The English Learner Notebook

May 11th, 2010
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It seems Spring is full of conferences and as  we reflect or  share our thoughts on what makes a “good” conference,  I know that for me it’s about the opportunity of meeting online “connections” face-to-face.  There’s a great buzz from human smiles and human minds exchanging ideas. It’s wonderful to be able to bump into people you might otherwise never meet.

Although online conferences such as the Virtual Round Table – which has just hosted its second event -  are powerful and save on travel time, there is less chit chat over morning coffee or time to sit down and speak to people individually.

At TESOL Spain, held in Lleida in March we bumped into Ken Goméz plugging his wonderful notebook, that was a meaningful start to a super event. Since then, I’ve kept in touch by email and would like to share an interview on the Enlano English Learner Notebook project that Ken introduced us to.

Valentina: What are the benefits for learners using English Learner Notebook?

Ken: The main benefit is that the students will have an organised and structured notebook, this will help immensely when revising for exams or when looking for specific material already covered. It also offers sections such as the vocabulary by topic spider diagrams which students may otherwise not bother doing, and which is an incredibly useful tool.

English Learner Notebook

Valentina : What is the English Learner Notebook (ELN)?

Ken: As the title suggests this is a notebook for learners of English as a second language. The aim of the notebook is to help students take effective and organised notes. This is achieved by dividing the notebook into specific sections for the students to note down the relevant information using pre-designed templates.

Valentina: What are some of the ways in which the ELN differs from an “ordinary” notebook?

Ken: At first sight the obvious difference is that the English Learner Notebook is divided into sections each with its own pre-printed design and each page numbered. There is also a short reference section at the back (grammar glossary, verb tense overview, phonetics etc.) for students to consult.

Valentina : How do you see the English Learner Notebook fitting in with digital vocabulary learning aids e.g collaborative mindmaps or online flashcards?

Ken: E-learning is obviously here to stay and a very powerful tool which should not be overlooked even by the traditionalists. I see the English Learner Notebook complementing this process.  The student has the opportunity to note down for future reference the most relevant information which they gain from the e-learning sessions, as in a traditional learning environment. The fact that the student has to physically write down information also helps with the retention of that information.

Valentina: Who is involved in the “Enleno” project?

Ken: Enleno is very much a personal project which I developed while studying a CELTA course at the Hyland Academy in Madrid. I saw the need for students to take effective notes and decided to do something about it. The content of the notebook is by Catherine Morley who was one of my tutors on the course. Some friends of mine, ZAC design, helped with the layout and design. I am now in the process of getting the product out into the market.  The notebook was on show at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate at the English Language Bookshop and further details on the English Learner Notebook  are available at  http://enleno.com/

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Capitalism 2.0

April 9th, 2009
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Interesting article by Nassim Taleb that would be great input for a class for financial English. And here’s a blog post discussing it.

Hat tip to Andrew. If you go to the Taleb article from his post you won’t need to register at the FT.

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Making coursebooks more relevant

April 7th, 2009
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Very useful post (as always) from Karenne Sylvester over at Kalinago English.

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In-company language training in 1915

August 9th, 2008
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ESL instruction at Ford in 1915

The Ford Motor Company provided language instruction to immigrant workers 90+ years ago. A major  objective was worker safety at the factory…the same goal of a project I did for an energy company several years ago.  Evidently the teachers used a direct method similar to Berlitz.

From the .ppt A Brief History of EFL Instruction on the CAELA resource page (4th bullet down).

Hat tip to Larry Ferlazzo.

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Corporate language “programs”

January 10th, 2008
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This has me intrigued.

I’d imagine that most BE professionals working with large corporate programs are like me – spending half their time thinking “There must be a better way”. We work with creative, high energy managers who are passionately engaged with the high-speed challenges of their job. Then we have them stop what they are doing, go sit in a classroom, turn to Unit 4, and read about what Richard Branson has accomplished (“he has started many different businesses, and he has sailed around the world in a balloon”). Then we wonder why attendance is 60%.

Anyway, we’re always looking for a way to connect language training with business goals, and the excerpt below points to a perspective that might contribute to that:

Systems, Not Programs

The HR profession is very adept at program development. Success is most often defined as creating and/or adopting best-practice programs, and HR is organized and managed accordingly. HR consulting firms align their practices with the way their clients are organized: They deliver products and programs for HR subprofessions (such as training, staffing, and compensation). But the data is indisputable: Decades of new and better programs have not delivered great results. The reason is that “world-class programs” cannot deliver performance results. Only systems deliver results.

An automobile engine is a system that requires great parts. All parts must be fully integrated and aligned to the purpose of the engine, whether that be high performance or a fuel economy. A well-built engine uses just the right parts and no more. Likewise, succession planning, training, and appraisal can be viewed as parts. Just as throwing pistons and spark plugs into an engine compartment will not deliver a satisfactory engine, neither will “world-class” HR programs deliver acceptable customer results. More and better HR programs will deliver no better performance in the future than they have in the past. Performance results require a system.

