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More than Just a Funny Word: Teaching English and the Charm of the Dictogloss

in Professional Development

Have you heard of dictogloss? If your answer is no, don’t worry. In this post, I’m going to describe the procedure, list its benefits and potential pitfalls and finally show you a practical example of how I used dictogloss with a Business English class. Perhaps when you finish reading, you’ll be triggered to give it a go!

 

My face when asked “Why aren’t you dictogloss-ing yet?” and when told “Illustrate Dictogloss

What is dictogloss?

Also called grammar dictation, dictogloss is a task-based procedure that involves reconstruction of a dictated text while trying to capture the information content as accurately as possible (see Wajnryb, 2013). The text could be dictated twice according to the author, but I usually dictate it three times for better results.

Here is a suggested procedure:

  1. Preparation: a lead-in that activates previous knowledge and prepares learners for the listening.
  2. Dictation: the teacher reads a passage or plays a recording three times. First, learners listen for the main idea. The second time, they listen and take notes. The third time, they expand on their notes.
  3. Reconstruction: learners work in groups, compare their notes and reconstruct the text together.
  4. Analysis and correction: learners write their texts on the board and get feedback from the teacher. Alternatively, they get a copy of the original text and compare it to their version.
  5. The discovery step, added by Wilson (2003) is when learners reflect on their errors and become more aware of their linguistic gaps.

Why should I use dictogloss?

To begin with, it’s interactive and collaborative. Text reconstruction, analysis and discovery is a sequence that enables learners to notice their linguistic gaps. This means there is minimum teacher intervention, which is crucial; ideally, we want to step back and promote learner autonomy when teaching adults.

Another benefit of dictogloss is that it helps practise all four skills. Here’s how:

Listening is practised during the dictation AND when learners are interacting later. They are listening to each other and meaningfully trying to communicate, which is why we should have an English-only rule here.
• They practise note-taking (writing) when listening, as well as spelling, syntax and sentence structure when reconstructing the text.
Speaking is common when they are interacting with each other negotiating meaning and putting the text together.
• Finally, they’ll be reading a lot as they compare their own texts to the source texts.

Moreover, although it was introduced as a grammar dictation, dictogloss can help students improve their knowledge of lexis and phonology. For example, it can enable noticing and learning collocations, binomials, trinomials or other lexical chunks; furthermore, learners are likely to repeat the whole chunk as an item in the reconstruction phase. Finally, as Wilson (2003) wrote, dictogloss raises awareness of features of connected speech and other fast speech phenomena, helping learners compare the written to spoken form.

An example of dictoglossing

“Looks good on paper, but how can I actually use it??”, you might ask.

Here’s how I used it to introduce grammatical collocations for describing trends, a language point that often comes up when you’re teaching business English classes. For those who are not familiar with the terms, collocations are “predictable combinations of words” (Lewis, 2009:51), and grammatical specifies that they include both content (e.g. verbs, nouns etc) and grammar words (e.g. prepositions). In this lesson some grammatical collocations were: peaked at, dropped by, levelled off.

I chose a graph, but you can use charts, or any other visual content that might be used in presentations. Most of the time, you can find them and the relevant texts in coursebooks or authentic materials. (Or how about an infographic? Read our article here for more inspiration! – Ed.)

Just follow these simple steps…

I then followed these steps 1-5:

Step 1: As a lead-in, students tried to make sense of the graph and what it is about. Then, they did some brainstorming, e.g., think how they would describe what they see in their own words.

Step 2: I read the text that described the trends depicted in the chart. I told them it was someone’s notes when describing these trends in their presentation. Remember you can also play it as an audio clip. They followed the steps as mentioned above.

  • Listen once to get the main idea. No need to take notes.
  • Listen again and take some notes.
  • Listen one more time and expand on your notes.

Step 3: Students formed groups of 3 or 4, compared their notes and reconstructed the text together.

Step 4: Finally, I projected the text on the whiteboard. They compared it to theirs and noticed their errors. You can also give them a copy of the text if you cannot project it.

