Classroom Interactions: from post-grad to middle school

My career changed direction a bit in the last year. I went from training post-grad English teachers in Korea to teaching middle school in Vietnam. Having little experience in the middle school classroom, I worried that the methodology I had spent eight years with would leave me useless in a class full of 12 and 13 year-olds.

Fortunately, I found that the methodology, which formed the foundation of my development as a teacher and the program I spent eight years in, required little modification to be effective in the middle school setting.

Here is a clip of me introducing a literature circle assignment to an 8th grade class. I’ve annotated the clip to show the thought processes related to classroom interaction that go on while I’m teaching. I welcome all feedback, both positive and negative.

Teacher Talk Analysis Survey

Last November I posted a description of a ‘teacher talk analysis’ assignment that teacher trainees complete as part of their Second Language Acquisition for English Teachers course. The following results and feedback were collected in the Spring 2014 semester. Though only 10 students completed the survey (the last few weeks are intense!), it’s pretty clear that having trainees analyze their own teacher talk is a GOOD thing. My comments follow each of the results below.


Summary of Responses

Check the box that best describes your initial reaction to the assignment.

positive 4 44%
negative 2 22%
no reaction 3 33%

We’re not surprised by this result here. When the assignment is initially presented, most students are excited at the fact that they can discover their own mistakes. Those who immediately understand that it involves transcribing their own teacher talk aren’t so anxious. 

Provide some details about your initial reaction to the assignment.

  • I have no confidence.
  • I was embarrased because I didn’t know how to do and what to do. I didn’t think that I would improve my teacher talk at first.
  • Honestly, I guessed it might be so hard and annoying. In addition I worried I feel frustrated.
  • I knew that I made a lot of mistakes in microteaching, but I didn’t know how to track them down. So when I was asked to do teacher talk analysis, I welcomed it but I was sure that it would take longer time than my expectation.
  • just wrote down my script and hard to find ways to improve my problems but during the time, I had time to think of solition…but still hard:{
  • I was embarrased so much.
  • It was a little embarrassing since I first thought there must have been countless errors in my teacher talk. But I also thought that it was a good way to analyze and improve my English. Having reviewed my video, I realized that I had committed many errors, but not as many as I had worried.

Do you feel that your English proficiency has improved so far during the semester?

My English got worse. 2 22%
I haven’t noticed any improvement. 1 11%
My English has improved a little bit. 5 56%
My English has improved a lot. 1 11%

It’s nice to see this. The majority of students feel that their English is improving. Considering the fact that we expect those who say their English got worse to eventually improve, the results are encouraging. After all, we base this whole assignment on the fact that noticing a mistake is the first step in fixing it. 

List any errors that you know you make when using English.

  • -phonology: the [ðə] instead of the [ði] – syntax: agreement of the singular-plural/ this is regular verbs–> these are the regular verbs – syntax: article (the) was usually missing
  • I always makes many mistakes when I use English in the class. Especially grammatical problems always make me embarrassed. I tried to use correct grammar during the class, but I tended to speak first before thinking about grammar.
  • Pronounciation,utterance problem, not that creative
  • I have a lot of problems on my grammar and pronunciation
  • – missing articles, a/an -missing a main verb ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
  • It’s really different when I talk to my friends and talk infront of the class. In class, we have talk about academic things which I have to explain things in a logical way and I think I am really lack of at doing that. I sometimes get quite nervous when I have to say my opinion out loud, but I think I am improving.
  • Grammar was the biggest problem.
  • I made mistakes when I said the plural noun. I was very confused, so I made lots of mistakes. I had to focus exclusively on the plural noun during the whole class. I used the singular noun when I said like “these” and “among”. Sometimes, I forgot to add –s at the end of the word automatically.
  • Usage of articles is always a problem. Saying this, I am not sure “usage of articles” is correct or I should have said “the usage of articles”, “usage of the articles (?)” or any other combinations of articles including no article.

Did you discover errors in your English classroom language while doing the teacher talk analysis?

Yes, I did. 9 100%
No, I didn’t 0 0%

This is what we expect. 

Is there one area of language that you struggle with more than others?

Phonology 2 22%
Grammar (includes morphology) 6 67%
Vocabulary/Word Choice 1 11%

We expect this as well. Odd though, it is, that grammar is the area of language that Korean students spend the most time studying – something is wrong…

How did analyzing your own teacher talk make you feel?

