The task of teaching

I was at the American University of Paris yesterday on a beautiful day in a beautiful part of the city.

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I was invited to talk about pedagogical innovation by integrating technology in the language class; AUP is a liberal arts college with an international study body and students learn French as the host language and academic English for their studies.

I ran a workshop in French taking an OER perspective on task-based language teaching with technologies, with activities focusing on both specific teaching ideas and particular digital tools.

More interesting for me were subsequent discussions with AUP and visiting faculty on more general issues concerning pedagogy and the changing roles of teachers and students in university teaching. Two themes emerged for me: motivation for learning, and general objectives for teaching.

Delayed gratification?

Who is responsible for student motivation and learning?

Some faculty feel quite strongly that it is up to students to find a way into the course content that is presented to them. The consensus among those discussing this yesterday was that instructors have some responsibility in this both in the way they present material and the assignments they set their students.

I was reminded of A.N. Whitehead’s three-stage model of learning, where he recommends teachers try to keep three balls in the air at all times: a “romantic” or big-picture reminder of what a class is trying to achieve and why it matters, “precision” or practice activities that help students develop essential skills and understanding, and a “generalisation” phrase where their attention is drawn to how these new skills are already bringing them closer to their big-picture goals.

I have applied this model to language teaching in a talk on “digital pencil sharpening” (see slides 20 through 36 for the section on general teaching and learning). I believe Whitehead was on to something when he complained that too much teaching spends too long on low-level information, skills and practice, and does so in isolation from what we might term pre- and post-practice reflection, which would help learners make sense of the drudgery.

Other university educators have taken a similar stance. The mathematician Paul Halmos provided the pencil-sharpening metaphor to refer to our tendency to procrastinate in order to avoid intellectually challenging work. I think this also applies to classroom contexts when we fill our syllabus with basic texts and boilerplate assignments to provide “background” which we see as an essential preliminary to the “real” content. But the “good stuff” keeps receding over the horizon.

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Robert Duke makes this point in his excellent 2008 talk Why Students Don’t Learn What We Think We Teach. He is especially good on conflicting student/instructor agendas and agrees with Whitehead on the importance of the “here and now,” as this little extract shows:

I wrote about this in a paper on technology and learner autonomy in language education. The more I discuss pedagogy with teachers of subjects other than languages, the more I feel task-based language teaching has a lot to offer the wider educational community.

A second area of my discussions with AUP colleagues is perhaps more related to education in its broader sense than to the specifics of what happens at the chalkface.

What role do we in humanities or liberal arts play in teaching students to think?

Thinking about things that matter

Perhaps inevitably in the current political context, our discussions turned to some of the bigger issues of our times: climate change, immigration policy, electoral discourse. How should we address these with our students?

In the run-up to the US presidential campaign I came across the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff on political discourse.  Lakoff uses frame theory and metaphor to explain how political thought is shaped (and thus manipulated).

He applies this theory to the Trump campaign on his website, and you can read more here for example. I decided to take this theme as our topic for an undergraduate translation course in our media and communication strand: the science of framing political debate. While we need to be careful about political bias in our teaching, I feel we also have some responsibility to take on issues like these when relevant to our classes.

Here’s my take on Lakoff’s contrast between strict father and nurturing family frames in a presentation I prepared for my students:

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MoralPolitics

Translation classes, perhaps more than other foreign language classes, allow discussion of issues in a somewhat impartial and unemotional manner. It’s a good opportunity to tackle the meaning and implications of texts in a neutral way: does this expression in language A mean that same as that one in language B? Why did the writer use this particular expression, and how can we render it faithfully yet idiomatically? We’re not discussing what we think about a particular argument or line of thinking. We’re focusing on what the intended meaning seems to be, and how different translations render different aspects of that meaning salient.

The framing comes, of course, from our selection of texts to translate.

What do I take from all this?

Perhaps that it’s stimulating to talk about teaching and learning with colleagues in other disciplines in different university contexts.

Perhaps that language education might have some approaches and ideas for addressing pedagogical issues that are relevant to other university disciplines.

Or simply that the “here and now” can shift depending on both the focus of your attention and your vantage point.

References

Duke, R. (2008). «Why Students Don’t Learn What We Think We Teach» [lecture; online]. http://www.cornell.edu/video/?VideoID=225 (2013-06-01).

Halmos, P. (1985). I Want to Be a Mathematician. New York: Springer Verlag.

Halmos, P. (1975). «The Problem of Learning to Teach». American Mathematical Monthly, 82, pp. 466-476.