Step 5: I elicited which parts they found difficult. Some of their gaps included unfamiliarity with the content words (peak, drop), or the prepositions they collocate with (at, by, off), as well as the weak forms of the preposition in fast speech.

(Extension): Focus on form, meaning and pronunciation. I usually extend this stage with some practice activities. For example, I asked learners to copy the form of the collocations in their notebooks. Then I asked them to categorise these collocations depending on what they describe:

  • upward trend
  • downward trend
  • stability

Finally, I highlighted stress and any connected speech happening between words.

Apply and Practice

Next, I gave my students new graphs and charts, and asked them to practise using the phrases they had learned.

Things to consider:

  • Avoid using texts that are too long. I think 5-8 lines is sufficient.
  • It might be challenging (though not impossible) to use dictogloss with lower levels. I actually taught an entire A2 course using dictogloss and my students loved it. I advise you to explain the term and procedures of dictogloss in L1 the first time you set it up. Then, every time you want to use it, just say let’s do dictogloss, and they’ll know what it is.
  • In monolingual classes, students might rely on their L1 during the text reconstruction stage, so I often set an English-only rule. It’s also a great way to practice language for authentic communication like: What did you hear? What did you write in…? I heard something else. I’m not sure, etc.

 

Wow! Dictogloss!
(Ed’s note – this stock image model is fantastic!)

Over to you

What do you think? Will you give dictogloss a try?

Or have you used any of the other techniques in our Journal, such as Motivating Students with Rhythm and Rhyme?

Let us know in the comments!

***

References

Lewis, M., 2009.Teaching collocation. Hove: Language Teaching Publ.

Wajnryb, R., 2013. RBT: Grammar Dictation. Oxford University Press.

Wilson, J., 2008. How To Teach Listening. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Longman

Focusing on the Positives: How to Give Motivational Feedback to Language Students and Clients

in Professional Development

Giving feedback is one of the most underrated parts of language teaching, especially when it’s supportive and motivational. Peter Ryan explains how to use positive feedback to propel your students and clients to achieve their learning goals faster and with more fun.

I didn’t use to do feedback very much in my formative years, or didn’t know how to do it, apart from a few throwaway comments here and there: “Good job” and “Well done”. When I did start to give feedback, I would just copy what other teachers were doing: highlighting errors on the board and asking students to correct them at the end of the lesson.

Today, I deliver feedback very differently to how I was taught back then. While completing my Delta, I worked very closely with students and their output, making them feel proud about what they had produced while enjoying the process of listening to or reading their ideas in real-time.

Giving feedback to my students and clients is now an integral part of my lessons, and something I cherish about being a teacher. It is a time when learning is very meaningful for students and a time when progress can be quite tangible.

 

 

WHEN to give feedback to students

Knowing when to give feedback to your students is key. Giving feedback at the end of the lesson can be useful as it leaves the students feeling warm and motivated. They are walking out of the lesson knowing their teacher listened to their ideas and helped them in certain areas (or highlighted their strengths).

With this idea of students’ well-being and energy in mind, it’s also good to give feedback directly after a student’s speaking practice as it spurs them on to take more risks during the rest of the lesson. I like to work on fluency at the start of the lesson and as much as possible throughout. After a good chunk of speaking time, feedback takes 4-8 minutes to get through.

Once they get used to this method, students approach speaking tasks in various, experimental ways: trying to sound natural, focusing on accuracy, extending their ideas, working on active listening, and so on. For these approaches to work, your students need to have a strong task to dive into.

Real-time benefits

Another reason to give feedback directly after they have worked on their output is that the ideas will still be fresh in their memory.

Immediate correction can also be useful mid-speaking, especially when students need your help or if a communication breakdown has occurred. It’s up to you if you want to disrupt their flow of speech to correct a persistent error. I would wait until they have completed their idea, as it may be more memorable to them.

For writing, as well as giving feedback after a completed draft, I like to give students time to write a little before I go and check on them. I check to see if they are practicing the target language (I don’t force it though), adhering to the genre conventions, and making general comments about the content. This helps the students to understand and get more comfortable with the idea that writing is a process.

