s role is minimised so that students can do much of the repetition and reflection on their own.

1 06 2011
mrdarkbloom

Thanks, Luan.

And it’s intriguing to talk about the ‘short-term’ and ‘long-term’ goals.

Your method is interesting to me because, on the other hand, I am inclined to adopt a Practiced Control attitude from the very start. Which means, I take a much ‘lighter’ approach to things like ‘teacher drilling’ (I rarely do it) and I allow L1 use for scaffolding purposes.

I am still trying to work out, of course, the best way (e.g. should I do more drilling or not?), but really I feel this kind of investigation is best done without applying a ‘method’.

What do you think?

2 06 2011
Luan

I don’t see anything inherently wrong with using a method. It gives order and provides a scheme to tackle randomness and recursiveness of language. Don’t you have an overall system that you adhere to when you teach, Mr D?

2 06 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Luan,

Just to pick up on a few things:

People are more emotional than they are rational beings.

Again that’s a throw-back to the Cartesian dichotomy which, if I’m not mistaken, most mainstream psychologists/neuroscientists/philosophers of mind now reject. The emotions are in no way seperate from our ‘rationality’.

[a method] gives order and provides a scheme to tackle randomness and recursiveness of language. Don’t you have an overall system that you adhere to when you teach, Mr D?

This all depends how your define ‘system’? Not very precise, is it? Do I have reference points when I teach, of course – who doesn’t? But if i were to go into the classroom (no matter how well-intentioned) doing audio-lingual then, to my mind, I’m trying to knock learning into conformity rather than diversity.

I think what you’re trying to do here could just as easily (if not better) be done without recourse to a named ‘method’. The whole idea of rejecting ‘methods’ is that they by nature are supposed to be used with all learners. I mean, in a class of 10 learners, would you use your method with 5 of them or 10 of them? It’s all of them, right? I don’t know how that fits into the ‘something for everyone’ attitude that Scott mentions.

My biggest problem is that I freely admit I (obviously) do not know enough about the learning process. This could be that I need more time to learn about teaching, but even more crucially it’s the fact that I can’t get this information because no-one knows how learning really happens yet. We just know that diversity is seemingly better than conformity!

In any case, I like what Steph just said:

1) Teachers need to decide which utterances to select and focus on in a lesson
2) Then when and how to focus on them
3) Then what kind of consolidation/repetition/follow up work to do with them

🙂

3 06 2011
Luan

“Again that’s a throw-back to the Cartesian dichotomy which, if I’m not mistaken, most mainstream psychologists / neuroscientists /philosophers of mind now reject. The emotions are in no way seperate from our ‘rationality’.”

Which mainstream psychologists are you referring to? Have you heard of Edward Bernsays? You can’t really get more ‘mainstream’ than that.

I think you ought to appreciate methods at face value, Mr Darkbloom. They make life a lot easier.

I’m surprised no one has picked up on the mistake vs error split. It’s a good way of grouping them. Mistakes or slips, like the third person ‘s’ (they all know it) for the sake of fluency are not worth stopping the class for. Errors on the other hand, like badly mangled syntax, need to be properly addressed. The difficultly for the teacher lies in judging the difference between the two.

“it’s the fact that I can’t get this information because no-one knows how learning really happens yet. We just know that diversity is seemingly better than conformity!”

This seems like a very strange thing to say. Isn’t this what Nietzsche meant regarding people who needlessly tangle things up? Why not just say that learning happens simply because people are able to remember things, be that through motivation or repetition, or a mixture of the two, i.e. emotional and technical reasons?

3 06 2011
Mr Darkbloom

Which mainstream psychologists are you referring to? Have you heard of Edward Bernsays? You can’t really get more ‘mainstream’ than that.

Did you mean Edward Bernays, the (slimy) old corporate propaganda merchant who thought people couldn’t be trusted to control their own lives because they were too irrational? The fact that he formed all these conclusions without the aid of our budding neuroscience (crucial) should give you pause for thought.

Just go back and check out contemporary guys like Steven Pinker who will tell you the latter-day consensus is a recognisably false distinction between non-emotional and emotional processes in the brain, as they often (demonstrably) involve overlapping neural and mental mechanisms.

If you can find anyone researching now who disagrees with this, please let me know.

NB: I only have the most general pop-science knowledge of this stuff.

I think you ought to appreciate methods at face value, Mr Darkbloom. They make life a lot easier.

I don’t really follow. Isn’t that the equivilent of saying ‘don’t think about it’ or ‘please stop questioning these things’ and then putting your fingers in your ears and going ‘la la la laaaa – I’m not listening to you’? I mean, at what point did you take things at face value with your method? Would you ever tell your learners to take these things at face value?

I’m surprised no one has picked up on the mistake vs error split. It’s a good way of grouping them.

But when does an error turn into a mistake? That is, when do we start to think of the learner ‘well, you really know it, but just slipped up’? Self-correction? And what if we don’t know the learner very well?

Why not just say that learning happens simply because people are able to remember things, be that through motivation or repetition, or a mixture of the two, i.e. emotional and technical reasons?

I could be pedantic and say learning probably happens when people remember understanding something, but even if we accept your comment… and then what? A method?

3 06 2011
Luan

Pedantic? You?