Proud 0 0%
Embarrassed 5 56%
Motivated 3 33%
Demotivated 1 11%
No feeling – I am numb from all this work 😦 0 0%

We were happy to see this too. ‘Embarrassed’ leads us to believe that the error is something the trainee did not notice. At the same time, it’s quite problematic. Errors are part of the acquisition process that should not create feelings of embarrassment. 

Please describe your feelings in detail.

  • Because I was conscious of my pronunciation problems which teacher corrected while analyzing teacher talk, I couldn’t help finding a lot of my utterance mistakes and I was frustrated and was afraid of teaching speaking lessonㅠI am struggling to find ways to improve my weakness..
  • Actually, I feel embarrased but I don’t demotivated. Because I feel I can fix it~!!!
  • I am studying English because I want to be an English teacher but I still make a lot of mistakes in speaking. It was really embarrassed and demotivated by my mistakes.
  • I had many chances to teach my students in English, and I had no idea about my proficiency. This assignments, however, helped me reflect myself more specifically. After the teacher talk, I try to use correct grammar and think more deeply before talking.
  • If I hadn’t analyzed my talk, I couldn’t find any errors in my teacher talk. I repeated the same mistakes unconsciously. However, I could correct my errors through analyzing teacher talk.
  • My English got better a little bit.
  • I would like to restore my confidence on English
  • At first, it was really embarrassing to listen to my own voice and also how I way things. But when I got used to it, it was interesting and I noticed how I need to analyze my teacher talk to fix the mistakes I often make.
  • Teaching is difficult, and, as a foreigner, I think teaching English in English is more difficult, almost impossible. Teacher talk analysis made me realize that how poor my English was. It still is, of course.

Do you think that reflecting on your own teacher talk will improve your English classroom language?

Yes 9 100%
No 0 0%

It’s nice to see this as well. This rids us of the guilt we felt assigning a challenging task at the end of an already challenging semester. 

How will you make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes in future microteaching presentations?

  • Yeah, after this assignments, I try to check my grammar during the mircoteaching, and I also check my grammar during the microteaching. Before this assignments, I had no idea about my grammar. However, I try to make less errors by using self correction during the microteaching.
  • What I did was to keep myself from making the same mistake was I took notes of how I felt during microteaching. Because during the microteaching I noticed the students’ feedback and if they have negative feedback, that means that they are confused with the task. Self reflection helped me a lot too.
  • It is important for me to pay attention to plural nouns when I use them. I have to practice which vocabulary takes the plural noun. I should keep in mind that the noun must agree with the noun in number.
  • I think if I am constantly careful not to do same mistakes in my mind, that can be the alertness in my real presentation ,which I believe is a one step to correcting. I usually use visualization to remove my nervousness.
  • pratice a lot to improve my English compedence
  • I need to memorize moere perfectly. When it comes to making a presentaon, memorizing all teacher talks helps to make my English look more natural. Because of the pressure and feeling nrevous English gets break down.
  • Practice, practice, practice. There is no other way. I also think that the only way of effective practicng is to communicate with native speakers. Long’s interaction hypothesis also supports this as far as I understand. One question in this regard is if interactions between non-native speakers have any effect.
  • Before the class, I will make script for my teacher talk and practice a few times not to make mistakes in the class.
  • I’m not sure. I just wanna not to fossilize that kind of error. I will try to not to make same error consciously. I believe practice makes perfect.

Mixed reactions here… Positive because some students get the fact that more practice will lead to better language use. Negative because some students still believe that a microteaching presentation should be scripted and memorized… 😦

If you can think of a way to make this assignment more effective, please make some suggestions below.

  • It would make the students more miserable, but how about asking the students to make two teacher talk analysis, one after the second microteaching and the other one after the fourth or fifth microteaching for the students to assess their improvement?
  • I think not just putting the “what patterns of speaking”? question, but also add how the teacher felt and how the students reacted question as well. Also, I think having the teacher talk assignment sooner would be better for the students, so that they could do this assignment when they made more mistakes.
  • To me, it’s too hard to recognize errors I made, especially, phonology. Plus, I’m not sure which words are more proper ;;;; It’s so tricky… ;;;
  • Give little more time Explain how to do it a bit more
  • It is a good tool to have students analyze and improve their own ishEnglish.
  • Instead of finding my problems and solution by myself, I think good achivements which were selected by teachers or students and took place in other classes to lower enbrassments can be a good source to discuss and learn. If we anayaze them compared to my own, I could understand my problems and assess my presentation more objectively and easily.
  • I think it is a good way to discuss with their group members about their analysis. They can give feedback each other. I believe that analyzing teacher talk should be done as many as possible.

