We talk pron: FFP

We were very happy to present at Iatefl in Brighton this year. In the talk we reflected on some of the key outcomes and realisations from team teaching over the last 6 months at UAB Idiomes in Barcelona.

You may be wondering why two teacher trainers decided to teach together after more than 10 years of training together on a Trinity Dip TESOL course. Well, we decided to go into the classroom to test and reflect on some of the things we had heard from teachers and learners over these years. Things like, “sentence stress and connected speech are only really relevant to higher level learners”, a teacher comment. “Nobody understands me when I speak English.” “I don’t understand much when I listen to English.”; and “I know some English, I’ve studied it, but I can’t really speak it.” Some examples of student comments from needs analyses and feedback.

This collaboration was an excellent experience and out of it we have formed three guiding principles or key ideas to help teachers incorporate pronunciation into their lessons more effectively. We have already covered two of them in previous posts: MFS HERE and SLC HERE. You may remember MFP from your CELTA courses. But as a teacher recently posted on our Dip TESOL course,

“In order to help my students, I know I need to spend more time designing my lessons to include further work on pronunciation which will allow me to grow as a pronunciation teacher. In the “Teach Pronunciation” blog post titled, ‘I can’t speak English…& … MFS’, the teachers mentioned the term, ‘MFS’ (meaning, form, and sound).  I had learned about ‘meaning, form, and pronunciation’ (MFP) in my CELTA training class four years ago; however, I am embarrassed to say that I had totally forgotten about it until now. MFS or MFP is exactly what I need to focus on to help my students because they are successful to a certain extent when it comes to the meaning of words, although they do need help with using English definitions, and they don’t have too much of a problem with the form of words. But, what they need is to focus on the sounds because they rarely do this. They simply memorize the Chinese meaning and spelling of long lists of words without paying very much attention to pronunciation. More importantly, I need to impress on them the importance of having all three factors together in order for them to successfully produce the lexis they are learning.”

So, it seems that MFS is still very much a valid thing to discuss and bring to the forefront of teacher development. SLC helps you to build effective listening cycles and there was some great feedback on this after our conference talk at Iatefl. So, let’s turn to the third key idea.

As well as planning tasks which work on sound and listening in our lessons, we can also do more at the planning stage to help us address pronunciation more holistically, and effectively and with more confidence. Something we hear from trainee teachers at Diploma level is that they avoid pronunciation, or they feel they only address it quite superficially by engaging in some drilling – listen and repeat. As Toni, our star learner, said IN OUR VIDEO this is not enough. For learners to really feel the development they need to work on sound more thoroughly. Drilling is part of this but it not the only thing we can do. Some teachers say they avoid going further because they lack confidence from not knowing about that specific area of pronunciation and also from not having enough time in lessons.

So, this is where our next acronym comes in. FFP.  

This stands for feedback focused planning. This got a lot of interest in our last talk at Iatefl and seems like it might help you to build that confidence and make that time to address pron issues that come up in lessons. So, what does this mean?

Well, it means giving as much attention and importance to feedback in a lesson at the planning stage as we do to input, practice and use of new language. It means building in feedback stages to our plans and our lessons more frequently and reducing the time we spend on ‘getting through stuff’. By reducing the stuff we want to input and creating more space and time to respond, we can really help our learners acquire language more effectively – the meaning, form and sound.

Look at this lesson outline for a 90-minute lesson with a C1 Spanish-speaking adult group:

Lesson objectives:

  • To tell an anecdote about a bad travel experience
  • To use past simple and past continuous accurately and effectively
  • To learn, practice and try to use past perfect simple and continuous

Lesson outline:

Intro: teacher tells a story about a bad holiday experience modelling all the tenses using natural speech. Learners interact, interrupting and asking questions.

Present and review language: teacher dictates some sentences from the story. Learners write them down and compare notes. (teacher dictates in natural speech). Learners compare their notes with the standard written versions (with contractions)which are displayed on a board or on a handout. They correct the grammar and notice the differences with their versions and the correct versions. This helps the teacher to assess their knowledge of the grammar and to focus on the meaning and the form and the sound. It goes something like this…

1 The teacher asks for the correct form of the different sentences.

  • It happened in June 2012.
  • We were driving along the motorway.
  • We’d been driving for about an hour when I saw the exit and turned off the motorway.
  • We quickly realised we’d taken the wrong exit.
  • I stopped and reversed back up the exit and heard the sirens of the police car.

2 Learners correct their errors (work on form)

3 The teacher asks students to match the sentences to the correct use.

  • An action finished in the past, a sequence of actions in the past – one after the other.
  • A longer action which happened before and up to another action in the past.
  • An action which happened before another action in the past.
  • A longer action in the past – we use this to set a scene for a story often or to show an interruption with a short action.  

4 Learners match and compare their ideas and discuss what they know about these tenses and whether they are similar or different in their language (focus on meaning)

5 Learners correct answers and complete a gap fill using all four tenses. (focus on form and meaning)

6 Learners look back at the sentences they wrote from the initial dictation and compare with the written form. They listen again and underline parts which are different and consider what is different between how the sentences are spoken and written. (focus on sound and form)

7 Learners make their own sentences about a story from their life.

8 Learners practise saying their sentences to a partner.

9 Learners work in small groups and tell their stories and ask and answer questions about their experiences.

10 Teacher goes over errors they hear and learners self and peer correct.

End of lesson.

There is a good flow to this lesson and it focuses on MF & S. But, what pronunciation issues might your learners have in the latter stages of the lesson when they try and use the language? When is there time to address these issues?

At the moment all the feedback is at the end of the lesson and there is no opportunity for the learners to act on that feedback.

Also, after stage 8 – what if there are lots of issues? There is no planned time to address them. What might happen? The teacher tries to correct pron – but lacks confidence and also this means time for production is reduced perhaps because the correction takes longer than planned etc.

What if instead the teacher builds in feedback stages throughout? They can do this by visualising and hearing what their learners will say at key stages and anticipating what problems they might have saying the language (or hearing it). This feedback focused planning has two advantages:

Firstly, it means the teacher can prepare. If they think the learners will have problems with connected speech and they don’t know enough about this area of phonology to address it, they can do some research and preparation before the lesson starts.

Secondly, by building in feedback stages teachers are more likely to actually go beyond listen and repeat and will have time to work with their learners on errors in a deeper and more effective way.

Also, teachers will be able to assess progress more effectively in the lesson and will focus more time on listening to their learners, thus getting to know their problems (and strengths) better.

Where would you build in feedback stages in the lesson above?

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