ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: December 2010

“Teaching Unplugged”: Book Review

Teaching Unplugged”, written by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, published by DELTA Publishing and part of the DELTA Teacher Development Series.  The blurb on the back describes the book as “the first book to deal comprehensively with the approach in English Language Teaching known as Dogme ELT”.  As with the previous book review, Teaching Online” by Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield, “Teaching Unplugged” contains three individual parts; Part A, Part B and Part C.

Part A introduces the reader to ‘Dogme ELT’, particularly the belief and philosophy that drives Dogme.  The underlying principal which supports ‘Dogme ELT’ is that education is predetermined by communication and that the dialogue between educator and learner is not transferred knowledge.  The authors write in an easy to understand manner and introduce ten key principles of ‘Dogme ELT’ each related to keywords.  The keywords are listed below:
·         Interactivity
·         Engage
·         Dialogic
·         Scaffolded
·         Emerges
·         Affordances
·         Voice
·         Empowers
·         Relevance
·         Critical
From these keywords, the book then discusses the three core rules that:
·         Dogme is about teaching that is conversation driven.
·         Dogme is about teaching that is materials-light.
·         Dogme is about teaching that focuses on emergent language.
The next section of Part A, seeks to clarify in greater detail each of these three core rules; conversation driven, materials-light and emergent language.  There are several invaluable areas written about in these sub-categories which is reflective, thought provoking and pushes the boundaries of English Language Teaching and current widely respected methodologies.  One conversation driven example illustrated by Meddings and Thornbury is demonstrated with an extract from a classroom in Mexico.
T: well then, Jorge … did you have a good weekend?
S: yes
T: what did you do?
S: I got married.
T: [smiling] you got married. (0.7) you certainly had a good weekend then. (0.5) [laughter and buzz of conversation]
“Teaching Unplugged” (2009) by Meddings and Thornbury (pg. 11)
The materials light sub-category focuses upon the use of coursebooks and texts within the classroom.  The book is quick to highlight that ELT materials “threaten to stifle the opportunities for conversation”.  However, the objective of a Dogme approach is to focus on the learners and not the material.  Meddings and Thornbury suggest that the Dogme techniques “don’t in themselves constitute a fixed ‘method’ or a ‘one-size-fits-all’” prescriptive approach for effective English Language Teaching. 
The final sub-category for Part A looks at the focus on emergent language.  The main emphasis for this section is dedicated on the fact that language, instead of being acquired, emerges within the classroom “out of interpersonal classroom activity”.  The authors suggest a list of ten strategies to support learners to engage in emergent language:
·         Reward
·         Retrieve
·         Repeat
·         Recast
·         Report
·         Recycle
·         Record
·         Research
·         Reference
·         Review
These strategies are echoed in Part B of the book.
As with Teaching Online, Part B of “Teaching Unplugged shares ideas and lessons that complement and support the underlying theories of ‘Dogme ELT’ in the classroom.  The unplugged activities are ready to use straight away as there are “no worksheets to photocopy”.  The activities cover five chapters:
·         Creating the right conditions
·         Managing conversation
·         Selecting stimulus to share
·         Focusing on form
·         Learning from lesson to lesson

Each lesson provided, breaks down a lesson plan with different areas to consider prior to the lesson (Think about it and Get it ready), during the lesson (Set it up, Let it run and Round it off) and after the lesson (Follow-up).  As with each lesson chapter in Part B, there are tips and techniques to assist the teacher.  In total there are 97 lessons provided over the five chapters in this Part, which is plenty for the teacher to start practising with.

The final part of the book considers who is able to teach ‘Dogme ELT’.  Some areas that are considered in this chapter include; Teaching as a non-native speaker, Teaching with a coursebook, Teaching young learners, Teaching specialised English, etc.  With each section, there is a provision of additional information, for example with Teaching young leaners, there are issues raised such as the edutainment of English Language Teaching or the cramming of learning for state examinations where children are spoon fed mechanical drills, the implications of a ‘Dogme ELT’ approach for young learners as well as helpful indications for the teaching of an unplugged approach for children.

“Teaching Unplugged” is a book that really pushes the current concepts of teaching methodology, supports teachers that are willing to experiment with an unplugged approach and provides some key lessons to put to practice.  Furthermore, the tips and techniques provided are so invaluable that it should be on every teacher’s bookshelf.  I recommend this book for teachers that are willing to develop professionally and improve their own knowledge of teaching methodology.  The book provides a good summary; “Teaching Unplugged represents an exciting new chapter in alternative and progressive educational theory”.