Whitehead, A.N. ([1917] 1932). «The Aims of Education». In: Whitehead, A.N. The Aims of Education and Other Essays. London: Ernest Benn.

Whyte, S. (2014). Digital pencil sharpening: technology integration and language learning autonomy. EL.LE, 3(1): 31-53. Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia. [PDF]

 

Is task-based language teaching just a variation on presentation-practice-production?

Many language teachers are interested in the question of what makes a task a task. Pre-service teachers are often under pressure to conform to some see as the hegemony of task-based language teaching (TBLT) which they feel is imposed on teachers by the Common European Reference framework (CER). They want to know whether their textbook which claim to follow CER principles offer genuinely task-based teaching activities. Or they wonder how the demands of “authentic” language use associated with TBLT can be squared with the seemingly artificial language used in the foreign language classroom where everyone shares a native language.

Teacher educators, too, struggle with strong versions of a task-based approach, as opposed to weaker, task-supported incarnations, which often seem to overlap with the production phase of the PPP approach, where structures are Presented and Practiced with the teacher before learners are encourage to Produce their own contributions. Does this seem a reasonable compromise, or does it mean abandoning the principles of TBLT?

In the slides above I summarise two articles, one by Jason Anderson in defence of PPP, and another by Rod Ellis, one of the main proponents of TBLT. Anderson argues that PPP has admirably stood the test of time and is suited to a wider range of teaching contexts than TBLT. Ellis, on the other hand, defends TBLT against a number of misconceptions about this approach, and to my mind invalidates many of Anderson’s points. My own view is that TBLT is quite different from PPP, and that there are good reasons, related to how languages are learned, to favour TBLT (see Jordan for instance).

Update 15/03/17: more from Jordan on Two versions of task-based language teaching, drawing in Long’s book on TBLT and SLA, and Breen’s process syllabus.

Anderson, J. (2016). Why practice makes perfect sense: the past, present and potential future of the PPP paradigm in language teacher education. Practice, 19.

Ellis, R. (2013). Task-based language teaching: Responding to the critics. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 8(1), 1-27.

Jordan, G. Principles and practice. Critical EFL.

ITILT: Interactive Teaching In Language with Technologies

Abstract

iTILT, Interactive Teaching in Languages with Technology, is a professional development project to support interactive approaches to language teaching with classroom technologies.  The project builds on a previous project involving 44 teachers of 6 languages at 4 different educational levels in 7 countries, all using the IWB for language teaching. An open educational web resource was developed which includes over 250 video clips of IWB-mediated language teaching practice (http://itilt.eu); we also published a collective volume with case studies of IWB use in language education (Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2014) and a research monograph focusing on collaborative action research in a task-based framework (Whyte, 2015).

The new three year project moves beyond the IWB to focus on developing effective teaching and learning of second languages with a wider range of new and emerging interactive technologies (such as tablets, smartphones and video). It involves supporting teachers in task-based approaches to technology integration though observation, reflection and sharing via an online community of practice.

We will briefly present ways to exploit iTILT’s currently available resources in teacher education and continuing professional development (Koenraad et al., 2013) and report on the interim results of the new project, including examples of technology-mediated language tasks.

LPM Saarland: Links to slides, resources, and activities from webinar, 21 November 2016

itiltwebinar_tag

Shona Whyte, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, France.
Ton Koenraad, TELLConsult, Netherlands

Outline

  1. iTILT: interactive technologies in language teaching itilt.eu

ITILT logo 600DPI RGB PNG

2.Task-based language teaching

  • Criteria for TBLT
  • ITILT video examples (video selfie exchange, video report, video communication)

3. ITILT 2: Interactive Teaching In Languages with Technology www.itilt2.eu

ITILTnewLOGOillu

 

 

 

 

LPM Saarland: Links to slides, resources, and activities from webinar, 21 November 2016, including

  • presentation slides
  • 90 minute webinar recording (Adobe Connect)
  • video feedback activities with participant input (Padlet)
  • links to participant background questionnaire (Google Forms – see below)

Top tools for learning 2016

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I recently responded to an online poll of educators’ tools for learning and saved my responses to kick off a class on learning technologies for language teachers.

These are my picks; here’s why. (They are all free.)

Getting started

LastPass

LastPass is a password manager that saves your passwords online and lets you access them from one master password (the *last pass*word you’ll need from now on). It can generate secure passwords, but I don’t risk this (if you have connectivity problems you can’t retrieve these from memory). Instead I create my own passwords with a keyword system and save them to LastPass.

