The problem with teaching language through integrated skills

Many of the books that we use to teach English nowadays, combine the skills. Although this seems to be in vogue, as someone on the ground, I wish there was more time to focus more on one particular skill.

Although integrated skills are meant to reflect the reality of language use, they fail to take into account a learners trajectory. When learning a new language, it takes time to master a particular skill.

Many teachers are not in control of their teaching schedules, and are likely following one that is centrally produced. My experience has been, that lower level learners are left struggling, and those above do not get enough time to practice. This becomes even more apparent when teachers have a finite amount of time to cover a course, and they are under pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially if they work in a large organisation.

Basically, as a practitioner, I believe that the introduction of integrated skills should happen at a later stage when learners have a stronger foundation in the new language.

This is no sentimental hark back to the past, it’s a genuine concern of someone who is teaching day-in-day-out.

Is anyone listening out there? What do you think?

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Are universities around the world selling themselves short in order to gain overseas students?

I’ve worked now in Saudi Arabia for a few years (10 at the time of writing) and work within a university context.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of students coming back from overseas, with either a Masters qualification, or even a PhD. When in discussion with some, I’ve been taken aback by the level of their English (you assume they’ve written their assignments in English) and some (meaning many) at PhD level seem unable to converse fluently about their particular area of research.

There are even rumours of individuals who are ready to ‘help’ overseas students with their writing. There is a lot of money being exchanged to ‘edit, rewrite and prepare students for their viva.

The fact of the matter is, is that you are left wondering what’s going on. Are there two sets of assessment criteria? One for locals and another for the more lucrative overseas students?

The reality is this, that the reputations some countries have built over the generations, are at risk for the sake of a few dollars/pounds. If things don’t change soon, we are going to have a large number of ‘graduates’  with advanced qualifications which are not worth the paper they’re written on – in fact there are too many of them already.

Is anyone listening?

Speaking to yourself is not a sign of madness – it’s a way to learn languages

Hello all.

Talking to yourself

I’ve been assessing my students speaking this week. It’s been pretty time consuming, but worth it (I hope).

One of the questions I’ve been using to elicit more speech is about how students learn English outside of university. There have been a variety of very interesting answers. One of the most interesting methods, is to talk to themselves. Students cannot find anyone to talk to, so it seems like the only solution.

Talking to yourself

One of my students who drives back to his village from the main city at weekends, told me that on his two hour journey back, he speaks to himself. He kind of imagines that he’s speaking to another person. A made-up, contrived situation. Wow. Fantastic idea.

What are the possible pedagogical implications? Well, I wonder whether we should introduce speak-to-yourself sessions in our conversation lessons?

I’m seriously now planning to learn Chinese – “I just can’t wait to speak to myself!”

Conversation questions

How many of you out there teach speaking?  In this day and age, skills tend to be combined as a result of the so-called ‘integrated skills’ movement. Although supporters of this methodology believe that it reflects real life, I find that courses do not provide enough practice for students in the relevant skills. What I’m saying, is that students need focused practice for a substantial amount of time in the four skills. In my context, students do not get sufficient opportunities to speak, so I try hard to ensure that students speaking per lesson ratio is as high as possible.

I often summarise whole chapters into one A4 worksheet. which then acts as the main point from which I then teach. I typically also prepare my own conversation questions so that students can use these to talk about the content of the chapter. I usually have about 30 questions per chapter.

We now have plenty of pair work going on in the classroom which is a relief. Students have given me positive feedback and are being cajoled into practicing their speaking more.

What do you think? Are we all prone to go with the flow? Have we lost our creativity?

By the way, I’d like to share something I recently found on the net. It’s a speaking question bank. Here’s the link: http://iteslj.org/questions/

Enjoy.

 

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

Declaration: The article below is not mine, and is taken from:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/

by Gretchen Reynolds

However, it’s a great up-to-date topic to discuss with your students when discussing health etc. I also want to reveal that I’ve put it up here so that I can keep referring to it! Even old fogies can dream! Let’s get the Play Station generation up and about!

This column appears in the May 12 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put the newest fitness research into practice.

An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

“There’s very good evidence” that high-intensity interval training provides “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time,” says Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of the new article.

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even more, he says, it’s accomplished by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.

A version of this article appeared in print on 05/12/2013, on page MM20 of the New York edition with the headline: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.

Assessment without numbers

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better that someone who got 80? Really? How?

What about in the classroom? You give students a score out of 10, 15, 20 etc, but what does the score really mean? What does good, very good or excellent mean? Do we really know what we mean? Do the students understand what the scores mean, or even these expressions?

What if scores were totally replaced by descriptions or descriptors? What if we gave a student a description of what they had achieved?

Are we giving students marks, because that’s the way it’s always been? Or may be this is also a reflection of our educational backgrounds as well as the undergraduate and graduate courses we’ve taken. After all, we probably also got scores or grades.

And what about the usefulness of assessment. What can we do to make students more aware and at the same time get them to do something about their learning?

It might require us as teachers to also take a closer look at what we mean, and/or what our students are really doing. But may be we just don’t have the time?

So there are a lot of questions here, a lot of elements, what now?

Well, what do you think? What do you do? How can we reinvent testing and assessment?

I’m hoping to add future posts to the questions above.

Trying to diet and get healthy

I’ve recently decided to get fit again.  Why now? I don’t know, I guess I have the urge to look better and feel better, plus my belly… Well, I won’t say too much about that.

My diet has changed. I’m now eating mostly proteins, and some carbohydrates during the day. There is virtually no sugar in my diet. I’m hoping this is going to help me lose weight!!

So basically, at the moment, for breakfast, I have freshly squeezed orange juice. I also have grapefruit. 2 to 3 hours later, I eat a piece of grilled chicken. I drink plenty of water in-between. I also eat a green apple if I get a chance.

For lunch, I have a sandwich. This is with brown bread and grilled chicken or tuna.The sandwich also contains some salad, so things like cucumber, lettuce, tomato and onions.

I try to drink plenty of water, and again a few hours later I’ll have some more chicken. Not too much. So between lunch and dinner I’m eating mostly fruit, and drinking water.

In the evening, before going to the gym, I’ll have a banana to give me some energy. When I get to the gym, I’ll do some  warm-up exercises, and this is then followed by a session in the gym. I was never a fan of going to the gym, but I’ve decided to have a go. There are different types of sports machines. It’s all new to me. My muscles do ache a little after doing a session. I suppose this is a good sign? On alternate days, I will also do an hour of aerobic exercises. This really makes me sweat.

All of this exercise of course makes me hungry, and so when I get home, I have a ceaser’s  salad (basically, lots of salad and chicken). I know I seem to be eating a lot of chicken, but I do vary this. I eat tuna if I can. So the current focus is on eating a lot of protein, eating relatively few carbohydrates, drinking lots of water and fresh juice, and eating as much fruit as I like.

Where is this all going to end up? Well, time will tell. I’ll keep you posted!

You can use this article as supplementary material if you like, as most EFL/ESL books have a unit related to health. All the best.