Bernays was a slimeball but that has nothing to do with the fact that his ideas about behaviour were very effective. Why do you think just because something is contemporary it is more valid? Generalised distinctions and methods are always going to be useful heuristic devices in reasoning even if cognitive scientists can’t prove their physical existence.

29 05 2011
Chris Bowie

Hi Scott,

I really loved reading your post about ‘practised control’ as this is something I have been thinking about recently.

I can see how this would be very effective for systematic errors, where the error displays where the learner is on their journey through the valley of interlanguage. Is this a good way of looking at errors by the way?

I wonder if this approach would be equally effective with fossilised errors or where the error is a result of previous teaching (e.g. the structure “we are lack of X” among my Chinese students)? This is not a challenge, just a question I want to ‘put out there’.

Chris

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

How you deal with entrenched interlanguage forms (note the deliberate avoidance of the term ‘fossilised errors’ – the reason for this avoidance merits a whole separate blog post!) is one of the greatest challenges facing teachers. In my own experience as a Spanish learner/user, it’s often a case of knowing there are two competing candidates that express a desired meaning, but having no readily available means of deciding which is the target-like one – either because the choice seems arbitrary (e.g. the difference between the prepositions por and para, or the pronouns lo and le) or because – if there is a rule – I haven’t internalised it, or (more probably) can’t retrieve it in real-time operating conditions (e.g. the choice between the imperfect and the preterite).

Factoring some time – and some feedback – into the process, through, for example, writing rather than speaking activities, may help give the learner a measure of control over these choices. Another way might be to memorise some ‘prototypical’ expresssions that include these problematic features, and use these as mnemonics.

29 05 2011
David

Yes, you are also reading my mind Scott. I’ve been looking / thinking about the efficacy of more “practiced control” – balancing the environment in terms of support/feedback and personalization. changing my own belief system.

Van Patten’s input processing hypothesis is central to what you are talking about – I believe. That when learning a second language there is severe limitations on brain processing ability and especially attending to both form and meaning simultaneously. The conclusion is that teachers must afford students maximum opportunities to control meaning so they can “notice” and self correct. The more immediate, the better. Williams would argue the same with his concept of “noticing the hole”.

The work I’m doing on EnglishCentral for example – really highlights how students can get a controlled environment for production but at the same time, specific (but not overwhelming) feedback and support for their learning. Thus, they’ll notice more of the difference between their own speech and that of native speakers.

I like Luan’s notion that it is partly about “being a more passive teacher and giving people the space to do things for themselves” (though I might disagree with the term “passive”. ). We have to go beyond the more negative / punitive notion of recasting and into more liberating and student centered forms of corrective feedback.

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, David – yes, my interest in the notion of ‘practised control’ (as opposed to ‘controlled practice’) dates back to a seminal article in the ELT Journal by Keith Johnson called ‘Mistake Correction’ (and which later formed a chapter of his book Language Teaching and Skill Learning, Blackwell, 1996).

In this article he extrapolates from his experience of learning to ride a horse, in which the ‘iterative feedback loop’ (to use Carolyn’s wonderful expression – above) works better than cycles of presentation and practice, and this is largely due to the way attentional resources are allocated – hence fits into the ‘information processing’ model that you allude to. Johnson found it difficult to know what to focus on if he was simply shown how to sit, when trotting, for example. But, when he’d had a trial run himself, he could then watch his instructor with focused attention (‘it’s all about the knees!’) before having another shot at it. Johnson uses this (skill-learning) example to argue for a task-based model of learning (TBL).

However, things have moved on a bit, it seems to me, and learning is no longer viewed as simply information-processing. This is why I prefer the other- to self-regulation model that is enshrined in sociocultural learning theory – where the instructor is more implicated in the process, taking the role less as a source of data and more as a co-performer in a process of gradual appropriation, by the learner, of a targeted skill. Not for nothing is this model sometimes called ‘assisted performance’. It is still perfectly consistent with TBL, of course – and yes, I agree with you, the teacher’s role is far from ‘passive’. At certain key stages in the scaffolding process, it might in fact be quite assertive, before control is gradually relinquished.

31 05 2011
Luan

“and yes, I agree with you, the teacher’s role is far from ‘passive’.”

Hmmm. I think you might be reading a bit too much into the word there. Perhaps I should wear a pair of surgical gloves before I type. . .

30 05 2011
J.J. Sunset

In the last few years, I’ve found Kagan’s Cooperative Learning structures (Inside/Outside Circle, Mix & Freeze, Three-Step Interview, Stir-the-Class, Quiz-Quiz Trade, Four Corners, Caroussel Feedback, Line-ups, etc..) to instill in students (EFL adults) a sense of practised control as a genuine foundation for language learning, together with an increasing acceptance of the ‘English as an International Language’ variety.

The group is handed over language use and language currency across skills.

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that. I’m not familiar with Kagan’s work. It sounds, though, that there is some overlap with the point I made earlier, about using task formats that promote task repetition – e.g. the Onion and the Carousel. Am I right?

31 05 2011
J.J. Sunset

Yes, Scott, there’s some overlapping there.