From The New Human Capital Strategy by Bradley Hall. Hat tip to KnowHR.

What would a corporate language system look like? How would it differ from a “program”? Or would there be no specific language system or program, but rather a language training componant that is subsumed within the overall human capital system? Can we emancipate corporate language training from its legacy institutional (school) origins?

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Learning ecologies

September 2nd, 2005
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No need to add anything here; this rousing post by George Siemens in his Connectivism blog is truly a gem. Here’s a quote:

Educators are a conflicted group. The intended outcome of our activities is a nebulous concept we define as “learning” (some type of change of state or potential in the learner). We assume that through pushing buttons and pulling levers in an intricate process we call “instruction”, we will be able to “create” learning. The best we have been able to do to date is create a series of guidelines and conditions in which learning might occur. Vygotsky, Bruner, Chickering, Bloom, Gagne, and others have sought to pry open the door of “making learning happen” through checklists and best practices. In the end, most educators will admit that we are really rather clueless about the whole learning thing. And we should be. We have taken the wrong approach. We are trying to achieve a task (learning) with a tool (teaching) in an artificial knowledge construct (courses). It’s all about us.

Read it all – please.

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What are teachers for?

August 3rd, 2005
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Strong post from AJ over at Effortless Language Acquisition. Bottom line:

The honest truth is that (especially above the intermediate level) teachers and classes aren’t necessary. Therefore, the only honorable purpose I can claim is this:

My job is to help students break their dependence on teachers and school. My job is to help them learn how to learn English… on their own. My job is to help them become autonomous learners.

The whole post is worth a read. BE teaching with its smaller groups and individual classes should exempt most teachers from this level of frustration, but the overall conclusion is about the same. Two other thoughts:

First, it’s great to see fearless “action research” like this. Here’s a teacher reflecting on what’s happening in the classroom, and concluding that…it’s a waste of time. I love the lack of complacency.

Second, in BE we can integrate performance support into our teaching, and add value that way. So maybe we can say that as BE teachers our primary roles are fostering learner autonomy and performance coaching?

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HR takedown: a rebuttal

July 29th, 2005
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Here’s a response to Why We Hate HR discussed in this post. It’s a strong rebuttal (but as a teacher, I’m an HR guy, so I’m not 100% objective).

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Obligatory reading for all Business English teachers

July 28th, 2005
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BE professionals all have to read Why We Hate HR. Not just read the ideas in the article, but ponder, re-hash, debate, and reject or accept (obviously I vote for the latter).

Why? Three reasons:

First off, most of our clients are training managers or HR departments. The article explains why HR sits at the kid’s table, while marketing, finance, and production call the shots. That our clients are marginalized within their organization should be of concern to everyone involved with BE.

Second, we need to take into account the internal dynamics of our client companies. HR has less clout than other areas. What does that means for us? It means that we must bring the line managers to the table. Since most of the time we design the language program structure, we must include line managers (not just HR) at every step. Needs assessment, course planning, attendance reporting…all must flow through line managers as well. Our students feel accountable to their direct manager, not HR. At English360, when we started pushing for active line manager partication in the programs we designed and delivered, program success improved considerably.

Finally, and most importantly, we need to constantly ask ourselves “how can we best impact our students’ business?”. It’s the lack of perceived direct impact of HR on business results that this article laments. For BE to contribute to business results, we need to design courses and activities around actual performance events such as presentations, meetings, and email, instead of page 42 of Market Leader (nothing against Market Leader by the way).

Of course many BE teachers do this already. But several years ago I observed about 40 different classes and dozens of teachers for a client, in 9 countries, and I was dismayed at how few of the teachers strayed from the book. Some weren’t sure what their students’ jobs were…even in individual classes. In the follow-up interviews, it was clear that these teachers (and their schools) understood that, for most of our students, English isn’t an end in itself, it’s a means to an end. They just weren’t teaching that way.

The purpose of Business English teaching is to improve business performance (through more effective communication). Focusing on that end requires, whenever possible, a dogme approach, an emergent syllabus, and classes primarily based on preparing for learners’ actual on-the-job language performance. I’ll be discussing these ideas on this page, as they summarize the English360 approach.

(Full disclosure: my BE experience is from Latin America, and I’ve spent some time in Eastern Europe. Why We Hate HR is is right on the money in LatAm and the US, but I’m not sure how applicable it is to the rest of Europe and Asia. If you have experience there, please chime in.

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Goal setting and metacognition

July 19th, 2005
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Here‘s a quick read on goal setting using the well-known SMART system.

We use this approach when helping learners set up their program, objectives, and timetables (see “Roadmap” in our glossary). I even have a lesson plan somewhere with a step-by-step guide – I’ll track it down if anybody asks.

In our experience SMART goal-setting can be a invaluable metacognitive tool for adult language learners.

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