For our 75th episode, we discuss a question which is both very simple and highly complex: What’s the best way to learn a language? We challenged each other to fit everything we could about language learning onto a single page of A4 paper, then compare our notes in a marathon 60-minute discussion. For maximum effect, prepare your own notes on “What’s the Best Way to Learn a Language” before you listen.
The concept of teaching English in English is so common, we rarely stop to think about how unconventional and challenging it is. No other subject is taught so immersivity. Can you imagine receiving instruction on interpretive dancing through an interpretive dance? Or getting taught to code by reading java? Probably not.
Teaching English in English would be impossible without one key skill - grading language. Here are 5 strategies to help you help your students understand. And to help you remember them, they spell G-R-A-D-E.
Your PowerPoint slides are a masterpiece, your materials are back from the printer’s and the opening speech you drafted would put Martin Luther King to shame. But wait a minute, is that good training?I don’t think it is. ‘Less is more’ in art, design and architecture, and I think that less can also be more in training. Here are five principles that will set you on your way to becoming a minimalist trainer.
We’ve all been in there before. Pieces of wood strewn across the floor. Packets of seemingly identical (but vitally different) nails encircle you. At the center of this carnage you sit with furniture assembly instructions on your lap which require the Rosetta Stone to decipher.
Is this also how our students feel in your class? Listening to instructions in a foreign language can be every bit as confusing as assembling those bookshelves. Next time you give instructions for an activity, G-I-V-E instructions.
Picture a class of six-year old’s learning English. What do you see? Dancing? Coloring in? Flashcard games? Face-to-face lessons are naturally kinesthetic, meaning more blood flow to students’ brains, more engagement, and more variety. Online ESL classes can be the opposite: fidgety students struggling to overcome the compulsion to move. As online English teachers, we need more movement in our online classes. Where to start? The 5 ‘i's.
"What do you mean? How can I email you interactions, epiphanies, questions, reactions, reflections and learning?”
"Just send your PowerPoint deck".
When did people start to think that “PowerPoint” is a synonym for “training”? Do they think the “T” in “PPT” stands for “training”? Training is so much more than a series of slides, handouts and bullet points. If your new year’s resolutions included cutting down on fats, sugars or caffeine, here are five reasons to add PowerPoint to your list of things to avoid in the new year.
Maybe you hate your school. Maybe you’re working undercover for a competitor. Maybe this is your next gig after hacking the American election. Whatever the reason, you’re in good company; there are a lot of people dedicated to destroying teacher development. Little has been written about the field of destroying teacher development (or “DTD” for short), so to make your work easier, I have compiled this list of the highly effective DTD techniques. Go forth and destroy!
Hold it! Step away from the photocopier. Do you really need those extra materials for your next class? Are those handouts going to help your students learn or just clear a couple of inches of Brazilian rain forest? Before printing anything more, check your materials (or ‘mateRRRRials’) against the four ‘R’s (real life, relevance, reaction and recyclability) and make sure you and your students get the most out of them.
Can you remember some of the things you were “forced” to do when you were a child? Forced to wear a school uniform. Forced to go to the dentist. Forced to eat vegetables. Being forced to do things sucks. And yet every week we force teachers to attend training in the hope teachers can be forced to develop. They can't.
When you see a police car in the rear-view mirror, do you drive more cautiously? Do you work later when your boss is staying after hours? Researchers call this behavior “the Hawthorne Effect.” And, it affects your ESL classroom more than you think.
100 couples get divorced in America every hour. These divorces cost 11 billion dollars a year in legal fees and result in 43% of kids in the States being raised without their dads. Tragic. But what’s causing all these divorces? Getting married too quickly? Staying out too late? Not enough sex?
How many of us start lessons by asking students to put their mobile phones away? Probably too many. The vast majority of our students come to class with a computer more powerful than all of NASA had in 1969. NASA used their technology to put men on the moon with a rocket. Our students use their technology to fight zombies with plants. Doesn’t that sound like a waste?
Listen. You can’t hear learning taking place, can you? You can’t hear the cogs in students’ brains turning as they try to get their heads round a new language concept, can you? You can’t hear the humming of a learner’s’ brain as they internalize a new word, can you? Well, I think you can. The best classes I’ve ever observed and taught all had this sound in abundance. You’ve heard this sound before. You know what it sounds like. What’s the sound?
At some point in the past, we decided on a “native speaker” model of English. We recruited millions of “native speakers” as teachers. We recorded and played thousands of “listening's” featuring other “native speakers”. And we forgot about all the other English accents in the world. Now, we have millions of students who can understand American English and British English. But what about the other Englishes?
If you have, you’ll know one of the reasons that Fight Club is great is because of the ending. Ed Norton and Helena Bonham Carter look out over a sea of destruction while Black Francis croons and creams an apocalyptic tribute to mental illness. Brilliant. But what does this have to do with teaching English?
A few days ago I observed a class. The students were engaged, spoke lots of English, stayed on task and laughed when the teacher made jokes. There was just one thing missing. The thing that learners desire above all else. Feedback.
As soon as the lesson finished, I thanked the teacher for letting me observe and asked her if she’d like to chat about the class. “Absolutely,” she said, “I’d love to get some feedback.”
In one of his TED talks, Wade Davis tells how in 1957, five missionaries attempted to contact the Waorani tribe in North Eastern Ecuador and made a critical mistake. They airdropped 8”x10” glossy photos of themselves in what they considered to be friendly gestures, but forgot that the rain-forest tribesmen had never seen anything two dimensional before in their lives. Picking up the photos from the forest floor, and failing to find the figure behind the form, the tribesmen concluded that the photographs had to be calling cards from the Devil. When the missionaries arrived a few weeks later, they were speared to death. The moral of the story? Know your audience. Here are three things I have learned about my audience, Chinese students, now the world’s largest TEFL audience, over the last decade