I suggest this as my first tool for learning because it’s the obvious first hurdle to using almost any platform, tool, or application and I find until students or trainees are confident logging in and out of multiple sites it’s difficult to build up confidence or expertise.

An associated tool is Xmarks, which lets you synchronise bookmarks across browsers and devices, which I also find useful for moving between machines, though if you share computers it might not be so relevant.

Google apps

Once you have your password manager set up, my next recommendation is Google Drive, where you have e-mail (Gmail), online storage (Google Drive), online wordprocessing (Google Docs) and spreadsheets (Google Sheets), as well as Calendar, Slides, and Forms (for online surveys, questionnaires, and tests). Also worth a look are Sites for building your own websites or getting learners to do so, and Communities for working with groups.

I find these work well for planning my teaching, administration (attendance, grades), giving feedback on student writing (Docs), or collecting links to sound files, for example (Forms). We have run telecollaborative projects on G-Drive, using a private folder to save student-teacher video selfies, with sub-folders for class tandems to share their learners’ productions and prepare collaborative papers and presentations.

If you have multiple Google accounts it’s worth associating one account with one browser (work gmail on Firefox, home gmail on Chrome, for example) to avoid problems signing in and out. I have never found the offline functionality anything close to effective, so only for use with good internet connectivity.

Writing and feedback

Google Docs

As noted, Google docs is useful for your own writing, but also for use with learners. They can edit their own documents, prepare translations in groups, or submit work for evaluation and you can set access to private (sign-in), public (no sign-in) or an intermediate option with files accessible via link (no sign-in).

I find the Docs interface (there is also one for Sheets, etc) less easily navigable than Drive. Also be aware that you need a computer for full functionality – on smartphones and tablets comments are not accessible, for example.

Evernote

Evernote is very useful for taking notes offline and saving all sorts of bits and pieces which you can tag and sort into Notebooks or leave unorganised to search. The search function is great and it works offline. There’s an app for your phone but the free version limits the number of devices you can connect.

Collaboration and sharing

Dropbox

After Google apps perhaps the single most useful tool, Dropbox lets you save files and synchronise across devices. I use it to save teaching materials (slides, handouts) but also for collaborative research writing with colleagues in other countries. Accessible offline, syncs in the background, usable like a drive or folder on your own computer.

One thing to be careful about: the default drag and drop which copies a file from one drive to another in other circumstances moves the file on Dropbox. So if you download a file from a shared folder you delete that file for others. Doesn’t work well on an external drive; you must save your local version on your local hard drive.

Weebly

This free website platform lets you make your own website with images, media, and other links very easily and intuitively. It has the advantages over Google sites of a) letting you create classes with your students’ names and e-mails, and b) making comments on pages easy to see.

Audio and video

VideoLAN

For language teachers, you need the digital audio player VLC, which plays any format you can imagine.

SoundCloud

This open platform is a good place to share audio files, which you or your learners can upload and save privately, share to a select audience, or open to the world. With adult learners you can outsource the recording (smartphones), uploading (SoundCloud), and sharing (Google Forms) so you can focus on the feedback.

Social media

Twitter

I use the microblogging site to find and communicate useful resources for teaching (educator blogs, tools, pedagogical resources) and research (conference and journal calls for papers, new publications).

Scoop.it

I save the references in my tweets to curated sites to help keep track, though the service for the free version of Scoop.it has fallen off and it may not be worth starting there now.

Low-tech classroom teaching

Finally, special mention for technology you can use in class without technology: with Plickers, learners hold up paper cards to answer pre-set or spontaneous multiple choice quizzes, and the teacher records them via smartphone.

Coloriage magique: on busywork and boxticking

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Sometimes good ideas lead to disappointing applications. Bruner’s appeal for discovery learning as an alternative to “mere memorizing” (Whyte, 2011) brought “learning by doing” to teacher education programmes the world over. But it often feels as though our educational system is entirely geared towards doing rather than learning, and this is ultimately detrimental to learning.

Asked about her experience of ICT training in pre-service primary teacher education, a graduate some years ago reported feeling as though she had been given a stack of “magic colouring” pages (often distributed in French primary classes for arithmetic practice) at the start of the year, had worked steadily through them, and having completed everything successfully, nonetheless had no impression of having learned anything substantive whatsoever at the end of the year. I was reminded of this comment on reading a recent post by Hendrick on resisting fads and gimmicks in the classoom.

My impression is that the managerialisation of education has brought learners, teachers, and teacher educators alike to an almost exclusive focus on box-ticking. We all spend our time completing tasks designed more to show that work has been finished to standard, rather than on the content to be considered, assimilated, or reflected upon.