In addition, Kagan points out the fact that what he calls “Structures” (read “Group Dynamics”) goes beyond language learning and fosters a cooperative classroom culture (team buliding, class building, social skills, communication skills, decision making, thinking skills, knowledge building, etc… ), in which every student is responsible for content and procedures. Kagan puts forward his P.I.E.S. principles: Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation, and Simultaneous Interaction.

Kagan’s book is addressed to teachers in various content areas in primary/secondary education, but I’ve found how wonderfully energizing it is for EFL adults. It maximizes task engagement, more talking time is well-received by students, and provides a fertile ground for language learning as a social construct; things may happen without the magnanimous sanction of the native speaker.

Kagan, S. (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.

30 05 2011
Dennis Newson

Scott,Chris, David, Luan and JJ.

I am really interested in what you write about “practised control” and self-correction in learner writing rather than teacher, top-down, authoritarian red-pen severity. I thought immediately of the years I spent correcting German university student assignments in detail – out of a sense of duty and in answer to student pleas. They argued, and I thought at the time, that they could only (possibly) learn something if I showed them what I thought they intended to write – i.e. corrected everything – though I tried to sweeten the pill by using green instead of red! Each week I used to produce a page of errors ,”Matters arising”, a selection from the product of 30 plus assignments, though each individual had all their errors notated, and we discussed them together. I tried to tag each example to draw attention to the type of error. Here are a few examples.

MATTERS ARISING Tuesday 2 – 4 1 June 1999

1. I have to learn most of the time. (Lexis)
2. I like it very much to go shopping. (Word order/Construction)
3. Three years ago I was in America. I’ve met many nice people and I’ve seen many interesting places. (Tense x 2)
4. Since October I’m going to this university. (T)
5. I’m studying Sport and English for becoming a teacher. (Constr/Style/Idiom)

As I re-type these examples I still find myself wondering how students could have self-corrected these and similar examples – which is not to claim that they actually learned anything from my laborious corrections!

30 05 2011
Chris Bowie

Hi Dennis,

Your post reminds me of something I used to do while teaching in Germany. I used to teach business people and the school I was working for gave me a book called “Horror Mistakes”. Link: http://openlibrary.org/books/OL12965613M/Englisch_mit_Oxford_333_%27Horror%27_Mistakes

It was basically a collection of errors commonly made by German-speaking learners. The students loved these classes as we would look at one page of errors, try to correct them in class and discuss what the rule or pattern was.

I also used these sentences in games such as “call my bluff” where three students were given similar sentences and just one of them was correct but each one had to try to convince the other team that their version was the correct one. We also did the grammar auction and “catch me if you can” where one student would intentionally insert a common error we had looked at into a short talk about something and the other team had to try to “catch it” – great “bottom-up’ listening practice.

Now, clearly, we can do far better by using the learner’s actual errors (instead of a book) and give our students the chance to exercise those self regulation muscles Scott mentioned.

We need to make the call on what needs to be retrieved for recasting and recycling. A B-52 red pen approach is what many students ask for but which, as you say, has limited results, if at all.

31 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

On error correction, there does seem to be some evidence – from a sociocultural perspective – that a ‘guided self-correction’ approach works better than a more random one.

A study by Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994), reproted in Ortega, L. (2009) Understanding Second Language Acquisition, attempted to show the efficacy of finely-tuned feedback that is aimed at providing the learner with assistance within their zone of proximal development, thereby encouraging the emergence of self-regulation. For them, optimal negative feedback is graduated and contingent. “Graduated, rather than uniform, means that the feedback starts off as implicit prompts to aid self-discovery and slowly takes the form of increasingly more explicit clues, as needed. Through this graduated delivery, the more expert interlocutor (i.e. the tutor) engages in a negotiated estimation of how to provide no less and no more directive assistance than what is needed at any given time ‘to encourage the learner to function at his or her potential level of ability’… Contingent, rather than unconditional, means that the feedback is ‘withdrawn as soon as the novice show signs of self-control and ability to function independently'” (pp. 225-226). In a comparative study of the effects of graduated/contingent feedback, vs. more random feedback, the researchers demonstrated that the former was significantly more effective in terms of learners’ ability to complete a post-treatment grammar test of the targeted area.

31 05 2011
Rob

Sorry if this means my being a spoilsport, but what you’ve posted, Scott, reads almost like something out of a medical journal.🙂 It also puts a lot of pressure on us teachers to provide just the right amount of X, at just the right moment – Whew! Definitely something towards which I aspire, but with more than one learner in the room…?

I hear the pitter patter of men in white lab coats making their way into our discussion now. I’ll bet there are at least three other research studies, by people who favor a less sociolinguistic approach, telling us something different about error correction. Research goes round and round, back and forth, depending on fads and fashion, doesn’t it?

Again, I like what I read here, but SLA research often seems no less political than climate change research. I could be very uninformed and wrongheaded about all this though. Please tell me if I am.

Rob

31 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

“I’ll bet there are at least three other research studies, by people who favor a less sociolinguistic approach, telling us something different about error correction”.

Actually, Rob, the news on corrective feedback is remarkably consistent. Rod Ellis (2008) reports a whole host of studies that show that “there is clear evidence that corrective feedback contributes to learning” (p.885). Where there are differences of opinion is mainly in the nature of the feedback — whether it should be implicit or explicit, or graduated from implicit to explicit, as in the study I quoted.

