Thursday, 22 April 2010

Book Review: 'Seeds of Confidence' - Veronica de Andres, Jane Arnold - Helbling


Seeds of Confidence
Self-esteem activities for the EFL classroom

by Veronica de Andres & Jane Arnold
Helbling Languages 2009
ISBN 9783852722009
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From the introduction:
"Seeds of Confidence presents current thinking on a very important aspect of the affective domain - self-esteem - and provides teachers with motivating, creative activities for use in the classroom to develop both language skills and learner confidence. As has been said, confidence leads to competence.
"
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"SEEDS OF CONFIDENCE"
~ COMPETITION ~

5 COPIES TO WIN!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ COMPETITION CLOSED - SEE WINNERS HERE! ~

Having recently reviewed another title in Helbling's 'Resourceful Teacher' series, I'm tempted to just say: 'if you liked Teaching Chunks of Language, you'll love Seeds of Confidence' and have done with it. But let's have a closer look and see if this new addition to the decidedly humanistic-flavoured series of teacher resource books merits another positive review.

Starting from the admirable stance that the more confident a learner feels, the more likely he is to succeed in his language learning and performance, Seeds of Confidence offers a slew of simple yet engaging activities which allow teachers to bring a touch of real human warmth to their language classroom.

Maybe I'm romanticising a little. After all, most communicative teachers these days try to make their learning environments pleasant and positive places to be. What Seeds of Confidence does is present a series of mini-lessons, lasting anywhere between five and fifty minutes, assembled to address specifically identified areas of self-esteem - or indeed lack of it - which may contribute to a language learner's success... or lack of it.

What's fascinating about this sort of book, and this was the case with our recently reviewed Teaching Chunks of Language and Provoking Thought titles, is that we get a privileged glimpse into a parallel universe of academia which impacts on our own rather more practical world of teaching. Once again, there is an absorbing introduction to the topic of self-esteem which describes the fundamental components of the issue around which the book is structured: security, identity, belonging, purpose and competence. A chapter's worth of motivating exercises are proposed under each of these headings, including full instructions, many illustrations and plenty of diagrams and tables to be used in class.

The CD-ROM which comes with the book has all the necessary worksheets and some accompanying music and simple videos to use with some of the units. Download a sample unit (pdf) here.

I don't think the authors would claim that all of their activities are ground-breaking; I recognise many firm favourites in there such as throwing a ball around to animate question and answer sessions, or learning people's names by associating something funny or interesting starting with the same letter - 'I'm Sab and I was born in Scotland...' - I do it at the start of every teacher training course ( well, almost every one). But what they have done is pulled together these disparate classics and placed them in a valuable and valid context for the teacher who is interested in this type of approach to exploit, or at least try out.

Again, the mini-introductions to the chapters give more detailed information about each of these fascinating areas, followed by a large number of practical suggestions for 'building a sense of belonging', 'building a sense of competence', 'building a sense of security', and so on, in the classroom. These include, respectively:

  • Create a notice board with photos of each student to help them be identified. Play bingo with students' names, or play other games which encourage students to call each other by name.

  • Create different ways to celebrate success and achievement of goals. Encourage students to discuss ways to celebrate; they could take turns to participate in a Celebration Council.

  • If new students come to your classroom, encourage other students to go over the classroom rules with them and explain the justification for having the rules.
Now, much as I'd love to start talking about the ideas behind the banner heading of 'self-esteem in the classsroom', that's not my brief and I suggest you get hold of a copy of Seeds of Confidence (perhaps by taking part in our competition on this page) if you want to know more! However, I do want to discuss in a little more detail how relevant these ideas, and more concretely these activities, are to the average English teacher, if there is such a thing.

Strangely enough, I'm being distracted from this review by the second of the leaders' debates in the UK this evening. What I'm seeing is that half the time they are arguing with each other, and the other half of the time they are agreeing. What they're arguing about is the way of doing things. What they are agreeing on is the final desired result. They all want a strong economy, more jobs, international security, and so on. What they disagree on is how to obtain those things.

And we can draw a parallel here. I think all teachers want their students to succeed. What they often differ on is what classroom activities and approaches will achieve that. The humanistic, affective, self-esteem supporting classroom approach put forward by books like Seeds of Confidence and series like 'The Resourceful Teacher' books from Helbling is one which many people both admire and agree with in principle but often find difficulty putting into practice. Many factors are responsible for the awkwardness some teachers experience in implementing slightly unorthodox new approaches, including pressure to produce exam success to make their school's statistics look good, resistance to moving away from what is historically considered to be a 'serious' language lesson, and so on.

We are living in interesting teaching times, and have been for quite a few years now. We have a growing and admirable body of teaching resources which place the learner firmly centre stage and I for one welcome this wave and hope it continues, as will be clear from many of the reviews published on this blog. However, we can't change a well established, highly academically-minded approach overnight, nor perhaps should we.

Instead, it's up to us as caring communicative teachers to pick and choose our materials carefully and creatively. Thankfully, most English teachers today work in institutions or situations where they have at least some degree of autonomy and ability to inject interesting and why not unusual activities into their lessons to freshen up an imposed curriculum and to spice up their lessons. Books like Seeds of Confidence are great places to find those activities and ideas.