WHO should give feedback

Culturally speaking, some students will expect their teacher to be the one, and only one, to give feedback. However, there are advantages to getting the students to give feedback to each other once you’ve trained them how to do so. A transferable skill like this is something they may need to practice for the corporate world, for instance, a team-lead giving feedback to their teammates. Students will benefit from practicing to find the strengths and weaknesses in their peers’ work. They will have a fair idea of what to look for if the lesson has a particular aspect of language as a focal point. Students who are particularly good at this will look for things outside of this focus.

Another caveat to teachers giving feedback is that students often don’t believe them, especially when it comes to highlighting their strengths. Hearing feedback from their peers, from multiple angles also, will give them encouragement that their language capabilities are stronger than they think. Everyone can’t be wrong in the class when they have received objective feedback.

It is also worth getting the students to reflect on their own work. This gets the students to think deeply about the thinking or coding process they undertake while they are speaking. Also, the feelings they express enable the teacher to unlock what’s going on in the student’s head. This metacognitive activity can be very enlightening for all involved. Again, it takes time for students to get used to this practice, but being a reflective practitioner is a pretty outstanding skill to have in the business world.

WHAT to feedback to your students

Grammar will be high on the list for students, as well as mistakes. However, there is so much more to focus on: all four language systems – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and discourse – the strengths and areas to work on, and how to change, develop and extend ideas in different ways. I live by these criteria and have noticed slow and steady improvements in my students in terms of output, energy, and motivation.

Grammar

When focusing on grammar, of course, feedback their control of the target language being practiced in the lesson, but also include items of language that have been covered already (or what was covered in previous levels), so it feels as if language isn’t being restricted. It’s up to you to include items of language that you haven’t covered in your courses yet. If you feel the other students would benefit from something a student had said, it could make that student feel incredibly proud of their work. I wouldn’t correct anything the student hasn’t covered yet as that wouldn’t be fair.

One final thing on grammar: I don’t point out to students that an item of language is a typical mistake or a false friend, as some students want to think in their L2. To illustrate an example of this, my German teacher said to me not to confuse ‘man’ in Deutsch with ‘man’ in English. However, I had never made this error and like to approach words as they are in Deutsch. I don’t think, “Oh, that’s an English word”. But, because the teacher had now made it salient to me, I might make this error in the future. My teacher was making generalisations about certain language learners which weren’t true for me. I’d imagine a number of other language learners also approach learning in this way.

Vocabulary

For vocabulary, feedback as much as you can – highlight their strengths and what needs improving, too: highlight rare lexis, word combinations, phrasal verbs used, and so on. Doing so can create a learning opportunity for the other students. They can learn new or recycle old language that their peers are using. This is what I love about my job now: I enjoy listening to my students and showing them what I loved about their ideas. Students are also interested in what their friends had said so I give them this opportunity.

Pronunciation

Pronunciation, which is often out there in the development wilderness, can have its day in the sun if focused properly. Try to feedback strengths and weaknesses in areas such as word stress, pitch movement manipulation, final consonant sounds, and so on. Any pronunciation areas that affect meaning construction will get the students to focus on them at the same level as grammar and vocabulary.

Discourse

Discourse is particularly important for business students. Give them feedback on how well they transition from speaker to listener and vice-versa. How do they react to ideas? How do they build conversations? Do they reference forwards and backwards? Things like this can get the students to think long and hard about their conversations with others. They can also give the students a lot of confidence when navigating these contexts.

Mistakes

While mistakes are important to feedback, so are strengths. Your students need to know that what they are saying is working. Focusing on the positives can energize and propel them forward to work on something new, make them not play it safe, and take risks. Saying to the students, “Your grammar had good control in most parts today, but, here, you said ‘must can do’ when you have to say…’ isn’t fair; what was well-controlled about the grammar? It is better to show them exactly how good their grammar was. This leads us to:

HOW to deliver feedback

Using the board can be great as the students have a record of their work. However, the board only has so much space, and ink can be hard to come by. Besides, if the ink is too faint, if the writing is not big enough for those sitting at the back of the room, or if they strain to see what you have written, they will switch off.

An easy workaround: digital feedback

For all my students and clients, I thus use Google Docs which show them clearly what they have done in each language system, all colour coded.