With respect to learner at the receiving end of classroom instruction, Hendrick (2016) argues against dumbing down by appealing to contemporary youth culture and passing fads:

By insisting that the only way kids can learn is by being distracted into learning, we are offering them a debased view of the process itself

The same writer also contests the conflation of motivation and learning in a 2015 post here, arguing

If [learners] are being motivated to do the types of tasks they already know how to do or focus on the mere performing of superficial tasks at the expense of the assimilation of complex knowledge then the whole enterprise may be a waste of time.

It seems to me that the magic colouring activity corresponds exactly to those two points: the “learner” is simply repeating operations already known to them (in the above illustration, counting to 5), for the dubious reward of an unrelated outcome (Pokemon picture).

In further criticism of death-by-colouring, Hendrick cites a 2015 post by Quigley pointing to research which suggests that student use of highlighters as a revision tool is less effective than other, more reflective methods. Quigley anticipates resistance from teachers reluctant to abandon such ineffectual yet reassuring practices and responds thus:

I have been given feedback by teachers that use highlighters regularly that it is useful for effective organization in MFL; that they work best for lesser able students English; that it makes things stand out more than the humble pen.  My question would be: how do you know?  I can assure you that I am not certain that the answer will be what I expect, far from it. The research may be poppycock when translated to your setting, but if [sic] we won’t know that if we don’t reflect on the evidence and question our methods.

In the university contexts where I teach and train future teachers, many of the questions students ask during lectures are related less to how the course fits in their overall programme of study, or how particular points relate to more general learning objectives, than to specifics of how the course will be graded and what kind of questions can be expected on the exam. Robert Duke has an interesting take on teacher responsibility in this area in his 2009 lecture Why students don’t learn what we think we teach.

It’s interesting that one answer to Quigley’s call for teacher engagement with evidence is one I find appealing: action research (which I’ve written about in Talking the talk and Online support for classroom language teachers, and Masters in Teaching English research project topics). But of course as my trainee teacher noted earlier, without a change of tack, even these projects can be reduced to so much busywork, a coloriage magique, and just one more box to tick on the way out.

 

Duke, R. (2009). Why students don’t learn what we think we teach. Cornell University.

Hendrick, C. (2016). Why fads and gimmicks should be resisted in the classroom. Chronotope,18/09/2016

Hendrick, C. (2015). Engagement: Just because they’re busy, doesn’t mean they’re learning anything. Chronotope, 22/03/2016

Quigley, A. (2015). Why I hate highlighters. The Confident Teacher. 17/01/2015

Whyte, S. (2011). Good questions. Learning and teaching foreign languages.

Promoting interaction in the EFL classroom: Dutch-French telecollaboration

Conference presentation, S. Whyte & L. Gijsen
New Directions in Telecollaborative Research and Practice:
The Second Conference on Telecollaboration in University Education
Dublin, April 2016

In a recent keynote at this year’s EuroCALL conference, O’Dowd (2015) looked back on nearly 20 years of telecollaborative experience, or online intercultural exchange, and charted its development from niche activity to mainstay of the foreign language classroom, at least as far as higher education is concerned.

Like most researchers, O’Dowd identifies two purposes for telecollaborative exchange, that is:

  1. “to engage learners in ‘authentic’ interaction with native speakers or with learners from other countries” and also
  2. “to give them first-hand experience of ‘real’ intercultural communication.”

The bulk of discussion in this paper, as in the literature in general, focuses on the second objective. Telecollaborative research has focused on

  • learning about the target language culture (Kramsch, 2014),
  • understanding those from other cultures as a window on one’s own culture (Guth & Helm, 2010), and even
  • the mediating role of technology itself (Kern, 2014).

Comparatively few studies focus specifically on language learning per se, and those that do often underline difficulties in promoting productive learner-learner exchanges which involve genuine negotiation of meaning or effective peer feedback, for example (Belz & Reinhardt, 2004).

Moreover, research in telecollaboration also frequently highlights the limitations and drawbacks of online communication, due to

  • technical constraints and problems,
  • a predominance of what some see as artificial exchanges which are limited to personal registers (Hanna & de Nooy, 2009), and
  • related concerns with unchallenging task design which fails to engage participants in genuine collaboration (Ware & O’Dowd, 2009).

