Effective English courses

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Effective English courses

Post by Kennen » Wed Feb 01, 2012 1:09 am

My extensive exploration and numerous responses from authoritative specialists, teachers and learners of English to me on the issue of the most effective English courses have convinced me that English communicative integrated skills courses are the most effective and the most comprehensive courses. There is no valid reason to reject those acclaimed successfully tested courses worldwide as inferior to untested unconventional English learning products like Language Bridge or Effortless English. Creators of such products are in the tiny minority of doubters inventing allegedly easier, quicker and more effective language learning methods and products, but the evidence and verified facts are not on their side. Conventional communicative English teaching and learning that include adequate regular long-term practice in listening comprehension and speaking English yield effective results. Lack of such practice in English produces speculations that conventional English learning and teaching methods don't work. Below is the list of effective English courses:

1. Spectrum: A Communicative Course in English (USA), by Diane Warshawksy and Sandra Costinett (Donald R.H. Byrd, Project Director), is a complete six-level, four skills course for adult and young adult learners of English. Spectrum features a unique "natural" approach to language learning: Rich language input is provided in authentic conversations accompanied by receptive activities that help students absorb new functions, structures, and vocabulary. Real-life language tasks offer both focused practice and opportunities for natural interaction, promoting both fluency and accuracy. Students progress from the beginning to the advanced level as they follow a comprehensive and carefully graded syllabus. Spectrum also features: *Thematically based lessons *Comprehensive coverage of all four skills *Listening activities in both the Student Book and Workbook *An audio program with authentic-sounding conversations, telephone messages, public announcements, and broadcasts *A complete testing package

2. New Headway (by Liz and John Soars, 3rd edition), one of the best courses for all levels.

3. The New Cambridge English Course is a four-level course for learners of English.
The New Cambridge English Course is a course teachers and students can rely on to cover the complete range and depth of language and skills needed from beginner to upper-intermediate level. Each level is designed to provide at least 72 hours of class work using the Student's Book, with additional self-study material provided in the Practice Book. The course has a proven multi-syllabus approach which integrates work on all the vital aspects of language study: grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, skills, notions and functions.

4. Top Notch is an award-winning communicative course for adults and young adults that sets new standards for reflecting how English is used as an international language.

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Post by nazarene » Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:13 pm

I am busy teaching and learning my own languages, which I also thinks helps gives the teacher skill in teaching others to a certain extent. I have not had much time or chance to study the theory of language teaching in great depth. however &#305; get to learn about the methods I am using at the moment and I have learned about methods I have learned in the past. I am a relatively new teacher.

I am using headway now, which you mention. I find it is alright, it is better than it's sister book which is New English File although in structure they are pretty much the same.

They are not necessarily terrible and I am no expert but I find three main criticisms

1. They have a 'block on block' structure rather than what I might call an integrated graduated stepladder structure where one can scale up or scale down at ones will and need. (I forgot the word &#305; came up with for them, hopefully I will remember later). These systems seem more logical and organic and I always look at block on block systems somewhat scornfully and the people who make them as somewhat unenlightened. They don't for one allow for easy revision. Examples of the stepladder like approach is Assimil and Pimsleur for self study of foreign languages and Direct and Callan and Speak your Mind for teaching although I do not idealize these methods. Block on block seems unnatural and I think doesn't allow for as perfect and effective (exact) of revision (since each lesson comes out somewhat different- students need baby steps when encountering new material, remember, and if you studied languages I think you would agree).

2. They are not structure interaction model, where the emphasis is on speaking and active skills. the teacher cannot pose questions that are easily reviewable and which are at teh students' particular level, and which are somewhat closed.

By the way I find 3 criteria for judging a method or program or book, the th&#305;rd being most important primarily for motivational reasons and also because life is short. They are

A. Effectiveness
B. Efficiency,
C. Enjoyment

3. Definiltely this Headway book does things I just don't consider efficient. It may be effective although &#305; think emphasizing speaking is the most effective and efficient. But at our school at least and I am not sure if it is standard, the students are not given the CDs to listen at home. I think listening in the class is neither efffective (because they can't listen again and again to really deepen the understanding) nor efficient, where they can do this as homework and not waste valuable foreign teacher time. CD listening in the class is such a waste of time especially when one has a native speaker. And I don't want to become a mere DJ but I want to be a teacher. But since these books are not structured interaction type books where the teacher has good questions on hand and since it is hard to generate a full hours worth of such closed ended questions it might be more necessary to fill the time with. But if students could only listen beforehand, they could come to the class much more prepared. So that is my third criticism.

Lastly I find that details matter greatly, and some books and publishers I can tell are really aware of details and really pay attention to details, and I love this, and this never goes unnoticed. Some people may not notice it consciously but they notice it subconsciously and it is always I think a good business model to pay attention to details. One of the winners for this is Assimil- but alas it is not designed for teaching classes but rather for autodidactical work. Details include the red ribbon as a bookmark. Also putting the written numbers in the foreign language next to the page numbers for extra number practice. And so much else which space doesn't permit. All too often the details actually cause problems in these typical books

I find Headway not bad per se but there is a lot to be improved upon in my opinion. I don't want to do a Callan method. That is not so enjoyable though &#305; am sure it is somewhat effective and efficient. But the Headway I find is the other extreme, a 'throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks' 'block on block' type approach or method if you will, and I think they are unmindful of details- for example only putting in words of core importance and not adding complexity in any way shape or form that is not helpful to the student at a given level. I think they try soo hard to make the books entertaining by putting in sounds and graphics and so forth that I commend them for this in my opinion somewhat misguided effort

I do my best. If anybody knows a more stepladder like assending and descending method with speaking at it's core but not exclusively that necessarily, and a focus on learning things through assimilation and structured interaction- that is what I think I want. But I don't want extremes, like Callan for example. Speak your Mind may be good in theory but is 8000€ in practice. Headway has a lot of interesting stuff in it which I appreciate and I can work to adapt it to the class. It does the job ok maybe but if I were a student I would not choose this. That being the case, it makes me feel a little funny to teach with and it's especially difficult for private lessons and children.