Green represents good control or rare use of the language. Improvements are shown via a correctional arrow – here I like to show the error beside its correction to make things memorable. Finally, I recast, reformulate or show synonymous utterances in blue.

I use the document as a base for further discussion on their ideas. I might probe them to teach the other students the words they used, think of synonyms, think of formal or informal equivalents to words, think about the connotations of words, and so on.

Students can take this feedback and access it anywhere. They never lose it either as they can hit the ‘last edit’ button at the top to check the document’s history. I always advise students to transfer the language they like into their notebooks that evening to promote revision strategies. This document works well for online classes and one-to-one classes. Of course, it’s also suitable for face-to-face group classes – the students just need to scan the QR code for the document (you can find it in the URL).

Going digital then eliminates all the problems outlined above with regard to board work. Moreover, it allows you to write a lot more feedback and enjoy your job listening to the students’ work in a positive way.

The same goes for writing. I give them an online portfolio to add their entries or work on their drafts. Feedback is similar to speaking but with writing I also add comments to their document to give the students an opportunity to correct their work or just to give them praise when control of the language was particularly good.

 

Students normally take this feedback into their next draft or new writing which they enter into the same document. Students never lose their work either which can be true with paper.

I hope this article has helped and best of luck with your feedback sessions with your students.

***

 

From the Classroom to the Streets: How Easy English brings Real Language to Learners

in Professional Development

As hosts of the Easy English YouTube channel, Mitch and Isi are always eager to scratch that learning-language itch – and as fans of their work we were itching to find out more about their story. Kit Flemons reached out for an interview with the team taking spoken English off the streets…

Check out their channel here!

What is – and who are – Easy English?

So, first, could you tell us a bit about the Easy Languages project?

Easy Languages is a network that aims to help people learn languages through authentic street interviews and conversations. Since its beginning over 15 years ago, it’s become a huge franchise spanning over 40 languages, it aims to make videos and podcast episodes freely accessible for everyone, creating a mutual learning experience.

And yourselves, Mitch and Isi – could you introduce yourselves to our readers?

Mitch is one of the hosts and the editor of Easy English. Mitch has a degree in sound technology and worked as a lighting designer and theatre technician for 10 years before moving into film, where he started as a video editor. He is a self-proclaimed film nerd and comedy fan and was introduced to Easy Languages by Isi who planted the seed to start Easy English together.

Isi, an events manager at the time, volunteered with Easy German early on and was later brought in full-time to join her sister Cari and Janusz, who started Easy Languages. With a passion for British culture, music and nature, Isi eventually moved to England where she met Mitch and they opened the Easy English YouTube channel. For German, she’s a regular host of the ‘Super Easy German’ episodes and manages the Publishing Community team.

How to Make Videos and Influence People

What is the foundation that you build upon when making new videos?

The main foundations for our videos may seem self-indulgent, but they are always ideas or topics that we, ourselves, find funny, curious, challenging or interesting. And we hope that by doing that, our content is more engaging and our audience is able to see that we enjoy and relish the opportunity to make that type of episode or ask that kind of question.

For the home-style videos, it’s always a narrative idea that comes first and then comes figuring out how to work in a grammatical/cultural aspect to it. And lastly, for the interviews, we’re always interested in current affairs and cultural norms.

A YouTube channel is obviously a pretty new medium, but technology is still evolving rapidly. Which direction do you see language learning going in?

Well right now, Easy Languages is taking on the podcast universe, including Easy English; we intend to start our own podcast by the end of the summer, with interactive learning material for our members. But it’s hard to tell where things are going. Mitch owns some VR goggles and the technology is still relatively basic when you compare it to modern gaming consoles and the latest visual effects.

But perhaps digital learning will become possible through VR; you could join us on a filming day along the seafront perhaps, or in a virtual Easy Languages classroom. Or alternatively, we could come to you! How would you like an Easy English hologram in your living room?!

Lights, Camera, Learning!

Your videos are very professional! What equipment do you need to start a YouTube channel?

