Author: Higor Cavalcante

IATEFL 2013 Selections: Jim Scrivener on how to ‘demand high’

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Today’s recommendation is Jim Scrivener’s talk from exactly a week ago, in which he discussed ways of demanding high from our students! A must-see!



IATEFL 2013 Selections: Cecília Lemos on error correction

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Just got home from a very exciting week in the UK for the 2013 IATEFL. This week I’ll be sharing my favorite talks from the conference, beginning with this one by Cecília Lemos on error correction. While I unfortunately missed it live, it is now here for us to watch again and again.

More tomorrow!

IATEFL 2013 – Liverpool

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It’s time! 🙂

It’s time to panic about flying across the Atlantic and back. It’s time to pack for the coldest spring I’ve ever heard of in Europe. It’s time to see friends from all over, an incredibly vast array of cultures, languages, customs and traditions, all coming together for a common purpose. It’s time to revel in the opportunity to see some two thousand teachers from every corner of the planet gather in Liverpool, to share knowledge in the firm belief that in dividing we’re multiplying.

This will be my third IATEFL, and it’s truly amazing to know, beyond any doubt, that I’ll know so much more than I know now in a bit over a week. When I thankfully get off the plane back in São Paulo on April 15, I’ll be a changed professional, more complete, better. I’ll have seen – yes, I’ve already chosen all the talks I’ll attend – 31 talks on topics ranging from Listening to Writing, Assessment to getting published, teaching Business English to becoming a businessman in ELT. And so much more.

In a bit over a week, I’ll have seen talks by most of the ELT ‘bigwigs’: Jeremy Harmer, Penny Ur, Jim Scrivener, Adrian Underhill, Hugh Dellar, Ken Wilson, to name but a few. But I’m honestly just excited about seeing the presentations given by the teachers like you and me, those teachers who are going to be sharing ideas and activities they’ve come up with and have tested in their real classrooms, with real students; the people who are probably just as excited as I am to be taking part in the IATEFL this year, and who maybe are, like I was last year, blissfully terrified for presenting in an international conference for the first time.

If you won’t be there this year, stay tuned for I’ll be sharing pictures and stories straight from Liverpool here on the blog from April 9. But it’s not the same! Make sure you start planning and preparing today for Harrogate 2014, the 48th IATEFL conference. It’ll blow your mind!

A brief history of SLA

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In this short video – a Pecha Kucha presentation – Thornbury gives us a very interesting, albeit short, history of Second Language Acquisition theories.

Which of the theories described is more consonant with your personal views and classroom practices?

Discussion: Dogme

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In 2000, Scott Thornbury wrote an article for the IATEFL magazine on how he thought there was an over-reliance on course books in ELT – and materials in general – and how we had somehow lost touch with what students really expected from us and needed to learn in English courses, and how we therefore should strip ELT back to basics, to “restore teaching to its pre-method “state of grace” – when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest, and most prototypical of situations.” You can read Thornbury’s original article on Dogme here.

What I wrote then below was having this original article by Scott Thornbury in mind. There will be (a lot) more on Dogme in the future.

I take issue with many of the ideas in Thornbury’s original article about Dogme:

– “…we are copiously resourced. (…) there is an embarrassment of complementary riches in the form of videos, CD-ROMs, photocopiable resource packs…” – This article was, if I’m not mistaken, written in 2000. 13 years later I believe it’s safe to say the ’embarrassment’ would be even more overwhelming, and if we consider the Internet alone the amount of materials – both made for ELT and especially what is not – is extravagant, so much so that I believe Scott must cringe every time he goes online. (lol). Well, I can’t agree in any way that any of this is an ’embarrassment’ at all! Having an almost limitless array of materials to choose from is something to be thankful for, and I think it actually makes for classes which are (or potentially can be) richer, more varied, more interesting and more successful. The issue here, in my opinion, is that of teacher development. Teachers (and therefore teacher educators) have to understand, I think, that it is not only because something is available that it should be used, but that the opposite is no more true. Instead of banning photocopies (which is ludicrous), limiting deductive grammar explanation to 5 minutes (arbitrary) and having teachers make do with “the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom” and so on, I believe what we have to worry about as teachers (and as teacher educators make clear for trainee teachers) is (among others) making sure we understand our objective should be to help learners achieve whatever aims they have with language learning, respecting their learning preferences and trying to – as much as possible – help them become more autonomous; if (when!) a video, Twitter discussion, Jing recording, Facebook group discussion, PowerPoint presentation, OHP, realia, song and the like will help, then we should obviously use them!

– “No recorded listening material should be introduced into the classroom: the source of all ‘listening’ activities should be the students and teacher themselves…” – David Crystal says here that “if the aim of ELT is to produce students who are able to encounter the English-speaking world with confidence, then you can’t avoid bringing global English into the classroom”. I agree with Crystal. According to Dogme, however, students should only be exposed in the classroom to the teacher’s accent and those of his peers. How about – as it’s sometimes the case in Brazil and I’m sure in many other places – students whose only contact with English is with the very inaccurate interlanguage of his non-native teacher? But even when the teacher in question is a highly-educated, Diploma-certified, experienced New Zealander native speaker, how about doing a listening activity where teenaged students have to answer questions while watching an interview with the band One Direction? Is that to be avoided? Won’t students enjoy that? Isn’t enjoying tasks important? How about music? Can anyone say music does not (have the potential to) promote learning and acquisition? Should the teacher, God forbid in my case, sing?

