Sunday, 10 June 2018

#CELTAchat Monday 4 June 2018

Many thanks to Adi Rajan (@adi_rajan) for suggesting the topic and writing this month's #CELTAchat summary:

The topic of this month's #CELTAchat was learning styles to learning preferences and the participants were: 
Fiona Price (@fionaljp), Giovanni Licata (@GioLic1976) Darren Bell (@bellinguist), What is ELT? (@whatiselt), Sandy Millin (@sandymillin), Adi Rajan (@adi_rajan), Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew), Jo Gillespie (@jogkiwi)
The chat topic -how to make learning preferences useful, meaningful and evidence-based - was in response to the change in criterion 1b from learning styles to preferences which was in effect from May 2018. Participants discussed changes they were making to address this new focus on learning preferences. 
What are learning preferences? 
Fiona suggested defining ‘learning preferences’ because we can’t substitute one term for another. 
·     Giovanni said that he found Kathleen Graves’ chapter on needs analysis and learning preferences in Designing Language Courses (2000) useful because it takes a socio-cultural approach. He added that he thinks “learning styles were too static to grasp the nature of learning. It was a kind of mechanistic approach to the learner. Preferences, on the other hand, are based on classroom observation rather than percentages. And the idea is that they CAN be challenged.”
·     Sandy pointed out that preferences covered a host of areas including group/pair/alone, writing/speaking, reading/listening, translator/dictionary, standing/sitting/moving around and all of these aspects would be required for variety in lessons which Fiona suggested was important for moving out of one’s comfort zone where learning preferences are seen as something you’ve become accustomed to and therefore would benefit from being challenged. 

·     Fiona shared an excerpt from The Psychology of the language Learner Revisited which was provided as evidence by Cambridge for the change from styles to preferences. 

·     Adi thought that the notion of preferences came across as quite abstract to novice teachers and that the reason learning styles were so seductive was that they were concrete and reductive. He went to add that if we were to put our understanding of preferences in a framework, it would be popular, albeit reductive again.
Analysing needs and exploring preferences
Giovanni discussed the importance of embedding needs analysis into the course and that learning preferences are a part of needs analysis. However, he went on to add that it was important that trainees needed to channel information gathered from surveying students’ learning preferences into lesson plans. This could be done after trainees have worked on the FOTL assignment when they could be asked to address learning preferences in the language analysis sections of their lesson plans and plan appropriate tools for clarifying meaning.  Darren also agreed that this would help them adapt material based on learners’ preferences. He mentioned a course he’d worked on where trainees got time at the end of TP to get feedback from TP students on the aspects of the lesson they liked. Sandy found getting trainees to analyse needs and apply these in plans challenging with larger groups. 
Sandy wanted to know if FOTL assignments were based on the whole group or individual learners. Darren has experienced both but prefers that students write about the whole group. Giovanni’s FOTL assignment is also based on the whole group and he felt that basing the FOTL assignment on the whole group would be an easy solution for making informed decisions in lesson planning in terms of preferences. Adi’s assignment includes both the whole group and individual learners because although this involves more work, he believes it’s useful for trainees to zoom out and then zoom in. 
Adios VARK? 
Giovanni suggested that the term "learning styles" favours Googling it and settling for the first results (which incidentally brings up VARK related links). Joexplained that it’s important to be aware of and include activities that draw on VARK as good practice but not label learners. 
Going beyond VARK 
@whatiselt and Giovanni felt that their learners were going beyond VARK while investigating the learner. However, Adi found trainees administering questionnaires that looked at broader preferences for the FOTL assignment but that they also used VARK questionnaires despite having explored the futility of these surveys. 
Darren asked what people thought about the “learner's preference for translation as a way of checking their own understanding of language in a monolingual context?” Giovanni thought this was a good idea and that if students had a preference for L1 as a way of checking understanding, it could be incorporated along with CCQs in lesson plans. @whatiselt felt that translation was underrated but cautioned against its use in monolingual contexts where trainees may rely too much on it since the CELTA ought to be preparing them for multilingual contexts as well.  Adi felt that using multilingual approaches were relevant in his South Asian context but that trainees would require some input on it, something that’s not practical with a packed input schedule. 
Fiona has created a Padlet for collecting evidence and resources related to learning preferences. She has also posted a note from Cambridge English with it’s position on learning styles and preferences.

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