Last year I took another look at the excellent Cambridge Discovery Interactive Readers (full review coming soon) and was disappointed to see that a lot of the content was set up to be accessible to a single user for a limited time. It seems the publisher assumes they will be bought by individuals and used as a kind of textbook.
Of course, this is very different to how ER program administrators look at books.
For me, I am not interested in the interactive questions or even videos (although it would be nice if they were on a public site accessible by anyone), but I am very interested in having the audio files available so I can make CDs for our students.
I reached out to our local Cambridge University Press rep, who is a very thorough and approachable guy, and told him I was very interested in having access to the audio files. He asked some questions about my teaching situation, I answered them, and he said he’d talk to the main office.
I assumed that would be the end of it. Few publishers understand ER as practiced in Japan (particularly with regards to the importance of word counts, etc.) and I wasn’t expecting much more than ‘sorry, we can’t do anything at this time’.
This morning I was proved completely wrong. I received an email telling me that the audio files for the first couple of levels are online and can be freely used by teachers and students. Apparently the rest of them will be going up soon.
This is great. I’m really happy to see a big publisher listen to local teachers and help them with their teaching situation. Big kudos to Cambridge for making this change -I hope you’ll check out the series and download the audio. Positive reinforcement works wonders!
This year we are creating a new curriculum for the Cambridge Academy output classes. I’ve written (and thought) a lot about the Academy reading program input classes, but over 90% of our students also take an output class.
Output classes are small group (up to six students) communication classes focusing mainly on speaking and writing. This year I am taking a closer look at these classes because I have noticed that they may be far more important than I realized.
I believe the reading program delivers most of the benefit to our students. Extensive reading and listening for at least an hour a week is going to complement everything else they are doing at school and outside and give them the amount of input they need to start internalizing the language. However, in our input classes students work alone reading and listening to texts. They don’t necessarily notice the progress they are making, nor do they form emotional connections with their classmates or teachers.
That’s where the output classes come in. Students do pairwork and communicate through speaking and writing. If they enjoy the output classes they will be more motivated and have a positive view of our school.
In a way, the output classes are the heart of the program.
Which is why we are trying to improve them this year. Last year the output classes were a bit of an afterthought, and did not produce the results or the atmosphere we wanted. This year we are shaking things up with some major changes.
Now, I think the benefits of formal homework could be debated, but for us the negative aspects of students not doing homework were far more important. First of all, it was very disruptive to have some students do the homework and others not. We had to take class time to help them catch up at which point that students that actually did the homework got annoyed. Asking/nagging students about homework also created a negative atmosphere in the class, and made some students not want to come to class merely because they felt bad about not doing the homework.
This is why from this month we will not be setting formal homework in our Academy classes. Students have self-study they can do (extensive reading and listening, vocabulary study with Word Engine, listening practice with elllo) but nothing compulsory.
The no homework policy is going well so far.
Fluency practice for speaking and writing
This came from reflecting on university classes based on the PDR method, as well as Yuko Suzuki’s take on shadoku. I have come to believe that our students need fluency practice, ie doing relatively easy linguistic tasks in order to acquire automaticity. What this looks like in practice is doing question and answer drills, timed writing, and repeating speaking activities multiple times.
Again, based on a couple of weeks: better atmosphere, happier students, more satisfied teachers. We’ll see how it goes as students get over the novelty and potentially start getting bored over the next few months.
The Longterm Plan
In the longterm I would like to create an original curriculum for junior and senior high school students that doesn’t require commercial textbooks, based on the principles we are exploring in our output classes. Such a curriculum could be useful not only to Cambridge Academy, but potentially to other private language schools and even junior and senior high schools interested in running a communication class once a week.
I’m really happy to post finalists of the ER Foundation LLL Awards for this year. Lots of interesting looking books. I already wrote about Vera the Alien Hunter, and I’m looking forward to checking out the Malala biography very much.
I am slightly disappointed by the large number of rewrites of classic books. I don’t understand why publishers churn out version after version of Tom Sawyer, the Happy Prince, etc. I guess it’s cheaper than writing new content, but two-thirds of the finalists in the higher categories are rewrites this year. I will be voting for original stories over rewrites, and also take this into account when buying books.
Extensive Reading Foundation Language Learner Literature Awards 2016 Finalists
By the same people that brought us Magic Adventures and School Adventures (waiting for the final installment in May before I write a review), this new graded comic book series arrived yesterday. Vera the Alien Hunter is a girl with a vivid imagination. At one point she starts to meet aliens, although it is not clear if this is real or just her imagination. I have the first three volumes of the series (three stories in each): it seems there will be another three volumes, for a total of six volumes and eighteen stories.
