This is part of a series of interviews with fellow English language teaching professions to be published on this blog.
The interviewees are drawn from a variety of teaching contexts, in different countries and working with different kinds of learners. What they have in common is having experimented in some way with their teaching practice.
The reason why I asked these people to answer my questions (apart from being nosy!) is that I am a firm believer in the potential of experimental practice in helping you develop as a teacher, but I don’t know whether other people think the same. I’d like to get an anecdotal picture of my peers, to find out what they’ve done, why and what they’ve learnt from the experience.
I also believe that there is so much that we can learn from sharing our stories and these experiences. I invite you to read these brief interviews, comment on them, and if you feel it is worth investigating further, take up the challenge and carry out your own experiments.
I hope to learn a lot from reading these interviews, and I hope you do too.
The premise – I contacted each of these ELT professionals online and asked whether they were happy to be interviewed. I then sent 5 questions to answer and they sent them back. Here are the results:
Interviewee #1 – Sandy Millin
1) Who are you?
I’m currently the Director of Studies at International House (IH) Sevastopol, Crimea, where I’ve been since September 2013.
I did the Distance Delta course from September 2012 to June 2013, and took the exam in December 2013. I was teaching multilingual groups at IH Newcastle at the time. I’ve written extensively about my Delta experiences on my blog, although I’ve never written about my experimental practice until now! http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/category/delta.
2) What did you choose to do for your experimental practice and why?
My experimental practice was about grammatisation or grammaring. It was a word I’d never heard before starting my EP, so I thought it would be interesting to investigate, although I can’t remember how I first came across it. I’d already experimented a bit with Dogme, which seems to be the most common EP topic. I really wanted to look at doing role plays because I’d never really used them in class, but I was told this wasn’t a good area to investigate – I’m not really sure why not. So grammaring it was…
And what is grammaring? This is the definition I used in my assignment:
“Grammaticization, or ‘grammaring’ as it is sometimes known, is a process whereby learners move from lexicalized language (Me go cinema tonight.) towards grammaticalized language (I’m going to the cinema tonight.) or ‘lexis > grammar’.” I incorporated it in a lesson to practise the present perfect simple with pre-intermediate students who never used it. They had to add grammar to a facebook message which only had content words in it, discussing use of the past simple and present perfect in the process.
3) How did you go about researching this area? Were there any sources you found particularly useful?
It was really hard to find sources, partly because it doesn’t seem to appear in indexes, and nobody can agree what to call it! This was my bibliography:
- Batstone, R. 1994 Grammar OUP
- Nunan, D. 2004 Task-based Language Learning Cambridge University Press
- Thornbury, S. 2001 Uncovering Grammar Macmillan Heinemann
- Thornbury, S. 2006 An A-Z of ELT Macmillan
- Willis, D. (2003) Rules, Patterns and Words Cambridge University Press
For me, Uncovering Grammar was the most useful book to read, not just for it’s information about grammaring, but for all the useful activities included in it, although I have to say I haven’t actually put many of them into action yet! Writing this has reminded me that I need to go back to it…
4) How did you record what happened in the lesson? What were the most effective and interesting ways you found to document your experimental practice experience?
I took notes during the lesson, and asked a colleague to observe me and give me feedback. I also monitored students journal writing during that and subsequent lessons to see if they incorporated the present perfect more as a result of the lesson. Getting peer feedback was very helpful, but I’m not sure if either of the other approaches worked. It was my first attempt at experimental practice, and I did a lot of it at the last minute, so I’m not sure it was as effective as it could have been.
5) What happened? What did you find out about teaching and learning and teachers and learners by doing your experiment?
I think grammaring prompted students to process the language more deeply than simple exercises would have done. Because they were working together, they had to justify their answers, and think about why they chose past simple or present perfect in each case. I learnt that it’s better to get students to do this kind of exercise alone first, processing the language individually, then work together in pairs/groups. I missed out the solo stage in my lesson, and in some groups stronger students dominated so not everyone benefitted as much as they could have done.
Apart from that, I think grammaring is an interesting approach to experiment with at a variety of levels, although having said that, I haven’t used it again at all in the nearly two years since I did my EP. It was an interesting part of my Delta, but coming right at the beginning of a very stressful year, it’s just one of 101+ things I took from the course which I need to go back to and spend more time on.
Sandy Millin has been teaching for about 7 years now, mostly for International House. She’s taught in Paraguay, Borneo, Czech Republic and the UK, and is now the Director of Studies at International House Sevastopol. She’s very active on social media, with a blog at http://sandymillin.wordpress.com. She also tweets @sandymillin.