E2 Talks Episode #27 “The importance of acknowledging the online learner” w/ Allen Davenport (Cambridge University Press & Assessment) & E2 Expert Teacher David

Play & read along the full episode

Hello, and welcome to E2 Talks. In this episode, E2 Expert Teacher David chats with Allen Davenport, Professional Learning and Development Manager at Cambridge University Press & Assessment.

David and Allen discuss a range of topics ranging from “what is an online learner?”, plurilingualism and the interactions of language learners in the classroom.

David and Allen also touch on their teaching experiences and much, much more. If you’re an English language teacher or avid English language learner or interested in language itself, you don’t want to miss this discussion. Enjoy!

David 

Alan, what do you think we mean by the online learner as a whole person?

Alan 

So I believe in keeping things simple. When you say, you know, talking about the whole learner and an online learner, you know, an online learner first is a learner. And then we’re talking about the mode of learning, which is online. And I think where we sometimes make mistakes are not mistakes, that might be the wrong word. But where we sometimes panic is letting that Word Online get in the way, and we lose fact of, they are a learner first. And when we really focus on learning, and the learner and teaching and assessment and everything that goes with it, then I think that it really gives us more of a straightforward path on how we can deal as we’ve said, you know, looking at the learner as a whole, because the learner themselves hasn’t changed, the medium has changed at which they’re doing it.

So when I think of an online learner, I don’t think of them as any different than a face to face learner or a hybrid learner. I think the situation the learner in is, of course different. And we have to make adjustments based on situation, but not based on that. Not on any idea that the learner themselves has miraculously changed, because they’re in front of a screen instead of in a classroom. And I think that that is something that is very key. And especially when we bring in any type of online learning, I think, you know, that we do have to become technically aware that the digital literacy does become part of the learning process.

We, we as teachers that have to, you know, take care of the learner in the same way we do as a classroom plus take care of some technical difficulties that they have, we have to make them more at ease of maybe learning in a new environment, you know, that they’re not particularly used to or maybe that they don’t enjoy. But again, all of these things happen sometimes when we ask learners to go to a classroom or, or anytime that we face something new or some sort of transition. So I don’t know if I’ve, if I’ve answered your question well enough, I said I would keep it simple. And then I talked for about three minutes. Yeah, no, one online learner is a learner in an online context. And I think that that is a spotlight that we need to keep on.

David 

Perfect. Alan, thank you for that. I think what you did was to simplify what is perceived as is probably more complicated than it actually is. Yeah, so thank you for that. That there are learners and they are they are learners. We can we talk about plurilingualism Fleury, lingualism more than one language involved in a student’s lifetime. And we know that that’s an interesting contemporary situation for so many students of ours that there’s more than one language spoken. How how do you think we can access that? Or how important do you think that is to acknowledge in the language learning process?

Alan 

Oh, I’m absolutely a huge like proponent of this concept in general of plural lingual ism. And I like it because I think it’s important before we talk about it to distinguish it from you know, maybe a traditional view of multilingualism or sometimes even bilingualism which we talk about, you say you have learners all around the world. I’ll give I’ll give Indonesia as an example. You know, Indonesia is a very multilingual country themselves. I mean, they’ve got you know, more than 7000 languages, there is a lingua franca of Bahasa Indonesian, they also you know, have different levels of English they have their own local languages.

But what I like about the concept of plural lingual ism is if I’m looking at a learner in Indonesia, if I look at it in a multilingual concept, I’m kind of trying to count the number of languages that they have, and what plural lingual ism I think the main difference is, is it kind of takes us away from counting the number of languages by proficiency and saying that all learners have a certain amount of linguistic resource in multiple languages and that may be at various levels but all of that contributes to what a learner can do in order to make communication happen in order to form meaning. And all of this needs to be taken into consideration.

So the idea of plural lingual ism is not just that we have learners with many languages, but these languages come with resources that learners can use to express themselves and instead of trying to put us into the box of this is an English language classroom so it has to be English only and your only your English identity or that sort of thing. You know, I grew up in a time when it was very, very common to take away people’s names in the classroom and give them in English names sometimes because the teacher themselves thought that name is too difficult for me to pronounce. I’m going to call you Sam and we tried to impose this this English identity of a second language on them and that second language, whereas we are Where’s plurilingualism is different, we say you are still your name, and you’re a person who is developing English as part of your linguistic repertoire. And that I think is is incredibly crucial when we’re talking about what we said before, looking at the whole learner, really making them use everything that they they can in order to make meaning and language happen.

David 

Brilliant. So you mentioned the word resources, from a blurry from a from a plural from more than one let from multiple or plural language, brood, linguistic point of view, we’re talking about resources and learning. What do you mean by that? In terms of the student, individual students learning?

