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6 useless things teachers do

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tommus
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 Message 1 of 40
10 July 2015 at 3:32pm | IP Logged 
Gianfranco Conti wrote an article entitled "Six 'useless' things foreign language teachers
do". I think the messages, if true, probably have some value to self-study as well. The six
'useless' things are:

1. Recasts (immediate corrections)
2. Direct and Indirect error correction of written errors
3. One-off learning-to-learn sessions
4. Identifying students' learning styles and planning lessons accordingly
5. Asking pre-intermediate/lower intermediate learners to peer assess oral performance
6. Asking students to create digital artefacts in class

Many points strongly support SRS, multiple reviews, repetition and hard work as valid and
required methods.

Here is the link:

Six Useless Activities


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kanewai
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 Message 2 of 40
10 July 2015 at 6:46pm | IP Logged 
I think I agree with number five, and am neutral on most. And that repetition, hard work, etc. do work, of
course.

His logic on the first two baffles me. Recasting in particular - this is pretty much what some course, like
Pimsleur and Michel Thomas, are based on. And it was the only way, after an initial six week course, that I
learned Micronesian in the field. Ditto with Turkish and Indonesian, though I had a longer period of self-study
for these.

I think the flaw here is that he'll take a study that says "students will only remember a correction 1/3 of the
time" as evidence that a method is flawed. I'd say that's a high rate, and evidence that a method works.
We learn through the slow and steady accumulation of details. And being corrected is vital, even if the
correction doesn't take the first time. That's normal.

Edited by kanewai on 10 July 2015 at 6:47pm

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aokoye
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 Message 3 of 40
10 July 2015 at 8:48pm | IP Logged 
His logic on learning styles (number 4) being sounds like complete bull. I wonder where he's actually
getting his data from on that point and whether or not he's actually taken courses on language
teaching methodology and/or second language acquisition (or frankly on pedagogy in general as that
point isn't only related to language teaching).
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ScottScheule
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 Message 4 of 40
10 July 2015 at 11:15pm | IP Logged 
Fascinating article. One common thread seems to relate to failure to make an observation permanent.

This is why I use flashcards so heavily. If you correct an error I make, and nothing more, it's essentially as if I look at a flashcard once and then throw it away. The chances of that correction sticking are low, unless I repeatedly make the same mistake and am repeatedly corrected (which would be more like using a flashcard program). So recasting may well work, if it's quite intensive. That's probably quite like the environment in which first languages are learned.

Moreover, once one learns their first language, they usually continue to be present in a culture in which they will have to speak and hear that language. It won't wither, because it will continually be reinforced. But second language learners can often get by without ever using their second language. I need never speak Latin or Spanish or Portuguese unless I choose to. So one needs "artificial" means to reinforce the second language, whether through finding native speakers, or using Anki, or delving into native literature, TV, radio, etc.

My (amateur) evaluation of the science is in accord with Conti's so far as the idea of learning styles and multiple intelligences is amateur nonsense.

Asking intermediate learners to correct others has always struck me as a dumb strategy. It's one reason why I hate class participation--beginners don't know what they're talking about and have little to contribute. On that note, I believe Conti has a Ph.d. in language education, so claiming he's ignorant of language teaching methodology strikes me as ridiculous.
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emk
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 Message 5 of 40
10 July 2015 at 11:19pm | IP Logged 
tommus wrote:
Gianfranco Conti wrote an article entitled "Six 'useless' things foreign language teachers do".
...
4. Identifying students' learning styles and planning lessons accordingly

Hmm. My learning style is "If you make me do oral group drills, I will quit your language course." So at least in my case, it wouldn't be completely useless for my teachers to identify this personal idiosyncrasy. :-)

More broadly, over the years are HTLAL, we've identified some interesting differences between learners. Here are two big ones:

1. Some people find it surprisingly easy to turn receptive skills into speaking skills. Others seem to need much more speaking practice for a given quantity of input.

2. Some people make it from B2 to near native levels (at least conversationally) just by living in full immersion for years. Other people need some explicit study, or perhaps they suffer from more fossilized grammar errors.

So it's really hard to give one-size-fits-all advice, and it's important to actually read Advice Center posts carefully, and not assume that our personal methods will work unmodified for everybody.
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ScottScheule
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 Message 6 of 40
10 July 2015 at 11:32pm | IP Logged 
Again though, it's not like we're doing scientific tests here on the forum. You can read all of this on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles, with citations to the peer-reviewed literature, describing the views of the scientific community on the efficacy of gearing teaching to learning styles.
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emk
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 Message 7 of 40
11 July 2015 at 1:46am | IP Logged 
ScottScheule wrote:
Again though, it's not like we're doing scientific tests here on the forum. You can read all of this on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles, with citations to the peer-reviewed literature, describing the views of the scientific community on the efficacy of gearing teaching to learning styles.

