Hi, my name is Cecilia and I am a recovering recaster

A Recasters Anonymous Meeting… would you be in it?

Setting: RA (Recasters Anonymous) Meeting, in a dark basement somewhere we can’t mention…

Me: Hi, my name is Cecilia… and I am a recovering recaster.

Group: Hi Cecilia!

Me: I haven’t recasted in… 7 days.

(applause)

The above scene is, of course, fictional (though I fear many teachers would want it to be true). I was a recaster. A true one. I believed in the effectiveness of recasting, for all students. I did, because I was taught to. People told me it was the non-threatening way of correcting students. It’s how you should do it in the Communicative Approach. And I did it. I did so much and for so long it became part of me. And then one day (Really? Just like that?) I questioned it. Ok… maybe I’ve been questioning its effectiveness for a few years. Maybe not its effectiveness (period/full stop), but rather its effectiveness on every student. I just didn’t think most students realised I was correcting them when I recasted… And since they didn’t realise they were being corrected, they never acknowledged they had made a mistake. So, even though I had my doubts, I kept doing it – maybe not as whole-heartedly.

It all changed about a month ago, after I attended IATEFL. As I have mentioned in this blog, this year’s IATEFL Conference (and a few of the talks I attended) left me with a sense of direction. With a feeling of more freedom. Freedom of being a teacher. Freedom of doing what I think is best for my students, no matter what approach is in vogue, or is adopted by the school where I teach. (You can read more about this feeling with my post IATEFL post).

Well, ever since I came back from the conference I have noticed myself stopping my impulsive recasting more and more. Not only because of the talks I attended but even more so for the conversations I had on the topic. Better (?) yet, I have seen myself consciously pointing out the student’s mistake (not when fluency is the objective, unless fluency is prevented by accuracy – or lack of accuracy preventing proper understanding) by saying: “the correct way to say this is…” or  “That is not correct. Why don’t you say…”. And you know what? It works! After doing that for a couple of weeks a few students voiced their feeling I had been correcting them more – and their approval of it. So I asked them (even the groups who hadn’t expressed their noticing of my change in behavior) if they preferred it that way – and I explained recasting (the previous method) – and they said that most times when I recasted they didn’t notice they were being corrected. But when I pointed it out they did, and they liked it better. They felt more progress, more learning. At the same time, a few students recognise recasting and see it as a correction. But in my case, these are a minority.

My point in this post is actually a question to ELT teachers worldwide: Do you feel your students pick up recasting? Because I feel most of mine don’t. And yes, some students might be (initially at least) a bit taken aback by a blunt/on-the-spot correction. But my feeling is that at least this way they understand they did not effectively communicate, and may be more aware of the mistake on other opportunities.

I was observed by a teacher trainee (who is taking classes at the Teacher Education program we have in the school I teach) on a class recently (in an A2 group) and at the end she asked if the way I corrected the students did not embarrass or shy them away from speaking in class. Knowing where she was coming from (taking a basic Teacher training course) I asked her if she was wondering why I had done explicit correction instead of recasting with the group, because I know recasting is the oral correction tool of the communicative approach. She said I was right and asked me to justify my choice it. I asked her if she thought recast worked with everyone – a question she didn’t immediately answer, but rather just stood there, looking pensive . I said that I tried to use it with the students I sensed it worked and I used direct correction with the others. I mentioned articles and studies and conversations I’ve had. She was happy (and relieved) to hear what I said. And so were other teachers that have observed me and approached me.

It seems people are waking up to students’ individual learning styles and needs. But how feasible it is when you have a large classroom? A multilingual, multicultural classroom? Does size matter in this case? Does anything?

 

I plan on conducting an experiment. A simple one. I have two very similar classes (same level, similar number of students – around 13 years old, A2 level). This week I’ll try to only correct their oral production by recasting on the first group and only by doing direct correction on the second. Then, on the end of each last class, I’ll ask them to reflect upon whether they felt / knew they had made any mistakes while speaking in that class (this will be done in writing, on little slips of paper, so that the students feel comfortable at being honest). I’m curious to see what I get! Stay tuned for the next episode on the recasting saga! :)

Hot off the Press!!! An Activity about Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs before Apple became THE Apple

I have an adult conversation class every Tuesday and Thursday. They’re very advanced speakers, most having had lived abroad in English-speaking countries, many already have proficiency certificates. We meet these two times a week to chat in English, about various topics so that they can maintain their English fluency. There isn’t a syllabus. They prefer not to have homework, no writing tasks. So we mostly focus on actual conversation, with the eventual work with vocabulary and student-emergent language work (meaning me going unplugged whenever I see a teaching moment, prompted by a sentence or comment by one of the students). When that happens, sometimes I bring the language in a more structured way the following class, sometimes I work with it immediately, using the board or coming up with ideas on the spot.

With this group I very often use a text (taken – and sometimes adapted) from a newspaper or news website from an English-speaking country, and I love to use things that are hot off the press. So after hearing the sad news about Steve Jobs passing away, I came up with this worksheet. It’s very basic: some vocabulary work, the reading and some discussion questions. I will probably not limit myself to the questions I wrote on the worksheet. I usually guide the discussions on a student/conversation-emergent basis – depending on how and where the discussion goes.

To begin the class I will have the image of an apple projected on the board, and ask learners to say the first thing that comes to mind. I expect at least one of them will mention the company and Steve Jobs. I’ll see how much conversation I can draw from there (let them share what they know/think about the company and its founder). then I’ll give them the worksheet and go with the flow ;-)

It’s nothing special. But I thought it was worth sharing, so here it is.

TALKAEN Steve Jobs SHARE

If you have any other ideas, use this activity in any way, I’d love to hear how it went and which adaptations/changes/extra activities you did :-)

Sharing a Lesson on the 5 Senses


I was browsing through Jamie Keddie’s (@cheimi10) fantastic site for video lessons, just looking at what was new and came across something that wasn’t so new, but it called my attention nonetheless…a lesson based on the McGurk effect. I watched it a couple of times and came up with a lesson / Powerpoint presentation for my Advanced Conversation group. It worked really well…Here is the Powerpoint I came up with: The Five Senses . If you can’t open the video on the PPT, you can see it here.

Hope you enjoy it!


P.S. I need to thank Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses) for helping me sort out my linking issues and giving me excellent advice to make this post and the files work. You rock Sue!