#KELTChat Summary: Automaticity & Fluency (23rd September 2012)

This a summary of the #KELTChat that took place on Twitter on the 23rd September 2012. It is dual posted on the KELTChat Blog and my personal blog The Breathy Vowel, but feel free to only read the one version!

On Sunday night we witnessed one of the busiest #KELTChats ever, with over 200 tweets sent in an  hour on the subject of Automaticity & Fluency. Along with regular members, I’d really like to mention the great contributions by two first-timers (I believe): @bora_maren and @jankenb2. Welcome to the community :)

We started out chatting about how important fluency was in our classrooms. The consensus was that it is important in every context, but especially so in Korea, where the bias of school teaching (we will return to this later) is towards grammar and vocabulary, and some teachers are guilty of treating language as knowledge, rather than as a skill, especially where speaking is concerned. We also pointed to the fact that opportunities for practice outside the classroom are limited. I think this is why those of us who teach at universities, such as @languagebubble, put fluency “at the forefront” of their classes.

For @keisenhow it was not only speaking fluency, but thinking fluency in English that was important, which she tries to promote through a task based approach, with thinking time built into a pre-task stage. Combined with relevant tasks and good modelling this helps her students to access the language that they need to complete the task.

We then had some fascinating ideas about the nature and role of fluency. @jankenb2 felt that fluency helped students to free their minds to focus on meaning more (I think I may have Matricized this a little in transcription), and @tamaslorincz added that it might also help with accuracy and range. @chopedu summed this up nicely with a metaphor: “Like learning to drive, we struggle before we can relegate the mechanics to the subconscious and just focus on the journey”. I wasn’t quite sure I agreed with this view on fluency though, for me meaning should always come first, but I am in no doubt that fluency helps to deliver quicker and clearer meanings. The beauty of #KELTChat was that this was then jumped on by both @bora_maren and @chopedu, claiming that form should sometimes come before meaning, and that students could not focus  on meaning, accuracy and fluency all at once, and that performance in the other two factors would drop if students focused on just one. This thread of the discussion then moved on to the role of repetition and games in the classroom. I suggested that simple speaking tasks could be redone with different audiences, and different focuses each time, and @jankenb2 highlighted the role of games in maximizing repetitions within an environment where they are actually required (ie. not just endless drilling).

While all that was going on, another chat within a chat was taking place about the role of fluency within high school classrooms. @bryanteacher (another brilliant recent addition to the #KELTChat squad) suggested that he focused much more on fluency activities, and introduced us (well me, at least) to the concept of ‘unlocking’ what the students already know. This was heartily agreed with by @annehendler, and the point was raised that it often meets opposition from school teachers who prefer to focus on the eminently more measurable and testable quality of accuracy (@josettelb).

At this point @alexswalsh chimed in with a very good point about the fact that fluency activities were strongly tied to motivation and the reasons the student is learning English. This seemed a good point, and again goes back to the testing culture here – why bother putting in the effort to be able to produce something fluently when all you need to do is check a box on a multiple choice exam. @michaelegriffin, @languagebubble and myself all agreed that motivation is crucial in developing fluency, but that we may be able to ‘sow the seeds of motivation’ by giving enough space for fluency in our classrooms. The flip side to this argument came from @alexswalsh again, suggesting that a) students may just throw chunks of language together to finish a task, and b) that doing fluency activities with large classes is not practical because many students simply revert to the L1.

Another issue that came up for public school teachers is that of level, and teachers not trusting their students, or not thinking fluency activities were necessary at lower levels. @bryanteacher pointed out that any “low-level” middle school student has a good few years of English education behind them, and this would seem to make the case that fluency needs to be concentrated on from the very beginning, a bit like what I understood Demand High ELT was all about.

The penultimate part of the discussion stemmed from the motivation thread, and considered how we could make an atmosphere in our classrooms that was conducive to practising and building motivation to achieve fluency. We talked in terms of a “safety zone” (@languagebubble), of which features might be “thinking time” and a “friendly atmosphere” (@bora_maren), or a “social presence” (@keisenhow). “Lightheartedness and laughter” and improving student dynamics through team building are important for @languagebubble.

