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Description of tasks

In what follows, we suggest materials and both in-class and e-learning tasks that enhance students' understanding of the course materials and that give them the opportunity to establish links between theory and practice. The tasks have been developed specifically for the needs of the students attending the Narratives in TEFL course in its blended learning form.

6 February (face-to-face session 1): provide a general introduction to the course: present course materials and describe the tasks and techniques used in the course, with particular focus on incorporating online tasks. As for content knowledge, participants are invited to reflect on what seems to be current issues in language pedagogy in Hungary in their views. Provide only a brief overview of ELT methods, as a special course will be dedicated to this topic later during the programme. At this point in the course, it is also crucial to create an understanding of the terms method, technique, and task, as our experience shows that both in- and pre-service teachers have difficulties in distinguishing them and using them correctly.

27 February (online tasks 1, 2, 3 and optional task):

Before setting the first online task the tutor should set up a discussion forum for discussing classroom-related issues. Course participants should be informed about the existence of the forum. The first online task can be assigned right after the first face-to-face session, for example:

Task 1: Read the article below from: and post two comments in connection with it. First, comment on whatever you found interesting in the study itself: (what you liked, what you agree or disagree with, what you have also experienced in connection with the topic discussed). Then, post another comment in which you respond to someone else's opinion from the group.

Why Do Kids Dislike School?

So. Your child is one of the millions who think school is a drag.

He or she gets bored. Doesn't stay focused. Avoids homework. When you ask what happened at school earlier in the day, the response is, "Nothing," or, (my personal favorite, one that I've heard countless times from my own children) "I don't remember."

Perhaps you think your child is lazy. Undisciplined. Incurious. Even limited.
And some of you, unfortunately, may be correct.

But for others, the problems may lie beyond your child. According to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, it could be the school that is boring the heck out of your child.

A professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, Willingham studies how people think and learn by looking at the biological and cognitive basis of learning. His conclusions about what this all means for your child sitting in class for eight hours a day may cause you to rethink how your child is being educated.

If the folks who decide what goes on in classrooms understood the work that he and other cognitive scientists do, perhaps more kids would stay interested--and learn in class. And perhaps school "reform" would be geared more toward how kids learn than on standardized test scores.

A discussion of Willingham's views from his new book, "Why Don't Students Like School?" starts with the somewhat startling notion that the brain is not designed to think efficiently.

It turns out, he said, that thinking is slow and unreliable, at least compared to activities such as seeing and moving. Unless the cognitive conditions are right, the brain will avoid thinking and instead try to rely on memory.

The human brain does, however, like a challenge. Our brains make us curious and interested in exploring new things. But if the problem a brain is asked to solve is too difficult, it tries to give up. If the problem is too easy, it quickly gets bored and tries to find a way to stop working.

Adults can more easily opt out of doing things that are too hard or too easy than can kids in school. So how do children react when forced to do something they do not feel they can handle? They tune out. And sometimes act out, too. I learned some other things from Willingham, too, or rather, I unlearned some things I thought were true.

One of them involves the "visual-auditory-kinesthesia" theory that holds that everybody can take in information through each sense but learns best through a preferred one.
It turns out, Willingham said, that the processes by which children learn are far more similar than different. So that many of the efforts teachers make to help kids learn through different "learning styles" don't really help.

He also takes on the notion that teaching "critical thinking"--or "higher order thinking"--to kids trumps the learning of facts. In fact, the former can't be done without the latter. Background information matters, and is in fact, necessary for deeper thinking.

And he dispels one of the common techniques that I confess has always bothered me: The effort by textbook writers and many teachers to make classroom material "relevant" to students' interests and lives because, the thinking goes, it helps them stay interested.
It actually doesn't, Willingham says; content is no guarantee of interest. You can turn on a documentary about a subject you love but find it boring, or you can watch one on a subject you don't like and find it fascinating.

Willingham's book goes on to discuss how thinking and memory work, but explains how teachers can use this to keep their students engaged. (I will post a longer Q & A with Willingham for those who want to read more about these issues.)