Points taken!

Academic Reading Circles – Student Survey and Feedback

In a recent post, I shared my initial reactions to Academic Reading Circles (ARC) in our Second Language Acquisition Course. If this is your first visiting my site and you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can find the older posts describing the assignment here and my initial reactions here. In this post, I will share the results of a student survey and student feedback.

Often, as we make major and minor changes to our program, our expectations do not match those of the students we teach. In some cases, students are uninterested in an assignment or task I thought they would really enjoy. At other times, they really get into something without the coercing I expected to provide. My point is that all modifications to the curriculum need to be surveyed. If we don’t know how well our assignments engage the students and provide opportunities to learn, their true value is unknown. So, as we did with learner language tasks last year, we surveyed our students to find out how they felt about the ARC assignment.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.28.52 AM


(scale: 1- very easy, 4 – very difficult)

The purpose of this question is to establish the fact that the course readings are intimidating. We need to know this because the goal of the ARC is to make the readings more manageable. Only two of the thirty students polled said the readings appeared easy and we weren’t surprised.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.29.37 AM


We also wanted to know how many of our students had done something like a reading circle before. This result confirms the fact that we need to be extremely particular when giving instructions. Because so few of the students are new to reading circles, the chance for confusion and failure at the start is high and this needs to be avoided.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.29.47 AM

(scale: 1 – very easy, 4 – very difficult)

Again, the result here suggests that the whole process from roles to actual blog posts needs to be presented clearly. In addition, we learned that despite our efforts to make the reading more manageable, it still is considered the most difficult aspect of the ARC assignment. I don’t believe there is anything we can do about this.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.29.57 AM

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.04 AMThis is the result we were waiting for. Whether or not the assignments or readings are complex or difficult isn’t so important. What is important is knowing if the assignment resulted in a greater understanding of the course material, and it clearly has. 83% of students said the assignment resulted in a better understanding of the material. It makes perfect sense when you think about. Is anything of value easily attained?

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.19 AM

No surprise here. The role that required the least amount of work was the most popular. This tells us which role can handle an extra responsibility (see the end of this post). The summarizer was the least popular and most difficult. This was due to the complexity of the task. Summarizing an entire reading is difficult. One thing we’re considering is having the summarizer summarize the discussion instead of the reading.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.30 AM

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.48 AM(scale: 1 – not very well, 4 – very well)

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.58 AMThese final two questions tell us that the ARC was effective and that the students were aware of what they were doing and how the assignment helped them understand the material. We are proud of the fact that 83% of our students said that they will use reading circles in their own classes if they have the chance.

We also asked our students what they would change and how we can improve the interaction that happens online. Here are some of the common responses.

If you could change one thing about the ARC, what would you change?

  • make it mandatory for everyone to respond to someone else’s response to a discussion question.
  • do not copy and paste from readings.
  • perhaps the instructor could preview the reading at the end of the class.
  • reduce the number of readings.
  • discussion leader should post earlier – there should be several deadlines

One area of the ARC that we’d like to improve is the amount of interaction that happens after your initial post. Ideally, we’d like students to have an interactive discussion on the blog. Can you suggest a way to make the ARC more interactive?

  • students should be responsible for their roles.
  • instructor should intervene online and ask more follow up questions.
  • make comments on each other’s posts compulsory
  • give the team that participates the most a prize such as chocolate.
  • force students to reply three times a week.

The most common issue to come up with both of these questions is participation. If students think of the ARC as an ‘assignment’, they will post as much as they need to complete the assignment. Next semester, we will add a responsibility to the discussion leader’s role. Discussion leaders will keep track of who replies to whom, and each member of the group will sign when they agree with the discussion leader’s count.

In sum, we are happy with the ARC and look forward to its future development. Though we have some minor tweaks to make, it’s clear that we’re putting students in a position to get the most out of what they read before class. Since the students are better prepared for class, they comprehend more of the lecture. As a result, they take more from the program and graduate with a greater chance of success in the classroom.

