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What's your goal?

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Joined: 01 Nov 2011
Posts: 47

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:21 pm    Post subject: What's your goal? Reply with quote

This thread is primarily for teachers in public schools in China teaching 'oral English'.
So you arrive at your new school and are told that you're teaching 16 classes of students a week, each class once a week, for 45 minutes each. If you're lucky and at a good school, you've got 30 students per class and some sort of textbook, if not, then you're making up lesson plans completely on your own and teaching 60 students per class ( or more).

You really do want to help your students improve their English, but the question strikes you, what is the goal of this class? Is it to improve each students' oral English? Ideally yes, but then again if each one of your 30 students was able to speak equally during a 45 minute class, that works out to only a minute and a half per student, or about 30-40 minutes over the course of an entire year.. Now of course you could concentrate more on grammar, idioms, slang, listening, etc., all topics that you can teach to all of your students at once, but this runs the risk of boredom, especially for less driven classes. Or should your class be a cultural class, one in which you provide students with information about both countries/people that speak English (using English as the medium for learning) as well as the language?
My third year here now in China teaching Oral English, and I still don't think I've hit the right balance. Recently I've been leaning a bit more towards the cultural side, trying to incorporate more video clips, etc. as opposed to teaching straight grammar or having class long discussions, with the idea being that those who learn languages well often do it, especially at the high school or college level, out of an interest/fascination with culture ( I know I was that way with Chinese).
Would love to hear advice/feedback from other Oral English teachers on how you go about structuring your Oral English classes.
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Non Sequitur

Joined: 23 May 2010
Posts: 4725
Location: China

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The primary 'barometer' of an Oral English class is that the teacher speaks less time than the students do. Your 'cultural' bias seems not to do that.
You don't mention any ESL qual which from day one would emphasise the need to minimise TTT (Teacher Talk time).
Oral English is an individual not a group skill so despite the challenging equation on time per student, what you do in class, must be measurable at individual level.
In this situation can I ask how you assess students for their final class mark?
Where I have 2x45 min periods joined together as a 'class' I use the book dialogues. The admin will bitch at me if I don't use the book at some stage so I do.
The dialogues are for a max of 3 students and I select 3 and hear them read the dialogue. I can maybe get 3 or six sets of students through the dialogue in what remains of the 45 mins after warmup and housekeeping.
Each student has a progress slip and while they are reading I note any improvement (or otherwise) from the last time. All students perform each of the dialogues even if it takes 2 weeks.
Boring as bat droppings for the others in the class but remember you are teaching and marking an individual skill and the slips are essential when awarding final marks.
The warm up is generally a song so there is a bit of class language formation in that first period.
Second 45 mins is a group English activity like a cocktail party game if I can find a vacant space outside or in a foyer.
2/3 times per semester students join a 2 or 3 person team to perform a short play which they devise themselves from say 3 topics I provide.
The first two are performed in front of the class but for the last vital 'final' they have only me as audience.
That gives me a chance to engage with each student before we part company.
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Joined: 24 Aug 2011
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 7:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Non Sequitur wrote:
Oral English is an individual not a group skill

Switch "Oral English" for "oration" and I'd agree with you. But think about it - most 'oral English' in fact takes the form of a reply, or an invitation for one, so hardly done in isolation.

I think building up a receptive rapport and providing inspiring examples of language use are both hugely effective when engaging large groups - the OP seems to be shifting towards taking students to the water, rather than making them drink, which is always going to be more impressive in the long run. Most of my better, more fluent students made up a lot of ground of their own accord, by engaging with English-speaking culture in the form of music, movies and celebrity gossip crap online.

If you can encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning, then surely that's better than -say- presenting a successful model of when to use the present simple vs. prefect, which even the more able students will continue to make a dogs' dinner off as soon as the bell goes.
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Non Sequitur

Joined: 23 May 2010
Posts: 4725
Location: China

PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

By individual I mean you cannot rely on anyone else* to form the sentences and grab the vocab.
Certainly the 'communicative' approach which many ESL courses teach, is all about exchanging opinions, ideas and suggestions with one or several others.
*A few of my students are heavily reliant on their classmates for prompts and I have to tell them that when they go for that job interview, 'Joe or John or whoever, wont be there to help you'.
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Joined: 24 Aug 2011
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 4:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do know exactly what you mean NS, just as you will know what I mean when I say that the formation of sentences and grabbing of vocab will naturally follow patterns laid out by other speakers in the group, according to register and topic. The exception would be when one is formally addressing an audience so there is little to no natural conversive interaction, but I would argue that this is 'public speaking' - a discrete sub-skill of Oral English.

I don't think either one of us is exclusively 'right' here - Let's say that there is an aspect of oral English which is purely an individual endeavor in terms of actually producing language, but in everyday usage it is normally one which must acknowledge other participants and their input.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 6:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I get my students for 90 minutes twice each week. So 3 hrs/week/class. Honestly I don't think you can get any serious teaching done with just 45 minutes per class per week and no homework.