The reasons that I find his conclusions so interesting go beyond the shattering of a few myths about education. What it shows is that there is still a great deal for all of us to learn about how to engage and teach children--and make sure they are learning what they need to be successful adults.

The Answer Sheet will, over time, look at everything that goes into educating children. The issues are countless; the routes to success varied. I'd like to start our discussion by asking you to e-mail me (put in link) with questions and ideas about anything and everything you wonder about related to school and how to survive it.


Task 2: Write a short essay (300 words maximum) in which you (1) describe a most motivating or demotivating teacher and (2) tell a story in connection with this teacher or describe a task this teacher used on their lessons. Share your essay on the discussion forum of this course. Read at least one essay and post a comment about it.


Task 3: Reflect on your strengths and weeknesses as a teacher. Make a list of at least five strength and no more than three weaknesses that you think you have as a teacher. Come with your list to the next class. In doing so, rely on the task sheet proposed by Pennington (1990). The activity Effective Teaching: Who Gets the Apple? provides a structure for thinking about and discussing attributes of "good" and "poor" teachers. It also invites teachers to examine their own practicum in this light, and to set goals for their future teaching in the practicum and beyond:


Effective teaching: Who gets the apple?

Answer these questions based on your own experience as a student.

a. What kind of teacher has been most successful with you? How do you define “successful” in this context? To what do you attribute this success?

b. What kind of teacher do you like? Have the teachers you like been the same ones that have been most successful with you?

c. What kind of teacher has been most unsuccessful with you? How do you define ”unsuccessful” in this context? To what do you attribute this lack of success?

d. Is there any kind of teacher that you do not like or that you do not feel comfortable with?

Now, brainstorm to make a list of behavioral or personality traits that you think are related to being a “good” teacher. Then compare your answers with those of others in your group. You may also wish lo make a contrasting list of characteristics of a "poor'' teacher.



Try to examine yourself in light of the characteristics of “good” teachers which most of the members of your group agreed upon. Put a plus next to those characteristics that you feel reasonably match characteristics of yourself, and put a minus next to those that you do not feel describe you as a person or as a teacher. Now, go back to your group to see if you wish to change anything on your original list of characteristics related to being a good teacher.

Sentences to complete

The most important characteristics of a “good” teacher are…

A characteristic of a “good” teacher which I may not at the present time share is…


Figure 4 Exercise to uncover attitudes about teaching



(Pennington, 1990, p. 139)


Optional task: This is not a compulsory task. You read the study below only if you want to. However, if you do read Borg's study on teacher learning, you may enhance your understanding of why teachers act the way they do in the class. You may also get insights into why you as a teacher and learner of English tend to rely on certain techniques and why you tend to avoid others in the teaching and learning process. If you read the study post three key words from it on the forum.

Borg, S. (2003). Teacher cognition in language teaching: A review of research on what language teachers think, know, believe and do. Language Teaching 36, 81-109.


27 March (face-to-face session 2):

In the second face-to-face session the focus is on teachers. Participants are asked to bring their lists produced as part of their online tasks (see the previously described Task 3) and reflect on their strengths and weeknesses as a teacher. Students are asked to work in pairs or in small groups and discuss their views about themselves as teachers, following the pre-established foci. Strings are pulled together in a frontal discussion, where the teachers' competencies and roles, as well as their motivation and professional development will be discussed. Links will also be made to explanatory theories about the sources of teacher cognition, as well as to the importance of reflective practice for teacher development.

24 April: (Online tasks 4 and 5):

By this time you should read the studies below and complete the tasks related to them. You will find reading materials and a detailed description of your tasks on co-space.


Task 4: While reading the studies and book chapters below, pay special attention the following classroom interaction issues (1) code switching, (2) teachers' questions, and (3) error treatment. Be ready to reflect on them next class.

Nikolov, M. (1999). "Natural born speakers of English": Code switching in pair- and group-work in Hungarian primary schools. In S. Rixon (Ed.), Young learners of English: Some research perspectives (pp. 72-88). London: Longman.

