Monday, September 19, 2016

TEFLology Episode 49: PPP, Technology Review, and Braj Kachru

(TEFLology Podcast)

Sorry, I'm late on this review again.  But last Wednesday a new episode of TEFLology was released--LINK HERE.

Topics this week were
2)Technology Review, and
3) Braj Kachru

This was one of my favorite episodes of TEFLology in that I felt like it was interesting, and that I got a lot of useful information out of it.

...although it could, perhaps, have been better...

I'm in no position to make demands, of course.  It's not like I'm paying these guys for their time, or like they owe me anything.

But I'll throw out some suggestions, and if the TEFLologists find this feedback useful, great, and if not they can just ignore it.

My Advice
I've been recommending this podcast to other teachers in my staffroom.  (If for no other reason than I want other people to talk with after hearing an episode).  I've been having trouble convincing other people to listen regularly.  Many of them are interested in the idea of a podcast on TEFL theory, but not in the format of TEFLology per se.
I think there would be a great demand for a podcast that delivered information on Second Language Acquisition theory--a sort of SLA course in podcast form.

This would be especially true of new teachers just coming off of their CELTA.

It's unclear to me exactly who the intended audience for TEFLology is.  Probably the intended audience is people with advanced degrees in Applied Linguistics.

However, I think if the TEFLologists wanted to target a bigger audience, they could include some useful information for new teachers as well.  This audience wouldn't be as sophisticated as the applied linguistics, but it would be a much larger audience (assuming the TEFLologists are interested in expanding their audience.)
And based on my anecdotal experience, there's a market for this.   Many of my fellow teachers would love a podcast that gave them more information on SLA theory.

The section on PPP is a step in the right direction--this is something that is of direct interest to the ordinary language teacher--but the way in which it was presented indicates that there may be some confusion over who the target audience for TEFLology is.

For example: every teacher with a CELTA certificate knows what PPP is, but few novice teachers will know what the natural order of acquisition refers to.
And yet, in the discussion, PPP was the thing that was explained carefully to the listeners, and the natural order of acquisition was just referenced in an off-handed way as if everyone knew what it was and it didn't need to be explained.

So, guys, here's my advice:
1) Decide who your audience is.  Is it fellow academics, or is it novice teachers?
2) In my opinion, there's a big audience of novice teachers out there, who are hungry for some information on SLA research.  If you so wished, you could be the ones who fill in this niche.  If you want a bigger audience, it's out there for you.
I would recommending assuming an audience that is ignorant of SLA theory, but very curious to learn.
3) The discussion is great, but maybe supplement the discussion with a presentation stage.  I'm thinking it could be just like the TEFL pioneers section, where you first present the information on the TEFL pioneer in an organized way, and then discuss it afterwards.  You could do the same thing with many aspects of SLA theory or teaching methodologies.  I know you already do this a little bit, but you could get a lot more in depth on some of these topics.  (And maybe then lengthen the podcast by an additional 10 minutes or so--there's no time constraint inherent to the medium, right?)
For example, you could do a show on the natural order hypothesis--present the history, the theory, the criticisms, all in an organized form.  Assume a novice audience.  And then discuss it among yourselves.
Or you could do a show on the rise and fall of audiolingualism.  Or a show on the age of acquisition.  Or whatever, these are just examples.

I understand you already have full time jobs, and that this is just a hobby, so if you don't have time to re-organize your podcast, I understand.  I'll keep listening either way.  All I'm saying is I think there is a market for this kind of podcast among novice teachers, and you guys could be the ones to fill this niche if you wanted to.

Okay, with that off my chest, I'll make a few comments about the various topics from this week's episode.

Despite my criticisms above, the nice thing about this podcast is that it does keep you informed about some of the more interesting chatter in the field.

I had never heard of A Potted History of PPP with the help of ELT Journal by Jason Anderson, but thanks to this podcast I tracked it down and had a read.  (It's available free on the web here.)

PPP, for anyone unfamiliar with the jargon of TEFL, refers to Present, Practice, Produce.  It is a teaching methodology in which the teacher firsts presents a language point, then the students practice it, and then finally the students use the grammar point in some sort of free conversation.

It has been for about 40 years now the dominant methodology used in teacher training courses such as the CELTA.

Before I get around to commenting on the TEFLologists, I'll take a brief digression to discuss my own thoughts and history.

My own history with PPP:
Like everyone else, I learned it on the CELTA.  Then I largely forgot about it afterwards for several years while I was teaching in Cambodia.
But then I came to Vietnam, where I am currently working at a school that is rigorous about using CELTA methodology.  The managers emphasize PPP repeatedly, and if I don't stage my lessons using exactly the PPP format, I lose points on my observation feedback.

I was surprised that the TEFLologists stumbled slightly when remembering the order of Present, Practice, Produce.  At my current school, we've had PPP drilled into us so much I could recite it in my sleep.  But the TEFLologists themselves are obviously in a more academic setting and must have been removed from the CELTA style language schools for some time.  This is a good reminder to someone in my context that the PPP methodology is not as dominant everywhere as it is at my school.

