Monday, April 14, 2014

Upgrade- Demand High to bring a grammar lesson alive- Jim Scrivener (IATEFL 2014)

This is one of the sessions that engaged me to the fullest and one of the topics that, I think, are the most contentious in ELT. Teaching grammar is not easy to handle and many teachers are asking a multitude of questions, that have remained unanswered to some large extent . It is true there is no magic formula to teach grammar. Some of the questions are: Shall I teach grammar explicitly or implicitly? What shall I do to make my learners more aware of accuracy and abide by the rules of the language. In some situations, teachers are torn between fluency or accuracy. Some ELT luminaries stress accuracy, while others stress fluency. Some other experts stress the importance of both fluency and accuracy. How can teachers balance their teaching in accordance with the learners' needs?

At Iatefl, Jim Scrivener suggested a concept that was similar to drilling. He called it PROUF- which stands for Playful Challenge/ Repeated Opportunities/ Upgrade Feedback. The teacher sets a playful challenge to the students, gives the learner repeated opportunities to do/ say it better (not just once and move on), and gives upgrade feedback (rather than blind praise) to help the learner move forward.

Jim started the session with these appetizing questions.
How can we use Demand High ELT practically?
What can I do to get the maximum learning out of whatever the students study?
Jim is showing us practical stuff how to use Elt Demand High and practice grammar.
The focus is not on the mechanics of the activities.They are looking for where the learning is going on.Where is the learning going on? How can we help every individual student in the classroom?Instead of praising weak production, what strategies can a teacher adopt to help learners be more accurate.Drilling , how can teachers use drilling in a more fruitful way?
Instead of teaching one class as if they are one level. But every class is a mixed-level class. What to do instead of teaching one class as one level?
Jim Scrivener made one suggestion to all of these questions," there's at least one answer : DEMAND HIGH".

   At that moment, Jim Scrivener asked the audience to imagine they are English teachers and they are going to teach a grammar lesson to their learners, with the use of their coursebooks. He also asked them to answer honestly this series of questions : how good are your learners after such a lesson? Do they recognize the structure? Do they know how to use it separately? Will they be able to use the structure to form new meanings? Then Jim expressed both his surprise and doubt about the "positive" reply the experienced teachers gave. In order to give solid proof to his opinion, he selected two grammar activities from two "good" random contemporary textbooks/ coursebooks. The first activity was about teaching the present perfect.
There were two examples, two rules, then a listening that leads in to five gap fills.
It's hardly believable to think that learners become competent after doing these activities. There's no production. And Jim assumes that our learners cannot possibly become competent if they only practice grammar the way it is presented in our textbooks. Accordingly, Jim Scrivener points that textbooks ought to have so much stuff : grammar, lexis, pronunciation, cultural awareness and learning,.... So textbooks are expected to include many things and they seem to be crammed with everything but how can they lead to doing things well?
This is questionable.
In another good textbook, There were four examples ,four rules that are quite challenging for native speakers , as Jim stresses, and seven gap fills. Then Jim asked this question: could we learn from this?
It is doubtful. Nonetheless, at the best, it is a starter to learn grammar.It's just an initiation into grammar.
There's a problem, here, states Jim Scrivener that "grammar has been pushed to an old corner in grammar books." He adds that the amount of work offered on grammar has not been sufficient.

He, then, suggests to offer some practical proposals about teaching grammar.He also focuses on the fact that textbooks are not offering as many examples as possible of the language in use. They are rather using texts as "carriers" of two examples of language items to exemplify a whole structure in use, which is not sufficient at all. More importantly, he stresses the fact of using more and more examples. He asserts that "examples are input".However, most teachers are not using these examples at perfect, because there is "no circulation of language" in the room. Learners tend to read examples one at a time, and the practice stops at the mere reading and the teacher commenting upon the examples or completing the rules.So to practice grammar, learners need to play with examples.Teachers can do more than letting learners read examples aloud.

Jim Scrivener suggests ways how to make the language circulate in the classroom: "First read the examples, then read them again and make them sound real by stressing the sentence and adding some intonation to it.The teacher can model it, and why not record the modelling". Then, why not start playing with the language? start substituting it, by asking the learners to replace words here and there.Replacing can bring other grammar , by then. Ultimately, comes the stage of personalizing.It's true that there's nothing new in this technique and that some teachers are using them, in class. So Jim Scrivener suggests we try a new technique, which could be less familiar. So instead of thinking of terms "right" and "wrong", we have to think in terms of "upgrade steps". What would take each students a step forward? Teachers can help learners move another step forward in the ability of using the language.

How can possibly teachers do that? Drilling is one possibility. Either basic repetition or repetition with few variations. Jim Scrivener had fun inventing new words which is about a new technique which is reminiscent of drilling. Nonetheless, it is a more useful form of drilling "PROUF" (1-Playful Challenge which is humorous, light, puzzle-like, and tangibly and audibly better 2- Repeated Opportunities: more than one chance to do it . Teachers need to build on these opportunities to practice more 3-Upgrade Feedback: we need to offer learners Upgrade Feedback. Learners need feedback from teachers other than "good" "perfect", "blindly praise learners " but feedback that helps them to improve.)

In the classroom, the teacher can help learners improve by means of PROUF. Some of the techniques that could be used to help learners upgrade steps is one-to-one focus , within the hearing of the class. Jim Scrivener notices that some teachers have tried this technique, but then rejected it because, it is like keeping the student in the limelight. This could embarrass the student. However, it is argued by Jim Scrivener that if learners are helped with tangible upgrade feedback, the teacher can help not only the learner under focus to do better but all the learners who are listening.

