Summary of EFL Experiment 1: Help me!

Thanks to everyone who commented, read, Tweeted and ReTweeted my experiment post. I really got a lot out of it and I hope you did too. I think it cemented my belief that:

1)A good blog should be about the readers/commenters.

2)No matter where we live we all face similar teacher issues.

3)Thanks to the net we are all on a similar wavelength.

4)Peer feedback,comments and just ‘informal conversation’ is VERY useful.It may be because it’s more honest or 2 way or varied but it REALLY covers a lot, far more than most school organised TD I have experienced.

My action plan for next term

I definitely feel more confident about using listening in the class via a mobile device so I will start with the BBC and do it at the start and then work from there.

We will use videos, analyse the interactions and recreate them but tailored for my student’s job.I will also offer an alternative choice every week.

I will also try short texts chosen by my student from a selection of sites/topics I advise.

I will find out more about her L1 interactions and model L2 role plays on them.

I will persevere with recording my student and replaying the recordings for analysis but starting with her reading a text aloud for pron.

Focus on important cultural issues that arise from input.

For present and past tenses, I will do L1/L2 text comparisons to draw out, cement and then rework tense concepts and differences.

I will try using a blog to keep track of listenings and videos and for revision purposes.

What I found useful about this method

People disagreed with my doubts about using the BBC and reaffirmed my faith in it as a source of listening.

Different people giving and discussing ideas/comments with examples.

Useful links and lesson ideas and structures (ello/bbc).

Post listening/reading activity ideas.

I got ideas from real teachers who have tackled these problems.

There were far more ideas than I’d get in a workshop.


I feel this experiment has shown how valuable peer-to-peer discussion and reflection are and there is no reason why schools could not initiate such activities on a regular basis. Something as easy as a room with different tables with each discussing a different issue or each group taking turns asking for/diving ideas. The key, of course, would probably be keeping it voluntary and informal so having drinks, snacks or just doing it in the staffroom may work. In that way it is more like a desk buddy asking for help that is enlarged to involve the whole staffroom.

Please comment with your own ideas.


4 thoughts on “Summary of EFL Experiment 1: Help me!

  1. Hi Phil, many thanks for this and for the post linked to above – I think the relationship between the two demonstrates the informal but purposeful nature of peer feedback and sharing online.

    As you know, I’m very much in favour of opening classroom doors and demystifying the observation process – this is something we can do face to face which is harder online.

    On the other hand, the asynchronous nature of online interaction does mean that people can contribute (as they did so generously on the companion post to this) in their own time and when they feel relaxed. This is harder to achieve in the real time school environment, so as well as (even instead of) formalising times and places for sharing my instinct is to help to build a learning environment that ensures odd moments can be shared. Based on my current experience, the classroom itself is a great place to do this – there’s a kind of residual buzz after a class, and we don’t need to have seen all of a class to contribute – we can pick up a lot from a few minutes.

    Does this mean that teacher managers need to think of teacher sharing when working on the school timetable? Do we need to ensure there are lessons, or parts of lessons,where we can sit in on one another’s classes? Should we also build a little more time between classes into the timetable? Would less rush between classes mean more time for informal sharing? If people are really engaged in what they are doing, this sharing will always be purposeful.

    • Hi Luke,

      Thanks for the great comment. Yes, I love the ‘residual buzz’ after a good lesson. I can’t count how many times I’ve had really useful and enlightening chats with students after class has finished. The same with colleagues.

      I do like your idea of ‘sitting in’ rather than observing. This would be great as I for one would love to be able to ask colleagues to come in for 10 minutes to watch an idea or activity or even take part in one. Not to mention being able to talk to the students after. Also team teaching is great fun or just covering a class for 30 minutes. I’ve done this when people have been stuck on the tube and you really get a feel for the differences in just a short time period. This would definitely help teachers who have doubts or problems with their students.

      Less rush? Oh yes. Many of my jobs have been 5/10 minute breaks between classes which if you finish late is nothing. You drop off your register and notes, pick up a laptop and off.It ends up like being in a factory working 8 till 6. I raised this issue at several places but they were just obsessed about us doing enough hours and that usually gets increased now and then.

      I’ve taken part in ‘timetabled sharing’ which hasn’t always worked. One on ‘favourite activities’ bombed as some teachers didn’t want others doing their stuff. The same happened with an ’emergency cover folder’. The main problem was both were forced sharing. Less formal situations lead to more conversation, ideas, real relationships and hopefully, more discussion and ideas. Maybe we should start recording Friday evening drinks in the pub after school?

      Cheers again and I can’t wait until your BC seminar is uploaded. Maybe you and Anthony could even publish something on a modern approach to Teacher Training.