Let’s not start knocking research — the alternative is anecdote, folklore, hunch, and superstition!

30 05 2011
Rob

Scott, what you’ve written about self-regulation reminds me of this line from Samuel Beckett’s short prose piece, Worstward Ho:

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

You’re example of practices control reminds me of what Adrian Tennant (aka Dr. Evil), on the ELT Dogme discussion group, once referred to as ‘motherese’. Adrian, however, didn’t include an explicit grammar note as far as I recall. Do you find it important to do so?

Rob

30 05 2011
Rob

Sorry, meant of course practice’d’ control above. Here’s what Dr. E. wrote:

“What I do is simply write a rely(sic) to my students. In the reply I
regurgetate much of what they wrote (but got wrong) in a correct form. I ask
questions, try and clarify points etc.The basic principle behind this is Motherese (the idea that Mothers reformulate their childs(sic) words until the child notices and self-corrects).”

In Linguistics, Motherese is generally considered a more simplified and often exaggerated recasting of a child’s language. Sexist stereotypes aside (Is ‘parentese’ pc?), it appears Adrian does use notes (‘try and clarify points’) – I don’t want to misrepresent his ideas. But he implies that a language learner will gradually take control of a new form/pattern.

I don’t imagine we would expect your Swiss student to necessarily use the correct form in subsequent letters. Did he though?

And which language a teacher chooses to focus on in her reply might also depend on:
a) frequency of error (if you’ve seen the error before);
b) importance and frequency of language form/pattern given the learner’s progress, aims, interests, and needs;
c) your own knowledge of and experience with the language.

This last point has me asking myself how comfortable some users of English who have not inherited the language (ie, ‘non-native speakers’) might feel using practiced control. Maybe somebody reading has firsthand experience?

Rob

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the reference to recasting/reformulation, Rob. (My take on ‘motherese’ is that it’s less a discourse structure than a register or style, and characterised by high pitch, simplified syntax and here-and-now reference – ‘who’s a pretty boy, then?’). But yes, caregivers (aka parents) do scaffold their children’s emergent talk in ways that seem to be intuitively pedagogical.

Slightly related (and please forgive me for re-using this quote, but I love it) is this technique that Earl Stevick favoured:

Another of my favourite techniques is to tell something to a speaker of the language and have that person tell the same thing back to me in correct, natural form. I then tell the same thing again, bearing in mind the way in which I have just heard it. This cycle can repeat itself two or three times… An essential feature of this technique is that the text we are swapping back and forth originates with me, so that I control the content and do not have to worry about generating nonverbal images to match what is in someone else’s mind. (Stevick 1989: 148)

(Stevick, E. 1989 Success with Foreign Languages Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.)

30 05 2011
Chris Bowie

Rob,

My 1-1 Chinese teacher used to do this. She used to let me yap away in my faulty Chinese until I’d finished saying what I wanted to say. Once the conversation had come to a close, she would write three sentences containing a similar pattern on the board and then ask me to identify the pattern. She would then write something I had said and asked me to correct it. She would then ask me to come up with three more examples on the board. The next time I made the same mistake, in a subsequent lesson, she would ‘give me that look’ and I would immediately self correct. She would ask me follow-up questions later on to elicit the structure again to see if I could produce the pattern without making the same mistake again.

Thinking about it now, I think there was a lot of dogme in her lessons (no books, just her, me and the whiteboard). I wonder if she knew???

30 05 2011
Luke Meddings

That Stevick technique definitely bears repetition Scott – I love the way he writes ‘bearing in mind the way in which I have just heard it’ – the ‘bearing in mind’, not technical, but a feeling for language, a thinking through.

I think the technique also works well in reverse – so it originates with the learner’s spoken text, which one repeats, ‘bearing in mind the way I have just heard it’ – recasting naturally, a kind of modulated repetition – and is repeated by the learner in turn, and so on.

A kind of sustained concentration.. shared by the speakers. It can also be shared by people listening, who can be asked to note any variations they hear. They can also be invited to ‘take on’ the text and share it with someone else. So the dynamic can be extend to a larger group; and in ‘paper conversation’ form to even larger ones.

Luke

30 05 2011
Candy

Just to barge in again – I was looking for a quote that this thread reminded me of and here it is.

“What is learned is controlled by the learner not the teacher, not the coursebooks and not the syllabus.”

Rod Ellis

Nice, huh?🙂

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

That’s brilliant, Candy! Do you have any idea where it comes from?

30 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Off-list Candy supplied me with the source of that quote. It’s from Ellis, R. 1993. Talking shop: Second language acquisition research: How does it help teachers? ELT Journal, 47/1, p. 4.

It’s worth quoting the fuller context:

Question: How would you say that SLA studies have made a contribution? What major insights do they hold for the ELT classroom?

Ellis: For me, I think the major contribution has been to make teachers, course designers, and materials writers aware that the input they provide will be processed by a learner not necessarily in the way in which they intended. That is to say that, ultimately, what is learned is controlled by the learner and not the teacher, not the textbooks, not the syllabus.

