Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Review of ELT podcasts

2014 was a great year for EFL podcasts with several sprouting up like veritable fungi. I'm a huge fan of podcasts and think they can be a great way of learning while doing other stuff. So what TEFL podcasts are there and more importantly are they any good? 


1. TEFLology 
TEFLology is 45 mins, fortnightly podcast. The three guys who host it are, I think, lecturers in Japanese universities, which perhaps gives the podcast more of a slant towards applied linguistics, over TEFL topics. The very early episodes were quite unpolished, and there are still moment where the conversation just seems to fade out into  'yeah...mmm....right' kind of moments but they seem to be getting better at editing these out. The Podcasts is usually divided into a 'TEFL pioneers' section, TEFL news and a more general discussion of some ELT topic like DuoLingo, linguistic imperialism or TPR. Overall The podcast is well-researched and well worth a listen. In fact the level of research they seem to put into the episodes does make me fear they will burn themselves out. The podcast has recently had an impressive list of guests such as Nina spada, Widdowson and even an 'explicit' interview with Rod Ellis. It's also worth listening to for the 'home-made' jingle at the start. 



This podcast is almost the complete opposite to TEFLology. It's ESL focused rather than EFL and is hosted by two Americans,  Jean Dempsey and Stephanie Axe who I think are adjunct professors (?) at a US university. They have had a number of interesting episodes on things like 'What's the last P in parsnip' and  recap of goings on at the TESOL conference. I find this podcast interesting because I feel I get very little exposure to US TEFL culture and ideas. Obviously ELT is big over there too and I know their system is somewhat different to the UK, but I'm not entirely sure how. That said, in a number of episodes they have talked at length about catering for student learning styles and then were quite positive about prescriptive grammar, -my two pet hates.  Consequently I wrote a rather negative review of them. Since that there hasn't been another episode. I hope the two events are not related. They have reassured me they will be back in the New Year, so here's hoping. 




I thought kKCL was a pretty good podcast, with fairly high production values and a nice style. Their fifth episode was on the topic of learning styles. Guest Marjorie Rosenberg, discussed her new book with host Phil Keegan. I thought this particular episode was a good illustration of the problems with learning styles and so I wrote about it here. Unfortunately the podcast seems to have stopped after this. I hope the two events were not related. The curse of EBEFL? I hope not. Will 2015 see a reappearance of KKCL? Only time will tell.  




This podcast is the brand spanking new kid on the block. With only 3 episodes so far it may not seem worth reviewing but host Andrew Bailey has already managed to bag interviews with Scott thornbury and Ahmar Mahboob.And if that weren't enough he also got a guest anecdote from none other than the Master of TESOL himself, Mike Griffin.I f you've heard the 'freakanomics' podcast, you may feel this has a similar vibe.  This podcast is new so it's hard to say how it'll turn out but it's compact and slick and I've got this on my 'one to watch' list. It certainly has a lot of potential. 


Last but not least is ELTchat, the companion to the twitter #ELTchat. I have to include this because James Taylor would kill me if I left it out. This is a great podcast which includes well known, tweeters and bloggers like Vicky Loras, Tony Gurr and Marisa Constantinides. However so far it has only had about 12 episodes over four years and has only had one episodes in the last year (2014) which makes me wonder if perhaps it isn't in need of a bit of love and attention? James? 





Hopes for 2015
I hope some of the podcasts mentioned here are produced a bit more regularly. It'd also be great to see a podcast offering actual advice for teachers about jobs, something like "guide to teaching in..." and each week the country would be different. It'd also be nice if podcasts included more NNS as hosts and if we saw more women hosts as well.

Did I get anything wrong here? Anything I need to add? Did I miss out any podcasts you think are great? Let me know in the comments. 

Part 2 here

Monday, 23 November 2015

Review of ELT podcasts part 2


In my previous review of podcasts I wrote "2014 was a great year for EFL podcasts with several sprouting up like veritable fungi". Well not only had I missed some, but also more soon sprouted up like...more fungi?



