Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Children's literature in ELT? Why not?

Although throughout most of my TEFL career I have been working with teenage and adult learners, I now have two "young learners" of my own back home, so I'm learning the ropes through experience. One might think that language teaching is language teaching, irrespective of the age group, but that's not quite true - and this goes beyond the obvious differences in attention spans, activity type preferences, or cognitive maturity... teaching kids turns out to be a different ball game altogether. 
One thing I quite like about young learners is that it is much less result-oriented, and a lot more focused on the learning process itself. Children don't usually question why we're doing something. As long as it's fun, in the sense that it becomes another game for them to play, they're happy to play along. As their teacher (parent, au pair, tutor... whatever), you may set goals and forge plans (which you simply must be prepared to abandon if necessary, as with young children things, as a rule, never go according to plan), but the children don't need to be aware of these. I suppose it's important for them to sense that there is a point to an activity, and sometimes they may even ask what that is - but this is a lot less vital than the actual activity itself.
Another nice thing about young learners is that teaching them is not coursebook-bound. Anything can, and will, become a tool for learning. (A brief aside: but should that not be true for a learner of any age? Why exactly then do we get bogged down in "covering the coursebook" a lot of the time...?) Their favourite toys, furniture, natural objects, people, and obviously, books, too.
I think reading is fun. I also think reading SHOULD BE fun. But how about turning the joy of literature to our advantage in teaching the language? How about setting those goals and forging those plans - while allowing the kids to immerse themselves in a world of imagination, knowledge and inspiration? 
I've only just found out about a new publication called CLELE journal, which focuses exactly on that theme: children's literature in language teaching. Find our more here: http://clelejournal.org/. I'll definitely be following it from now.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Motivated to motivate? Reflections on the ELTA 11th Annual Conference, Belgrade

ELTA, the association of English language teachers in Serbia, organised its annual conference last weekend at the Pedagogical Faculty in Belgrade. Despite the hot weather, lots of teachers attended (and hopefully enjoyed) a wide range of plenary talks and workshops. I wouldn't personally have expected to participate in any "Bollywood dancing", for example - if you were there, you know what I'm talking about. 

I had a double slot before the lunch break on Friday, starting with a 45-minute workshop on classroom dynamics, followed by a 60-minute plenary on teacher motivation. 

Although devised as a workshop, my first session (All for one, one for all) didn't really work as such. We were given the main lecture hall, which meant that on the stage I was separated from my training group by several metres and I had to use a microphone as well because of the big space - not really conducive to good two-way interaction. I'd planned several questions where I was going to elicit trainees' responses first before exploring the issues myself, but standing on that stage, I simply couldn't hear them... Note to self: perhaps next time try to find out which room I'll be given further ahead of time so I can plan accordingly? Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, I hope teachers benefited from the content.

The workshop was organised around activity ideas for each stage in the formation of a working group from Forming to Storming to Norming to Performing (terminology from Tuckman, 1969, quoted in Argyle: Social Interaction. 1969, Tavistock Press, London - in case you wanted to know) which I encouraged teachers to consider trying in their own classes as they start in their new groups in the next school year.

For anyone wanting to download a handout copy of my workshop (with said activity ideas and a short recommended reading list), follow this link: https://www.box.com/s/24r3zzdwpemkewohmxv7.

In my plenary, the focus was on teacher motivation: where it comes from, and what teachers can do to maintain their own motivation. The idea actually came about as an extension of a talk I did on 23 February at the OUP Day at the Sava Centar in Belgrade. The February session explored student motivation, which got me thinking about how this was connected (assuming at that point that it was) to teacher motivation, then I shared the results of my further research with the delegates at ELTA. For anyone wanting to explore the subject further, here are a few recommendations:
M. Praver and W. Oga-Baldwin: What motivates language teachers. Investigating work satisfaction and second language pedagogy. In: Polyglossia Vol.14, February 2008.
G. Demes da Cruz: From limitation to motivation: fourteen tips on how to enhance motivation in the EFL class. From www.developingteachers.com.
L. Bartlett: Teacher development through reflective teaching. In: J.C. Richards and D. Nunan (eds): Second language teacher education. 1990, Cambridge University Press.

I have also contributed a short article on student motivation to the April issue of the ELTA Newsletter, and those interested can check it out here: http://www.britishcouncil.rs/predavanje-engleskog/elta-e-bilten/april-2013.

I really enjoyed ELTA - Serbian teachers are always a joy to work with. Look forward to my next opportunity to re-test this impression. :-)