Another coinage that is presented by Jim Scrivener is 3xP, which stands for Three Times Practice. So instead of doing an exercise once, we do it three times, but it's not just repeating it, it's doing it differently. It's getting the language into the students' heads. The challenge is to move from the exercise to something they can actually remember, evoke, use.It's helping the learners improve.

In an appealing, light way, Jim Scrivener introduces the Demand High 3xP via the song of Elvis Priestly.

Second time: it's going deeper into it. Third time: can we actually move from something dull to something lively, inspiring, useful?

I do like how Jim used Elvis Priestly song to stress the x3 Practice .

   Personally, I have found the session  light and interesting and I intend to use PROUF with my learners. However, there are some questions that are unanswered and I look forward to getting some answers. Can PROUF prove to be effective in teaching all structures of grammar without exception? Or does it prove rather useful in some situations and ineffective in other situations? Does PROUF benefit all learners?

To join the discussion and make yourself heard, join the ELT DEMAND HIGH page on Facebook.

Let us enjoy the discussions and share our experiences in teaching grammar. Let you , now, enjoy watching the video.

Here is a short biography of Jim Scrivener.

Jim Scrivener is currently Head of Teacher Development for Bell International. Previously he has been Head of Teacher Training for International House, Hastings and Director of Education for IH Budapest

His publications include Learning Teaching (Macmillan ELT) which won the ARELS Frank Bell Prize 1995, Oxford Basics: Teaching Grammar, Teachers' Books and Portfolios forStraightforward, two business coursebooks for OUP and he has many articles on His most recent book,Teaching English Grammar (Macmillan ELT) won the HRH Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union 2010 award as "Best Entry for Teachers".

Jim has worked in many different countries over the years, including two years in Kenya, three in the USSR and seven in Hungary. He is a frequent conference presenter and course leader around the world. He was head of the team that designed the Euro exams, now widely taken in Central Europe and has been actively involved with Cambridge ESOL exams including design of their online teacher portfolio. He recently designed and implemented the first Online Delta course.

Jim is married to NoƩmi and has two grown-up sons - Alex and Ben - and a young daughter, Maisie.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Interview with Adam Simpson

    IATEFL has just rung down the curtains and we are still discovering, as online registered bloggers, what has taken place during the conference. Much to blog about and still much to discover . We are lucky to be connected to each other via enriching, invisible threads. Though I feel like I am lagging behind and I should have blogged about this long ago. But I always say to myself it's never late to learn and share. More than this, it is an honor and a pleasure to start a chain of interviews on my blog with ELT professionals from everywhere in the world. I will also introduce some Tunisian amazing and inspiring ELTs , who have been of paramount importance to the ELT promotion in Tunisia.
    What Adam Simpson suggested to all IATEFL registered bloggers is to start a chain reaction, by choosing three bloggers and interviewing them. Personally,the idea touched a chord. Hence, I would like to thank Adam Simpson for accepting to be interviewed and introduced to the ELT community in Tunisia. Adam Simpson is no strangers to the ELT Tunisian community and many teachers from Tunisia do cite his blog and his inspiring posts. Two years ago, I allowed myself to share his inspiring post Hyppocratic Oath for teachers of the world as food for thought ,with my colleagues, during a training session. Here is the link: .
Now, let me introduce to you, Adam Simpson. And don't forget to have a close look at his amazing posts at Teach Them English.

1-How would you like yourself to be introduced to the ELT community?

Hi. My name’s Adam and I’m an English teacher in Istanbul. I’ve lived here for nearly fifteen years and I work in the preparatory English program at Sabanci University. Also, I blog about my teaching experiences quite regularly, as well as being an avid believer in the importance of classroom research.

2-Could you please give us a brief history of your blogging? When did did you start? Why?

I actually first started blogging about music, which was a bit of a mistake. While I liked the aspect of music I blogged about, I didn’t love it. After a while, my lack of passion became clear to me and my readers. After that, I started blogging about teaching (in 2009).

3-Who is your model in the ELT community?

This question is much too difficult to answer for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have too many people who have my total respect in this profession. If I wanted to give a full answer, I would name at least 50 people and write 10000 words! Secondly, I would miss someone from the list and feel very bad about it.

4-What does IATEFL represent to you as a teacher and blogger?

I tried to blog about the conference last year and failed miserably. Anyone who has ever been to IATEFL will tell you what a fantastic social experience it is. Once you’ve attended, it’s not easy to watch and report from afar. Basically, I couldn’t escape the feeling of wanting to be there. I’m trying to make amends this year.

5-What would be your main interest area during the conference this year?

To tell you the truth, I will be watching the people I’ve become friends with over the last few years through my blogging. Nurturing relationships with people you admire but rarely get to see is important, so I’ll be focusing on watching and supporting such folk.

6-Would you please offer some advice to novice bloggers?

Definitely: imagine you are writing directly to one person and imagine how you would share your knowledge. Importantly, also imagine that you don’t know what skills or experience this one person has and write accordingly.

7-What is your greatest achievement as a blogger?

The biggest achievement is having people come up to me at events like IATEFL and tell me that my blog is a real help to them: you can’t beat that feeling, especially as that is what I set out to do.

   With much respect and gratitude to Adam Simpson, I end up this post. Stay tuned, more posts are coming.