Is SLA really a part of the EFL classroom?

The title of this post highlights an issue we and our teacher trainees face. To trainers and experienced teachers, the question is a no-brainer. Of course SLA theory plays a role in the EFL classroom. SLA theory is the rationale for all decisions an informed teacher makes before and during their classes. How much should the teacher talk? What kinds of questions should the teacher ask? How should the students interact with each other? Should they interact with each other? Why should students talk to each other? Why should they talk to me? What should students do in my class? In what order should they do it? The list goes on… Whether or not SLA plays a role in the EFL classroom is not the issue. The issue is making the relationship between theory and pedagogy tangible for new and/or beginning teachers. I’ve written about how we can do this before in a post on academic reading circles and here I will describe our final attempt to bridge theory and pedagogy.

Logistically, it is impossible to ask our trainees to observe English language classrooms. Our program is an intensive program and trainees are busy. They have to manage coursework, jobs, and family obligations. On top of that, setting up observations would be difficult for a number of other reasons that I won’t get into. So, while English academies seem to line every city block, they are inaccessible. English teachers, on the other hand, are accessible, and there are roughly 12,000 in the country (native speaking teachers). As a result, instead of observing English classes, our students interview English teachers.

The ‘teacher interview’ helps our students connect theory and pedagogy in several ways. The first thing each class has to do is to create a list of questions. By the end of our course, we’ve covered six concepts/theories related to language learning. They are Krashen’s Monitor Model, Swain’s Output Hypothesis, Memory, Information Processing, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the Interaction Hypothesis. To find out if these theories play a role real classrooms, trainees first have to collaboratively create a list of questions to ask their interviewee. Students have to find out two things from their teacher: how does SLA play a role in planning (before class) their lessons and how does SLA theory play a role teaching (during class) their lesson. Creating questions to elicit that information forces trainees to consider the practical applications of all aspects of each theory and is a very valuable task in itself. They also have to make suggestions based on what they learn about the class. Trainees do this as a group using google docs. Here is an example:


Once the class has created their questions, the next step is to do the actual interview and record it. Trainees meet their interviewee, talk through the questions, summarize what they’ve found by answering the two questions and giving suggestions. All of this is put into an interview report form and a powerpoint presentation. Here is an example ppt:


In this presentation, the trainees show their classmates how SLA theory is applied in a real classroom. As students work in groups of three or four, and each class has 14-18 students, each class gets to see how five real teachers apply SLA theory.

At this point, we feel we’ve done a fair job of helping our trainees connect theory and practice. Students demonstrate their understanding of theory and practice in a final essay that asks them to explain how at least three SLA theories play a role in a lesson plan they’ve developed for another course.

A few years ago, students said, “Bill, this is some of the most interesting stuff I’ve learned in a long time, but I don’t know how it applies to my class or how it makes me a better teacher.” Now, answering that question is a course requirement.




Helping non-native teachers improve English classroom language

The goals of our EFL teacher training program are two-fold. First, we aim introduce/re-introduce pre- and in-service teachers to the field of ELT. Second, we strive to make them better users of English, both as people and as English teachers. Within the program, trainees have several opportunities to plan and practice the English classroom language. The practice of planning teacher talk is quite an eye-opener as students realize that it’s language they’ve never been taught. Quite often, our most proficient students embarrassingly fumble in front of the class as they interact with students and realize that speaking English and teaching in English are two very different beasts. Planning teacher talk does a good job of giving the trainees a head-start in their development. In addition to planning teacher talk, trainees also need the chance to teach and create teacher talk on the fly. 

Within the SLA course, trainees have several opportunities to analyze learner language (click here for my previous post on the topic). What they learn about language and language analysis early in the semester is then applied to their own teacher talk. In there rest of this post, I will share the activity and some example responses. This is just one of the ways we try to make our teachers better at teaching in English.

Here is the actual assignment…

teach talk analysis assigment

Through this reflective analysis we hope that trainees can notice patterns in their own teacher talk and brainstorm ways to get better. All of this should result in trainees paying closer attention to pieces of language that cause difficulty. Since this assignment comes up half-way through the semester, the trainees have several opportunities to consider their analysis on future assignments/microteaching presentations.