Walsh, S. (2011) Exploring classroom discourse. (Introduction, Chapter1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3). New York: Routledge.


Task 5: Identify patterns of code switching in the EFL class. These classroom interaction samples were collected in two groups of eleven-year-olds, in a Hungarian primary school. One teacher was a non-native teacher, while the other one was a native teacher of English.

Read the classroom extracts below and identify what motivated teachers and pupils to use the L1 in the English class. For what purpose did pupils rely on the L1? How did their teachers react to their comments? When did teachers resort to the L1? Make a list of the categories you have identified.

Extract 1:

1 T: Write down at least five sentences about an animal. Tehát mit kell írni? Öt mondatot egy állatról, utána felolvassátok, és a többiek kitalálják. (So what do you have to write? Five sentences about an animal, then read out the description and the others will guess what it its.)

2 S1: Hú, ez tök jó! (This sounds cool.)

3 T: Csoportban. Elég, ha egy írja. (In a team. It's enough if one of you does the writing.)

4 S2: Mit kell csinálni? (What are we supposed to do?)

5 T: Think of an animal and then write... arról legalább öt mondatot. And hurry up. Come on, Ági! Mit csinálunk, széket melegítünk? (Think of an animal and then write least five sentences. And hurry up. Come on Ági, are you heating the chair, or what?)

Extract 2:

1 T: What do you know about it?

2 S1: Emlős.

3 T: In English.

4 S1: Mammal.

Extract 3:

1 T: What are your sky animals, Anna?

2 S1: Bird...

3 T: Bird...

4 S1: Mayfly, parrot... aaa... hogy kell kiejteni azt a "seagull"-t? (How do you pronounce "seagull?) [phonetic pronounciation]

5 S2: Micsodát? (What?)

6 S3: Sirály. (Seagull.)

7 S4: Eagle.

8 S1: Eagle.

9 T: Eagle, very good.

Extract 4:

1 S1: Ez még csak a harmadik kérdés. Kérdezd, hogy hány lába van, van-e farka? (This is just the third question. Ask how many legs it has, whether it has a tail.)

2 S2: Has it got four legs?

Extract 5:

S: Jaj, Lukács, fejezd már be! (Lukács, stop it, will you!)

(The comment referred to a classmate who was constantly interrupting the teacher's and his peers' discourse.)

Extract 6:

S: Erika néni, fiúk is vannak ám! (Miss Erika, there are boys too in the class, you know!)

(The student was commenting on the fact that the teacher was only involving the girls in the task.)

Extract 7:

1 T: Look at the picture and try to match it with the name of the animal. Look, here's the bull. [The teacher supports her explanation by showing the actual matching on the page.]

2 S1: Á, össze kell párosítani. (Oh, we have to match them.)

Extract 8:

1 S1: Is it a manimal?

2 S2: Hát nem csak állatokat kell kitalálni? (I thought we were supposed to guess animals only.)

3 S1: De. (That's right.)

4 S2: Akkor mért kérdezted, hogy "animal?" (Then why did you ask, "animal?")

5 S1: Azt kérdeztem: "manimal." Hogy emlős-e. ˙(I asked "manimal?" Whether it's a mammal.)


Extract 9:

(Students were supposed to practice negative statements)

1 S1: You like horses.

2 S2: I don't like horse.

3 S1: You like football.

4 S2: I don't like football.

5 S1: Yes, you like football.

6 S2: Mindegy, fejezzük már be. (Let's stop it, anyway.)

(Extracts from: Lugossy, R (2003) "Code switching in the young learner classroom." In J. Andor, J. Horváth, & M. Nikolov (Eds.), Studies in English: Theoretical and applied linguistics. (pp. 300-309). Pécs: Lingua Franca Csoport.)



8 May (face-to-face session 3): Focus on the students

In the first part of this session some time should be dedicated for discussing Online Task 5 (from previous slot): List and discuss the categories you have identified in the classroom extracts: On what occasions and for what purpose did students and teachers rely on the L1 in the English class? How did teachers scaffold students' meaning making processes?