And rather, therefore, than think about language teaching as ‘What is it we have to teach?’ and then ‘Let’s devise a syllabus and materials to teach it’, SLA studies have led people to think ‘What are the conditions that facilitate and promote SLA in the classroom?’ and ‘How can we bring about those conditions in our classrooms?’

It seems that, nearly 20 years on, we’re still in the ‘what is it we have to teach?’ paradigm. (Apart from a few renegade dogmetists, that is!)

30 05 2011
dingtonia

Thank you Scott! Your last paragraph is a salutary wake-up call. Why is EFL still stuck there? What is holding it all back? I cannot understand what is so frightening or difficult about opening up a space which encourages the conditions for learners to learn rather than for teachers to teach?

30 05 2011
Rob

Luke,

“A kind of sustained concentration.. shared by the speakers.”

Nice summary of teaching unplugged.

Scott, to me, Rod Ellis is promoting teaching unplugged, whether he knows it or not.

“Why is EFL still stuck there? What is holding it all back? I cannot understand what is so frightening or difficult about opening up a space which encourages the conditions for learners to learn rather than for teachers to teach?”

I would guess it has a lot to do with tradition, convenience, ego, and power.

This has been a rich exchange so far, everyone – Thank you!

Rob

31 05 2011
Dennis Newson

Rob, I, too, frowned slightly at: “On error correction, there does seem to be some evidence – from a sociocultural perspective – that a ‘guided self-correction’ approach works better than a more random one. A study by Aljaafreh and …

1. Random. What is random about basing work on something the individual has written?
2. How would one organise each individual working on their own particular needs?
3, “Guided self-correction”. It is hard for me to see how guidance for 35 individual could be arranged. Even with guidance – (Look at your use of tenses and general style???? – how can one self-correct? I was writing about university students with 9 or more years of English behind them potentially making “mistakes” drawn from lexis, grammar, style, appropriateness etc. – a real mish-mash. How in self-correction mode could they discover what required alteration without informed feedback?

31 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Dennis – when I wrote that the graduated error feedback was more effective, in experimental tests, than random error feedback, I didn’t mean to imply that your correction of your students’ written work was random — far from it. Only that in the experimental study the control group were given error feedback randomly chosen from 12 different levels on an implicit-explicit scale. The treatment group, on the other hand, were given feedback that was initially at the implicit end of the scale and became successively more explicit, moving gradually through the levels, until they were able to correct themselves. In the event that they couldn’t correct themselves the instructor provided the correct form (level 10), a metalinguistic explanation (level 11), or new examples of the correct pattern (level 12).

I don’t think guided self correction is a big problem even in large classes, and is something that most teachers do intuitively. For example:

Teacher: What did you do at the weekend, Miguel?
Student 1: I didn’t do nothing.
Teacher: You didn’t do…?
Student 1: Nothing.
Teacher: No, not ‘nothing’. Anybody?
Student 2: Anything.
Teacher: Yes — so, Miguel?
Student 1: I didn’t do anything.
Teacher: Good

1 06 2011
darridge

Krashen has a lot to say about ‘learning’ and the self monitor. Basically the rules need to be simple, portable, and – um, I forget. However, this is the point about self monitoring – it has to be on very simple things, where learnt ‘rules’ can be applied in ‘retrospect’ (sort of) on acquired language.
A good example for me, is the use of irregular past verbs. I frequently hear students self correcting these after the fact in conversation. It’s a simple rule, one easily detectable, and not too taxing. It also doesn’t overly break up the flow of conversation.

31 05 2011
Rob

“Actually, Rob, the news on corrective feedback is remarkably consistent…. Where there are differences of opinion is mainly in the nature of the feedback — whether it should be implicit or explicit, or graduated from implicit to explicit, as in the study I quoted.”

Thanks, Scott, for informing me about current SLA research. It’s obvious who’s been reading ELT journals, studies, etc. I feel I’ve abdicated my responsibility somehow. But, like many teachers, I seem to have little time for it, and most of the reading leaves me longing for a good novel. Perhaps I’m in the wrong profession.🙂

“Let’s not start knocking research — the alternative is anecdote, folklore, hunch, and superstition!”

I don’t automatically disregard anecdotal evidence and intuition (‘hunch’)? I once heard Widdowson praise folklore as a source of information at an IATEFL conference, too. I’ve nothing against formal research, of course, but I like to see it out of the lab and in the classroom. Case studies, for example, starting with what we teachers do, what learners do, and what seems to benefit our needs and aspirations. A blend of research methodologies, qualitative and quantitative, I’m sure you’ll agree, is preferable.

Again, thank you for the enriching discussion, Scott, and everyone.

Rob

31 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Rob – I agree that research that is entirely laboratory-based seems less generalisable than classroom-based research. But sometimes there are things that are very difficult to control in classroom situations, and I think we have to accept that putting them ‘under the microscope’ may be the only choice.

I think it’s also worth remembering that the Rod Ellis quote that Candy introduced, to the effect that SLA research suggests that we should be preoccupied less about what to teach and more about providing the best conditions for learning, was said by a man who – far from decrying research – is totally committed to it. That suggests to me that the white-coat brigade can’t ALL be bad news!😉

1 06 2011
Luan

“the alternative is anecdote, folklore, hunch, and superstition!”

Or God forbid, reason.

