KOTESOL (part 2): Mike Long’s speech.

I was a bit late for KOTESOL because my iron broke and left me with a shirt crisis. I missed Gabriel Diaz Maggiol’s presentation on scaffolding which I was really interested in seeing. Scaffolding is important and I don’t think people talk about it enough.

I made if for the opening ceremony which wasn’t as boring as I’d been warned about. The MC was the most overly enthusiastic person I’d ever seen. It kept the energy levels up ,but made me feel lazy. After the opening ceremony was Mike Long‘s talk. It was interesting but I struggled to keep up with some of it. This is more my fault than his though, remember I’m a TEFL rookie. I struggled more with the theory than the practical side so I still picked up some really interesting classroom ideas. Mike has a book that is related to his talk that I might have to buy so I can find out more. Tip: If you give a slightly confusing but still really interesting talk, I’m likely to spend lots of money on your book.

Order of acquisition

The first part of the talk was about how people acquire language. I hadn’t heard about this before but apparently there’s a certain order in which language is acquired. The presentation argued that most textbooks and courses teach out of this very specific order and so fail. I can’t add too much about this because this was the hardest bit for me to follow.

IRF: Input Response Feedback

There was also a lot of interesting stuff about IRF. Usually teachers ask a question: Input, the pupil answers: Response, and then the teacher says ‘good job’ or gives a correction: Response. The problem with IRF is the teacher talks for I and F and the pupil only talks for R. The pupil is only doing 1/3 of the talking then. The maths in the presentation said that with IRF in a class of 30 each pupil could have about 30 seconds talking. This works out at about 1 hour per pupil per year: nowhere near enough.

10 rules and practical things to take away.

There were ten rules that were given towards the end. The first two had the most detail.

1. Use task, not text as the unit of analysis

2. Promote learning by doing

3. Elaborate input

4. Use rich input

5. Encourage inductive chunk learning

6. Focus on form

7. Provide negative feedback

8. Respect learner syllabuses and developmental processes

9. Provide comparative collaborative learning

10. Individualize instruction

I think a lot of these need more detail (I’m really going to have to buy that book), but the detail given for the first two points was really helpful. He gave the example of a class on giving directions. Many textbooks might have a set of directions the pupils have to read out, but it would be much more useful if they had a map and had to make the directions themselves. The best option would be to take your class on a walk around town and have them give each other directions. I really liked the last idea but most of my kids are too young for it. I might ask about taking my middle schoolers for a walk sometime though.

The other example was a task where the pupils have to arrange dinner seating. Some of the guests for dinner are Republican and some Democrat so they have to make sure they don’t sit next to each other to avoid arguments. After they’ve done this you add in that the guests are also differ on their favourite American Football team. You keep making the criteria harder to fulfil until there is only one right way to seat everyone.

Discussion questions

What do you think about order of acquisition? I’m not an expert but it doesn’t seem that plausible. My students are coming from an L1 that doesn’t have definite or indefinite articles in it and really struggle with them. Even my top classes are good at things like conditionals and the perfect tense but struggle with my a and the.

Have you used anything like the two lesson ideas above? What did you do?How did it go?

How else can we reduce teacher talk time? Increasing the amount of pair work done would lead to much more than 30 seconds of talking per pupil, as would getting them to give each other feedback. Are there other ways to do this?