Actually, that wasn’t the penultimate bit of the discussion, as another thread popped up at the last (this is not the easiest #KELTChat to summarize, in case you hadn’t noticed). This brought in a bit more SLA research which says that students learn linguistic features in predictable sequences. What does this mean for fluency though, @chopedu asked @jankenb2? The response was that even when students seem to be backsliding (I assume in terms of grammar and lexis), especially in conversations, this may still be a sign of progress, and again brought us back to the separate concepts of ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’.

Finally we did get down to talking activities, which for the sake of my tired fingers I’m going to present as a list.

In terms of book recommendations @languagebubble and I also highly recommended English Firsthand for developing fluency, especially at lower levels.

And that more or less rounded off the chat for the evening. Both moderating and participating was a thrilling experience, it seems like every chat is better than the last right now, so thanks to everyone who joined in! I’m going to leave the final word to @bora_maren, in one of my favourite #KELTChat tweets ever:

“It was my first time joining.I enjoyed it a lot. It was a bit confusing and I am still dizzy but I am sure i will get better.”

Pretty much sums it all up I think.

Cheers,

Alex (@breathyvowel)

PS I’ve tried to be as accurate here as possible, while weaving the various threads of the chat into some kind of cohesive whole. If anyone feels that they’ve been misquoted, misrepresented or misused, please get in touch and I’ll do my best to correct it. You can also see a Storify of the important bits of the chat here:

http://storify.com/breathyvowel/keltchat-23rd-september-2012-automaticity-and-flu

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#KELTChat Preview: Automaticity & Fluency – Sunday 23rd September, 8pm

Hi everyone,

There’s no poll this week because the last one ended in a tie between NEAT (if you missed it check out @alexswalsh ‘s summary) and Automaticity and Fluency. We took the decision to do NEAT that week, and tackle Automaticity and Fluency this.

Personally, I think that fluency is an often ignored concept in Korea. We’re all aware of  standardized tests which require such a breadth of knowledge that any time available is spent cramming in new information, rather than working on improving what students already know. Sometimes just the pressure of trying to cover a curriculum, or even just not wanting to bore students with too much repetition causes us to neglect it.

During the chat, we hope to explore how to foster automaticity and fluency in our students; how to do it, when to do it, and how to make time for it in class. We’ll also look at what constitutes a fluent speaker. We also hope that people will share any fluency building tips or activities, and there may also be space to explore the role of related areas such as error correction and accuracy.

If you want a little pre-chat reading, you could do much worse than scan this piece by Scott Thornbury and the ensuing discussion in the comments.

If you’re new to Twitter chatting and aren’t sure quite how it works, check out this handy guide. If you have no idea what #KELTChat is, have a look here or here. You can also contact us through Twitter (@breathyvowel, @JosetteLB, @michaelegriffin, @alexswalsh, @annehendler) or on our Facebook page.

Cheers

Alex (@breathyvowel)

NEAT Test

This summary was graciously shared by Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh) and was based on the #KELTchat from September 9th, 2012. 

KELTChat Returns!

After an extended absence KELTChat returned with record numbers of participants to discuss the topic of ‘NEAT’.

More information needed

With enthusiasm for the topic overflowing the chat kicked off with a discussion as to what we can expect from the NEAT in comparison to TOEIC/TOEFL exams. @Michaelgriffin questioned whether the NEAT speaking section really is that similar to the current industry main players as some reviews have suggested 1. To truly compare what was being tested @ELTExperiences suggested we first gather some more information on the format of the NEAT speaking exam, despite @ChopEDU (who has recently completed an M.A assignment on this topic) rightly pointing out the dearth of information in English on this topic (a controversial yet insightful fact in itself) @BarryJamesonELT came up trumps with 2, @ChopEdu provided the following extremely useful links on assessment in general 3 and @michaelgriffin reinforced the relative wealth of information with 4.

After a quick skim of the provided links all agreed that the NEAT was introducing the assessment of the ‘4 skills’ into the Korean education system for students in middle school 3rd grade and below (2015 university applications).

How can we adapt our teaching to NEAT?