Too much research in SLA is cargo-cult science undertaken by people with very little experience and rather big agendas. Real understanding, wisdom and learning will always occupy a higher place in a field which is as much an art as it is a science.

1 06 2011
Scott Thornbury

But where does ‘real understanding’ come from? Is it entirely self-generated and intuitive? Or does it come from observation and experience. To me, ‘observation and experience’ sounds like another way of describing research.

For example, I may ‘know’ that correcting learners’ errors is a good idea. But where does this knowledge come from? Not because it’s simply rational: it’s unlikely that I reached this conclusion through strictly logical processes – as in Euclidean geometry. This knowledge probably comes from my own experience, either as a learner, a parent, or a teacher. It happened to me, so now I know it. You have my word for it.

But I also know that my word is only as good as the next man’s. So it might be behove me to enlist the next man, and the next, and the next, to help validate my hunch. So I canvass them. “Did correction work for you?” I have now embarked on a research process, moving from introspection to gathering empirical data.

Somewhere along the way I’ll come up against someone who doesn’t believe that error correction helped him/her learn a second language. Even though the stats are still on my side, my curiosity is now pricked. How can I resolve the matter? Not simply by introspection or by questionnaires. I’m going to have to set up some kind of experiment. I’m going to subject persons A, B and C to instruction with correction, and persons X, Y and Z to instruction without correction. And I’m going to measure their progress. Of course I know that there are a host of problems here – not least the measurement of progress. But it’s still a well-intentioned exercise – my agenda is not necessarily insidious, despite what Luan implies. And it’s entirely rational – much more rational than my original, introspective ‘hunch’.

Research to me is a bit like birdwatching. I don’t do it myself, but I love the fact that some people do.

1 06 2011
mrdarkbloom

Too much research in SLA is cargo-cult science undertaken by people with very little experience and rather big agendas.

In the last blog post, I quoted Van Lier who has plenty of teaching experience and has partcipated in much action research. Otherwise he quotes people who are more specialized in their (perhaps not his) respective fields hoping to get some more data and, with a little luck, insight.

That description could easily apply to (the great) Steven Pinker, who you have referenced (favourably) for constructing your own methods and so on.

I’m afraid I’m not as confident as you appear to be about being able to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to academics. Can’t we learn something from all of them?

1 06 2011
Luan

Scott, Mr D. Experimentation is a good and necessary thing but I’m deeply sceptical about the findings and subsequent acceptance of much SLA research. It worries me when I read papers where the writer clings to literature or fails to put his or her neck on the line and uses extremely abstract and obscure phrasing. It’s a lack of integrity dressed up in the clothing of respectability and the irony here is that a lot of people who like to call themselves language educators delight in esoteric wording and conceptualisations. To me it belies a lack of real understanding and mastery.

‘There are horrible people who, instead of solving a problem, tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it. Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all.’ ~ Nietzsche

1 06 2011
Dennis Newson

Darridge writes that self correction works if….: ” It’s a simple rule, one easily detectable, and not too taxing. It also doesn’t overly break up the flow of conversation.” I can see that self-correction is as positive as self-discipline and I can also see that self-correction is going to work best where a simple issue is involved.

Scott. Thanks for the example of how self or peer correction can take place with a large class. I guess I was doing something similar for my writing in English classes when I produced a worksheet of some 20-30 sentences taken from the previous week’s student assignments with the sentences tagged for type of error but no correction was given – only the original writer of the sentence got that. And with worksheet in front of them we turned to a very traditional, exciting dynamic procedure: ” Sentence 12 anyone?”

Examples:

12. I’m driving a VW. (T)
13. I live in an own flat. (Gr)
14. He went to the USA to visit a high school. (L)
15. I still don’t regret to go to the Bundeswehr. (VConstruction)
16. I’ll become 22 in October. (T)

I was never very happy with that approach but could come up with no other. (I wasn’t convinced that students were learning anything from it though they did feel that I was taking them and their writing seriously and that was clearly important.) Self-correction, of course, only works if, although the person has made a “mistake”, with prompting, they can come up with the corrected version – which implies, surely, that they knew the correct form but did not use it.

I’m sure learners can learn from correction but, and I find this a crucial point, only a certain amount of correction can be digested at any one time and perhaps assimilated. (A typical piece of learner written work , I would suggest, generates too much language and corrected language for a learner to absorb. The corrector needs to be selective rather than exhaustive.) Dennis

1 06 2011
Lorna

Dennis, I think this worksheet approach is a good way to consolidate new language and also re-visit some commonly made errors. I use it after correcting written assignments too, and I also make up short worksheets after speaking activities to complement the feedback that was given during class. It is often a good way to start the following class, reminding students of what went before, and providing a link to what is coming next. In my experience, students like this. Quite often, they recognize their own grammatical errors on the worksheet. Or, being competitive, they will say: ‘Oh, I never make that mistake with articles, that was definitely Sergei!’

I’m interested in what you say about the amount of feedback and correction that can be digested at any one time. What is ‘a certain amount’? And how much of the correction is really ‘new’ for example? OK, there is always new vocabulary to be taken on board, as gaps are filled or new lexical areas are covered, but a lot of grammar mistakes recur again and again and I favor a spiral curriculum approach – this often reveals patterns of error that can be dealt with accordingly, addressing the whole group. Ultimately, I suppose it is down to the teacher to decide on how much feedback and when, so maybe this is the art rather than the science being practised!