Alan 

Ah, that’s a good question. And I think you know, again, with plurilingualism, or with this concept of plural lingual ism, it’s kind of hard to give a definition but it’s, it’s a little bit easier, I think, to maybe describe when somebody is plural lingual, I think, you know, it’s really these resources about the flexibility that we have. In our repertoire. Maybe it’s being able to switch from one language, or even one variety of language, you know, even even within our own English system, we’re very poor lingual, I know, I can remember going to Australia and somebody telling me they were going to the dunny and having no idea what that was.

So I mean, even in our own interrelated context, you know, it’s, it’s being able to switch from levels of formality and informality. It’s able to switch from what words do I know in my language that I think that you would know what words do I think that I know in your language that may make the mediation of communication easier? I think it’s about the ability to express oneself in one language sometimes, and understand a person speaking another.

To give you an idea. I had a conversation just this morning with somebody in my office, I live in Thailand. And they said, Ah, Alan, and I’m like, what? And they said, board hula. And I said, why? And they said, Oh, you know, we’re having problems with the stock of something. I’m like, what’s happening? It’s not coming. And I’m like, It’s not coming at all. No dilute Lee, which is a blend of like Thai and English, but we both understood it. And we were able to call upon the knowledge of a lot of languages that we have in our repertoire in order to make sense. But there is this idea of knowing what the other person might know what they might understand. And taking the social context into it as well, with plurilingualism, where I think it matters to us as language teachers in general, is to not fight against the languages that students already have.

It’s to really honor them to bring them out and use those and add English on top of them. So that when I talk about these resources, that your English ability becomes another resource you have in your plural lingual competence, which is about being able to make meaning I’m coming back to that a lot to make communication happen. Regardless, if you use pure English, something else, anything in between gestures, everything in order to get the message across. it refocuses on why we are learning languages. It is for that communication factor, not necessarily to pass a test.

David 

Absolutely brilliant, thank you. That’s right. And my experience of that was to be to enable it to happen was to give it license in a learning context as well, which is kind of restricting is to enable it by like giving a license to the learning or learning space to to exploit the memory of students or the the prior learning of students in another language to access thought and create meaning and discussion by accessing language other than English as well yeah.

Alan 

Absolutely. And if we look at, like, the use of the first language in the classroom, I think that, you know, we’ve we sometimes get so pinned down into that English only approach or, you know, again, I, I came up in my teacher education where, you know, we wanted an English only classroom and we thought that you know, it will break down L one interference and all that it doesn’t, but we we thought at the time, and, and what, what really happens with that, I think exactly like what we said, we’re not honoring the learner themselves with everything they have.

But more important when we do finally break down and we if we’re in especially a monolingual environment, I know you’re not so much, but especially then when we feel like we have to use the first language and we’ve resorted to it. And I think that’s how we usually talked about it, we have to resort to the first language because we tried everything else, and it’s failed. And then it feels like we’re coming at it as a failure perspective, whereas we honour again, what language they already know if we say something like, you know, we’re going to write an essay, what ideas do you have in your first language first and then come around and let’s put English So on top of that, and we get in control of it from the beginning, so it doesn’t feel that anytime we’re using whatever resources, linguistic resources lawyers have as the last resort, but in order, like I said, to get in front of it to make meaning happen, then put English on top of it, it really becomes a bridge to constructing and developing what language resources we have. And I think it’s a motivating factor.

I’m not a proponent of using the first language in the classroom to be lazy or, or just to, you know, not not in order to be lazy, not in order to not hit the learning objectives, I have no more clear way of saying yeah, but again, there’s no reason why what learners are already bringing with them can’t help us with the English learning. And I might add, I know I’m over talking as

David 

Oh, yeah. Well, I’m not going to stop. You want to make sense to us. Yeah. Yeah.

Alan 

But I would also add, you know, when we talk about plural lingual competence, and this dialect thing, you know, a lot of us I think, are involved in English for Academic Purposes, or those sorts of things. And academic English is nobody’s first language either. That’s right. And I think that that’s something so so we’re already adept to talking about pleura lingual competencies, even in our own English language.

David 

That’s right, because it’s another whole lesson. It’s another whole set of language that we have to learn in order to explain certain areas and certain ideas in a certain context as well. So we all have to learn academic language.

Alan 

Exactly. We would never say never bring in your general English into the academic classroom. Yeah. So why would we deny learners you know, use their resources in to learning and

David 

Extraordinary, because I think in terms of memory, I haven’t done any study. But I know that it’s true from experiences that if you’ve learned something in another language, or from another experience with other references, that is your reference, that is your memory, that is your perception of reality, and to access it in whatever language and then use as you say, English as a bridge to communicate that thought to the listener or to the other person we’re exchanging social information with seems to be vital in order to acknowledge the to validate a person’s life or a person’s experience or a person’s prior knowledge. And in fact, accessing those experiences is of huge value to communication.