  2. I think it’s great that you have got so much out of this experiment, Phil; both your initial post and this summary prove (if proof were needed) the benefits of exchanging ideas with peers.

    What strikes me first is that you say above “thanks to the net we are all on a similar wavelength” – perhaps you mean similarly motivated to learn from each other”, but in terms of ideas, viewpoints and beliefs, the comments suggest a wide and divergent range of views about learning and teaching. Take your and Dale’s beliefs about the place of the L1, for example; very different beliefs at play, there. What is great about this exchange, however, is the space for both positions to co-exist – as they should in any healthy developmental space.

    I won’t try to comment on everything, but while I was reading your initial post, I had the following thoughts:

    Conversations naturally provide some listening skills work (and some may suggest the best kind) but they may not provide your learner with the opportunity consciously to put to work certain listening strategies which may do her good. I’m thinking for example her ability to anticipate upcoming content in the flow of speech based on context and co-text. John Field has good ideas about how to do this kind of work and it can be done quite simply on the fly. Simply stop speaking at a random point and let your student say (or write down) what they expect to hear next, then you continue.

    I can imagine using live listening in an integrated way in your lessons thus: after getting warmed up and hitting upon a topic of interest, take a short time out (say 2-3 minutes). In this time, you sketch out a 1-2 minute listening text that you will present; while you are doing this, your learner is making a list of lexical items that she knows in English that she expects to hear used in relation to the topic, or researching L1 words in a dictionary that she does not know the term for in English. When you are ready, set your student any listening task which seems plausible given what you are about to say, from “make some notes on what I say about X, Y, Z” to “at the end, see i you agree with my argument” or “here are some statements, at the end tell me if I agree with them or not” etc.

    It may not be as tidy as a pre-fab text/task set, but it would work.

    Now, if you have access to Wifi and/or a laptop, then you could record the listening (using audacity or similar), and then exploit it for other work without you having to recall what you said! The student could work on her own summary of the talk, or consider a response, and you could record that.

    Taking this further, With something like MailVu, you could record the pair of you talking about whatever (or roleplaying something) and email yourselves the video for viewing later. With you as a distracting interlocutor, she may not focus on the fact she is being recorded…

    If you used something like Dragon Dictation (a free app for iPhone etc) and had Wifi, you could record text to speech, which means that (with a bit of editing between classes) you could use your impromptu spoken texts as the basis of reading work the next lesson (copy paste the transcript to make a simple reading text from the audio, or use it as the basis for gap fill, or other language practice using utterances which have context and meaning (which would allow you to avoid using random decontextualised examples).

    The BBC is a god source for other raw text, and you can use Audacity to slow it down without affecting pitch, which is really useful if speed of delivery, rather than lexical density, is the issue.

    If you ask your student to read aloud for pronunciation, then I imagine you will help her grasp the content first, and show her how to chunk the text to make her performance sound adequate before recording: this may increase her feeling of support and success, and thus engender positive feelings towards being recorded. Take a look at by the way, for some ideas and issues relating to this.

    I think I have gone off at a tangent, actually, as I wanted to comment more on the outcomes of your experiment but I have ended up being part of it – a sign, perhaps, of its power as a developmental crucible.

    I certainly agree that the simple gathering of motivated colleagues with the willingness to listen, ask and share is more than enough to generate a lot of developmental heat, and I am glad to see your effort in initiating this has been rewarded. I would love to read more of this kind of thing and I hope you have many more thought-provoking classroom dilemmas for us in future.

    Best wishes and I hope that this has contributed somehow helpfully to the ongoing conversation,


    • WOW! Thanks Anthony. You have some great ideas.I love the ‘stop and predict’ idea and teaching listening strategies. I don’t think I do enough of these with any of my students and there are so many I use being in a foreign environment.

      I think your techie ideas will also suit my other students and classes too. I started using a VLE with an international exchange and DOKEOS then Moodle with classes but I’ve going to start setting up a blog for each new private student so I can record stuff direct to it and post FB, short texts, listenings, recordings, links etc. IT just seems easier and more practical as emails won’t get lost, she can prepare before class and we’ll have a record of covered work for revision.

      Re:The experiment

      Yes, it was very interesting and useful. Like on your blog, the comments and discussion were very informative. Maybe this is what we could all benefit from more, not so much 1 hour recorded webinars but more discussion like ELTchat or why not both. As in most webinars there’s a heck of a lot of informal chat going on.

      Re: More dilemmas

      Well, I probably have too many but next time may ask for volunteers as me writing about me gets a bit dull. We could also do it on post-CELTA reflections about how the CELTA could be improved (wink wink, nudge ..)

      Thanks so much again, especially as your work inspired this idea.

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