29th Annual International TESOL France Colloquium

I was fortunate enough (and lucky enough to pursuade the wife) to head over to Paris for the 29th TESOL France ColloquiumThe conference was organised between 26th and 28th November 2010.  This was the 2nd time I have been to a EFL related conference, with the BELTE being my first conference.  This was the first time I have been in France in around 10 years.  The last time I was in Paris, I visited with my father and took a coach from London.  This time around, my wife and I took the Eurostar at 9:30am on Friday morning.  Having arrived at Garé Du Nord at noon, we bought a pack of ten metro/bus/train tickets for €12.  We picked up a map of the metro and we planned our journey to the hotel.  We were staying at the Tim Hotel in Paris near Place d’Italie for about €250 for two nights.  It was a bit expensive and I am sure we could have found something a bit more affordable or more luxurious.
I kindly met Bethany Cagnol promptly whilst I was checking in at the hotel.  Again, it was nice to meet a fellow twitterers (Mike Harrison, Vicky Loras, Eva Buyuksimkesyan, Willy Cardoso, Sue Lyon-Jones, Shelly Terrell, Karenne Sylvester, Sue Annan, Elizabeth Anne, Vladimira Michalkova, Marisa Constantinides, etc).  After checking in and unpacking in the room, I went to the conference to register and collect the bag of goodies.
The directions of the venue were complemented with signs from the entrance of Corvisart Metro station leading down the road and then up to the building.  At the conference, there were various bookstands and publishers.  It was a great opportunity to network and meet likeminded individuals that had travelled from Europe (and further afield).  There were also authors that attended the event including; Lindsay Clandfield, Ben Crystal, Ken Wilson, Simon Greenall, etc.

The Friday Plenary Speaker was David Hill (26th October 2010) between 17:00 and 18:00.  David’s Opening Plenary focused on “Why Extensive Reading is Essential“.  David introduced the Plenary by referring to Frank Smith’s assertion, “We do learn to read by reading” (Smith, 1975).  There was also some reference to Extensive Reading and Book Floods in countries where English is taught as a Second or Additional Language.  David Hill also provided some advice for introducing Extensive Reading within a school, some of this was echoed by Rob Waring:

First, let us consider what the program will look like when it is up and running. When the program is fully functional it will:

• be an integral part of the school’s curriculum;
• raise the learners’ reading ability and general English levels and have knock-on effects on their writing skills, spelling, grammar and speaking;
• motivate the learners to read, and learn from their reading;
• have goals that set out how much reading should be done and by when;
• have a reading library from which learners can select their own texts;
• have systems in place for cataloguing, labeling, checking out, recording and returning the reading materials;
• have a variety of materials to read, not only graded readers and other simplified materials;
• show teachers, parents and the administration that you take ER seriously;
• have targets of both learner and program attainment that clearly show the success of the program;
• be bigger and more resilient than one teacher and have sufficient support that it will continue indefinitely.

Much of the grounding on Extensive Reading is related to Krashen’s Input Theory, whereby comprehensible input is one step more advanced than the current students’ level.  The reading of texts for pleasure should provide students the opportunity to accumulate vocabulary and improve interlanguage.  Much of the reading provided for students, is material that should interest or motivate them.  Nonetheless, David Hill referred to the English version Harry Potter books being sold in Germany prior to the translated versions; whereby children (and I guess some adults) bought the English version or they had to wait 6 months for the translated version.  One disadvantage to Extensive Reading is that it could be quite costly to purchase a variety of books for the school.  However, the students could purchase their own books.  Perhaps a trip to a book shop could be incorporated into a social programme.  Nevertheless, the theory and evidence does show some grounding in Extensive Reading.  Further information about Extensive Reading is available to view at the Internet TEFL Journal and by Barbara Blair.

In the evening, there was a comedy event featuring Ben Crystal, Hilary Crystal and David Crystal.  Much of the comedy revolved around classics such as; Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Victor Borge and some aspects of William Shakespear.  There are some YouTube videos below with reference to some of the sketches performed that evening.  After the colloquium, some of us that went to a local cafe/bistro for a bite to eat and something to drink.  It was a wonderful first day for such a well organised event.  I would encourage other EFL Teachers to try and head over next year for the 30th Annual TESOL France Colloquium.

YouTube Videos

Victor Borge – Phonetic Pronunciation

Victor Borge – Inflationary Language

Ronnie Barker – Mispronunciation


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