So to enable us to learn from others through their experiences with English as our medium, because that is the common language that we use, then we’ve experienced somebody’s true stories, which a profoundly profound, just a profound experience in itself. Yeah,

Alan 

Absolutely, and you know, and I think that there’s a lot of exciting research coming out, not just about plural lingual ism. But now, there’s a wonderful book called Beyond Cleal, by Coyle, where they’re even taking this idea a bit further and saying, it’s not just being plural lingual, but plural literate. And I think that they say that, you know, if we talk about somebody who is pleura literate, it’s somebody who understands how language makes thinking, in general, and using all the languages, we have to understand how it influences our thinking.

And, and that experience in meaning making, but then how that goes on to the other forms of, of multiple literacies that we deal with, like problem solving, being creative, and more than one language, you know, bringing it all together, and so that plurilingualism, you know, evolves into a plural literate learner. And again, it’s really about not limiting ourselves to what we can do.

David 

Interesting. The other reading I’ve done along the way, too, which is part of the is perhaps there is just a different systems of thought. So there are different ways that we process information linearly, or in terms of time, but also in terms of left to right relationships as well, the concept of, of the grammatical structure of our thinking is different in different languages as well.

The structure of writing is different in different languages, the concept that there’s one single answer or one effect in a western kind of thinking may not actually exist in other forms and Eastern kind of thinking, where the fact is not relevant to the discussion of the act of the perception of the idea or the perception of reality. So those accessing difference, as you said, through language is exciting for most of us, yeah.

Alan 

Absolutely. And, you know, even something that we take, very basic in language teaching, you know, like the ideas of past, present and future and how we conceptualize those can be, can be different based on you know, our linguistic, you know, what we what we think of how the language shapes the mind, I mean, if we study linguistics, this has been going on for a long time. There’s something called the Sapper Whorf hypothesis that talked about you know, does language affect the brain or is it the other way around and I don’t really get too deep into that of which came first the chicken or the egg, but I know what happens.

You know, I think for most Western countries, if we said point to the future, we point in front of us, you know, we can see it ahead. But there are some cultures if we say point Think to the future. They they point behind them, because they feel that we are walking through time backwards, we can see the past in front of us. And the further the past is, the harder it is to see. We can see the and the future is unknown.

So it’s behind us and we’re walking backwards. And and you know, that does affect, you know, if we’re talking about things like the present perfect. And when we’re drawing our timelines, you know, how do we draw our timelines when we’re doing something basic a grammar, and it doesn’t mean that we have to adjust to every way of thinking it means we have to introduce what we mean, where the future is, for us. It does, right. And language is never neutral, even on these little these little things. So

David 

That they’re wonderful examples and things like plurals, and Edy endings for past tenses in, in, in languages that don’t exist and have to be learned from scratch as well, which is interesting. From the learners point of view, but maybe we’re also referencing that teachers awareness of this these phenomena informs our understanding of the whole learner as well, and an appreciation of the differences but also similarities in how language functions and language learning functions. I’ve listened to one or two of your webinars, and then the the fascinating conceptualizing how, how content can be structured in a way to give to enable learning experiences, and you use the word empowerment as one of those words, which is to give give frame frameworks of thinking around language learning, which is seems to be highly appropriate. I’m interested in the area of that part of learning that you call life competencies, and also employability frameworks. Could you talk about those two concepts for a little bit, Alan?