There are requirements for becoming an Easy Languages co-producer. However, unlike most YouTube channels, where the focus is mostly on the visuals, we’d say a good microphone is the most important part of creating language learning content. Easy English owns a DSLR camera, two microphones (host and interviewee), some LED panel lights and a laptop with editing software – all of which are relatively affordable.

What We Don’t See…

What is the behind-the-scenes work like?

Well, Easy English’s team consists of us, Mitch and Isi – but we are supported by the Easy Languages team and the entire network of other Easy Languages channels. We discuss episode titles, thumbnails, technical issues and share personal experiences and tips and tricks of the trade. Internally, we have a long list of ideas/questions we’ve thought of or that viewers have suggested. So, after a quick team meeting/dog walk, we head out onto the streets and start filming.

An Easy English episode can take between 2 and 4 hours to film, depending on how many people are around us, and then Mitch will edit and transcribe the video. Using the final episode we publish on YouTube, we create not only our social media content, but also the learning perks for our official Easy English members.

How many people must you interview per video? How many do you edit out?

To be honest, we’re a bit spoilt at Easy English. We are located in Brighton, on the south coast, and it’s an amazing city, filled with interesting, welcoming, creative and often eccentric individuals. Most people here tend to have a creative side hustle, so are always more than happy to help out with other creative projects. If you can only visit one place in Britain, it has to be Brighton – we couldn’t recommend it enough!

Keeping with the Times

What is your most popular video… and why? 

As English is a common language, it means we have the advantage of being able to work with all the other teams across the Easy Languages multiverse. So, we’ve made a few collaborations with the teams. Most notably, our English pronunciation videos. We all put a lot of effort into making this video and it also meant Mitch got to create his own 80’s-inspired montage scene, including all the essential elements – corny acting, unnecessary workout scene, freeze frame introductions, helicopter chase and guitar solo!

From www to ABC

ELTABB is a community of English teachers in Berlin/Brandenburg. Do you have any tips for using your videos in the classroom? (Or as the basis for homework?)

Well… now that you mention it, Easy English has a platform for our official Easy English members! You can go to easyenglish.video/membership each week to find learning extras for each and every episode that we’ve produced. So for example, if your students are beginners or intermediate learners, you can watch the episode and read along using the transcript and the vocabulary helper sheet – it gives you definitions for the complicated words, phrases and slang used.

Or, if they’re advanced learners and want to test their listening skills, we offer the video without subtitles and an MP3 audio file of the episode as a download. And then once they feel confident, they can test their skills using our worksheet, which has you filling in the blanks and finding the odd-ones-out from multiple-choice questions.

We additionally sell licenses of our content if you want to use the episodes for your own learning purposes. If you’re interested in licenses or have questions about our learning material, please contact us at mitch@easyenglish.video
We’d also just love to hear from any teacher or school that watches and supports our channel.

And finally… do you have any big plans for the future?

Well, as we mentioned, we have a podcast out soon, which also comes with its own specific learning extras, including an interactive transcript that translates the text into a huge variety of different languages. We also intend to do a tour of Britain and the British Isles to pick up on the expansive diversity of accents, dialects and cultural norms that exist on our island.

***

Inside IATEFL – A Peek into the Associates’ Day 2022

in Professional Development

IATEFL associate members are groups who are affiliated to the organisation and agree to act as ambassadors. In return, they get certain benefits, including one free place at the IATEFL conference – on condition that the delegate attends the Associates’ Day. This year I was lucky enough to be the ELTAU representative.

Rachel at the Associates’ Day

It was my first time at an IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference and the first time I really began to understand what the Associates’ community looks like.

It soon became apparent that Germany is somewhat of an anomaly: most other attendees seemed to be representing a country group. A few examples:

  • English Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh
  • Croatian Association of Teachers of English
  • Nile TESOL Egypt
  • IATEFL Hungary
  • Association of English Teachers in Iceland
  • the Japan Association for Language Teaching
  • TEFL Kuwait
  • IATEFL Peru

Meanwhile, I was there representing the regional association ELTAU – alongside board members of ELTAS, ELTAF, HELTA and ELTA Rhine. A definite German presence!