My main problem with the PPP methodology has to do with the order of acquisition hypothesis.  Eventually, however, I made my peace with PPP, and discovered that it was not actually in conflict with the order of acquisition.  I'll explain more below.

 The Order of Acquisition Hypothesis and its Potential Conflicts with PPP
       One of the interesting findings of SLA research is that learners appear to always acquire the same grammatical structures in the same order.  Below is an example of the order of acquisition taken from Lourdes Ortega.
plural –s
Be copula
Be auxiliary
Irregular past
Regular past –ed
Third person –s
Posssessive – ’s

            So, for example, learners will always master the -ing for of a verb before they can master the be auxiliary, and they will always master the be auxiliary before they master the irregular past, and they will always master the irregular past before they master the third person –s.  It doesn’t matter what first language background the learners are, it doesn’t matter if they are learning naturalistically or if they are in a classroom, and it doesn’t matter in what order the textbook tries to teach the grammar—for some reason, this is the order that all the learners must go through.

The exact reason for this is still unknown, but the theory that makes the most sense to me is that human attention is limited.  We can consciously direct our attention to one language feature at a time, but not to multiple structures simultaneously.  So in real-time unplanned conversation, a speaker can only consciously attend to one grammar point, and the other structures will get dropped.  Eventually, through enough practice, one language point will become automated, and no longer require conscious attention.  At this point, the mind is free to direct its attention to other things, and the next grammar structure can be learned.
For whatever reason, the human mind tends to prioritize language structures in the above order.  The ones lower down the order of acquisition can not be used in free conversation until the structures higher up have already been automatized.  This is true even when the teacher or the textbook tries to teach these structures in a different order--you can drill and drill the sentences as much as you want, but a student who has not yet mastered the language structures at the beginning of the order or acquisition will not be able to produce structures further down.

This used to be my biggest problem with the PPP method.  Especially when textbooks teach grammar points in a different order than the natural order of acquisition.  (Which, by the way, textbooks do all the time).

However, I've since made my peace with PPP for the following reasons.

Why I Made My Peace with PPP
Rod Ellis, however, makes a good point about the order or acquisition in his book: SLA Research and Language Teaching.  Rod Ellis points out that the natural order of acquisition applies only to free production in real time.  In other situations, learners who aren't yet ready to produce a language structure can still be taught it receptively--they can still understand the rules of the grammar even if they haven't yet automatized it--and they can still do some types of controlled practice in which they have the time to recall consciously learned grammar rules--i.e. they can still do simple "fill in the blank" paper and pencil exercises.

So, the order of acquisition doesn't really affect the first two Ps in the PPP paradigm.  It's only the free production that is the problem.

For a long time, I was bothered by the fact that the Production stage of the PPP lesson seemed to violate the order of acquisition.  But eventually I learned that even here, it need not be a deal breaker.

At my current school, the final production stage of the PPP lesson is defined as a "context in which the grammar structure is optional but not obligatory."
So in other words, some sort of conversational context is set up in which students can use the grammar structure if they are ready to, but they are not forced to use that grammar structure.

In the PPP method, therefore, students who are ready to acquire the language can practice doing so, and students who are not yet ready to acquire it can still be taught it receptively and can use the free production time to work on practicing other structures.  (Rod Ellis noted in his book that since all students progress at slightly different rates, it would be impossible to structure a curriculum around the natural order of acquisition anyway.)

In my own classes, I tend to try to combine the PPP method with Krashen's input hypothesis.  (As Jack Richards writes, we are currently in the post methods phase of language teaching, so this kind of mixing and matching across methodologies is now fair game.)  Some language features can be acquired simply from exposure to input, and some language features need explicit instruction.  In my ideal world, students would acquire the majority of their language through input, but would have occasional form focused instruction.
I like Krashen's idea of dividing the curriculum into 80% input and 20% conscious study.    Assuming a classroom that focused on input the majority of the time, I would have no problem using PPP for the 20% conscious study part.  (Provided, of course, that the teacher understands that not all students will be ready to use the language point in free production.)
I also believe that PPP should never be used to introduce a totally new language structure, but should be used as a clarification of a structure that students have already been repeatedly exposed to in the input.
Given all this, I have no problem using PPP.

So those are my personal views.  Back to the review of the Podcast.

Back to the Review of the Podcast

For the full benefit of this section, it's worth printing out and reading Jason Anderson's article.  But the TEFLologists do a nice job of summarizing it.

Jason Anderson's article essentially reads like this: people used to like PPP, then people hated it, but now it might be becoming cool again.

The article ends on an optimistic note for the future of PPP.

Somewhat frustratingly, Jason Anderson lists a number of criticisms people have had of PPP, but never rebuts these criticisms directly.  For example, among the criticisms of PPP he mentions, he acknowledges that critics have said that it conflicts with the natural order, and that language is best understood holistically.  These criticisms are never again addressed.  Jason Anderson concludes his article by saying that the research is showing that PPP is effective, but never provides a theoretical framework for why PPP is still effective despite the fact that it teaches language atomistically, and conflicts with the natural order.