Alan 

Sure, and I have to say that I’m building on the research of people much, much more intelligent than I am, I have to I have to give credit to people like Ben knight out of Cambridge University Press and assessment, who’s our former director of research people like Claire demery, and Jasmine Silva, who has really taken this, you know, it’s really more her project. But I’ve, I’ve really taken to it and tried to expand on it, because I just think it’s brilliant. And I think that a lot of times in the Basic Educational debate, you know, I think that we have this idea of what is it that we’re trying to do when we’re educators? In general? Are we trying to prepare people in order for work? And that’s our job when we when we’re teachers? Or is it? Are we trying to make, you know, a better person? And is it for the betterment of society? And learning in its own right, is good. And personally, I think that that is a false choice. I don’t I don’t understand why we have to choose between the two, you know, the moral purpose of education. You know, so many writers say, you know, I think Michael Fullan is one that I always go back to, you know, it is to help learners live, and work in society and be productive, but also, you know, in better society as well. Now, having said that, what’s a framework, then if we’re talking about that old cliche, that we’re still even sometimes at university, preparing University, or preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet? How do we do that if our role is to, you know, help prepare them for society. And I think that it goes back to what we at Cambridge call life competencies, we’re not the first people to come up with this idea. You know, some people for the past 25 years have been talking about 21st century skills, or soft skills are transferable skills, they go by many different names. But at Cambridge, I think that we’ve developed in language learning classrooms, it’s very possible to bring in instruction that involves some of these life competencies that we’ve identified. And if you’ll indulge me for just a second, I’ll go through kind of the the list of what we have sort of identified. At Cambridge, we have developed a framework for these life competencies. And there are foundational layers and by foundational layers, I like to think of them as the crust of a pizza, the base of a pizza. These are things that we need in every single lesson. And it involves the discipline knowledge itself, in this case, English language teaching. If we’re not teaching the language, we’re not doing our job. And sometimes we can get so lost in these 21st century skills or these live competencies that we can forget that students have a communicative competence and knowledge about the language that they do have to acquire and use in our classrooms. Also, in the foundational layer that needs to be throughout everything is the idea of digital literacy. This does not mean always bringing in an app, but it means using whatever technology that we have to the best of its ability Ready, I think in your context, you know, doing a lot of online learning, this has to be embedded in every single lesson, it has to be using all the tools that the technology allows us to do in the best way possible not using them just because they’re there, but understanding how to use them best to get our educational aims. And again, that emotional development has to be a foundational layer, we have to set up the context or of our classrooms to be safe environments, welcoming environments, environments, where people feel confident in making mistakes in in this sense of understanding our own emotions, understanding our own development, and what we need to get across as learners. So that is the foundational layer. But then on top of that, if we’re still using the pizza analogy, there are different things we can bring in to language lessons alongside learning the language, which are our competencies themselves, we call them competencies, because they involve skills, but they also involve knowledge and ability. And they’re things like creative thinking, learning to learn, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and social responsibility. And I think that what we’ve done at Cambridge, and we have a website, which I’ll share with you, but it’s cambridge.org/clc F, hopefully, we can give you some resources on it, where we’ve identified these and what’s made us different, I think, at Cambridge, is that we haven’t just identified what they are, we’ve gone into detail about what the definition of them is. Because if I say to to teachers, do you want your students to be more creative thinkers? I think everyone would say yes. But if I say, What does creativity or creative thinking mean? I would get 1000 different answers, because it’s hard to define, even though that we think we know it when we see it. So what exactly does creative thinking constitute? What are the core areas? How can we break it down into components? And then what did those components look like at different stages of the lifestyle, because creative thinking to a four year old is going to look sound different than creative thinking for somebody at university, although those basic core tenants of what creative thinking is hasn’t changed. So that’s what we’ve identified. And what I really like about this framework is, like I said, it doesn’t have to be full creativity lessons, it’s just small things that we can do to add these aims alongside our linguistic games in the classroom. So that make the teaching of these very relevant, very focused. Now to go on to what you’ve said about employability, what we’ve learned when we looked at what people who are hiring or people who are in that position to look for the skills that they’re looking for, for the workforce of the future. What we have found is that there’s a lot of correlation between those skills of lifelong learning that we’ve found that I’ve just said, and what employers are looking for. And again, we’re developing a whole employability framework. But it is very much tied to that live competency framework. In the areas that we have, there are more of collaboration and teamwork, collaboration hasn’t gone away, communication is their innovation and problem solving becomes one that gets added critical thinking itself, but also tying that to decision making leadership itself and being a global citizen, finding your own personal development management, and of course, still emotional intelligence and digital literacy belong in those employability skills. So I think what we’ve seen is again, a false choice between am I am I trying to teach the skills for lifelong learning? Or am I trying to teach the skills for employability, they go hand in hand, and they fit very, very well. Great in the classroom experience.

David 

Okay, great. And also, you also mentioned language competency as well, because at the, at the center of our teaching, and is why students turn up to our classrooms is because they want to access the language that’s going to enable that thought to happen or those those that framework to be enacted as well. So the language competency is is a critical factor in that. And that learning too, isn’t it?

Alan 

It absolutely it is I mean, again, that’s in that foundational layer language teaching the quote Michael swans means teaching language. And we can’t get away from that. But language, as I said, does not exist in a vacuum. You know that language teaching does not mean teaching grammar timelines and filling out a worksheet. Language Teaching means, you know, having the communit of competency in order to be able to do things with with the language afterwards. And so that’s where these life competencies you know, developing activities that require via collaboration or real communication, you know, together this bringing in a little bit of task based learning, even an online learning or in this instructional environment is important, it gives students the connection of why they’re learning languages.

David 

That’s my experience in teaching in group classes online where there’d be maybe five or six or eight or even 10 Students from different geographical locations and different language backgrounds, that negotiation is a big part of the process. So when we say collaboration and cooperation, negotiation or agreement, endorsement, extending people’s responses, responding in a polite way, not causing offence, listening, those skills, those communication skills that are critical to acceptance and moving information forward in a productive way, in English, is one of those phenomena where the where the cultural background and linguistic language background is different the the language, English then becomes the means by which those negotiations or that cooperation or that even that business, the business of communication is done. So. So those skills, as you say, if we build on that build on the fundamentals of language, how do we then use that language in a way to be for it to be effective or to be productive or for to be used in the nature of building relationships and negotiating, transacting as well as transforming in, in our relationships in a relational way as well. And what I found is in our context is we’ve got students from, I asked you this question the other day, and you’ve rightly pointed out what it’s always probably always been like that is that students come from different language backgrounds, but in this case, they’re here for a short period of quite intense time, and then go away again, and this opportunity, which seems to be a contemporary opportunity that’s arisen out of COVID pressure as well as we were developing online learning, you know, prior to COVID, is that people would turn up for the experience of learning language and practicing and developing language together in this online or digital format, and then go away and come back. But there’s a certain excitement about that phenomena as well is that my social life what was becomes my sort of social my social classroom as well, where I turn up and wow, there’s people who maybe I saw them two lessons ago, or I understood a little bit about them, and then we go away, and that that’s a new form, seemingly to me, and you might correct me a seemingly new, newish form of interaction or of learning interaction. What’s your take on that? Alan?