1. Lives of teachers

When I first wrote about podcasts Darren Elliott commented that I'd left his podcast out. I had! I was shocked to discover a TEFL podcast that had existed since 2010 and which started with an interview of Paul Nation as it's first episode! Elliott has interviewed EFL luminaries like Mike Swan, Scott Thornbury and Jennifer Jenkins. The interviews are great and Darren is an excellent host. My only criticism of this podcast (apart from its irregularity) is the fact that the sound quality is poor at times. It has improved recently but early episodes, particularly at the start, were very quiet. 



this show started in July and hosts Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul have already managed to pump out 16 episodes. They've covered a wide variety of topics such as 'Chinese v Western education systems' and 'product v process approaches to teaching writing'. It's quite 'loose' in style and of the 'two dudes talking' school of podcasting (Marek tells me he doesn't worry much about editing). At times the sound quality isn't great (the 'live from the language show' episode sounded like it was recorded in a submarine) but I'd still say it's well worth a listen. I'm a little biased however since they invented me on to one of their recent episodes and let me ramble on for about half and hour. It'll be interesting to see what happens with this podcast. 



The 'commute', hosted by Shaun Wilden and Lindsay Clandfield's (and James Taylor at times*) is a rare beast. A TEFL podcast that isn't about teaching. Instead they deal with peripheral issues such as 'photocopiers' and 'translation'. My favourite episode so far was their examination of the movie 'dead poets' society' from a teaching perspective. I really enjoyed that one. 

I would say that this podcast has far and away the best production values of these podcasts. It has clear sections, good art, good editing and (usually) great sound quality. They generally avoid teaching but do say in their blurb that it "might crop up" A recent interview with Scott Thornbury which touched on 'example sentences' got me wondering if this podcast would be even better if it did actually deal with teaching issues. 


4. SAGE language and linguistics (language testing bytes)


Glenn Fulcher started language 'bytes podcast' in 2010 and has so far produced around 20 episodes, so it's a pretty infrequent. The episodes are also very short with 26 minutes being the longest and 8 the shortest. What it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Glenn is a leading expert in language testing and has guests like Alan Davies and Stephen box discussing issues like 'aviation English testing' and 'rather bias in speaking assessment'. The podcast has been combined with one of Sage's other podcasts so the language testing is interspersed with 'child language teaching' which seems like a rather odd combination to me. 

 
5. EdTechConcerns

Another podcast I really enjoyed was EdTechConcerns. It was also hosted by Shaun Wilden and Lindsay Clandfield (with Philip Kerr) and ran for 7 episodes. It focused on the use of tech in education and the potential problems associated with that. It was packed with interesting interviews and was a high quality production. I'm not sure that you can listen to it now as it doesn't seem to be available. Was it a perhaps a trial run for the TEFL commute? 
   
So there's been a huge expansion in ELT podcasts but a few seemed to have died off. The minimal pair which I talked about last time and KKCL podcast both now seem defunct. I still think there is room for more so here are a few ideas:


1. A TEFL podcast that focuses on actually getting jobs in various countries. So each episode would be about a certain country/sector including an interview with someone there.

2. Similar to the above but getting a local teacher from different countries to talk about the particular language issues that students they teach have.

3. An Applied linguistics podcast. There's a lot of good stuff in TEFLology and and language testing bytes but it would perhaps be good to have a podcast about more academic issues with more in-depth discussion -but not too complex as to turn off listeners.

4. Academic reading circle. A podcast that discusses important/interesting ELT articles. One per episode. Even better if they could interview the authors.
5.A TEFL podcast with a female host.*

 Here's looking forward to a 2016 of great podcasting! 

*As Shaun Wilden notes in the comments, the TEFL commute does in fact have a female host  Ceri Jones. So apologies Ceri!   

Monday, 2 November 2015

Deep, man!



'lightning never strikes twice.'

'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.'


These sentences both sound really profound while being nonsense, and nonsense that can very quickly be identified as nonsense. In both cases a few seconds of thought would be enough to show this. The word 'lightning rod' and the existence of lightning rods is not a contested issue. Lightning rods exist and are placed on the side of tall buildings precisely because lightning often strikes the same spot (tall things) repeatedly. Similarly it's not hard to think of things which while not killing a person would definitely not leave them any stronger. Ebola, spinal injury or brain damage are a few examples. And yet, like the bizarre 'it's the exception that proves the rule' despite making no sense and this fact being apparent to anyone with normal mental capabilities, these phrases continue to be used

