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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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.

Are book publishers killing teacher creativity and student learning potential?

Okay, so how many of you teaching English are using a text from a major
publisher? And how many of you seriously think that you, let alone your students are particularly enjoying the topics under the microscope? I mean, how does someone sitting in a dusty office in the middle of no-where decide what our students are going to learn and talk about. A few years back, I was teaching the topic of spanking to a group of Saudi students. Of course, this had nothing to do with their life experience, and the topic went down like a lead balloon! It
didn’t make for much interesting conversation.

 The other day, I started a discussion with my students about the latest smart phones. I mentioned the iphone, Samsung Galaxy, the HTC desire, the latest Blackberry Bold and a few other ‘in-phones’.

The students ‘pounced’ on the chance to talk about their phones memory size, whether Android beat IOS, and the various functionalities of the phones concerned. It goes without saying, that many of us are also ‘into’ these kinds of ‘in-things’. It was an opportunity to justify positions for choosing particular phones, and of course the resulting argumentation resulted in a lot of ‘talk’ – which of course was the desired outcome.

I find without reservation that most book publishers are way behind on interesting content. At times it feels like we’re stuck within a straight jacket that just does not give us the freedom to be creative. You have to focus on the content so that students perform well on the ‘achievement exam’.

The discussion on smart phones, fitted into the broad categories of technology, communication, computers etc. etc. Themes which are sometimes separated or combined as main topics within books.

My proposal is that within a teaching context, a collection of main ideas or topics should be decided by the teachers, and then teachers left to build whatever content they want around it – subject to the proficiency level of their students. Yes, build the content ourselves. We’re teachers, we’re meant to be
creative!

Collect the content that’s interesting to both sides (teacher and student) and start learning using more interesting content.

Okay, now I can hear many of you saying that if you have ten teachers, producing or acquiring their own content, doing their own thing, in their own class we’re going to end up with a bit of a ‘biryani’ or should I say ‘mix-up’.

If we take the example of travelling, whether you discuss the Bahamas, having a good time at a beach front, a trip to Tokyo or even Dhaka in Bangladesh, the
vocabulary used is going to be quite similar. The lexis students use will be very close.

All content areas have similar core vocabulary. No matter what you talk, read, write or listen about, the same words will be repeated across the classes, again and again.

The main topic or area acts as the starting point for creating content. The specifics of the content are in the teachers and students hands.

To summarise, teachers should have the freedom to choose whatever content they deem appropriate, look for content that is relevant and useful for students, taking into account student experience in their lives, and importantly items which are interesting and current.

Do you eat with your hands?


Hi! Although many of us may eat with a knife, a spoon or a fork, there are a lot of people who eat using their hands.  

Before you start thinking that it is rather disgusting licking your fingers after the end of a meal, research indicates that licking fingers helps the digestive process because it results in the release of appropriate fluids to help break down the food further.  I usually eat with utensils such as a knife and fork, and sometimes use my hands when eating pizza.

However, when in the mood, I’ll eat rice with my hands. Usually at home but even sometimes at weddings in Saudi Arabia. When in the UK (England) and in a public place, I revert to knife and fork. To be honest though, there is nothing like getting your hands dirty with some rice and lentils.  

How do people eat in your culture? Please add a comment below.