Alan 

I think it’s, again, in online context, I think that we’re paying more attention to the interaction that happens between learners. And I think that that’s what what we’re kind of seeing it. Again, I do think that that’s always been a part of good teaching. I mean, I think it was Earl civic himself, who said, language learning is less about instruction, and more about what goes on within and amongst the learners. So I’m inter interaction has always been, you know, a key part of language teaching. I think that the in order to activate it, as you’ve said, what we have to realize, though, is that we need to make opportunities for interaction that are meaningful, that have a goal, that’s not just assessing the language that learners are using, or giving them a chance to do empty practice. I mean, I remember in my own classrooms, even in the face to face environment, I would have students and we would be interacting as I thought, and I doing air quotes, they’re interacting, but their dialogues would sound like, what did you do yesterday? I went to the movies, and you What did you do yesterday, I went to the movies with you finish teacher. And while they were saying words, they weren’t interacting, they weren’t, they weren’t, you know, really listening or didn’t really have a reason to listen to something. And it’s because I, as the teacher, gave them a set of grammar, and then I wanted them to practice it. And I’m going around, I’m giving feedback only on whether they use the correct grammar language. But what about more open ended questions? What about having them notice the opportunities? Not just for what what Right? Or what would you like to try again? What about this idea about when did you get stuck and asking these type of questions? Or what do you want to know? That wasn’t about the the language point that I taught? But what did you have some good interactions? Did you steal some language from each other? And taking time to look at these functions that go on? I think that that’s crucial. And it gets overlooked so much, because we get so focused on our, you know, talking about experiences or present perfect that we forget to listen to what the the students say, asking them questions about meaning or did you learn anything about each other in that, you know, making sure that we do say that we’re not just caring that you’re using the language that you are listening and reacting and finding out about the other person and finding interaction in that way, and not feeling the need that when we go into breakout rooms, you know, and seeing them that it’s monitoring them? Make sure they’re on task and using the language but but to explore and make that social connection, and then I think the language will come because they’ll co construct their dialogue or their meaning together, and they’ll wind up helping each other.

David 

 That’s right. And CO construct is such a wonderful way of saying as well. And also, I think it enables them to access language, they didn’t think they were going to access until they were in the context where it was, it was suddenly necessary as well. So and there must be phenomena of the memory that enable that to happen, which is like a latent memory where we don’t use the language that was essentially at our fingertips until we’re in a context where we need to the other thing that you referred Yeah, so those natural utterances and listening capabilities exist across different cultural groups and language groups, obviously, and we apply the same sort of processes of thinking to the English context. And then we have to find the right words that enable those connections to happen or that the support language or the utterance, the listening the indicators, that is exactly the co working the cooperation, the cooperation, of lack of, of discussion, that cooperation, of dialogue.

Alan 

But just just to interject there, because I think you hit a very important key thing. And I know that we want this not just to be theoretical, but practical for the teachers with this podcast. And the most practical thing that I could say is, remember, when we’re doing interaction, it’s not time for the students to prove that they have learned what You have taught them, we do interaction in our classroom, because that is still part of the learning. And, you know, it’s it sounds like a minor thing, but that that shift is saying, you know, that interaction is still part of the learning, not the assessment process. I think when we do that, as teachers, our reactions, our feedback, the focus on meaning tends to fall into place a little bit.

David 

 That’s right. So and to say that, again, it’s part of the process of learning. So part of the process of learning is to iterate what it is that we’re, we’re learning while we’re learning it.

Alan 

Exactly, you know, when I worry sometimes about the teachers who, you know, had really discussions that have happened and so much that could have been mined and exploited. But then the teacher gets mad because you didn’t use the target language that I said, and And yes, that is, you know, we do have target language points, and we want them to learn these things. But that’s, that’s for a different lesson, if you have the chance to chase something else, exactly what you said about more of the socio linguistic or the pragmatic things. It’s great. I remember I was teaching to some Japanese students one time and they were very, very crosser they, they were studying in Thailand, and there were some Thai learners in the classroom. Well, because somebody said, Do you want some coffee? And we do have to be careful, because somebody had told my Japanese learners that do you want is rude? And would you like is polite. And we have the so they were kind of taking offense to this where you know, I just say to you, hey, you know, Hey, David, do you want to talk? I’m not thinking, is it polite? Or is it rude? But But because we have over taught what this means in English, we we’ve lost this chance to explore. And I actually luckily overheard that and was like, what’s going on? And like, Well, I think they’re being rude. And we can explore this part of it, which wasn’t part of the lesson. But it’s really important to real communication, not just speaking because there’s nothing wrong with the grammar

