I never believed in Santa Clause. The story was illogical. Even if reindeer did fly, how could one man single-handedly land on the rooftop of every child’s house across the world in one night, squeeze down their chimneys, and leave presents for the good ones? Even with the time lag from China to the United States, it was impossible. I was a pretty smart kid and learning was something I enjoyed since I could understand anything with consciousness. I do not remember exactly what it was I studied in those first years but I know I did not think much of my teachers.
 
They were just sort of there. 
 
The Fat Man with Christmas presents wasn’t real, but Ms. Marin Was!
 
When I entered first grade, I could read a lot and write a bit by then. My teacher Ms. Marin helped me tell my first story by writing it in a book. She would doodle little clever cats and stars on my homework and give me A-pluses and tell me how talented I was. She was always so fun and interesting to listen to. She would draw us weird animals that lived in the desert or under the sea. She would tell us these animals could live without water for weeks or that some would go into a frenzy if they smelled even a drop of blood. A fat man with Christmas presents may not have been real, but Ms. Marin sure as heck was. Her words. Her enthusiasm. Her inner-fire. Her curiosity for the world around her. Weird interesting stuff that she loved and I loved because her. Her love of learning became my love of learning. From the many teachers I would have all the way throughout graduate school, Ms. Marin’s gift was the greatest of all.
 
Mediocre teachers to follow but a new second-hand piano
 
The years went by and all of my teachers were just like my other teachers. Just. There. Nothing good. Nothing bad. Mediocre at best. I cannot even remember their names now as I try to remember them. The years went on and my love of learning continued. By the time I was 10-years-old I had convinced my mother to let me take up the piano. I fell in love with the rainbows I heard on my dad's classical vinyl collection. I played them again and again, like a bad habit. Each time, I felt things. Things I can only describe as fireworks exploding in my chest. My mom and dad even saved their money to buy me a second-hand piano from the Salvation Army. They said it was my birthday present for the next few years. I agreed.
 
Smashing my little dreams of learning 
 
My mother took me to Mrs. Hansen’s house. She was the town’s only piano teacher. Anyone who was learning to play the piano went to Mrs. Hansen. Her home had marble floors and glass chandlers hanging high off her low ceilings. In the middle of her living room sat the most gorgeous piano. I was so excited to play. To learn everything I could. Scales. Octaves. Half and full notes. Sharps and flats. To practice until I was perfect. I walked into Mrs. Hansen’s house wanting to dazzle the world with my fingers and then the most horrible thing happened, I hated it. Mrs. Hansen would yell at me for making constant mistakes. She told me I was lazy and that I was not working hard enough. For playing the wrong key by accident. Her eyes would glare at me and all the hopes I had on the inside shriveled up. She had no idea she was breaking the bones of all of my dreams. She would smash my little fingers as hard as she could to make me understand what it was she wanted me to do.
 
I gave up wanting to learn
 
I remember dreading going to her house. Even at home while I practiced pressing those 88 keys every day, I would feel her behind me yelling at me making me feel small. Her anger, disappointment, and cruelty overpowered the passion Beethoven and Chopin’s piano sonatas once stirred in my blood. I started to skip my lessons with Mrs. Hansen on purpose. Eventually, I gave up on ever learning to play completely. To this day, I still look at the black or brown varnish on these lavish instruments and the 10-year-old inside of me still feels the sting of heartache, of failure, of defeat.
 
Now. 
 
I am the teacher. And I know exactly what that means. I teach English as a second language. And I get to be Ms. Partida. I have learned there is a spectrum of students with different aptitudes and retention abilities. The process of learning a second language to me is like the process of learning music. It is complex. There is no true way to know exactly HOW to teach. Certifications and college degrees do not cover the dynamic things that happen moment to moment in any classroom on any given day. We do not learn how to inspire or even how we might accidentally blow a child's fire out. Becoming a great teacher is a learning process. I learn from my mistakes. And above all I have learned the most from one dynamic woman that burned like the sun as well as from a poor emotionally equipped piano teacher. I have learned the utmost importance of patience, of a smile, of a kind word of support. Mrs. Hansen taught me what to never be and Ms. Marin taught me the beauty of living outside the classroom box. From her I have learned to be creative in class as much as possible.
 
Inspiration is the greatest gift teachers can give
 
I believe that inspiration is the greatest gift any educator can give to any of their students. So they know anything worth attaining does not come overnight. Mastery of any subject takes great practice. Discipline. Attention. When one loves the process of learning, we give those things gladly. The hours go by and we have not even noticed, because learning anything from deep-sea exploration to speaking another language can be so much fun!
 
