#TBLTChat 4: Problems and Strategies

There were a few more people involved in this #TBLTChat than last time, possibly because this was a case of addressing problems in the TBLT classroom (and TSLT classroom). This is what a lot of people want out of CPD, I would imagine.

Anyway, thanks to Helen for suggesting this chat topic.

Marc (me) lives in Asia so am up with the Twitter chat larks and kicked off by talking about L1 use and overuse and getting learners to avoid the latter. I suggested that Dörnyei’s Motivational Self system [PDF] might work for this. Helen said she would try it. Maite said L1 use can be difficult to manage at times, specially with less proficient learners. A key vocabulary list handed before the task could help them use the target language when there is a language gap. Marc said it could help, but I think if there is a lot of vocabulary that prevents task completion, the plan should change.

Helen also said that teens get so enthused by tasks that they focus too much on the task and use L1 to do it. She gives points for L2 use and loads of functional language. Marc said that this should be made clear in the task rubric. Helen said that her young learners’ emergent language needs functional and irrelevance filtering  and asked if anyone had any tips. Peter said that he feeds a lot of process language but rarely works to reduce L1 (over)use.  He added that context (especially monolingual classes) and intrinsic motivation are factors. Sarah suggested having one student in a group observing and checking when functional language is used. They can then repeat a similar task and change roles. She said they can also make audio recordings of themselves performing the task and then self-assess using English. Giulia said that with teens it can be very difficult to do this due to not wanting to look bad in the eyes of their classmates so they don’t take the role seriously. Marc said that having learners give success criteria should activate schema. He also stated that going in silent and trying to have learners understand non-verbal instructions  and eliciting process language this way may work. Peter agreed that learners need clear success criteria and that they should play a part in defining them. Maite said that asking for meaning is OK but remarked that tasks have real communication so learners should be able to get meaning from context.

Helen said that on her Task-Supported course (which Peter also teaches) that there is a lot of input through key texts. There is a lot of asking for definitions of lexis. The learners tend to see/hear these texts before they attempt their tasks. I said that this could be given after the learners do their tasks and then they can see what was the same or different. Peter then added that the task should be repeated so learners can improve performance.  Myles said if he repeats tasks sometimes learners get bored so he tweaks the task for the repetition, for example the first task may be ordering a meal but the second is ordering as a vegetarian. Marc said that if he doesn’t tweak the task for repetition he tweaks his expectations, such as requiring more complexity. Maite said she would never repeat a task the exact same way. She would switch partners, add difficulty, etc. Marc said he would repeat a task exactly if it was beneficial or if there had been a lot of Focus on Form.

Marc’s asked about how to get learners to work through difficulties other than simply feeding them language without negotiation of meaning. Liam said that if he doesn’t tell them his learners go straight to Google Translate so he asks leading questions. Myles said feeding students language at the point of need sounds logical if it assists task completion. Marc said yes, if it is blocking them but that students sometimes think there is only one way to complete a task but they already have language that they can put to use to do it. Liam said it depends how memorable the language is and how effective the intervention is. Myles then replied that he likes to see his students try to use the fed form later in the lesson and stretch out its possible uses, then expand a post task during a mini form focus, for example to hire a venue/car/bike (for the day/night/week). Marc said he does if they can manage it. You need to know your learners. Maite said that you could give points for guessing  unknown words or search it as homework for next class. Marc said that in similar/related languages with lots of cognates contextual guessing is easy but that with different languages (for example Japanese and English) it can be difficult.

Marc said that something that was a hassle for him when he started teaching was learners doing the bare minimum with ‘broken English’ just to be first finished. He said that a rationale in rubrics is needed, something like “You’re not incapable of speaking with correct grammar so try not to sound like it” as part of the rubric for task completion. Nakiya said that her students often compete to be first to complete, too, without looking to understand points to take away. Marc said that there he tells his learners there is such a thing as too fast. Maite said she sets a secondary task more difficult than the previous one if learners finish too early. Marc said he did too or got learners to summarise their conversation in writing. Sarah said to set the bar high and share aims/outcomes with learners and learning will be greater. Marc then said that teachers think students understand teacher expectations but actually don’t, although this lack of understanding is sometimes faked in order to avoid doing work with some students.

And that was our fourth! Thanks to all the chatters and the lurkers. Don’t be afraid to join in next time.

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About Marc

I teach in Tokyo.
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