David 

 You’ve experienced life in Australia, we in Australia, we are less formal than most as far as I can work out. So and we also live in a wonderful world where there are people from all over the place. So we walk out and it’s all quite different. But the but the informality of the Australian language would enable you to say, to express yourself in a way that was strangely informal, but allowed to communicate a sense of of camaraderie or a sense of friendliness. At the same time, it was as it was maintaining fairly strict rules of social etiquette as well.

Alan 

Absolutely. Um the first time I taught I used to teach with with somebody affiliated with the Australian university. Just it’s just an aside, maybe you’ll find this humorous, but and we had Australian course books. And the very first lesson that I have, I’m American, and the very first lesson said, like common greetings, and it said, how are you going? And I told my students, I think that’s a typo. It should say, How are you doing? And I had them cross it out, because I hadn’t had quite realized yet. So again, when we talk about that plural linguistic comment when it all comes back together, it may seem that this this podcast is talking about different things when we talk about employability, or life policies, or floral literacies, or plurilingualism. But it all comes down to that one thing and that’s making meaning in the classroom and meaning for what.

David 

We love that. Yeah, meaning for what? That’s right. I’m making meaning with that’s making meaning out of utterances as possible making meaning of language or the ability to communicate our thoughts effectively. And it seems to be the whole point of the exercise to is why are we spending hours and hours doing this? Well, the point was that you could communicate and get on with your life and it Express your deep thoughts or your feelings and make things happen in the way that you wanted them to. So it’s and we talked, you talked about empowering and enabling the the power, the empowerment that we’re able to give students, students in our classrooms often turn up they use the word or have a lot of time is doubt. And the doubt is uncertain about how to express myself in that moment in this moment. So what do I do, and at that point, it’s a very interesting moment isn’t because whatever choice they make, is probably the best choice. But given what they’ve got, given that they need to communicate, what are their thoughts, even with the degree of the degree of the intent is very real. But the production of that intent may be have a degree of a word of a degree of missed misperception or may communicate stuff in effectively, but it’s still communicate stuff in itself. And even though the, if the intent is clear, it’s easy for the other to establish what that intent might have been, and then substitute their meaning for, for the for the utterance of the other that was there was in a way imperfect, but we accept that and we love that at all levels as well at the highest level, as well as the as well as the learning level. I wanted to talk about a little bit about pronunciation. I’ve read a note earlier, because I’ve read them in terms of life comp, competencies, and speaking. So how do you see the learning of speaking in relation to life competencies, particularly things like how do you learn pronunciation and I just listened before we can all teach IPA, which I think is critical is that all our sounds? But how do we incorporate that into a learning opportunity that allows us to give us competency in life skills? How do we how do we go about that?

Alan 

What I like about the life competencies framework is that it does include communication. And again, we do take that for granted. Sometimes we just just because our students are opening their mouth and saying something does not necessarily mean they’re communicating. And I think that when we talk about what does pronunciation mean? It’s not just the sounds we make it is important, I think that we can distinguish sounds in the language. But a lot of times when we teach the IPA and stuff, I think that’s more of a listening activity than a production activity. Because a lot of things can get lost in the decoding of pronunciation. I do think that we need a standard, you know, sense of, of pronunciation models to listen from, so we can hear what language sounds like. So we’re understanding, you know, the spoken language correctly. But when it comes to speaking itself, I think that, you know, the implications are not just making the correct sounds. But did you sound the way you wanted to? I used to be an IELTS examiner. And I can tell you, you know, there were lots of times when, when people’s effect didn’t match what they were saying, even on the exam. And you wonder, is this a pronunciation feature? Because, you know, part of the things like on the IELTS, or even other Cambridge exams or exams that really care about the full features of pronunciation, you know, bring in intonation, and you know, talking about things like, why did you why did you stretch this word? Or why did you know what what does this imply when you do that? So at higher levels, the way that we change our speech, you know, when most English speaking environments matter, and have an impact on communication and not sounding flat? Not because it’s boring, but because meaning is embedded in that pronunciation. So I think what we have to do is, you know, think pronunciation, less as the sounds of English and more, what does it sound like when you’re polite? What does it sound like when you’re angry? One of my favorite activities? It’s a dictation, or I think, yeah, it’s more of a dialogue activity. And it comes from a book called dialog activities. And you just have students basically read a four passage dialogue a student, a, Student B, student, a says, watch this. Student B says, this is the frog. Student A says really? Are you sure? And then Student B says yes, I’m sure. But then you have them read it as if they’re surprised as if they’re angry, as if you know, as if their reaction and what what does that sound like, because that is the the communicative aspect of pronunciation. The second thing I would say, though, is you know, it pronunciation is something that becomes part of our own resource. You know, it’s not just sounding polite as a British person or an Australian or an American. It’s what does sounding polite sound like to you and honoring that as well? And what do I mean by honoring that it’s really talking about making sure that we’re not holding this to native English speaking norms. Everything we’ve done at Cambridge has stopped you know, taking as the native English speaking model, and really trying to get the idea of what can I call her my friend Su, Su e, a successful user of English do because this this model that we’re going for of pronunciation doesn’t have to be sounding American or British. It needs to be sounding you a person who can express themselves in English, whatever the EU is that sort of these ideas of politeness or anger go through but it doesn’t necessarily sound like Americans anger or British persons anger.