Another factor that seemed to set us apart from the majority of the other attendees was that their Associations work primarily with school teachers. Moreover, many have co-operations with government ministries or receive grants from state bodies. German regional ELTAs on the other hand are mostly self-funding and have a large proportion of self-employed members, I would say.

We were led through the day by Jean Theuma, the Associate Representative on the IATEFL board. The programme had several elements:

  • Get-to-know-you activities in small groups
  • Brainstorming and collating answers to a set of questions about the needs of more and less experienced teachers and how our organisations can attract, retain and nurture them
  • A poster presentation from three of the Associations in attendance
  • Spoken presentations from some of the Associations. They introduced
    themselves and particular aspects of their work or highlights from the year
  • News from the IATEFL board and a look ahead to changes afoot

The spoken presentations highlighted the variety of contexts, scale and creative ideas that the different Associations embody. It was quite amazing to hear about activities from national conferences, to summer camps focussed on Irish culture, to a members’ hall of fame, to round tables and peer-reviewed writing.

Some IATEFL News

At the end of the day, Jean gave a presentation to fill us in on the current activities of the organisation.

IATEFL:

  • has 40 associate members
  • intends to collaborate more closely with the British Council over the
    coming months
  • plans to offer more opportunities to Associates for funding and networking
    and would like to encourage more activity from Associate Members in the IATEFL Voices newsletter

She also informed us of something which affects Associate organisations directly:

IATEFL has revised its guidelines on branding, and will no longer allow local associations to include the acronym ‘IATEFL’ in their title. She outlined the reasons and assured everyone that there was a two-year transition phase and support from IATEFL would be available. For some associations, however, the news came as somewhat of a bombshell as it will require them to change their names.

I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to participate in this day, and indeed the whole conference. As it was still relatively small compared to previous years, I bumped into several of the Associate members over the course of the next four days and they felt like familiar faces. One contact made at the Associates’ Day has led to a workshop in collaboration with ELTA Rhine in the autumn.

Personal contact really is worth a great deal!

***

If you’d like to find out more about how the organisation works, check out the IATEFL website.
Follow this link for upcoming IATEFL events.

 

shadow of a head with puzzle pieces
Photo credit: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Dealing with Differences: Navigating the Neurodiverse Language Classroom

in Professional Development

What is neurodiversity and how does it affect language learning? How can we identify learners who may have specific learning differences and what should we do then? And perhaps most importantly: How do we deal with differences in a neurodiverse classroom?

Neurodiversity is a convenient term for the whole range of cognitive differences that we might find in our classroom. As a species, we humans are neurodiverse. That is, we all have slightly different cognitive profiles, so that some of us find some things more difficult than others do.

There are some individuals who seem noticeably different from their peers, and these people may have a specific learning difference (SpLD), such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. SpLDs are best thought of as different ways of perceiving the world, processing information and interpreting sensory input. They are not illnesses, or disorders – just differences.

The most commonly identified SpLDs are:

  • dyslexia
  • dyspraxia
  • dyscalculia
  • AD(H)D
  • autism

They affect language learning in different ways, but there is a lot of overlap and common ground between them, too. Here is a list of key characteristics and common features of these SpLDs:

How can we identify learners with specific learning differences and what should we do then?

If we notice that a learner is  displaying some of the characteristics laid out in the table above, it might be a clue that we might need to keep a closer eye on them, and perhaps start to do some further exploration to identify their barriers to learning.

Observation is the key to recognising which learners may be experiencing difficulties. It’s something that all teachers do – even subconsciously – so that we can manage the classroom: knowing who is likely to start tasks first, who will want to ask a lot of questions before they begin, who will finish first, and who will be easily distracted.

It is helpful to make a note of any unexpected behaviours that we notice so that we can see if they are just a one-off or if they are patterns that may indicate a long-term issue. We can ask other members of staff to share their perspectives and see if the same issues arise in other contexts, outside of our classroom.

If, after a short period of observation, an SpLD is suspected, an informal conversation with the student would be helpful to find out how they see the situation and reassure them that we are going to do whatever we can to support them.