Teaching English with Drive and Passion
 
I choose to be a teacher every day. My mind is present in the class. I never forget that my students are aware of my actions towards them; just how clearly I saw Ms. Marin and Mrs. Hansen or even Santa Clause at the early age of five. Students feel the carelessness or the genuineness. We teach; not only our designated subjects, but also how to be in the world. If you are driven with passion and sincerity, they will feel it. You will move the mountains of their imaginations and stir their potential like a chef in a fancy French kitchen.
 
Teaching life-long learning
 
The greatest trait for all exceptional teachers, in my opinion, is the practice of life-long learning. I slip and fall out of difficult yoga poses until I can hold them. I myself grapple with Mandarin and Russian. I write stories I have to edit again and again. I read books on subjects I know nothing about in order to keep the mental cobwebs away. These academic strifes in my adult years keep me understanding of those in their youthful school years.
 
They learn from me, and I learn to be a better teacher from them. It is a mutually beneficial relationship for everybody. I hope someday each and every student of mine remembers me the way I remember Ms. Marin instead of how I feel every time I look at a piano.
The subject of an excellent Penny Ur book, Teaching Listening Comprehension, listening is the most commonly used communication skill, yet the least explicitly taught in many classrooms.  Listening is a skill often taken for granted and overlooked by teachers, so I hope that this article (and part book review) will help you and your students reach those learning goals a little easier.

What is Listening Comprehension?
 
Before we start, it is important to know what listening comprehension is. Listening comprehension is everything from speech perception and word recognition (think baby sounds and first words), up to inferring implied meaning and intention (think compliments with sarcastic tones).  But this level of comprehension takes years to develop, and can be very difficult to teach.

Listening Activities Should Reflect Real Life Listening (RLL)
 
To make listening tasks meaningful, they need to reflect real life listening (unless you are specifically preparing students for listening test).  To make your listening activities reflect real life listening (RLL), we must consider the characteristics of RLL.
 
Firstly, we almost always have a purpose for listening, whether learning something in a lecture, or finding out gossip, there a purpose.  And this gives us an expectation of what we will hear, like a saucy story about your best friend’s partner’s granny, or an answer to a question you just asked.  
 
Once we get our expected response, we always respond.  It can be an obvious physical or verbal response like clapping or asking a follow up questions, or not so obvious such as an emotional response.

Visual and Environmental Clues in Listening
 
A characteristic of real life listening that really helps us are visual and environmental clues.  When facing the person we are listening to, we can often tell a lot about what they are saying from their body language or facial expressions.  Our surroundings always help us to add context to help our listening comprehension.
 
Finally, in RLL, it’s important to consider how English is heard as opposed to seen.  Colloquialisms, pace, pitch, tone, formality and so on, all change how individual words may be heard.  Spoken prose can be vastly different from written prose.

Common Listening Problems in ESL Students
 
Now that we’ve considered RLL, let’s look at some common problems faced by students learning a second language.
 
To start, simply hearing the sounds is difficult.  Hearing a sound like 'th' in (thing), which doesn’t exist in several languages, forces the listener to attribute it to the closest known sound they have; in Chinese this is /s/, in French, it’s /z/. Homophones and homonyms (saw – bear/bare) are more obvious obstacles, and then there’s intonation and stress.  My favorite example to use is, “Did you steal my red scarf?”.  If you change the stress to a different word it can change the question entirely.  

Listening to Every Word is Often Unneccessary
 
Redundancy and noise are also difficult problems that learners have to overcome. Redundancy is when a speaker uses too many words.  In native listeners, we are quite good at tuning out until we hear what we need to, kind of like scanning texts, the rest of the information is redundant.  The same thing happens in listening, but for second language learners, all languages included, there is an innate desire to understand every word that is heard, which can be very difficult, and often unnecessary.  This is why instruction giving is so important to plan.

Colloquial Speech in Listening is an Additional Problem in ESL Listening
 
Noise is when a word isn’t heard, either due to a background noise, the listener not knowing a word, or too many words being said too fast.  You may have just been teaching the sentence “I don’t know.  Where do you think he could be?”, but it may sound more like “I dunno.  Wej’thinkeeknbee?” when said in a colloquial manner.
 
Colloquial language is another problem and something all teachers should be acutely aware of.  Usually colloquial language is unplanned, jerky and spontaneous, delivered at a tremendous speed and varies in tone, pitch and speed.  Not to mention that we regularly leave letters out (comfortable, vegetable), or even whole words (where you going? What you doing?).  Being aware of this will help you and your students and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Listener Fatigue and Accents
 
Listener fatigue and accents can also cause problems, however the latter is an important element of learning English and more exposure to different accents, but not too often, will help students in the long run.

Teacher Tips for Planning Effective TEFL Listening Activities
 
Remembering what you have already read, here are some tips for planning an effective listening activity.
 
1. Focus listening around a task:  this helps to make sure students have a purpose to listen.  It could be a TPR response, ticking a box, following directions, but be careful not to make it too writing intensive.
 