Participants are encouraged to (1) uncover the motives that lie behind the use of the L1 in the foreign language class. They should also be encouraged to (2) reflect on their own language use in the class and to link these practices to their latent beliefs about teaching and learning, as well as to the educational traditions that have shaped foreign language teaching in Hungary (see: the Grammar-Translation approach, experiences from other foreign languages, etc.) Finally, participants should (3) become aware of what language use and interaction patterns benefit students most in the foreign language class and why. Links should be made to current SLA theories.



Online tasks 6, 7 and 8:

Task 6

As teachers, we tend to focus our evaluation on oral and written performance and other aspects of classroom behavior. When our positive expectations are met, we classify a student as "good." Problems arise when students, for a variety of reasons, often cultural ones, do not share our expectations and are therefore doomed not to meet them.

It may be useful to try to define the ideal student and to consider what causes us to rate a student as a "good" student or a poor student. Consider the questions below to help you complete the sentences at the end of the exercise. The Ideal Student exercise is helpful in raising awareness of teachers' biases about individual students and student behaviours. Read this short extract from Pennington (1990) and think about what makes an ideal student and what makes a poor student in your view. Which are the strategies you adopt to deal with each type?


The ideal student

It does not take most teachers long to make a judgment as to whether individual students are "good," "poor," or somewhere in between. As teachers, we tend to focus our evaluation on oral and written and other aspects of classroom behavior. When our positive expectations are met, we classify a student as "good." Problems arise when students, for a variety of reasons, often cultural ones, do not share our expectations and are therefore doomed not to meet them.

It may be useful to try to define the "ideal'' student and to consider what causes us to rate a student as a "good" student or a "poor"

Consider the questions below to help you complete the sentences at the end of the exercise.

a. What kind of student do you think is the easiest for you to succeed with and why?
How would you define being successful with a student?
Do you expect success with all of your students? Why or why not?

b. What kind of student do you like?
Do you expect most or all of your students to be of this type?
Are you most successful with this type of student? Why or why not?

c. What kind of student do you think is the hardest for you to succeed with and why?
How would you define being unsuccessful with a student?
What do you think are the major causes of lack of success with individual students?

d. Is there any kind of student that you do not like or that you do not feel comfortable with?
Is there anything that really "turns you off'' in a student's behavior?


Sentences to complete

What makes a "good" student is. . .

What makes a "poor" student is. . .

For me, the definition of the "ideal'' student is...


Figure 3 Exercise to uncover attitudes toward students


(Pennington, 1990, p. 137)


Task 7: Read either of the following studies, while focusing on learners' age, proficiency level, motivation and cognitive features.

Nikolov, M. & Djigunovic-Mihaljevic, J. (2011). All shades of every colour: An overview of early teaching and learning of foreign languages. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2011), 31, 95-119.

Nikolov, M. (2001). A study of unsuccessful language learners. In Z. Dörnyei & R. Schmidt (Eds.), Motivation and second language acquisition (pp. 149-170). Honolulu, HI: The University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center.


As for Task 8, participants are allowed to choose either of the two options below. Evidence from research suggests that by allowing students to make choices regarding their learning enhances learner responsibility and autonomy in the long run. Taking into consideration the fact that the participants enrolled for this course are in-service teachers of English, involving them into negotiating course content and classroom processes is also an encouragement and an example for them to develop similar strategies in their own teaching-learning contexts.

Task 8: Pick two main variables that you consider crucial from the point of view of successful SLA and write a short essay in which you develop these ideas, by relating them to your own language learning experiences. Bring concrete examples from your language learning carreer to support your points. The essay should not be longer than 500 words. Upload your essay on co-space.


Task 8: Write a short essay in which you discuss two advantages and two disadvantages of starting English at an early age. Support your points with your own language learning and teaching experience. Bring concrete examples from your language learning carreer to support your points. The essay should not be longer than 500 words. Upload your essay on co-space.