Reading Stevick 10 of 10: techniques, methods and approaches

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Here comes the conclusion of my short series. It’s not something I would do all the time on this blog, but what a great way to read a book! Sharing thoughts as you read makes it much more enjoyable.

At the end of the book, Stevick quotes Edward M.Anthony who distinguishes between an approach, method and technique: an approach is a language learning theory or assumption┬á (e.g. language is a set of physical habits), a technique is an activity done in the classroom (e.g. choral drills), and a method is a set of techniques consistent with an approach. He then warns teachers against borrowing techniques without thinking about the approaches behind them – all of those ‘bags of tricks’ we like so much but perhaps don’t always understand how and why they should be used together. A good thing to remember, isn’t it?

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Reading Stevick 8 of 10: games

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It’s interesting how Stevick explains the necessity of games in the classroom: they are not just a welcome change of pace. Games are necessary for short-term motivation: they have simple goals that can be achieved within one lesson (rather than an exam or new career) and can thus provide a sense of progress and meaning to classroom activities.

And a simple activity with Cuisenaire rods (other objects can be used as well): students are divided into several groups; one group builds a structure from the rods hidden behind a notebook or another tall object; then they describe it in English so that the other groups could build the same. It’s not as easy as it seems, and I really like the information gap and the competitive element here. Stevick also mentions the ‘psychological safety in numbers’: the competition is happening between teams, not individuals, and therefore is not as threatening. And the language components? Colours, prepositions, other ways to describe location – what’s not to like?

Reading Stevick 6 of 10: structured silence

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Stevick considers ‘structural silence’ another type of audio aid, and says that it’s ‘the least used and least understood’. It’s so true! Sometimes we are so intent on filling all pauses that we are not using this wonderful tool enough. First of all, controlled silent moments can give students an opportunity to get their thoughts together without distractions (so Stevick recommends using longer silences at the end of the hour, after a big grammar presentation or a story, and shorter ones after each activity in a series. This can help separate stages and activities from one another, assist memorisation and accuracy, make language practice more meaningful. Finally, it may be helpful to combine structured silence with a visual aid to increase its impact. Wonderful, isn’t it?

Reading Stevick 3 of 10

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Don’t we all like a good metaphor? Stevick can come up with quite a few. For example, to explain how short-term and long-term memory works, he uses the image of stencils lying on a small worktable (this is short-term memory). As new stencils are added, the older ones fall off the table on the floor. So, if you need to keep any of them for a bit longer, you need to attach them to the wall, for example, by rubbing them so that they are charged with static electricity (this is a metaphor for long-term memory). But if we keep charging them, they will stay for longer. However, if we want to hold them on the wall forever, we need to spray them with paint before they fall off. However, paint will keep just fragments and images of them, which is how our permanent memory actually works.

Sounds like a very useful way to teach students how to learn, do you agree?

Who’s afraid of community language learning?

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And here’s a short trip down the memory lane: a very good post by Sue Swift about Community Language Learning, one of the methods people usually learn about in historical chapters, but can be very useful now. It has a very different feel compared to the communicative approach, and can really bring variety into your classroom – if you are not afraid of humanistic approaches ­čÖé I actually did my experimental practice for Delta on it (quite a few years ago), and then even spoke about it at an IATEFL Ukraine conference… Good times.

If you want to find out more about the main components and approaches of CLL, just go to the linked post, or even better, read Earl Stevick, the best authority on humanistic approaches – the references can be found there as well. Is anyone else a fan?

Pens of different colours and other desirable difficulties

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Here’s a great post by Claire Hill about introducing retrieval practice, interleaving and other so-called ‘desirable difficulties’ (a term coined by Robert A. Bjork, as I understand) into English (language and literature) lessons. A lot of it can borrowed for ELT, for example, planned recall sessions, completing knowledge organisers from memory and then adding the missing information with another colour of pen – very interesting indeed. And the outcomes are: better learning, easier tracking of progress, saving time in the lesson and for the teacher.

The benefits of varied practice

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Here is another voice┬áspeaking against the 10,000 hour rule (I linked to an interesting article by James Clear about deliberate practice some time ago): this time it’s about varied, spaced and interleaved practice. Yes, I know it’s all very unscientific, but this article (or rather, excerpt from a book by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel called Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning)┬ácan be a great conversation starter in an English lesson with higher levels to develop learner autonomy, or in a teacher training session. To me, it’s a serviceable explanation of why some things work and some don’t: why cramming and drilling give limited results, why revision of several units seems more effective than looking back on just one. Anyway, do check it out and let me know what you think!