The initial reaction from trainees was shock. They couldn’t believe how many errors they made. Here is an examples what they found…

ellen transcriptThis is for about five minutes in front of the class. In this example, the trainee is trying to figure out what the class knows about gerunds and infinitives. She then introduces a matching task.

ana tableHere we see the errors that she has identified. She labels the error type (not always successful) and writes the reformulation. Since much of a non-native teacher’s success depends on their ability to clearly give directions and model target-like language, what the trainee has done here is invaluable. In the next two questions, she reflects on her errors.

ana 1 ana 2The trainee talks about what she did and what she can do to prevent this from happening again. As a result of this, she may consult a textbook or other materials to confirm her understanding of the issues she discovered, ask a question to the teacher, or pay more attention to it in the input she’s exposed to.

In sum, this activity complements the planning of teacher talk that happens earlier in the semester and gives students a chance to notice things that may have been overlooked on earlier assignments. This is our first time to include teacher talk analysis in our course and we are extremely pleased with the results.

Digging In: Non-native teachers and learner language analysis

Presented at KOTESOL 2013, Sookmyung Women's 
University, Seoul, Korea

Digging In: Non-native Teachers and Learner Language Analysis

Most MA TESOL and TESOL certificate programs include courses on Second Language Acquisition (SLA), but many students finish the course without knowing how to apply what they have learned to their classrooms. The knowledge of how languages are acquired seems irrelevant to many prospective classroom teachers because they will work with a pre-established curriculum. SLA theories are simply learned because they have always been part of the TESOL curriculum.  One solution to this problem is learner language analysis. Language learner analysis tasks that get students out of the classroom and in front of learners add life to theory. Students can discover tendencies and stages in learner language all by themselves. While unmatched in its effectiveness, learner language analysis is difficult and time consuming, maybe even to the point that it is inaccessible to non-native English teachers. In this session we share responses from 56 of our students, who completed several learner language analyses in the first five weeks of the Spring 2013 SMU TESOL semester. We briefly outline the assignments and then share the feedback, which suggests that learner language analyses are not only accessible, but also have noticeable classroom applications for non-native English teachers.

[slideonline id=5502]


Academic Reading Circles: Initial reactions

In my last post (click here), I outlined the academic reading circle assignment that I had planned for this semester. The academic reading circles took the place of focus questions (read and answer questions at home) and the hope was that students would interact with the material and each other, prior to class, more than they have before. If the ARC is successful, students will get more out of each class because they are primed for the new content. In this post, I’ll share some examples of the ARC working and failing, along with the changes I will make for next semester.

There are several things that I overlooked at the start. First, I had planned for students to use the blog as a place to share the specific information related to their role and discuss the content. I had imagined ongoing discussions that were so riveting they spilled into class. What I am finding, though, is that many students treat the ARC like a focus question, simply doing their part and signing off. As you can see in the picture below, participation varies – some classes tend to look around and read more, while others get in, write, then get out.

blog dashboard

Next semester, I will make sure to give detailed instructions related to the direction of, and type of interaction that happens on the blog. Here is an example of what the discussion leader posts:

blog discussion leader post


As you can see here, the discussion leader does a good job of presenting a discussion question to the group, and it’s not outrageous to thin that a nice discussion would follow. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. Below is an example of some interaction on the blog.


blog interaction 1This type of interaction is fairly common. Students compliment each other on their posts, or share something that was making the post difficult. While it’s nice to see, this kind of interaction doesn’t get the most out of the blog. In addition complimenting and asking for help, I would like to see interaction that promotes a deeper understanding of content. In the next picture, the students begin to develop an idea together. This is the kind of interaction that really gets the most out of the ARC and blogging.

blog development


To deal with this problem I plan to give one more responsibility to the discussion leader. As it is now, the only responsibility for the discussion leader is to:

  • Create the blog post.
  • Create 3 comprehension questions about information in the reading.
  • Create 1 discussion question about something you are curious about in the reading or something you do not clearly understand.
  • Keep track of the time during the discussion so everyone gets a turn.
  • Remind members that they should not read exactly from the textbook.
  • Ensure that no one person dominates the discussion and everyone speaks.

