A focus on today

I had an enjoyable day today at the KATE International Conference in Seoul. I saw some very interesting presentations on things I haven’t heard much about here in Korea including critical pedagogy in EMI (English Medium Instruction) classes and using/creating a corpus from old CSAT (수능) reading sections. I was very impressed with a presentation on TEE (Teaching English in English).

I also saw Rod Ellis, which was nice.  The title of his talk was, “The importance of Focus-on-form in CLT” and I thought it was well done and interesting. I especially enjoyed the examples of teachers’ attempts to promote understanding and focus on form. Lots of food for thought there. While listening and taking notes I was again awed by people like Sandy MillinChia Suan Chong, and others who are able to blog during or immediately after a conference session. I am not but I’d like to share some personal highlights from this presentation and the related thoughts that sprang up. I fear that sharing these will also highlight my ignorance on certain matters but my willingness to learn is bigger than this fear. Highlights and thoughts after the jump/pic.

ellis

Photo by @michaelegriffin

 

  1. Uptake for Ellis just means a response and doesn’t mean or equate to learning. Examples of uptake to a teacher’s recast could be just say saying “yeah” or could be repeating what the teacher said or even trying to say what the teacher said but not getting it quite right. Uptake can also include the student not saying anything as it is and optional move from the student.This didn’t seem to jive with how this term is usually used in laypeople’s terms, or maybe even for most teachers.
  2. Ellis contrasted between Explicit and Implicit moves from the teacher. The former makes it absolutely clear to the student while the latter does not. Examples given for the latter included recasts or questions from the teacher. He said that these may be attended to or not, which made me wonder how we can be sure that Ss will attend to explicit ones. I was thinking maybe students are more likely to attend to explicit corrections but I don’t see this as a given.
  3. An example of an implicit question was a student making a pronunciation error (mistake?) when saying “I have an alibi” (finishing with /bi/) and the teacher saying, “You have a what?” I found myself wondering if this question would ever be turned into an explicit one with increased word stress and histrionics. Is explicitness dependent upon saying something like “no” or is there potentially more to it?
  4. A very interesting moment for me was when Dr. Ellis asked the audience if Korean students were hesitant to ask questions to teachers. The audience, fakely precise 94.5% Korean, said that Korean students are indeed hesitant to ask questions to teachers. Ellis responded that where he works in New Zealand, Korean and other Asian students are very willing to ask questions and do so frequently. He said, “It is not who you are, it is where you are.” Very interesting indeed.
  5. Ellis mentioned that many guides to teaching, especially for novice teachers, tend to emphasize fluency and recommend delayed attention to form(s) until a communicative task has been completed. He highlighted how this goes against most research. This immediately reminded me of Anne’s comment on this here blog that her initial TESOL course had her thinking she  should never ever correct students directly when they make a mistake. This is an even bigger step than never intervening when students are engaged in a communicative task.
  6. Dr. Ellis suggested we can (and should?) train teachers to focus on form but also said, “I don’t know of any training course that helps teachers do focus on forms.” There must be some examples of this around, no? I could see this being a nice session and focus on an initial or in-service course.

Those are some of my many thoughts from today. I hope they were at least mildly interesting and/or thought provoking. Any responses welcome.

 

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2 comments

  1. Matthew Walker

    Thanks for sharing this. It has been a while since I have had time to look at the blog world and even longer since I have heard anything from Ellis.

    Those are some good talking points he touched on there. Although, in relation to number 5, the Teacher Guides (TG) that elementary public school teachers use in Korea include lots of activities that are more focused on controlled practice of target language rather than fluency or meaning-based activities. While some of the ‘how to use this book’ type explanations at the front of books talk up the focus on meaning and fluency because that is the trend, if you look through the activities within the lessons, there is a heavier focus on forms than ‘pure’ tasks. But that is a TG, not necessarily an intro to teaching type of book. It is up to teachers and trainers to understand the TG rather than assume the marketing at the front of a book is actually what fills the pages. And certainly it is up to the trainers to make it clear that less invasive feedback strategies or less forms-focused lessons are important for students. But prior to these more communicative tasks, teachers should prep students with more controlled practice of target language. While I agree with lots of things that Ellis writes about and says in presentations, blanket statements like 5 and 6 are a bit too strong, but these types of statements and subsequent conversations could be motivational in making sure trainers and publishers do not ignore the forms-focused activities.

  2. mikecorea

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Matthew. I enjoyed your comments very much.

    One thing I failed to mention was a question from an audience member related to fitting communicative tasks in to the current Korean situation (related to tests and The Test as you’d expect.) I liked the answer from Ellis, something like, “as teachers we need to compromise and need to face the realities of the situation.” I think he said that meaning focused tasks are helpful for learning communication skills but the focus will need be elsewhere based on the context. I thought that was interesting. I am not sure why I didn’t mention it above.

    Thanks for the talk of the Teacher Guides in Korea. I was worried for a moment that my use of guides to teaching was misleading. He was surely talking about books like Harmer’s “How to Teach English.” In any case, I think your mention of TGs in Korea is very interesting and useful and helpful. You wrote, “Some of the ‘how to use this book’ type explanations at the front of books talk up the focus on meaning and fluency because that is the trend, if you look through the activities within the lessons, there is a heavier focus on forms than ‘pure’ tasks.” I think your use of the word, “trend” here is key and apt. I think it is a nice example of teachers being pushed and pulled in various directions.

    Lots of good points, Matthew! I also like your point that it is up to the teacher “to understand the TG rather than assume the marketing at the front of a book is actually what fills the pages.” Yes!

    Finally, you wrote,

    “It is up to the trainers to make it clear that less invasive feedback strategies or less forms-focused lessons are important for students”
    and
    “prior to these more communicative tasks, teachers should prep students with more controlled practice of target language”
    These are beliefs but not facts, right?

    Thanks again for the insightful comments. I think this is the type of useful conversation you talk about!

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