We could ask about their home life, how they are enjoying their English course (and other subjects) and whether they or anybody else in their family has ever experienced these kinds of difficulties before. This may be a way to open the conversation about possible screening, or further assessment.

Doing some detective work

In order to determine if it is an SpLD or just a temporary situation brought about by physical or mental ill health (e.g. stress, anxiety) there are certain things we need to consider. We should try to find out as much as possible about:

  • the student’s background
  • their literacy development
  • their memory
  • their speed of processing
  • their phonological processing

We can start to gather information about the student and their background through observation and conversation. A questionnaire, where they answer questions about previous educational and life experiences, could help make this more concrete. This could cover elements of cognitive function such as memory, speed of processing and phonological processing, which might tie in with the information gathered through observation in the classroom setting.

There may be a person in your school or college who is responsible for supporting learners with SpLDs, and it would be helpful to work with them to decide the best way forward. Using the screening tool ‘Cognitive Assessments for Multilingual Learners’ (available from the ELT well website) can be a useful means of gathering all of this information, and also of making sense of what the data is indicating.

Formal assessment is not always necessary if the teacher is able to adapt to the learners’ different ways of working.

How do we deal with differences in a neurodiverse classroom?

This is the question that many teachers find most challenging, as there are so many ways that learners can be different. As noted at the beginning of this article, we are a neurodiverse species!

The key is to try to implement inclusive teaching practices in as many ways as possible, thinking about the learning environment, the materials you are using and the tasks you set, and most importantly, the relationships that are encouraged in the class.

Classroom environment

Remembering that some learners may be very sensitive to the physical environment, it is good practice to check that everyone is happy with the temperature in the room, as well as the lighting, noise levels, the equipment available and the layout of the furniture.

There may not be much that teachers can do about some of these things, but at least indicating that you are aware of these barriers can make learners feel more included, and cope better with some discomfort. Bringing their issues to the attention of the school management may result in changes that would benefit everybody.

Materials and tasks

Not all teachers are able to choose which materials are used on a course, but where possible, it is helpful to choose handouts or books that have a very clear layout. Images over text make it hard to read, and too much information on a page can be daunting. If the characters broadly represent the members of the group, that can be very motivating.

But the key with any materials is the way in which they are used.

Teachers may want to supplement coursebooks with additional resources or pick out key activities to focus on. Ideally, learners would be led through a section of new material in small steps, securing each bit with lots of recapping and revising before moving on. Incorporating multisensory activities that engage multiple senses at once is useful for this.

Explicit instructions and feedback are crucial, and getting learners to reflect on their learning is a valuable tool in developing self-awareness of their own learning processes.

Relationships

Good relationships between the teacher and the students, as well as between the students, are fundamental to any inclusive classroom. Creating opportunities for everyone to get to know and understand each other (and themselves) leads to greater levels of respect, acceptance and a sense of group belonging. It allows teachers to make better choices when putting students into pairs or groups so that students can bring out the best in each other.

It is the teacher’s job to create a nurturing environment for all learners, and to model the kind of supportive behaviours that we would want the whole class to adopt. This could mean looking for the positives and drawing attention to them (“Great idea!” “You really listened to your partner in that activity”,“I’m really pleased you came in time for the start of today’s lesson”) so that learners who are normally on the back foot (or always in trouble) can feel good about themselves, and about learning.

Stay positive, and have faith in your learners’ abilities to find their own strategies to cope with your class. Most importantly, show that you believe in them so that they can believe in themselves.

***

Suggested resources

Evens, M. & Smith, A.M. (2019) Language Learning and Musical Activities Morecambe: ELT well [available from www.matthewevensmusic.com or www.ELTwell.com]

Kormos, J. and Smith, A.M. (2012) Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Smith, A.M (2015) Cognitive Assessments for Multilingual Learners. Lancaster: ELT well. [Available from www.ELTwell.com]

Smith, A.M. (2017) Including Dyslexic Language Learners. Lancaster: ELT well [available from www.ELTwell.com]

Smith, A.M. (Ed.) (2020) Activities for Inclusive Language Teaching: valuing diversity in the ELT classroom. London; Delta Publishing

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