A web site for the developing language teacher

by Costas Gabrielatos
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4.1. The Activity

Students are presented with controversial statements characterising the 'good teacher'. The students are asked to decide on two they most agree with and two they most disagree with as (a) individuals, (b) groups of 3 or 4, (c) a class.

4.2. Some General Observations

•As a whole the discussion lacks natural flow and it is not easy for the listener to follow. Particularly in the case of group B it is not often clear whether the group came to an agreement, nor which the group's choices were.
•In several cases students do not adjust their responses according to their interlocutors' opinion and do not show intention to negotiate. For example, instead of responding to other students' views they just move on to express their own when their turn comes. In such instances the 'discussion' seems more like a series of monologues.
•They do not make any attempts to circumlocute in order to compensate for vocabulary shortcomings, and when they do try they are rarely successful.
•They seem to regard helping each other as inappropriate (in some instances they whisper when they do so).
•They do not seem to regard the negotiation of meaning as being a joint responsibility.
•They leave their utterances unfinished.
•They do not often signal (lack of) understanding/interest (few instances of asking for repetition/ clarification/confirmation).

4.3. The Feedback

The students were asked to fill in two questionnaires, and were involved in a class discussion on the pre-test activity and the questionnaires with the aim to:

• Record the students' reactions to the activity (e.g. problems).

• Indirectly raise the issue of certain strategies and to enquire about the students' views on their usefulness.

• Check the degree to which students were conscious of the strategies they used.

According to the students the two main sources of problems were lack of relevant vocabulary (78%) and lack of relevant "formulaic expressions" (67%) (Bygate 1987: 17). An interesting instance of inconsistency occurred when the students stated (during the feedback discussion) that they had not encountered any problems concerning lexical shortcomings. Lack of adequate grammar knowledge and lack of confidence followed in their ranking (44%). The students were aware of the reduction strategies they used (Bygate 1987: 47-48; Ellis 1985: 184-185). They did not seem aware of the lack of circumlocution on their part although they started that they opt for Greek/silence as often as they try to circumlocute.

During the feedback discussion after the Questionnaires I and II, it was shown that some students somehow understood the words 'co-operation/help' as meaning 'correction'. Also some students thought that the teacher should intervene in a group's discussion and help/correct a student

"... if no one else can", "because each person will have a different opinion about his/ / /em/ or if he's stuck ?a p??µe (= so to speak, in Greek) /e/ he want to / / / /e/ he want to help in a different way // and the most /e/ correct /e/ way is /e/ you..."

At that point I elicited the function of providing the interlocutor with the item he/she lacks or finishing his/her utterance:

T(teacher): "What do you show?"
P: "That you understand."
T: "What else?"
AD: "That you care."
T: "...and that you are?"
AD: "Interested."

On circumlocution their opinions were mixed. Some examples:

1. "... if you can."
2. "But sometimes it's very difficult to find different words / to say something (S: Yes.) if you do not know the vocabulary / the right vocabulary." S: "And then you have to say it in /e/ Greek." N: "I do not agree / I think we know enough words to say something in different words." AD: "If it's very difficult?" P: "If it's a subject that you do not know / words..." N: "You go on to say something else." H: "Start again."
3. "You can't find always words / more simple words to express it / I think you do not." M: "I say it in a simple way from the beginning."

4.4. Rationale

Shortcomings of vocabulary and grammar were obviously encountered during the discussion. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be the case that remedial lessons on vocabulary/grammar would result in considerable improvement of the students' oral production. It seems that students would benefit more from lessons focusing on communication strategies (Bygate 1987: 42-48; Ellis: 1985: 84 & 184) and negotiation skills (Bygate 1987: 47; Ellis: 1985: 184). Furthermore, since their efforts to employ production/achievement strategies (Bygate 1987: 44-46; Ellis: 1985: 184) were not always conscious or successful, remedial lessons aiming at improving the students' fluency had best focus on production/achievement strategies and negotiation skills. Students can become aware of (and trained in) the use of certain production/achievement strategies. Furthermore, they can become aware of certain features of native speech (Brown & Yule 1983a: 15-17; Brown & Yule 1983b: 4; McCarthy 1991: 141-144). By integrating these two elements in their spoken production the students can become more confident and effective communicators.

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