If past approaches to telecollaborative exchange have been found wanting in these respects, then a new direction for this form of exchange might take the form of a focus on language to the exclusion of cultural and intercultural concerns, and on creating space for learner interaction over other affordances of telecollaborative tools. Second language research has established a number of recommendations for effective instruction, including the need for purposeful interaction in a communicative context with interlocutors outside the classroom (Lee & VanPatten, 2003; de Bot). All of these requirements can be addressed through telecollaboration.

The present study reports on a telecollaborative exchange involving EFL learners in classes taught by some thirty secondary school student-teachers in France and the Netherlands. The student-teachers were enrolled in courses on technology for language education in their respective institutions, and they collaborated in a virtual environment to:

  • share information about their learners,
  • devise learning tasks involving interaction between learners in different countries, and
  • document instances of target language communication and learning.

Data include

  • student-teacher contributions during the course (video presentations and classroom clips,
  • synchronous and asychronous group exchanges in the virtual environment),
  • the teaching and learning materials they designed and published as open educational resources, and
  • reflection on the implementation of activities from a task-based language teaching perspective.

Additional information is provided by participant attitude questionnaires on language teaching and learning, the role of technology, and their views of course outcomes.

References

Belz, J. A., & Reinhardt, J. (2004). Aspects of advanced foreign language proficiency: Internet‐mediated German language play. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 14(3), 324-362.
De Bot, K. (2007). Language teaching in a changing world. Modern Language Journal, 274-276.
Guth, S. and Helm, F. (2010) (eds.) Telecollaboration 2.0: Language, Literacy and Intercultural Learning in the 21st Century. Bern: Peter Lang.
Hanna, B. & de Nooy, J. (2009). Learning language and culture via public internet discussion forums. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kern, R. (2014). Technology as pharmakon: The promise and perils of the Internet for foreign language education. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 340-357.
Kramsch, C. (2014). Teaching foreign languages in an era of globalization: Introduction. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 296-311.
Lee, J. F., & VanPatten, B. (1995). Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen. Volume 1: Directions for Language Learning and Teaching. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Lightbown, P. M. and Spada, N.(2000). How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
O’Dowd, R. (in press). Learning from the Past and Looking to the Future of Online Intercultural Exchange.
O’Dowd, R. & Ware, P. (2009). Critical issues in telecollaborative task design. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(2), 173–188.
Skehan, P. (2009). Modelling second language performance: Integrating complexity, accuracy, fluency, and lexis. Applied Linguistics, 30(4), 510-532.. PDF
Stolz, C. (2014). Are these 17 statements about language acquisition true? TPRS Questions and answer.
Other

“Extreme factory model of instruction”

Rogoff et al. (1996) quote this example of an “extreme factory model of instruction” from a chemistry teaching in a study by McRobbie and Tobin (1995).  So many constraints: “the program,” “the timeline,” “the certification processes.”  And a very clear articulation of the transmission model.

I’m reading about situated learning and communities of practice; this example shows how subversive these alternative models of teaching and learning can really be.

Factory model

Factory model

 “The way the lessons are run at the moment they are completely teacher directed … If I maintain control we will make progress through the work program, students will learn more, and learn more efficiently.  I’m setting out to get this information into the kids’ brains as efficiently as possible (although sometime the schedule has to be adapted to meet the learning needs of the students), and be a transmissive model of teaching I can guarantee that there will be a greater percentage of students with the desired quantity of knowledge at the end. We are trying to meet timelines, and we are intolerant of digression. The greatest part of my teaching is geared to keeping the students moving along and on task. Getting the work done according to strict timelines is very important to us because we have negotiated to cover a certain amount of chemical science in a set amount of time as set out in the accredited work program and we also have to meet the external requirements of the certification processes for student achievement.

I believe I have all the knowledge the students need for their course.  I see the learner as absorbing knowledge and I transfer some of that knowledge by having students take down notes …

In order to get understanding you’ve got to be able to remember the basic facts that you are investigating. If you can’t remember basic facts you can’t get to the next step of sorting out relationships between facts. Almost every student is capable of being taught how to memorise large bodies of information quickly and I believe I can teach them that … If students don’t understand they should memorise the important information regardless and allow understanding to occur later in its own good time.  I’m sure the brain will make the connections that are necessary if they have the basic knowledge memorised even if it may take a while.”

McRobbie & Tobin, 1995, pp. 7-8

McRobbie, C., & Tobin, K. (1995). Restraints to reform: The congruence of teacher and student actions in a chemistry classroom. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(4), 373-385.

Rogoff, B., Matusov, E., & White, C. (1996). Models of teaching and learning: Participation in a community of learners. The handbook of education and human development, 388-414.