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blocks and steps

Post by iain » Sat Mar 10, 2012 1:42 pm

Hello Nazarene,

It’s been interesting to read your thoughts on this and other recent posts. Kennens’s assertion that ‘communicative integrated skills’ courses are the most effective is very vague – they are probably the most ‘desirable’, but evaluating effectiveness becomes virtually impossible when individual interpretations of what ‘integrated’ means can differ so much, just as how the practical application of teaching these skills can vary so much from classroom to classroom. The conclusion that ‘conventional is best’ is probably what the majority have always held in every era – but ‘conventional’ changes or evolves. As far as I know the two non-conventional alternatives you name are hardly real contenders – the impression is they are more gimmicky than anything else – they pick up on a technique which may be effective for learning certain things and ‘grow a method’ out of it. The books you recommend are doubtless very good examples of their kind and with good teachers – in tune with their students’ expectations – in favourable circumstance will probably enable good results.
Nazarene’s quest: effective, efficient, enjoyable. My own quest too. Your several favourable references to ‘structured interaction’ suggest you have an inclination towards SpeakYourMind, as does your inaffinity with ‘block-on-block’ (another SyM phrase). What do you mean by ‘step-ladder approach’? How do you see ‘steps’ differing from ‘blocks’?

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Post by nazarene » Thu Mar 15, 2012 3:19 pm

Thank you for your nice reply. I have a lot of my thoughts in my head and some of them are still being formulated. But I don't have the words to describe them all. Block on block is a big chunk- based on the idea of teaching one 'subject', sort of like an academic affair. It &#305;s like a snake digesting a whole rabbit. 'Present Continuous' for example- and often this involves a lot of deductive learning. Step by step- maybe a better word is 'gradual progression' is like a little material being given and then practiced through speaking. It is generally in large part inductive. But the major difference is that the steps are small, we can go back and forward easily for review and progress. We have to have structure going towards a goal. Also block on block implies that the blocks are not connected to each other in any essential way. As with gradual progression- the material tends to recycle itself and we cannot continue to move forward without having mastered to a high degree what has already come. In theory this may be true with any book but I find- especially as there is so much listening work- that my students can slip through, where an 'intermediate' can hardly have a one minute conversation. And you can also go backwards with it (gradual progression), chunk by chunk

I thought of another E word- easy to use and understand.

A lot of the problems with the book I am using can be corrected and we still use this approach. For example they can pay more attention to details and not make certain things ambiguous (I could give a hundred examples if I collected them)- for example matching pictures with words. The picture of a 'fed up woman' doesn't look that different from the worried woman or the nervous boy.

Other problems can be corrected by making more speaking opportunities but making the structure more closed. If the speaking material is too open or general- the students speak only what they already know or else they waste valuable class time searching for the words to say.

I definitely want something more in the middle. At it's base I think I want a structured interaction type method- but with as many new techniques for interaction as possible and not limited to question and answer- especially 'one off' questions that are disconnected. I am trying to write a book now and I have some great ideas but... I think I will have to spend a lot of time on the foundation. It will try combine the best of Pimsleur and Assimil and Direct Method and these methods. It will have many notes for the teacher- that explain my views on psychology and teaching- so that when the teacher teaches with it- they will learn things. Or at least learn what my logic is for doing things. And everything I do I will have logic. Right now the book is just an idea in my mind. I want to make the book a book for connection- where the questions connect the student and teachers. I want to think of many other techniques for speaking that don't involve mere questions. To give an analogy- English is the Germanic language with the most Latin derived words. I want to make a Direct Method book- if that is the right word- with the most varying techniques for conversation and dialogue. I will also maybe use some texts, but very conservatively.. and I want to use only public domain texts to make my job simpler and because they also teach our culture.

What students learn about our cultures from the Headway books is nothing of substance, nothing of deep truth. James Bond and teenage relationships, dating. I just imagine these going over in conservative parts of the world. I want to also respect the traditional values of many cultures, for example those that value courtship leading toward marriage and not the dating game of the west. Just as an example of the 'culture' they dump on students. I think the writers are smart and sincere and try hard, but I don't subscribe to the Jeremy Harmer school of teaching at all. I think to be effective, materials have to be 'speaking based' at their core- though I do think from that point on, flexibility is nice.

I find them so effective. Callan is effective at the early levels, almost everybody says. If we had a more flexible system it would even be effective perhaps at higher levels. And a programmed course takes so much stress and pressure off of the teacher and students. They really do speak 10x as much as other books. At least this applies to some students, who really hardly ever can open their mouth.

I have some other ideas. The ideas are coming but how am I to succeed in actually writing something? An idea for example that I can have programmed material that is given for the new material, and the for the review, separate questions, so it is not too boring. But these are smaller details.

I am doing my best with what I have. Teaching can be a difficult task. The three main aspects are teacher, student and method. The method should be effective, efficient, enjoyable and easy- and of course these ideas are related but also distinct. The Method should have structure in terms of backbone, should have specific structured speaking work- and lot's of it, should teach grammar structures largely inductively (I am aware I used the word structure three times- well that is what language is and what learning requires) and pay attention to details- putting themselves in the (frustrated) students shoes.

These are my ideas. That is what I think :)

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