Since the discussions are not happening at the beginning of class, the discussion leader will also lead the group’s self-assessment. After the discussion leader posts their questions, they will respond to the discussion question answers posted by their group members AND keep track of who writes what. The discussion leader will keep track of how many times each member of their group interacted, and what they said. For example, the categories might be something like this:

Group Member Comp. Response Disc. Response Role Response Question Compliment
A 1 2 1 2 2
B 1 2 1 1 1
C 1 2 1 0 0
D 1 2 1 1 1

So, instead of leading the discussion at the beginning of class, the discussion leader has more responsibilities related to what happens online. Now, at the beginning of each class, the discussion leader has each member sign the form (the above table), confirming that their contribution to the blog is correct, and then hands it in to the teacher, who can use it for assessment. Hopefully, signing a form that is handed to the teacher provides just the right amount of push from the top to promote more online interaction.

Feedback and responses from the student survey will be up in my next post.

Thanks for reading!


SLA and non-native teacher trainees

This series of posts will address issues I’ve come across in the development of a Second Language Acquisition (SLA) course for NNESTs in a post-graduate teacher training program in Seoul, Korea. I’ve been coordinating the course for a few years now, and we think we are finally gaining some ground in the battle against the perceived inapplicability of course content. I will share some of the major issues we’ve faced and how we’re beginning to overcome them. Though the posts will focus mainly on SLA, the approach we take can be applied to any EFL course that also teaches some academic content.

This post will describe our most recent course change, which we hope will completely change the experience students have in the course and make the practicality of content obvious.

A major challenge we face teaching language and content in a course that already has a ‘theoretical’ reputation is the difficulty of course readings. Fools are we, and we may have been, to think that students would be able to connect course content to their own teaching while only understanding the main ideas of the text. So, maybe a solution to our text difficulty problem can solve our ‘practicality’ problem as well.

I had some success with literature circles (click here) and then found Tyson Seburn’s  academic reading circles (click here). Our plan this semester is to use ARCs to solve our text difficulty and practicality problems.

I will try to update as the semester progresses as much as possible. For now, here is our assignment sheet that outlines the roles of each group member. Prior to this semester, students were reading independently and answering focus questions before class. The questions covered the key concepts of each reading.

Academic Reading Circles in SLA

What are Academic Reading Circles (ARC)?

 An ARC is an adapted version of a literature circle in which groups of students come to understand course readings in groups, or circles. Each time you read something for SLA class, you will be reading for a specific purpose that is designated by your role (see page 2). By reading for a specific purpose and then discussing what you’ve found online and in person, you will gain an understanding of the material that is far superior to reading it on your own.

What do I need to do?

  1. Prior to class, each member of the circle reads the text and posts an appropriate response to the discussion leader’s initial post (the discussion leader will post first).
  2. After the discussion leader has created the first post for their circle, each member of their circle needs to reply to the initial post (the discussion leader will ask several questions) and then add information related to their specific role.
  3. At the beginning of each class, circles will have 5-10 minutes to discuss anything confusing or interesting that came up during the online discussion.
CODE Roles and Responsibilities
DL Discussion Leader:

  • Create the blog post.
  • Create 3 comprehension questions about information in the reading.
  • Create 1 discussion question about something you are curious about in the reading or something you do not clearly understand.
  • Keep track of the time during the discussion so everyone gets a turn.
  • Remind members that they should not read exactly from the textbook.
  • Ensure that no one person dominates the discussion and everyone speaks.
HL Highlighter: Highlight at least 7 words from the text that are unknown to or seem important to understanding the main ideas of the reading; find the appropriate meaning and post a list that contains the word and your paraphrased definition.
AP Applier:Think of ways that this material can be applied in actual Korean English classrooms. Consider the following questions:

  • How does this information help an English teacher?
  • Can this information be applied to real classrooms?
  • If so, what are some examples of how this information can be applied in the classroom?
SU Summarizer:Summarize the main points of the reading (150 words or less)


The CLT Hyperbola


In the TESOL certificate program where I work (STG), students come for close to eight hours of study every Saturday. The first four hours are spent in Methodology class, then the remaining time is split between SLA and ICC. This semester’s SLA course follows four hours of Meth and often students are drained, understandably. Last week, however, many of the students realized that they misunderstood some of the major Methodology concepts and were quite distraught. My demand to connect recent SLA content to Meth only made things more confusing. After asking a few questions to find out exactly where the gap in their understanding was, I decided to run through some content I had done when I was a Methodology instructor. One of the visuals I shared really seemed to vibe with the group and other faculty members, so here I will present and explain a visual (something I put on the whiteboard) I’ve used over the last six years that ties several CLT principles together.