David 

Yeah, you sound you sound like an authentic American. That’s, I think, what, what, what you’ve done? Well, you pass the test. I think that was amazing must be repeated because we’re always looking for successful user of English because that really applies to all the language learning as well as like, congratulations, you’re now a successful user of English because you negotiated this period, period of whatever it was, we were doing effectively with language with English in terms of communication, learning from each other, and expressing ourselves clearly. And penetrate and beyond judgment as well, which is like, Oh, I didn’t sit here listening for errors. I didn’t sit here listening for things to correct it was a form of natural communication as well. So successful use of English and it needs to be repeated. And so is that your idea?

Alan 

Oh, absolutely not. I think I’ve stolen it from from a lot of different people. I really got onto this idea, not not, not just of English as a lingua franca. But you know, it’s really talking pronunciation and what does it mean? Have you know, Global English is? Really, if you’re if you’re interested in following this up, Jennifer Jenkins writes a lot on it. Andy Kirkpatrick in the region, these are two authors that I would really go up and, and really look for about what what does a successful user of English, you know, how do we how do we accommodate for, you know, linguistic variation in the classroom without saying one is right or wrong. And, and again, at the fundamental level, sometimes we overcomplicate things at the fundamental level language is either about a transaction or about information taking place. And if your transaction got got achieved, it was probably successful. That’s right now, if it got achieved, and you were rude, you may have got what you want. But it may not have been successful because of that idea of appropriateness. But But still, I mean, what you know, it is about redefining success, success is not sounding American, good heavens, you know, success is being able to do what you need to do with the language and the way you want to do it. And some people hear that and they think, yeah, but an academic English, there are rules, you know, especially if I’m teaching an essay, then the grammar matters. And you’re quite right, because a successful user of academic English must know these things, you know, but it doesn’t mean the somebody who wants you know, just a general I’m going to travel around, so I want some English for improved, but they don’t need to know everything that a successful user of academic English knows. So you know, our ideas of what is success for the individual, or for the group of learners I have in my class is important. It’s an important con context to remember.

David 

Perfect, thank you for elaborating on that, too. I’m going to ask what do you think are the greatest barriers to learning,

Alan 

The greatest barriers to learning I think, again, are sometimes with our own learners idea of of what learning is and keeping motivation high, you know, that they they come to us with great, great, you know, wishes and desires. And sometimes if they don’t feel that they’re making progress, it’s hard as a teacher to, to give that motivation to say stick with it. So I think that that is one of the barriers. And I think the ideas, you know, to keep the motivation high is to, you know, constantly remind them what they are going to be able to do when they can speak English or up to the level that they want. I think that also making sure that we provide the right level of challenge and support in the classroom, and whatever we’re environment that we are, you know, we don’t want to throw them in the deep end, but we don’t want to make them bored with the language learning and don’t feel the progress. I think that that is that is one of the key barriers to learning, we really confuse, you know, happiness with motivation sometimes, and motivation itself is what keeps you going. It’s not the house, it’s the I’m I’m achieving a goal and being clear of what the goal I have, and again, what my level of success is, I think another barrier to learning, especially as we went into online learning has to go with something called Gretel’s Maxim, where sometimes when we start introducing more technology, we tend to forget a lot of the ideas of good pedagogy. I mean, I think David Gretel says, you know, the cutting edge of pedagogy and the cutting edge of technology nearly never aligned. So you know, making sure that we haven’t forgotten what is good teaching in this online environment, that, you know, not letting the technology getting in the way of what we know works,

David 

The pedagogy should be ahead of the curve, you know.

Alan 

Exactly, exactly. That’s, that’s a barrier as well. And just the last thing I’d say, again, a lot of the barriers I think, are just breaking down what exists in learners own minds, this idea of, you know, taking away the idea of what is perfect because a lot of our learners around the world. I know. They they don’t want to speak they don’t want to do anything and we think it’s because they’re shy, but somehow they’ve gotten their idea that if what I’m saying you is not perfect, and I shouldn’t say anything at all. And and really making sure that we’re taking their utterances and where we’re trying to make them a little bit better or more confident, we’re not trying to make them perfect, because again, you’re not trying to be perfect, you’re trying to be effective and successful. And looking at that as the goal. I’d say that the C two level of the Common European Framework of Reference is not perfection.

