Know how to perform as and for an audience

I’ve been attending concerts in the Edinburgh Festival, back onstage again this year in open-air venues with careful social distancing. Many of the performers are visibly moved to be back in front of a live audience again. One aspect of the Festival programming I’m really enjoying is the mix of classical music, folk and jazz. I’ve been struck by the different ways that audiences are expected to – or allowed to – interact with the players in these different musical genres. One really noticeable difference is when you are allowed to clap. In folk and jazz it’s OK to clap whenever the performer stops playing, even if it’s halfway through a set, but don’t dare do this in classical concerts. You’re only expected to clap once a complete piece (sonata, concerto, symphony, song cycle) has reached the final movement. So if you don’t know the particular piece you’re listening to, which is quite likely because the performers like to try out more obscure pieces, you have to guess when they’ve reached the end. Sometimes they have to help you by getting up from the piano stool or putting down their instruments as a signal that you can clap.

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The power of PowerPoint

Is it time to unplug the PowerPoint for more genuine learning tot ake place?

In my early teaching career, I met a colleague who explained that you only need three things to teach: a piece of chalk, a watch and a hanky (to blow your nose). This minimalist approach found expression in Scott Thornbury’s Dogme Approach in the late nineties and noughties – borrowing the tenets of Lars von Trier’s Dogme approach to film making. At that time, Thornbury and colleagues were responding to a flood of materials: coursebook, video, online, that seemed to get in the way of learning:

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Teach to the target rather than to the level

Following on from my last blog post about the difference between ELT and EAP in terms of classroom delivery, I wanted to think about that difference in terms of syllabus design. If, as I contend, EAP lessons should be aimed appropriately at the maturity of students, deliver lesson outcomes efficiently for time-poor students and be challenging rather than simply enjoyable, what are the implications for syllabus design?

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How is EAP teaching different from ELT?

Communicative activities have to be purposeful and efficient timewise.

At a recent seminar on EAP teacher competencies, one of the delegates asked how teaching EAP is different from teaching general English. My immediate response was to refer to the constructive alignment between learning aims, content and assessment (Biggs, n.d.) because I assume that EAP teaching has to be driven by a deep understanding of students’ needs in their target context (Gillett, 2011). However, in clarifying his meaning, the questioner referred to activities and techniques that a teacher can use in the classroom. Are the kinds of communicative activities used in an ELT classroom now redundant? I wrote a previous blog related to this issue but in this one I wanted to focus on the assumptions about communicative classroom practice in EAP and ELT that underlie this question.

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Professional development and the role of BALEAP

Professional development in an EAP career

I have just been given honorary membership of BALEAP: the global forum for EAP professionals. I’m delighted to have received this recognition because BALEAP has played such an important role in my professional development from my very early days of EAP teaching. This organization has provided me with access to a large network of like-minded individuals and given me opportunities, through Professional Issues Meetings (PIMs) and biennial conferences, to test my developing scholarship against expert audiences. Later in my EAP career I became involved with the BALEAP executive committee and its working parties, as TEAP Officer, then Chair of BALEAP and of the Accreditation Scheme.

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BALEAP2021 conference selections

A personal selection of presentations from the BALEAP 2021 conference hosted online by the University of Glasgow.

I’ve been attending the BALEAP biennial conference, hosted online this year by the University of Glasgow: Exploring pedagogical approaches in EAP teaching. While I was still teaching, I would have been looking for presentations that helped me to reflect on my materials development and classroom practice. Now I’m retired I have the luxury of sitting back to take a wider view so I have been more interested in talks that stimulate reflection back over my 27 years as a teacher, materials writer and scholarly explorer of underlying principles for my practice.

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Study Skills vs Study Competence

Trust your students to know about and be curious about their discipline.

I recently read a new take on an old problem in a blog written by my friend and former colleague, Nick Pilcher, and his co-author Kendall Richards. They deconstruct the generic concept of study skills, a label used by many but understood by few. Nick and Kendall call study skills a Tinkerbell concept: ‘a nostrum that people believe in as providing a magic cure for all ‘student ills’ (sic) but which only exists if people believe in it’. They argue that ‘study skills’ in general don’t exist because each discipline requires specific skills. It’s not study skills you need to be able to write well in a discipline but subject knowledge and the guidance of subject lecturers.

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They have to talk and you have to listen

The importance of collaborative conversations in online classrooms

I used to repeat this mantra to a rather garrulous colleague who taught translation studies in the languages department where I worked. He was a larger than life character who liked to entertain his students with personal anecdotes of his many adventures in far flung locations. We collaborated on short English courses for interpreters who wanted to improve their spoken fluency and repeating the mantra seemed to be the only way to make him stop and think about his impact on student learning. Now we’re seeing an analogous situation in the recorded online lessons from the Pre-sessional programme in 2020 that my colleagues, Sue Argent and Judith Gorham, and I are analyzing. We find some of the teachers spend the short (one hour) synchronous sessions talking most of the time. Students stay silent or contribute one or two-word responses in the chat function. Indeed one of the more experienced teachers, who has taught on the programme for over 15 years commented in his evaluation: ‘I found myself monologuing and not being able to stop doing this’.

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Should EAP teachers read research?

In order to compete in the EAP field, teachers need to be able to read research.

I recently attended an online discussion of the IATEFL Research Special Interest Group, hosted by Graham Hall asking the questions: (How) do teachers read research, why, and (how) does it help them/us in the classroom … and beyond? It was an interesting discussion with a variety of viewpoints across a range of teaching contexts. The overall aim was to understand how research and theory might impact on teachers’ practice. For some teachers, the reasons for not reading research were the time and effort involved in understanding difficult academic texts, which don’t always give a clear indication of what their findings mean for professional practice. These teachers felt they didn’t need to engage with new theories in order to teach effectively in their classrooms.

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Trips, tours and random walks: using Legitimation Code Theory to understand spontaneous teachable moments

Understanding the dynamics of spontaneous teachable moments in online classrooms

Spontaneous teachable moments – often referred to as unplanned learning opportunities or critical moments (Myhill and Warren, 2005) – are those moments in your lessons where you sometimes need to depart from the planned flow to address specific student needs (Haug, 2014). The triggers for these moments arise in a variety of ways, e.g. student responses and questions or a particularly difficult sentence structure or unfamiliar lexis in a text or a link to an assessment task. If you think back to the last spontaneous teachable moment that occurred in one of your classes, you might consider how effective you felt it was in contributing to student learning.

  1. To what extent did it function as a distraction, taking up time that did not serve the needs of most students in your class?
  2. Were you able to connect back to the main aim of your lesson so that your students were aware of the learning point?
  3. Did you experience any confusion in your knowledge of the concepts you were teaching that prevented you from fully exploiting the teachable moment?
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