But perhaps I'm being unfair.  The article is not meant to be a theoretical defense of PPP, but simple a history of its rise, and then fall, and then recent resurgence in popularity.

Other Notes
* Jason Anderson begins by saying: "Contrary to the assertions of some, PPP does not originate in 'audiolingual' ... approaches to teaching"

The TEFLologists are somewhat confused that audiolingualism is even brought up.  Isn't audiolingualism completely different from PPP?
I agreed with the TEFLologists on this.  I thought PPP and audiolingualism were so different that it was surprising that some people associated them together.  (After all, in audiolingualism, the teacher is prohibited from giving any direct grammar explanation, and free practice is discouraged).

However, the TEFLologists conclude that people must associate PPP and audiolingualism together because they are both methodologies that are nowadays considered outdated by many people, and so people might falsely link them together in their mind.  And this sounds as reasonable to me as anything else.

Jon Anderson, in his article, claims that Michael Lewis associates PPP with the behaviourist approach to teaching in The Lexical Approach.
I am behind on my book reviews, but I have read The Lexical Approach and I'm not sure this is entirely accurate.  Michael Lewis associates the teacher correction part of PPP as a remnant of behaviorist thinking that infiltrated the  PPP approach, but I don't think that Michael Lewis claims the whole PPP approach is behaviorist.
In his book, Michael Lewis argues that the reason the teacher is supposed to correct the student in PPP is because of the assumption that errors will lead to further errors, whereas correct speech will lead to further correct speech.  (In PPP, students are given immediate correction in the practice stage, and delayed correction in the production stage.  Michael Lewis is against both).
I'm not sure Michael Lewis is wrong on this.  The correction part of a PPP lesson does seem to be a holdover from behaviorist thinking.

* Personally I'm most in agreement with the TEFLologist who said: "I don't see any problem with PPP.  But I also think before that first P, there's a lot of stuff going on before the first P."

The second section of the podcast was on
Technology Review

I'm not really familiar with any of the programs they talked about here, so I won't comment.

I have, however, recently guilted myself into studying Vietnamese, and I have been using duolingo and quizlet .  Neither of these programs were on today's episode.  (Duolingo was covered on a previous episode, and quizlet has not yet been mentioned).
I'm going to save my definitive comments on the effectiveness of these programs until I use them for a bit longer.  But I will say that, for all their flaws, they are psychologically appealing.  The sense of gradual progress that duolingual gives you is very psychologically rewarding, whatever the linguistic flaws of its teaching approach may be.

There was also some discussion in this section about learning languages from subtitles in connection with one of the language programs.

While I don't have experience with the program they were talking about, I do have some thoughts about learning languages from subtitles.

During my time in Japan, I watched a lot of movies.  Some of these were Japanese movies with English subtitles, some of them were English movies with Japanese subtitles.  (When I first arrived in Japan, way back in 2001, VHS was still more popular than DVDs, so I couldn't turn the Japanese subtitles off even if I had wanted to.  Plus many English movies on Japanese television were subtitled.)

I tended to learn the most from English movies with Japanese subtitles rather than the reverse.  The Japanese spoken on movies was often too fast for me to make sense of it, plus, as the TEFLologists say, I think I tended to focus in on the English subtitles and tune out the spoken Japanese.
(There's a discussion among the TEFLologists about whether it's possible to do two things at the same time--namely read in one language while listening in another.  They tend to think that it's not.)

But I learned a ton of Japanese by reading Japanese subtitles on English movies.  This was especially in the beginning phase, because the most common words and phrases are the easiest to notice.  So in my first couple years in Japan, even when I wasn't trying to study, I couldn't help but notice that certain Japanese letters always seemed to pop up in association with certain English expressions.  And pretty soon I had learned without trying.

Of course, once you do pick up some proficiency in Japanese, you do start to notice that the subtitles are wrong a lot of the time.  (Something the TEFLologists also mention.)
The most common sin was oversimplification.  If the English phrase was something like, "I think that might be possible," the Japanese translation would simply be "Yes".
I guess the assumption must be that people don't read as quickly as they listen, so subtitles can not burden the reader with too many words, and must be pared down to the barest essentials.

As for culturally specific references in English movies, they were usually ignored completely by the Japanese subtitles.  Sometimes the Japanese subtitles would just make up something completely different just to fill up the space.

And not often, but occasionally, there were just plain errors--situations were it was apparent the Japanese translator had not correctly heard the spoken English.  (These types of errors were rare in Japan, because the translators were all professionals, but they were there occasionally.  These errors were rampant in Cambodia, however.)

The last section on TEFLology was
Braj Kachru
I had never heard of Braj Kachru before, so I have nothing to say about this section.  Other than to say it was interesting, and I'm glad to be better informed now.

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