OK, so let me lay out the reasoning behind my previous message:

1. The original "learning styles" proposals were fairly specific hypotheses about visual/auditory/etc. learners. (And dozens of other versions.) These proposals do not appear to be supported by any empirical evidence.

2. However, the refutations of these hypotheses are also fairly specific. "We divided students into four groups: (1) auditory learners given auditory information, (2) auditory learners given visual information, (3) visual learners given auditory information and (4) visual learners given visual information. All four groups seemed to do equal well on tests." But these studies only apply to the conditions studied, and not necessarily any other questions, such as, "Do all language students benefit equally from FSI-style drills?"

3. I know that there are several popular—and apparently successful—language-learning techniques which do not appear to work for me. For example, my university was a huge believer in a specific kind of group audio-lingual drill, and these seemed to work for many students. But in my case, I struggled massively with the specific format of these drills, and I actually came very close to failing the course. The specific format of these drills required highly focused attention to other students, and I couldn't do it. Similarly, I've never had any luck at all shadowing, because I don't seem to be capable of being an "instantaneous echo." In both of these cases, it felt almost as if I was running up against some kind of very specialized learning disability—other people seemed to be able to do these things with no problem, but I just couldn't. (To use a more obvious example, if a student suffers from severe dyslexia, they're probably going to learn better from audiobooks than from written books.)

4. I've read a moderate amount of language learning research, and from a scientific perspective, most of it is disappointing: small sample sizes, hand-picked case studies, researchers who have never actually learned a second language even to B2, overuse of toy languages, and so on. For example, consider Krashen: He was hugely respected in the field for a decade or two, and yet his papers are all case studies, or studies with a sample size of 4, or whatever. And his research is actually pretty useful compared to some other papers, because at least he was looking at successful learners of real languages, and not a 30-word language in the lab!

And finally, even anecdotal evidence can become hard to ignore, if those anecdotes are based on thousands of highly successful students over many decades. Here's what FSI has to say about adjusting teaching techniques to individual students (emphasis added):

Quote:
We see individuals on a regular basis who know exactly what they have to do in
order to learn a new language. Some of them are so good that they are truly astonishing,
and they are each different. Earl Stevick emphasized this point in his 1989
book, Success with Foreign Languages, by describing seven such superb learners—
each with different learning approaches. Programs at FSI need to be flexible enough
to make it possible for each learner to progress as rapidly as he or she is able. We
have found the following adult learning axiom to be revealing: “If an adult tells you
that he needs something in order to learn, the chances are very good that he’s right.”

Frankly, I'm far more likely to believe FSI's experience, no matter how anecdotal, than some psychology experiments about visual and auditory learners who briefly studied a non-language topic in an experiment. Science is hard at the best of times, and most language-learning research isn't even up to the frequntly low standards of medical research. So I might as well listen to FSI and other successful, experienced language learners—they might very well be wrong, but on the other hand, they do have first-hand experience with success.
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Serpent
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 Message 8 of 40
11 July 2015 at 3:06am | IP Logged 
Yeah, I'm not impressed with the research either. I think learning styles can be mostly explained through MBTI but there's no finite set that explains all the variety.

And any explanations are useless if you don't address issues like the natural lack of balance and the (excessive) perfectionism. An average class in your home country generally produces students who are best at reading and worst at listening. As in, speaking and writing skills are going to be somewhere in between reading and listening. Assuming comparable opportunities, extraverts are going to be better at speaking and introverts at writing.

Apart from grammar explanations in L1, a typical (reasonably good!) class consists of 30-45 min working with written texts and/or dialogues, 10-15 min of speaking (for all students) and possibly listening to a short recording (not always). Then a homework to do in writing. Who on earth pretends it's a balanced approach? And why has the perfectionism still not gone out of the window? 80% of the reading time is wasted on hunting for 20% useless details, instead of just reading more texts and getting highly relevant knowledge from them. No matter how much you decrease the difficulty of texts, there's always going to be something useless in them. Perhaps it's even needed, really.

So if we apply learning styles to such a setting, a visual learner who needs to speak will get even MORE visual materials? Umm how about no. If you set realistic and not perfectionist goals, the learner will have no problems with reading. With no significant time pressure, the best is possibly to let listening lag behind and give them a lot of aural materials they can already understand in written form. And make them improve their writing, but ffs, make it clear whether the student is learning to read and write because they need/want to, or because they struggle with listening and speaking. Unfortunately this is not something most teachers are willing to admit, acknowledge and address. It seems logical to correct as many mistakes as possible, but is this really what someone needs when their biggest problem is that they can hardly produce anything on the spot without stuttering?

If we add time pressure, it seems pretty obvious that the learner should just practice speaking and listening as much as possible. As a visual learner they can work on reading/writing on their own, and they should also work on listening even if it's harder.

Of course that's just an abstract learner, in reality there are loads of factors here.

But I guess that's my biggest problem with classes. They generally approach speaking through reading, writing and minimal listening, while my preferred way would be listening, reading and minimal writing.

Edited by Serpent on 11 July 2015 at 3:09am



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