In this situation I'd probably make the students do some group work, try to get a few kids to talk in each class, and do lots of listening practice, since that's an activity that scales well to big classes. But really, no matter how good a teacher is, they aren't going to make that much of a difference teaching 45 minutes once a week.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 11:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well I just lost a 2000 word dissertation response to everyone when my internet crashed, so dispirited to say the least!
But to sum all my lost thoughts up, Oral English classes in China are not taught in a vacuum, we're not the only English teachers for these students. Students get 5 days of standard class from their Chinese teachers every week, and so I do think that the Oral English class should be something different- I would argue that teaches teaching students English through the medium of culture is a good way to accomplish this.

I do also agree with Non Sequitur on the importance of giving students a chance to speak, although I value impromptu speaking much higher than reading dialogues-many students are already adept at this from their Chinese English class. Basically, the goal of my class is to try to provide a spark of interest in students that hopefully sustains their learning after they are no longer required by a school to study English, and let's face it, one of the main reasons that people study languages outside of schools is because of an interest in that language as a means to allow one to travel, work, or interact with a different culture.

Now I also think that one of the biggest traps that someone trying to teach an Oral English class can fall into is the "culture is everywhere, so anything I bring in from another country is good for my students' learning ." I'm not sure that there ever should be a 'movie day' (and certainly not more than one) in a once a week oral English class-there are too few classes a semester to spend one watching a movie, especially if there is not an educational value to the movie.

Secondly, I think that oral English teachers should have teaching goals within each class, such as teaching new (by new I mean topics not usually covered in Chinese English classes, and that students find interesting) vocab, grammar or idioms , and that Oral English classes should have some sort of continuity to them; material learned on individual days during the semester should be reviewed and stressed throughout the semester..

I really liked zactherat's analogy of showing someone the location of water versus making them drink, and believe that, in a once-a week situation where students are already being 'made to drink' by their Chinese teachers, an Oral English teacher's responsibility is to help point students in the direction of this water.. And I disagree with MisterButtkins; a committed teacher who is ENTHUSIASTIC about teaching can get serious teaching done in once a week 45 minute classes ( although perhaps MisterButtkins meant Serious teaching as in measurable increases on standardized tests, in which case I wholeheartedly agree with him/her-at least in the short run.)

As for Non Sequitur's question, in the past I did testing by one on one speaking evaluations. However, I've changed this year and have been doing them by group skits. Our midterm was an activity in which students performed an English version of Voice of China (like American Idol)--that went pretty well. The final was a skit of the students' choosing, and this has been rocky with a lot of plagiarism, I think next semester I'll keep the Voice of China midterm and then change to some sort of impromptu group/discussion speaking test for the final.

By the way, I think testing is probably the most overlooked aspect of an oral English class. Many schools require both midterm and final tests for oral classes, and considering that it can take at least 2 weeks to finish one test, this means that about 1/4 of the year is used up in testing. This is why I no longer like the one on one test-students learn little during the test, and it doesn't test or improve a students' ability to interact with others, which as zactherat pointed out is a key aspect of speaking English. I'm still looking for the perfect test, but no it would incorporate three aspects: 1. Require student preparation/learning ahead of time (as in learning new vocab, grammar, etc.) 2. Be impromptu in nature 3. Keep other students interested in what's going on. Voice of China comes close on many of these, but still need to find a way to make it more impromptu. Of course this all goes back to the goal of the test itself, and I would argue that in an Oral English class what should be tested is not only a student's oral English level (with so few teaching hours, almost all of what makes up a students oral english proficiency comes from outside the Oral English class, so whats the point in testing only proficiency?), but should also incorporate improvement in willingness to speak over the course of the semester.

Anybody have any Oral English test ideas to share/more comments on teaching Oral English?
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just read this thread with some interest ... I dont work / wouldnt work in any environment anything like this.

In China, I tend to have between 4 - 8 students, which I have for 90 mins per day, 5 days a week ... for between 2 - 10 weeks. Very different.

In the UK, I have between 10 and 15 students from 90 minutes a day for up to 11 consecutive days. Again, a very different scenario.

So I dont really have much (recent) experience in this type of situation, but if I did take this kind of job I think I would really want to concentrate on something specific in my classes and make that goal a fairly consistent theme throughout my lessons. Dont know if that would be a good or bad thing TBH. I also think 45 minutes once a week isnt very much, and if you try to cover too many bases you'll end up missing them all.

So just brainstorming - my favourite topic to teach is pronunciation. I really enjoy my lessons which feature assimilation / elision / intrusion / linking / strong and weak forms and sentence stress. In the classes I have (more contact time and less students) I can touch these subjects once or twice a week in 20 minute segments that are part of a larger lesson.

I think in your teaching environment Id like to experiment to see if I could do similar. Pronunciation is normally a key concern (sometimes justified) for Chinese students, so I think they would take / accept an oral class with a main goal of improving pronunciation. It would take quite a lot of planning but that would be of interest to me.

Listening tasks could be used with the purpose of identifying features of pronunciation (not done in Chinese classes as far as Im aware).

Reading tasks could be done with the express function of practising specific features of pronunciation.

Speaking tasks can be used and included in teacher > student / pairs / groups with the purpose of practising and listening to each others pronunciation.

Without really clear, and ultimately manageable and realistic goals ... just 45 minutes a week with 40 students is just peeing in the wind I think. Students, especially younger ones, tend to need structure and a framework to follow, solo study skills arent developed or lacking altogether so just having classes where one week you play or sings songs, next week chat in pairs, then another week read out, with no pattern, structure or clear goal isnt going to lead to any meaningful learning IMO
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