2. On-going learner response:  as we learned earlier all listening requires a response.  On-going responses in the classroom work much better than a few questions at the end, which could make it a memory test and not a comprehension exercise.
 
3. Motivation and success:  One of the biggest factors in motivation is success. Make sure the task is challenging but not too difficult.  Once a student succeeds they will be motivated to go again.  Provide opportunities for students to complete written answers, or listen a second or third time if it will help successful completion.
 
4. Simplicity:  Be wary when using additional environmental or visual clue that you don’t stimulate too many senses at once.
 
5. Feedback:  Give it immediately or as soon as possible.  Students will quickly forget what they heard if you give feedback a day later.
 
6. Visual materials:  invaluable in setting the context and will likely provide heightened motivation and interest.  You can also throw in some acting or miming instead of the usual audio recording.  
 
If you would like to learn more you should definitely pick up Penny Ur’s Teaching Listening Comprehension and for even more classroom ideas, try out Simple Listening Activities by Jill Hadfield.

by Grant Fraser

Grant Fraser







Grant is from Scotland and has been living and working in Suzhou, China since 2011 teaching English to young learners. He is keen to share his experiences and ideas with other teachers throughout China and the rest of the world. If you would like to contact Grant please click here
 
Sunday, 24 January 2016 10:21

Using Music in the ESL Classroom

When I started English teaching, I generally used music in the classroom as just a listening task; filling in the gaps and maybe as something fun to do on a Friday morning or late afternoon.  However, since then with more experience, and from reading more widely, I have begun to realise that using music in the ESL classroom can be more than this.

Using Music to Teach Pronunciation
 
When I taught language students in London, it did not take them long to notice that pronunciation in London does not necessarily follow what would be seen as “standard” pronunciation. So, I used music in the classroom to highlight certain aspects of some Londoners’ pronunciation; I played a song by Dizzee Rascal, the London rapper, to highlight his pronunciation of certain words, which may not be seen by many as “good pronunciation”, but a significant feature of many Londoners’ pronunciation nonetheless, and one I thought the students needed to understand. In a task such as this, it is important that you know the song well and can highlight the features of speech very clearly, so a good amount of planning would be needed.
 
A good thing about this task is that it can be used at most levels, I have used it at elementary, intermediate and advanced levels and they all found it useful. It also generates important discussion about language, you could personalise the lesson by asking students to discuss what is deemed to be the correct pronunciation of their own languages, a task like this also reveals students’ thoughts about how they would like to sound in English, and what they believe is good pronunciation.
 
Using music to connect with your students
 
I have found that music is also a great way of connecting with your students beyond a grammar or pronunciation point. By adapting a task from the book Being Creative, I have used music to go beyond just filling in the gaps but to create connections between students. Instead of you bringing in the music, you ask your students to provide the music, many students have music on their phones or Mp3 players, so they often have music to hand. Ensure that you teach some useful phrases beforehand and encourage them to think of their own questions related to music; you could also build up a spider-gram of lexis on the board.
 
Phrases
 
“When was the song released?”
“Who is the lead singer of the band?”
“Is it his/her/their debut album?”

Lexis:
Rhythm
Melody
Pace
Mood
 
Allow one of your students to play a song they like that is around 2 – 3 minutes long, and just listen to it as a group. The student can give a short introduction to the song if they think it would help the rest of the class, and it does not matter if the song is not in English.  I know this may sound strange, but the point of the lesson is to generate personalised discussion, and to learn more about your students and their musical tastes, in my opinion music is a great vehicle for this.

Write Good Language on the Board
 
When using music in the ESL classroom, you can make the English lesson as structured as you like or it could even be very impromptu, which was the case when I had a small class of advanced learners.  It generated a lot of discussion and new lexis, which I wrote on the board, I also learnt from my students, which is part of the joys of teaching.  If you have a large class just choose a couple of students who do not mind sharing their taste in music.  Make sure that you give the other students a couple of questions to ponder about while the listen; how did you feel while listening to the song? How would you describe the mood of the music?

Encourage Curiousity about the Music
 
Once the song has finished playing give the students time to think about the piece and ask any questions they might have, encourage the student who shared their song to add any extra information they have about the artist.  You often find that other students, including yourself, become curious about certain artists, even an artist you were adamant you did not like, especially if the student talks passionately about them.  Depending on how well you know your student this task is also good to use in a one to one class as there can be an exchange of more than one song.
 
Music in the ESL classroom is always a nice break from the coursebook or the grammar point of the week, it is also a way of creating a relaxed and encouraging atmosphere in the ESL classroom, which assists in generating useful language and interesting discussions.
 
By Yolande M Deane
 
Yolande M Deane is a highly experienced ESL teacher and ELT article writer. She previously taught ESL to language students in London and she is currently teaching ESL in Harbin, China.
 

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