MEL914 Blog Assignment

Here are the summaries that I have written for fulfillment of MEL914 Teaching Oral Communication: Current Theories and Approaches.

Listening

① Nguyen, T.T.T. (2008). Using literary texts in language teaching. VNU Journal of Science, Foreign Languages, 24, 120-126.

In this article, Nguyen posited that there are three ways in which using literary texts contributes value to language teaching, namely helping develop the linguistic skills of students, encouraging students to read and hence making them better readers, and lastly raising cultural sensitivity. Nguyen also claimed that care needs to be taken to select appropriate texts for students. She emphasizes the need to select a text of difficulty on par with the students’ ability, as well as the need to teach students prior cultural knowledge in texts. Lastly, she says that the texts need to be chosen based on the interests of the students. Nguyen also proposed several activities where teachers could employ literature in their classes.

Personally, over the years, I have employed most of these activities in various classes to differing degrees of success. For instance, students who are more reserved and shyer in speaking activities would find the storytelling activities intimidating, and just one student of this type would greatly affect the dynamics of the class. Also, the extent of how successful these strategies are greatly depends on the demographic profile of the students. For instance, children in Japanese schools tend to be more passive learners whereas those studying in international schools are more vocal.

② Source: Ghosn, I. K. (2002). Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT. ELT Journal, 56, 172-179.

In this article, Ghosn highlighted four reasons why literature should be used in primary school to teach English. These reasons include motivating students by offering them something pleasurable to read, helping L2 learners to internalize new linguistic knowledge gained by providing them with a context to talk about, offering a suitable basis for critical thinking, and fostering reflection and emotional intelligence through the use of literature. Ghosn (2002) also listed four criteria for selecting stories for primary school ELT classroom use, namely, theme, storyline, language and illustrations.

③ Source: Brown, J. E. (2001). Learning through listening strategies for literature. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 17(2), Article 4, 14-17.

In this article, Brown cited several listening activities in which literature is used in learning. These include teacher read-alouds, listening guides, readers’ theater, and listening logs used with audio books. I agree with Brown that listening is a good way to help learners get into literature especially if they are reluctant to read. In particular, doing readers’ theater and using audio books are two good strategies and I will definitely try it out to motivate my students to read.

Speaking

④ Source: Baurain, B. (2007). Small group multitasking in literature classes. ELT Journal, 61(3), 237-245.

The form of communicative instruction illustrated in the paper, namely multitasking small groups, made me recall the two or three lessons in which I employed this method. I was teaching in local junior high schools in Japan at that time, and I assigned different tasks for each of the groups to work on at the same time. It was new to the students and they welcomed the idea. Usually working on the same tasks in the group is boring, because everyone gets similar findings in the end.

However, I agree with Baurain (2007) that this method of teaching would probably not work well with students from China. When I taught secondary school students in a Chinese international school in Singapore many years ago, I had tried incorporating communicative activities in my classes. A period of class is 3 hours long, and sometimes English classes can be 2 periods of class back-to-back. Without some engaging activities, the class would be pretty monotonous. However, no matter what kind of activities I tried, none of them worked. The students have a mindset that activities do not constitute ‘serious learning’. Hence, they do not pay attention in those activities. Some even took advantage of those times to sneak out to the cafeteria to have early lunch or go for long toilet breaks.

⑤ Source: Bourdage, K. & Rehark, L. (2009). Discussions in a fourth-grade classroom: Using exploratory talk to promote children’s dialogic identities. Language Arts, 86(4), 268-279.

This article examines the dynamics of a discussion in a fourth-grade classroom and how students work as dialogic participants. The paper was a really interesting read as I could relate to it from my personal experiences. I conduct training for Japanese returnee students taking school interviews, and for one of the elite schools, the students are assessed by their ability to participate in a student-led discussion on a given topic. Japanese students tend to be more passive than active, and sometimes they would merely accept what others said instead of asking questions like ‘Why do you say that?’This kind of exploratory talk helps to train students in thinking critically and vocalizing their thoughts.

⑥ Source: Kim, S. (2014). Developing autonomous learning for oral proficiency using digital storytelling. Language Learning & Technology, 18(2), 20-35.

This article looks at the use of self-study resources in digital storytelling and finds positive results in ESL learners’ scores after using these resources. I can imagine how this would be a popular idea with students especially in the digital age today. However, another factor that I think would come into play would be the motivation of students to do self-study on their own. The subjects in Kim (2004)’s study are learners living in America, and hence their motivation to master English is relatively high because the living environment in America is dominantly English-based. In Singapore, foreigners can get on with their daily lives without much need to use proper English, hence the motivation for self-study may not be high.