– “The point is to restore teaching to its pre-method ‘state of grace’, when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students…” – Honestly? Why? What does this ‘state of grace’ even mean? Pre grammar-translation? What was there? Is Dogme chatting only? Or is it basically rehashing Community Language Learning?

Despite all that, I like some things about Dogme a lot. I think it has helped teachers in general understand that there’s more to teaching than blindly following course books, and that doing a gap-fill activity with a song every class might not actually be accomplishing much, if anything. It has steered ELT’s focus – partly at least – towards what makes language programs work, and towards learners and their needs, from, I think, an excessive focus on flashy course books and materials (not that there’s anything wrong with ‘flashy’), methods and recipes. While doing all that, however, I believe Dogme has not only thrown the baby out with the bathwater, but went on to drown the poor baby afterwards. Scott says in the video that Dogme had a minor importance in the history of cinema, and I think it won’t be very different in the world of ELT.

Finally, I have used many of the activities suggested in ‘Teaching Unplugged’ in class, some very successfully. Most proved useful and memorable, effective and motivating. But so is using music and videos, PowerPoint and (though I don’t care for them much myself) interactive whiteboards. In the same way I would never teach a course by using only drilling, or only PPP, or by teaching only what’s in the course book, I would never teach a course based 100% on Dogme, and I think, for example, courses such as a CPE preparation are simply impossible with Dogme.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions!

Discussion: Agency – Jeremy Harmer

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This post kicks off a new feature on the blog called ‘Discussion’, in which I’ll put forth the opinion of an author/fellow teacher – and sometimes my own opinion – on something related to ELT and hope to discuss it with anyone who’s interested.

Reading chapter 5 (Describing Learners) of Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching this week for the Trinity DipTESOL, I came across the term agency, which I admit I’d never heard of in relation to teaching before. What is being discussed in this specific part of the text is extrinsic motivation, which Harmer divides in five stages: affect, achievement, attitude, activities and agency.

Harmer explains it’s a term borrowed from social sciences (…) appropriated to mean something similar to the agent of a passive sentence. He later says that a lot of the time, in some classes, students have things done to them and, as a result, risk being passive recipients of whatever is being handed down. We should be equally interested, however, in things done by the students.

There’s apparently nothing new there, it would seem. Getting students to be more hands-on in class is, it seems to me, something we are forever pursuing (trying to get them to talk more, to participate more actively in pair and group activities and the like). Some of the ideas suggested by him later in the text, however, sounded a bit more daunting:

> we might allow students to tell us when and if they want to be corrected in a fluency activity (Rinvolucri 1998) rather than always deciding ourselves when correction is appropriate and when it is not.

I’m doing one of my projects in the DipTESOL precisely on error correction during speaking activities, and that is certainly something I’d never considered. Has anybody ever tried that? I have had cases – maybe even many – of students who asked me to ‘correct me all the time!’, but I’ll admit I’ve never actually taken that into careful consideration, always preferring to approach correction the way I found most appropriate.

> JJ Wilson (author or, among others, How to Teach Listening and the Total English series) suggests that wherever possible students should be allowed to make decisions. He wants to give students ownership of class materials, letting them write on the board or control the CD player, for example (Wilson 2005).

While it’s not exactly new to think of students writing on the board, I’ve never actually thought of having students control the CD player, and I honestly don’t see the point. Is that so that they can maybe pause, rewind and fast-forward whenever they see fit? Has anyone ever tried or considered that?

> For Leslie Painter, it was allowing students to choose what homework they wanted and needed to do that was the key to motivating her students to do the tasks that were set (Painter 1999).

Again, honestly something that’s never crossed my mind. The first thing that did cross my mind upon reading this was that some students would just choose to do nothing, or very little, or the easiest stuff, or whatever looks more fun. But shouldn’t there be an objective in the homework students do? Shouldn’t it be extra practice of whatever was done in class, with a view to fostering acquisition, or at least better retention?

Harmer then wraps up by saying no one is suggesting that students should have complete control of what happens in lessons. But the more we empower them and give them agency, the more likely the are to stay motivated over a long period.

I’d love to read your comments.


Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching – Pearson, 2007.

David Crystal on which variety of English to teach

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While preparing a class for tomorrow, I came across this very interesting short video in which David Crystal discusses which variety of English we should teach. Simple yet thought-provoking.

However, at a certain point in the video he seems to make a grammar mistake. Can you try to spot it? When you find it, can you please leave a comment with your opinion as to whether it is indeed a mistake or, if you don’t think so, why?

I’ll edit this post later this week with the answer and my opinion about it.

Hi again!
My opinion – which is nothing but that, an opinion! – is I agree with Emma and Marina. David Crystal is simply pointing out that what happened happened recently, but there still is a clear effect on the present (hence Present Perfect). I don’t think the specific, finished time in the past in this example makes the use of Present Perfect incorrect. And we’re talking about David Crystal after all! =) (Emma, he’s DAVID CRYSTAL, not just a regular educated native speaker. LOL)

Michael Lewis says that when a grammatical rule has exceptions we should discard the rule, not the exceptions. I believe Mr Lewis exaggerates when he says this, but he undeniably has a point there!