The YL and word counts for each level are similar to the Magic Adventures comics: YL 0.5-0.9, and 300-500 words or so per story.
Really attractive artwork and fun stories.
The audio is very high quality
Word counts on all the books! Well done e-future.
The CD is an MP3 CD, which means it doesn’t work with most of our CD players or the students’ ones at home. Pretty disappointed about this, especially as the previous comics had real CDs. Note for publishers: please use normal CDs if at all possible.
The books have three stories in each rather than being separate books. This could be a drawback in terms of flexibility (ie more students could use them if they were one book per story).
This is a great addition to the e-future comics collection. I’m looking forward to the last three volumes and can’t wait to share them with our students (once we re-record the CDs from MP3 to audio).
Adding shadowing to beginner extensive reading has immense potential
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I’d like to thank Yuko Suzuki, who first told me about the huge potential of incorporating shadowing practice into extensive reading classes for beginners/lower-level students. If you have a chance to see one of her presentations I recommend you take it -she’s a very effective teacher and presenter.
So what is shadoku? Well, it is a term coined by me as a gag over lunch at a seminar in Fukuoka. I’m kind of chuffed that it has been adopted somewhat by the community 😉
Shadoku is shadowing and tadoku (extensive reading).
Shadowing is a type of speaking fluency practice that involves attempting to speak along with another person or an audio source. It is different from repeating. When doing read and repeat, for example, the source would speak first, then the learner would repeat. In shadowing, the source would speak, then the learner would attempt to say the same thing at the same time with the smallest lag possible. One feature of shadowing is that learners are encouraged to imitate the speaker’s tone, intonation, emotion, and pronunciation.
This video gives a brief explanation of shadowing.
So how does this work with tadoku (extensive reading)?
Well, I have only been experimenting with this for a few months, and we rolled it out to all the beginner students in the Cambridge Academy last week.
I have adapted (messed up?) Yuko’s technique slightly, so I will introduce my version of shadoku below.
For beginners (mainly junior high school first years and elementary students) I am planning to do shadoku as described below until they reach YL 0.4, at which point I may allow them to read and listen instead, or we may continue with shadoku if that seems appropriate at the time. Basically this year is another learning experience for me.
How to do shadoku
There are four steps in my version of shadoku, so a student will read each book four times.
Step one: look at the pictures, think about the content. At YL0.1-0.3 there are plenty of pictures in the books and students can guess a lot of the content just from that. This step takes a minute or two, and we encourage students to look closely at details in the pictures.
Step two: listen to the audio and read along silently. This step allows students to focus on how to pronounce words and how the English sounds when spoken.
Step three: listen to the audio, read along, and shadow out loud. This step allows students to shadow assisted by the text.
Step four: listen to the audio and shadow out loud. Do not open the book. This step allows students to use their listening skills and short-term memory to shadow successfully. I also encourage students to think about the meaning of what they are saying during this step.
For the first three or four classes I have students do shadoku as a group, with me leading them. I introduce each step (I have a notebook with the four steps that I show to remind students), play the CD when necessary, and give students feedback and advice. Students shadow together as a group, which makes them feel less self-conscious and allows more confident/keener students to set a good example.
I use these diagrams to explain shadoku
After a few classes and once students are more confident, we do group shadoku at the beginning of class and then students work individually with headphones and personal CD players in the latter half. They are also expected to continue practicing in the same way at home.
The benefits of shadoku
I haven’t been using shadoku with my students for long, but already I am really happy with how things are going. I’ve been asking all our new students (starting at YL 0.1) to do shadoku, and am currently planning to have them continue until they reach YL 0.4 or so.
The main benefit is that students are much more involved in the task.
Previously when we did reading while listening some students were clearly zoning out. I had a couple who appeared not to have made any progress mid-year so I had to have them go back to the beginning and do intensive work reading to me, etc.
I can’t see that happening this year, as I can hear the students practicing and can monitor if they are getting the right pronunciation, intonation, etc.
The students also seem happier and the atmosphere in class is much better than last year.
This is still a work in progress. So far so good, but we’ll see if students get bored or some unexpected problem pops up. We’ll also have to see where it would be appropriate to stop doing shadoku in class and transition to reading and listening. I suspect it’s going to be when students move from YL 0.3 to 04, but I’m not sure and look forward to trying it out in a couple of months’ time.