David 

Well where, where is it on the road to perfection? Where do you see, I think it’s really interesting because enabling students to be wrong is one of the I think one of the most powerful teaching tools where we will be called wrong means please make errors otherwise, we’re not learning, or we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to learn as well. So that matching particularly early early confidence learners as well. And we know that even beginner a beginner level, students can communicate enormous amounts of information with a limited amount of language. And that’s the phenomenon itself. So in my experience, and that, yeah, those language level learners at a level are, in fact, extraordinary learners, extraordinary uses of language and highly efficient in some ways, because they can communicate quite sophisticated thinking and in communication with a relatively limited number of amount of tools, tools in the in the kit. And we really appreciate the way that they can actually can work highly effectively. But to allow that

Alan 

 I’m getting some static coming from I think it’s

David 

I think it’s me from the microphone, I think it’s actually I think it’s me exhausting. My thought, trying to follow yours, I think enabled. The static is my mind, the enabling students to be wrong is one of the most is a very powerful thing and to gain give confidence. So students say I have doubts, they really do mean they’ve got doubts about the choices of language they’re using, where they’re making the right choices. They also have doubts about whether they can say what it is that they want to say in that context, as well. And most often, they’re right to say it, rather than to not say it. So to give an I remember, when I was doing my deployment of education at the University of Wollongong, the instructors, the instructor who was an old teacher who was battered by teaching and loved it, but like you and me, some that most of the time, said to create opportunities for success. And it’s what you were saying was that the learning process is set up to enable the students to be successful, at the end, it is what it is that we’re learning how to do?

Alan 

Well, I’d be happy with their doubts. I mean, you don’t go see a doctor when you’re sick. I mean, so you go see a doctor, when you’re sick, you don’t see a doctor, when you’re, well, you don’t go to an English class, if you feel like your English is perfect. So I mean, you should have doubts. This is the place for doubts. And this is the place where we fix those doubts, not the place where I judge you and say, let me give you a test. And why haven’t you achieved this yet? Why haven’t Why haven’t you learned what I taught? You know, it is a place for doubts. And it’s the it’s the place where the doubts dissipate. That’s what the classroom is. And so I think that that’s, you know, very much key again, and the attitudes that teachers have towards the students, you know, they come to us asking them, you know, do we do give them the confidence, not in the fake praise of like, good job, but in the saying, in that showing of the progress, and hey, you have a doubt, it’s great. You do. And personally speaking, I’m glad you have doubts, because it keeps me as a teacher employed. You know, that’s, that’s it, we should want them to have doubts. But how do we handle it? How do we give that confidence? It’s in making it that safe space and saying, I’m glad you do? Education, it to me, again, is a very simple definition. It’s anytime that we’re changed by an experience. And I think that sometimes teachers, you know, they they go away from a classroom and they feel like everybody did this. Everybody did that. It was a great class. We didn’t have any any problems. They did everything. And they could use the language. And I’m, I’m glad that we have that experience sometimes. But in the back of my mind, when I hear a teacher say that, I’m worried did any learning happen? Did any change happen? Were they changed by the experience? Or did they just express what they could already do? Because they may have had a great lesson. Now, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that we have to have some new language point every time. Even the acknowledgement of hey, I’m more fluent, even the acknowledging that feeling of hey, I just did something and I know I did. Well, that change in the learners mindset about themselves is education. Because it is anytime that we’re changed by an experience, that change can be knowledge or that change can be the effect of change. And that’s important to look for as teachers as well. And again, how does it affect us practically? It affects us in the feedback we give making sure that we’re giving feedback on all the experience of the lesson, not just on Hey, you use the grammar well.

David 

Wow, Alan, this has been an amazing we’re just about up to the hour mark and teachers love to hear teachers and thank you so much, again for being clear in your thinking and ability to express it. And I know you get praised all the time, it must hurt your head after a while. But thank you from doesn’t hurt your head. If it does, it shouldn’t as an American know where we ran it. And we I am sitting here thinking of our other teachers, and I know individually that we will be very grateful for your insight, we need inspiration, and we need to hear these thoughts that you have expressed clearly so that we can follow through on them because we agree with so much of it already. So, and we’re also brought forward because you’ve consolidated it clearly for us as well. So really, really thank you. It’s been

Alan 

I do appreciate it, David, and thank you for saying it was clear. I know sometimes people say you know, it seems more theoretical, you know, when does it get practical, but I will also remind people that nothing is more practical than a good theory. And again, it’s how you fit it to you and how you how you shape it, so I hope we got that out of that as well.

Outro

And that’s it! Thanks for listening to E2 Talks! Make sure to follow E2 on LinkedIn for our most recent updates and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast.

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