Our host for the evening (@josettelb) gently moved the discussion on to whether we are having to make any changes to our teaching approaches to help transition our students into the change. @bryanteacher pointed out that public school NETs have been largely uninvolved in the transition, a sentiment all agreed with, questionably a cause or effect of the dearth of English information.

The natural flow of the chat moved towards whether the test would involve critical thinking, @keisenhow summing up the evidence by stating it looked doubtful based on the information available, however @michaelgriffin suggested there is, at least, some real life application to the assessment, in agreement with @keisenhow that, for example, letter writing is a transferable real life skill. @AlexSWalsh meanwhile suggested that in the speaking assessment he had recently done on his students (which copied the speaking part of the NEAT exam, see 5 for more details) the students were required to incorporate both creative and divergent thinking skills, especially in the categories of ‘advice giving’ and ‘story telling’.

Time to prepare…

@MichaelGriffin, in his usual forward thinking manner, began questioning how we can help to overcome the ‘chaos’ of preparing students for the NEAT exam. @Bryanteacher pointed out the need to try and avoid what seems to be the knee jerk reaction in Korea of having students focus on regurgitation of memorized expressions, and @Seouldaddy sharing that perhaps huge changes don’t have to be made and a slow transition may be the best way. @AlexSWalsh suggested one way NETs can help is by building similar speaking activities into our lesson plans (for more information/examples see 6)

Poor students

There was concern amongst the participants about the effect this test will have on students, @Chopedu providing evidence that students will be ‘doubling down’ (having to do two sets of tests, the current KSAT plus the new NEAT exam 7), and it was pessimistically, but realistically agreed, that the NEAT could end up being exploited as just another way to make money by certain parts of the Korean EFL industry, which could also lead to a widening of the gap between urban and rural students.

On a positive note

On a more positive note it was pointed out that positive washback of NEAT may help push CLT and TBLT forward in Korea as well as the teaching of lexical ‘chunks’ of language, leaving a general scent of cautious optimism amongst the teachers.

Links

http://blog.naver.com/ohhs28?Redirect=Log&logNo=30142578770

http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/480053.html

http://languagetesting.info/video/main.htmlhttp://www.britishcouncil.org/accessenglish-conferences-new-directions-assessment-and-evaluation-list-of-presentation.htm

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2012/08/162_103839.html

5http://www.alienteachers.com/1/post/2012/09/part-2-how-i-conduct-my-speaking-test.html

6http://www.alienteachers.com/1/post/2012/09/assessment-part-3-building-assessment-preparation-into-a-syllabus.html

http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/480053.html

http://ltj.sagepub.com/content/25/1/39 – An article on EFL testing in Korea by Inn-Chul Choi

#KELTChat Preview: National English Assessment Test (NEAT) – Sunday 9th September, 8pm

Hi everyone,

This week we had the unusual situation of the #KELTChat topic poll being a tie between NEAT and Building Autonomy and Fluency. Much discussion went on in the #KELTChat ivory tower, and we finally decided that we would do NEAT this week, and Autonomy and Fluency in a fortnight’s time.

During the chat we’ll be talking about what exactly the test is, how it will affect the practice of both foreign and Korean teachers, strategies for teaching the various sections, and for the university bods, how it might affect the students in higher education and even beyond.

As ever, we’d be thrilled if you’d join us, particularly if you have some expertise with NEAT. If you’re new to Twitter chatting and aren’t sure quite how it works, check out this handy guide. If you have no idea what #KELTChat is, have a look here or here. You can also contact us through Twitter (@breathyvowel, @JosetteLB, @michaelegriffin, @alexswalsh, @annehendler) or on our Facebook page.

Cheers

Alex (@breathyvowel)

#KELTChat is back (with a poll)

Hi all,

After a short summer break the lither, browner and healthier #KELTChat returns this Sunday 9th September at 8pm Korea time. As usual, we have a few topics in mind for a discussion, and we’d love you to help us choose one.

Simply select a topic below and click vote. Your choice will be registered and the most popular topic announced on Friday 7th September.

If you have any suggestions for topics for this or forthcoming weeks, please leave us a comment below, send a tweet to someone or suggest it on our Facebook page.

Cheers,

Alex G (@breathyvowel)