1 06 2011
Scott Thornbury


I’m sure learners can learn from correction but, and I find this a crucial point, only a certain amount of correction can be digested at any one time and perhaps assimilated.

Dennis, I think the principle operating here is the mud-on-the-wall one: if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick. Of course, you have to balance this with the fact that there are other things you need to be finding time for, apart from throwing mud.

1 06 2011
mrdarkbloom

Scott,

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. How much is too much? You know the old ‘(more or less) seven new words per lesson’ idea that is supposedly based on research on (short-term?) memory, but is this too say that doing more than this will ‘overload’ (and possible stress) the learners?

We want to immerse them somewhat in the language, yet not overwhelm them.

What say ye?
🙂

1 06 2011
Scott Thornbury

How much is too much (new information)?

It will depend a lot on the readiness of the learner, i.e. the extent to which the new information (whether it be in the form of an error correction or a grammar explanation) can be accommodated into their exisiting knowledge schemata. This will vary from learner to learner, which argues for a very data-rich learning environment, i.e. one in which there is more likely to be something for everyone.

1 06 2011
Candy

And back to “what is learned is controlled by the learner”. We know this to be true. In any one class of anything everyone will walk away with and remember something different – and the retention of that is also learner-driven. I’m very much a “throw (a lot of) mud at the wall” type – as long as everyone walks away with something. It’s the revisiting, recycling and repeating PURPOSEFULLY that encourages further uptake and retention – or rather opportunities for further uptake and retention. Whether stuff is taken up and/or retained is not under my control.

2 06 2011
Rob

This thread has reminded me how our personality affects what we hold to be true for education and learning. For example, I aspire to be more of an artist than a scientist in the classroom. I can’t be both equally for balance, to me, is a perfectionist ideal, created by a hyper-rational Western culture, to help us feel in control amidst the chaos. Show me balance and I’ll show you someone who simply likes the feel of the mix, no matter how out of kilter things might be.
I suppose traditional, formal research could place teaching unplugged in the annals of SLA literature, but I’m not in it for the science. I’ll leave the birding to the birders.

2 06 2011
Scott Thornbury

Nice thoughts, Rob. I’m not sure that the art vs science polarity isn’t an artificial one – a by-product perhaps of the Cartesian mind-body polarity?

I have a friend who makes violins. I know for a fact that he is totally immersed in the science of his craft (wood types, resin types, acoustic frequencies etc). At the same time, he judges every violin he makes in terms of its capacity to produce beautiful music – pure aesthetics.

Can’t teaching be like that?

2 06 2011
Luan

Maybe another way is to view teaching roles is through an emotional vs technical dichotomy. What’s more important in motivating and effecting learning? I’m inclined to think the former edges it. People are more emotional than they are rational beings.

Language learning is a skill more akin to learning music, art or sports – all of which need ongoing practice and informal testing as opposed to the book-&-exam-led study of facts associated with knowledge-based subjects like chemistry, history and grammar. So yes, I think we have more in common with artists than scientists.

2 06 2011
Rob

Scott, I’m not sure the Cartesian mind-body polarity hasn’t produced a false art vs. science division either. A holistic perspective feels better to me and makes more sense. Perhaps teaching can be like the alchemy of Marsilio Ficino. Getting a bit out of my depth there though.

What I wanted to express about science (and research) is that it’s not what keeps me ‘alive’ in the classroom. If Ellis or anyone concludes that what teachers in their particular contexts have intuited, or discovered by way of hard knocks, all along, should we feel vindicated or validated when an Ellis comes along to ‘prove’ we’re headed in the right direction? What changes? Textbooks will be published supposedly in line with these ‘new’ discoveries, papers and articles will be written, but our work as teachers stays essentially the same. Of course, research findings might challenge what we believe works well.

If I were to take up research again, I would start with what happens in language learning classrooms – a lot of audio-lingualism and grammar translation? – to help teachers better understand their contexts, learners, and learning (acquisition). Otherwise, we get research for the sake of it, to which I believe Luan alluded.

In their wonderful book, How Languages are Learned (OUP 1999), Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada cite a study (Guiora et al. 1972) which found “subjects who received small doses of alcohol did better on pronunciation tests than those that did not drink any alcohol.” (p. 55) How shall I incorporate that into today’s class?🙂

2 06 2011
Scott Thornbury

Fair point, Rob – i.e. that research doesn’t ‘light your fire’. But in its defence (again), I’d say it’s less about ‘proving’ classroom practices, than about ‘understanding’ them – and the best research is that which helps us make sense of what Dick Allwright calls ‘puzzles’.

A teacher who is puzzled by the fact that correction of, say the third person s, seems to have minimal impact, might be interested in the kind of research that tracks developmental order, and that suggests that the third person s is late acquired. Or they might be interested in the research that shows that calibrating task design in certain ways – e.g. allowing planning or rehearsal time – can have positive effects on accuracy. Stuff like that!

2 06 2011
steph

Very interesting conversation, reading this blog is my daily professional development!

I did mention practiced control in the talk/speaking unplugged workshop I gave in Bern a few weeks ago. The main points seem to be.

