Sunday, 6 April 2014

IATEFL2014: Jim Scrivener (Teaching Grammar)

This year's IATEFL conference turned out to be really exciting for me because I got a chance to listen to presentations of professionals I really admire. This time I am going to tell you about the talk of Jim Scrivener. Before I describe my impressions of his talk I would like to give some background to my interest in it. I found two brilliant books by Jim Scrivener about two weeks before the conference. It turned out that his book "Teaching English Grammar" was exactly what I needed for my new group of students to whom I am teaching a course "Practical Grammar". I haven't had a chance to use many activities from this book yet but I am aiming at using it to the full. Another book which was recommended to me turned out to be written by Jim Scrivener as well, it is his very useful book "Learning Teaching". Now you can imagine how excited I was to find Jim Scrivener's talk on the programme of IATEFL conference and later to find the recording of it. I could not miss the chance to share my impressions, so here they are.

Jim Scrivener was talking about a new approach to teaching grammar in class. He gave practical ideas of making grammar lessons less boring and more useful for our students. Even though things that were mentioned seemed quite obvious and did not present anything completely new, Jim managed to summarise the ideas and exaplain them in a very understandable and logical way. He gave us  examples of how we teach in reality and showed us the way how to make our teaching more efficient and productive. Through a series of practical activities which the participants tried during Jim Scrivener's session, he showed the way to a new concept of "Demand High" approach.

The first idea mentioned by Jim Scrivener is that our course books don't really offer enough grammar practice.It is not possible to teach grammar just by using the examples which the course books have. Jim offers us ways to play with examples given in the course books and  using the suggested idea even with a few examples it is possible to achieve good results. Here is what should be done:
1) Read the example aloud.
2) Read it again but this time make it sound real: add intonation, stress and emotions. Listen to the teacher or to the recording before reading it. Then it is good to read the example with good intonation and emotions several times until the statement sounds convincing.
3) Substitute the words from the example with other words.This will allow to practice other grammar items and to revise the vocabulary.
4) Personalise the sentence, make it true for you. Here we move from form to meaning.
5) Use it in your speech.
So even when having just a few examples, playing with them brings the language given in these examples to life. It makes learning grammar fun and makes the language alive.

Another recommendation given by Jim Scrivener concerned the issue of going away from judging the students answers in the framework of "wrong-correct". So instead of thinking whether the student did it right or wrong, we as teachers might want to start thinking about how our students can improve, what they need to do to upgrade. Teachers can provide students with such upgrade steps helping them to improve instead of just giving unpersonalised feedback.

Next Jim Scrivener explained what PROUF means and said that this concept can be used as an alternative to drilling. P=Playful challenge. Make one small step up, not necessarily to have it done perfectly but to make just a tiny step forward which will  make you tangibly, audibly better in the language you use. It would be great to do it in a playful, light-hearted, fun way which makes the process of learning pleasant instead of making the learner feel embarassed or confused.
RO=Repeated Oppotunities. Can it be not once but repeated again and again till we get it perfect? So if the playful challenge worked great and the person got it right, could it not stop there but be repeated. That will give the sense of achievement and a chance to improve the language to perfection.
UF=Upgrade Feedback. Just to evaluate the student's answer as "Perfect" or "Well done" does not give the student much information about their performance. It is better not to give the feedback all at once, but to comment about one reachable,achievable step. Such feedback is possible in a number of likely ways:
- The teacher can model the sentence.
- The teacher can indicate the place where upgrade is possible.
- The teacher can indicate what can be upgraded, for instance intonation,rhythm,etc.
- The teacher can ask a question which will lead to the right answer.
- The teacher can use the imperative sentence which will give the student the instruction of what to do.
Accodring to Jim Scrivener PROUF approach will push students higher and higher up the stairs of learning and they will slowly but surely improve and their success will be tangible.

Another strategy to make this concept work in class is to give one-to-one focus within the class. So after the student says something the teacher works with this students for about 20 seconds or even up to 2 minutes. Some teachers have tried that and decided that it would not work well enough. Jim is sure that if the teacher approaches this way of dealing with students not with "wrong-correct" idea in mind but with the thought of how to give upgrade feedback to help the student,it will work better. When students see that the idea is not to tell them if they are right or wrong but to actually help them tangibly upgrade, they will be more willing to participate. They will realise that they are being helped to improve, their attitude will change to positive.

How can our students get more learning when checking exercises in class? That was the next question asked by Jim Scrivener. He gave the idea of how to mine the exercise for the purpose of finding gold in it. Here comes 3XP = Three Times Practice. Instead of doing an exercise once, it should be done three times. The first time the exercise can be checked the usual way, then instead of leaving it students can work on it further. Maybe they can cover the words and repeat them. The third time is to use the same material by adding information, using it in speech, practicing. After such work on the exercise the benefits are quite obvious. So Jim Scrivener and Andrew Underhill changed the famous song of Elvis Presley to this version: " One for the exercise, two for the learning, three for the English". This line expresses the idea in a bright and lively way. The first time an exercise is checked for the sake of checking, getting the right answers. The second time, it is done for the learning, in order to learn and remember some things. The third time, we add more reality to the exercise and do it for the English to be brought to reality.

So in conclusion Jim Scrivener goes back to the questions he asked at the very beginning and gives answers to them.
1)Helping each learner in class to improve - Upgrade Steps.
2) Instead of praising weak production- Upgrade Feedback.
3) Instead of drilling - PROUF.
4) Instead of doing an exercise and moving on - 3XP.
5) Instead of teaching the whole class as if it is one level- 1to1 Focus.

I hope you will enjoy the talk as much as I did and will find lots of useful information which will help to brighten your grammar lessons!
Here is the link to Jim Scrivener's " Upgrade! Demand high to bring a grammar lesson alive" at Harrogate Online or you can watch it here.


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