"SEEDS OF CONFIDENCE"
~ COMPETITION ~

5 COPIES TO WIN!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ COMPETITION CLOSED - SEE WINNERS HERE! ~

_______________________________________________________________________________
Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching (ELT) Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Seeds of Confidence'
Created & written by Sab Will
© Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
_________________________________________________________________
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Book Review: 'Teaching Chunks of Language' - Lindstromberg, Boers


Teaching Chunks of Language
From noticing to remembering

by Seth Lindstromberg & Frank Boers
Helbling Languages 2008
ISBN 9783852720562
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From the introduction:
"Teaching Chunks of Language is an original new resource book for teachers of EFL/ESL students at intermediate-advanced level. It shows how to help students work out the origins and reasoning behind the choice of words that occur apparently at random in so many chunks of language in English. This not only helps the students remember them but also work out the most likely choice of words in semi-familiar chunks. So students can make real progress in this traditionally challenging area of language - highly satisfactory for them, and for you as their teacher.
"
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Well, I think that appropriately chunky introduction pretty much sums everything up nicely, so I can just dive right in to describing some of the interesting activities Messers. Lindstromberg and Boers have dreamt up for our greater teaching pleasure.

Whenever I get sent a new ELT book, and particularly one like Teaching Chunks of Language,  from the Helbling 'Resourceful Teacher Series', which generally approaches things from a little left of centre, I'm like a kid in a candy store. With so many inventive activities, it's quite difficult to know where to start.

The book is divided into four sections, after a very comprehensive nine-page introduction explains just what chunks of language actually are, and how we can easily introduce activities into our lessons to help our students learn them.

A chunk of language, by the way, just in case you were wondering but too scared to ask, is simply a bunch of two or more words that often go together. Examples from this paragraph so far which would probably qualify as chunks include by the way, just in case, and too scared to ask. To be honest (there's another one), chunks of language are everywhere. These may be typical linguistic structures (as far as I can tell), common collocations (attend a meeting) or the familiar idioms and similies which already have a place in many coursebooks (go through the roof, sick as a parrot). Chunks are apparently stored in the brain as a single unit and can therefore be produced with as much ease as a single word, thus making our speech more fluent and efficient.

Current teaching wisdom generally considers it a good thing to include some of these word chunks in our lessons explicitly to help learners gain an additional measure of the fluency enjoyed by native speakers.

The first section of Teaching Chunks of Language deals with getting our learners to actually recognise chunks as chunks, and start to find ways to efficiently learn them. The second section takes it to the next level and looks at grouping chunks into thematic areas to help increase memory retention. The next unit is about the vital area of reviewing what has been studied to fix the word groups more firmly into long-term memory. And finally, there is a very useful 60-page collection of photocopiable materials and handouts to go with the earlier exercises.

The inside presentation is fairly sober - this is  a black and white teacher's resource manual, not a singing and dancing course book - and it's for the teacher to make the activities sing and dance off the page I suppose. There are a few drawings and pictures to cheer things up a bit, and the handouts are varied and reasonably clearly designed, if, perhaps necessily, wordy.

A handful of activity titles will give you a rough idea of some of the content:

From the Basic chunk teaching activities section: Priming with Chinese whispers / Remember my change / Filling in a story skeleton / Between listening gap fills

From the Teaching sets of chunks section:
Things that make sounds / Weather phrases / Body idioms / Seeing the deep logic of word partnerships / Noticing patterns of sound repetition

From the Reviewing and Quizzing section:
Memory slips with hints / Review posters / Guess my chunk / Test me easy, test me hard / Blanks with big fat hints

What Teaching Chunks of Language attempts to do is make the Lexical Approach - that of focusing on words and word groups in particular - more accessible and applicable to the modern communicative language classroom, and I feel it is rather successful in that with this well thought out range of activities to compliment other parts of the language lesson.

Michael Lewis, author of the original The Lexical Approach, did actually suggest ways of focusing more on prefabricated multi-word chunks in class with his more practical Implementing the Lexical Approach: Putting Theory into Practice, but it is fair to say that there isn't an enormous catalogue of books which approach this important aspect of language learning in a thoroughly practical way.

Although we can all recognise the existence of set phrases such as for what it's worth or from time to time as legitimate and frequently occurring word groups, it is still considered somewhat subversive to construct a lesson exclusively around multi-word chunks. Some of Lewis' original 'dangerous ideas', such as language being grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar, the grammar/vocabulary dichotomy being invalid, and the need to replace the good old Present-Practise-Produce paradigm with an Observe-Hypothesise-Experiment cycle still prove difficult to swallow by many, even after all these years.

I sometimes smile to myself as I hammer home the obligatory PPP approach on the TEFL Paris certificate course I run, thinking how simple it all seems at the start of this wonderful career called English teaching, and how much more there is to discover if you really want to delve deeper. Bye bye for now.

_______________________________________________________________________________
Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching (ELT) Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Provoking Thought'
Created & written by Sab Will
© Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
_________________________________________________________________
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website
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