1) Teachers need to decide which utterances to select and focus on in a lesson
2) Then when and how to focus on them
3) Then what kind of consolidation/repetition/follow up work to do with them

One suggestion I give to teachers regarding number

1) is – do the task yourself and note down several structures you naturally use in order to communicate. That way yes you do have something to research (thinking about pre-service courses) but it’s also natural speech and not pre-packaged Mc Nuggets!

2) a Let students carry out the task. During this time in my opinion it’s best if the teacher just stands right back and takes notes (but only on language connected to the particular use or function – there needs to be some focus or selection – perhaps there are systematic errors happening, they could be focused on too)

2) b Write them up – mix in correctly used utterances and do a grammar auction. OR – Dictogloss a related passage using some of the incorrectly used structures (but used correctly) with the aim of having students notice them – then give them the chance to self-correct.

2)c Then do some sort of practiced control using the structures – leave them up on the board and have students repeat task and tick off each as they’re used. Or make a disappearing dialogue or create a jazz chant on the spot

3) They try the task again. They write the language down and write about the task. Next lesson or in 2 weeks time you open the class with another grammar auction including the language. Or give them another dictogloss to notice the language. Give them a tapescript of native speakers and have them underline the language etc etc.

Of course none of this will ensure the learners get it. They acquire at their own pace in their own time. But at least we’ve hopefully provided lots of opportunities and a happy, relaxed learning environment for them to do this!

2 06 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for those great ideas, Steph! I especially like the idea of having stuff available to learners, e.g. on the board, then gradually erasing it during successive iterations of a task. It’s a very physical way of representing the transfer of ownership. I’ve seen similar things done with cuisenaire (sp?) rods, where the rod is made to represent, say, a phrase, and the learner then physically holds it while performing a task, the epectation being that it acts as a kind of tactile mnemonic.

2 06 2011
Rob

Steph, May I tack on what I posted earlier to (hopefully) complement your remark that ‘there needs to be some focus or selection’?

“And which language a teacher chooses to focus on … might also depend on:
a) frequency of error (if you’ve seen the error before);
b) importance and frequency of language form/pattern given the learner’s progress, aims, interests, and needs;
c) your own knowledge of and experience with the language.”

Another task with Cuisenaire rods is to identify each piece as an object in a story – one that you or a learner, or everyone together, tells. For example, this green rod is the bridge you crossed to get here, this tiny brown piece is the dog that chased you down the street, etc. Learners tell the story to a partner or the group using the rods as mnemonic devices.

2 06 2011
darridge

Interesting, but none of your “language to focus on” areas include:
d) impedes communication.
Surely this is the most important?

2 06 2011
Dennis Newson

Scott, would you mind reminding us again where best to look for the kind of helpful research you have referred to a couple of times recently? Dennis

3 06 2011
Scott Thornbury

Dennis, the best and most readable overview of relevant research is probably the book that I think Rob mentioned (either here on on the dogme list):

How Languages Are Learned (3rd edn) Lightbown & Spada, 2006, OUP.

3 06 2011
J.J. Sunset

How far would you take your research-based rigor or your artistic mojo zeal if language learning seemed not be happening in your classrooms or open spaces?

Would the former quit as the next logical step? Would the latter acknowledge the elusiveness of their magic and hand in the wand ?

3 06 2011
Rob

Hi J.J.,

Your question assumes extremes, which, in my experience, make for polarized debate but are seldom part of authentic classroom interaction. Therefore, it’s hard for me to imagine no language learning happening, especially since some students will learn no matter what happens in class – perhaps no one can avoid learning something in any given situation given our propensity toward inner dialogue and memory. But we can always play ‘What if’, right? And we are talking specifically about language learning. So, if no language learning seemed to be occurring, I would immediately create some interaction by talking to the people in the room or attempting to create interaction between them. That would be a good start, don’t you think.

Trying to answer your question, again, makes me realize what an odd scenario you’ve dreamed up, J.J. Maybe you can expand on your thoughts a bit?

Rob

3 06 2011
J.J. Sunset

Hi, Rob.
You’re right, very polarizing the fact that learning might not be occurring at all. My point is that I have never heard any EFL teacher, including myself, say that learning is not happening because of ourselves, because we are not able to create a rich learning environment -whichever your teacher beliefs are in this respect.

It’s always about a gap in the research, a ‘sixth sense’ still in the making, institutional or method constraints, etc…

I don’t belief that L2 learning or L2 emergence will take place inexorably regardless of what happens in the room…

Just ‘blogging’ out loud…

4 06 2011
Mr Darkbloom

J.J.

Darridge said this in ‘O is for Open Space’ and I explicitly agreed with him (though many others wouldn’t go so far):

If my students aren’t speaking it, they usually have a good reason, and often the reason is that I haven’t provided them the need/want/space/confidence in the environment to use English. It’s my problem not theirs.

Now you have heard teachers talking this way!
🙂

3 06 2011
Rob

“Interesting, but none of your ‘language to focus on’ areas include:
d) impedes communication.
Surely this is the most important?”

Well, D., I don’t know how interesting any of that is – probably common sense to you and many other teachers – but you are right to cite communication as essential. I guess I took that for granted.

Thanks.

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