One place they're particularly prevalent is on any social media platform that teachers have discovered. Social media + education has led  to the rampant proliferation of what Carl Hendrick calls, 'the scourge' of motivational posters'. Little nuggets of 'wisdom' about teaching usually plastered over the top of an inspiring landscape or picture. Alternatively the quote appears next to a famous figure (Einstein is a popular choice) who probably didn't actually say the quote in question. They're so prevalent they've inspired a satirical section on Shaun Wilden and Lindsay Clandfield's TEFL commute podcast

The internet is awash with these edu quotes and they come In a few different flavours. There's the ego-bolster: memes about how hard teaching is and what under appreciated heroes teachers are.On a side note, it's interesting that such a large number of these memes exist. If you google, 'doctors are heroes' or 'even 'firefighters are heroes' you get far fewer memes than you do for teachers.  Next, there's the heart warming type usually including the word 'heart' in the quote and a picture of a heart somewhere. And finally there are the deepities.


Deep deepities
The word Deepity was coined by Daniel Dennett. He explains it (see video) thus: 




The example he goes on to quote is 'love is just a word'. He makes the point that saying love is just a word is either false (it is an emotion, a condition or  way of explaining a phenomenon) or it's trivially true (yes its a just a word, like pain or joy or sadness, but why even say this?). Other deepities include 'beauty is only skin deep', or there is no I in team'. I am inclined to add the phrase 'everyone learns in different ways' into this category. If it means 'everyone has a preferred way of studying' then *shrug* who cares? If however the implication is that learning, as in the process that occurs in the human brain differs among people, then that would be truly earth shattering as "the architecture of human brains varies very little among adults or among children” (Long 2011:375). 

It is perhaps not at all surprising that we find NLP cornering the market in these kinds of pseudo-profound edu memes, after all, reproducing form without bothering about the substance is kinda NLP's thing. Here are a few examples that I've collected over the years:


‘[1]What you believe to be true either is true, or becomes true.’ 
‘[2]All behaviour has a positive intention’ 

‘[3]There is no failure in learners, only in the teacher’s intervention’ (Millrood 2004:29)

‘[4]There is no such thing as reluctant learners, only inflexible teachers’ (Winch 2005).


'[5]there is no failure only feedback' 

The fact that these statements have appeared (and continue to appear) in print in teacher training publications is hard for me to understand. Not only are these quotes, after a minute of consideration, obviously not true, in many cases they seem to absolve students of any responsibility and lay everything at the teacher's feet. what kind of masochist believes that a [4] reluctant learner must be the fault of the teacher or that [3] any student failure is the teacher's fault?  And the notion that 'all behaviour has a positive intention' seems indefensible until you notice that NLP experts helpfully redifne the word explaining that 'positive here, does not mean good so much as goal driven.' In other words, people do things for reasons. Behold! An earth-shattering truth reduced to banal triviality. 


Fish Trees
He didn't say this 

My most hated of all 'edu memes' is the infamous fish tree meme. I hate it for many many reasons. Firstly, Einstein didn't say it. Secondly if everyone is a genius then no one is a genius. 

This quotes is wheeled out usually in opposition to standardised testing or in calls to rethink education. Climbing a tree is unfair for a fish because a fish can't climb a tree. It follows, supposedly that this is just like how maths tests are bad for those who are not mathematically gifted. Yhe 'take-away' is supposedly that a fish doesn't have the ability to climb a tree and some kids don't do well at maths, and so tests are evil, right? This poster seems superficially deep, but why would  teachers ask students to do things that they were physically incapable of? I could rant on about this quote for a whole blog post but I'll direct you to this one by Todd Pettigrew instead

 
Credit: Carl Hendrick
It seems odd that actual discussions about teaching and learning have, in some parts of the education world been replaced with pithy saccharin soundbites tweeted and retweeted ad nauseam. As Carl Hendrick notes. these kind of posters show "a culture that privileges the media-soundbite over critical reflection" Ironically, the same teachers who insist on the importance of critical thinking and creativity as the very pinnacle of a good 21st century education are often the ones thoughtlessly reproducing these edu memes. 


My 100th Blog post. For this occasion I wanted to write something clever, deep and satirical. I couldn't do that so I just wrote this instead. Thanks for reading. 
Russ