SLA applied to Meth

The SLA concepts I asked to connect to classroom practice were sense, meaning, complexity, and difficulty. Sense and meaning are criteria for long-term storage of the lesson’s target language content (TLC). To help students leave the class with a deep understanding of the TLC, teachers should activate schema and connect students to the context (sense) in the preview and create an authentic reason to interact with the listening/reading source (meaning). Difficult and complexity connect to the teachers choice of tasks and lines of questioning throughout the lesson. Both of which should increase in complexity (# of though processes required to answer a question, solve a problem) and difficulty (effort required to answer or solve a problem). Essentially, the teacher has to balance task complexity and difficulty with student proficiency and remember that low proficiency does not mean that the student can only REMEMBER (Bloom); low-proficiency students can also APPLY, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and CREATE, if the difficulty level is appropriate.

The Hyperbola

Here is the whiteboard that brought it all together for my class.

hyperbola original

Input Stages

The hyperbola illustrates several concepts in the lesson. First, moving from top to bottom, it narrows and then widens. This represents the increasing focus on form or increase in the amount of detail paid to specific language content. At the top, in the lesson preview, besides pre-teaching a few vocabulary items, no attention is paid to specific TLC – the focus is purely on context, fluency, and schema activation (non-threatening personal questions related to the topic). Following the preview, students will interact with the source several times. Initial interaction with the text is brief – they identify genre and find the main idea. Next, they read or listen for details. Finally, they read or listen for specific language information. For example, students could read a request letter and identify ways that the request was made politely, or, more traditionally, listen to a recipe and list different types of ingredients. To sum up the input stages, student interaction with the source begins with a focus on meaning and ends with a focus on form.

Output Stages

The stages that follow are a mirror image of what just happened except students are expected to produce language. They began understanding the source with the main idea, focusing on meaning and ended with a focus on form. In this half, students will start with the form by isolating and practicing it. Here, using language from the text, the teacher needs to elicit its form, meaning, and use. Students can practice the form in decontextualized  exercises. Remember, this is the narrowest section of the hyperbola.

After the TLC has been isolated, students will practice and produce it in two or more activities that increase in complexity – the hyperbola widens as the focus moves from form to meaning.

In addition to the actual stages of the lesson, the hyperbola also illustrates a few other concepts the teacher needs to consider such as teacher/student-centeredness (narrow represents teacher-centered), the quantity of error correction (narrow represents the need for EC), fluency, and accuracy.

After going through this with the class, I offered one extra point to the first student to post a picture and summarize the hyperbola in our google+ community. Here is the summary:


The above hyperbola demonstrates the way a language teacher will facilitate students through input and output of TLC in a lesson.  As an instructor moves from above to below there are several factors occurring.  Moving from learner-centered tasks to teacher-centered and again to learner-centered.  There is also little error correction from the teacher during the preview as fluency is elicited in the preview.  Then when learners are focused on the isolation phase of the lesson there is error correction as accuracy is important.  Towards the practice stage into independent production students are again focused on fluency or automatization and the teacher is not focused on error correction.  If students happen to continue to show errors throughout the independent production then the instructor can re-explain the forms after the task is completed.

Into the hyperbola the preview stage is the top.  Students schema is activated.  Then for a top-down task students give information about the main idea.  Then there is an interactive processing utilizing top-down and bottom-up while students focus on the details of input.

Then language features and details are focused on after details of the input are covered in the presentation stage.  There is a bottom-up process for language isolation where accuracy is the key.

Moving on to controlled practice students use the form from the isolation with repetition or drills or exercises.  They can also begin to incorporate context into the controlled practice by the teacher having the practice related to a function or task related to the real world for communication.

After controlled practice students will do an activity for independent production of the target language content that reflects fluency and is learner-focused without the teacher involvement (or much).

The group even went on to create a cleaned-up version of the hyperbola which is something I’ve wanted to do but never got around to actually doing.

Stuff for STG

I’ve been sharing this visual with my classes for a while now, but the reception I got from this group prompted me to blog about it and share. I hope this can help you and/or your students in some way and look forward to some comments.