Happy New Years (Resolutions)

Happy New Year!

fireworks-london

photo credit: RobW_ Happy New Year! via photopin (license)

Yes a new year and many posts along the lines of “New Year New You” here is some focused on language and study.

  • Start small: statistically speaking most new years resolutions are broken and a great many of them are broken because they are too ambitious, too vague. Don’t say “I’m going to read a book in my field every week”  start with a chapter or a paper a week.
target-cc-dave-fergy-via-photopin

Creative Commons Photo Dave Fergy

  • Set goals: keeping in mind the above set small (achievable) short term goals, meet them and use this to help you move towards your long term goals. This works well within the ideal self and second language learning perspective for more on this start here.
  • Do a little often, rather than a lot infrequently, anything done too much can become a chore, but little steps taken often can make for huge improvements over time.
  • Get out and get involved: this can be a time of year when it’s all too tempting to stay at home. This in many ways is one reason so many resolutions don’t succeed.
  • Get organised: Over the years working with students, all to many limit their results and attainment by leaving assignments to the last minute. Use these weeks to look ahead at the semester and start working on assignments now. Even if it’s just starting to read around the topics. This early in the semester you have certain advantages: first the library is open but almost empty and second almost all the books are actually on the shelves.
reading2

photo credit: Senado Federal Biblioteca do Senado via photopin (license)

There’s more help and advice for you here and here.

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Cramming is not learning.

The blog at The Learning Scientists is well worth following. Here is their self description: We are cognitive psychological scientists interested in research on education. Our main research focus is on the science of learning. (Hence, “The Learning Scientists”!) Our Vision is to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students, teachers, and other educators. […]

via A blog about the science of learning — peakmemory

Listening and Speaking for Seminars: QuICK

Following on from the lecture the seminar is probably the next big hurdle and to discuss the seminar in terms of just one skill is to leave half of it out. The two key skills here are listening and speaking and seminars can be an essential part of your learning at university especially if you benefit from talking ideas out or want to try out your developing competence in your field in a supportive and colligate environment. This week the mnemonic (easily remembered word) is QuICK.

QUestion

Interactive

Content and Context

Keen

seminar

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QUESTION: Seminars are the ideal place to ask any questions that may have arisen in the lecture, the reading or related to the coursework and assessments. They are also a good place to address any problems you may have encountered with the materials, your assessments or your study of the field in general, but try to stay on topic as seminar time is a precious resource, you may want to book a personal tutorial to cover things as well.

INTERACTIVE: Seminars are much more interactive and student focused than lectures can be. In the UK HE sector most Seminars (but perhaps not all) will be between 15-25 people where lectures can be a couple of hundred even at a small institution like Winchester. In that it’s an interactive session it can be much more difficult to prepare and plan for it. But, focusing on the moment is just as important as it is in a lecture.

CONTENT and CONTEXT (yes I’m cheating but I only have one C in Quick!)

Firstly, when you are speaking in a seminar, you have a clear context (the subject you are studying, the reading or lecture being discussed or expanded upon, and/or the application of knowledge gained from one or both) all this serves as a scaffolding to support what you are saying and make it easier for your colleagues (whatever their language) to understand you.

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ELTSU students discussing British Painting in their TATE Britain. Photo: I Preston

 

At the same time both you and your course-mates have all signed up to study this particular field and presumably are interested in it, (at least generally if not always specifically). When they are listening to you in seminars they will be much more interested and focused on what you are saying not how you are saying it. Another important feature to keep in mind here is that language teachers have to be specially trained to do this well, most people won’t notice little grammatical or pronunciation slips (with technical jargon it’s not uncommon to hear varying pronunciation among native speakers of the language dependent on dialect, subfield or education).

The last point here is that in interactive speaking (which seminars feature within) you need to focus on fluency even if this comes at the expense of accuracy. Some seminars can be quite fast paced and if you take too much time to formulate your response or question the talk will have moved onto another aspect, (which you may have missed because you were worrying about grammar). Stick with the talk in the moment and say what you have to say, (even if you’re not sure how to say it).

KEEN: Don’t be afraid to be passionate, even out-spoken at times. Seminars are one area where international students with differing expectations and educational experience can be an invaluable asset to the group as a whole. You might be the only representation of a particular cultural viewpoint on a novel, or a business practice. Don’t keep these to yourself and don’t suppress them; enrich everyone’s experience and they’ll make sure they keep you around and involved.

Listening for Lectures PLANTER

Lectures can be a huge part of academic study especially for undergraduates and taught programmes.

They present one of the first academic linguistic challenges that a second language user of English will face at university and our support-tutors have already seen several people this week who were finding their first lectures daunting. If you’d like to join them get in touch.

lecture

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Attending a lecture is a bit more demanding than finding a seat in the right room at the right time. (Although, depending on the campus and the time-table this can be a hurdle in its own way especially in the first week.) There are several (remarkably easy) techniques that you can use to get the most out of going to lectures. Before we look at them let me just make one thing clear, you need to find the way that works best for you; these suggestions might help most people most of the time but everyone is different. If you are already doing something that works well for you then don’t change that.

An easy way to remember today’s tips are, is PLANTER. A Planter is a piece of furniture (indoor or outdoor) functionally built for growing plants and/or vegetables. Lectures can often serve as the seed of further work and developing your lecture skills is a good way of encouraging those ideas to develop into good work, just like a planter in your home or garden.

planter

photo credit: Lynn Friedman Ohmega Salvage Bathtub and Plants via photopin (license)

  • Prepare
  • Listen in the moment
  • Active Listing
  • Note
  • Taking
  • Engage
  • Revise/Reflect

PREPARE: At Winchester a lecturer using slides will share the slides beforehand. Even if there are no slides for a particular session there will still be an outline. If you can’t find these try emailing the lecturer to ask for them. Looking through the slides and/or outline or even brainstorming the topic the day before can help prepare your mind for listening to the lecture. This works through schema activation and by activating your existing schema (background knowledge of the topic of the lecture) you help make sure that you learn as much as possible from the lecture. Many courses will also set a weekly reading this is usually (if not always) complementary to the lecture for that week. Reading it before the lecture can help to prepare your mind and enrich your schema. Another key aspect of preparation is making sure you have the right equipment and materials for the lecture. Whether that’s an audio recorder, (more on this later) a notebook and pen or your laptop to take notes, or even a print-out of the slides to work with you want to make certain that you have got everything you need (including your cup of coffee and taking a toilet brake before the lecture starts).

coffee

photo credit: kendrak COFFEE via photopin (license)

LISTEN IN THE MOMENT: It may seem amazing but I’ve seen student go through whole lectures with one earphone in, (and occasionally audible music distracting people around them). Also phones ringing or even buzzing & vibrating in pockets and bags. All of these can distract you from what’s going on right now in the lecture. Another big part of listening in the moment is focusing on what is being said at the time. Not trying to copy down what’s on the slide (remember you can down load them) not trying to write down every word that’s said, (most people speak 2-3 times as fast as they write). Try just focusing on the ideas that the lecturer is sharing with you at that moment.

ACTIVE LISTENING: This means overtly and deliberately paying attention to the lecture and the lecturer. Not staring at your laptop, phone, or notebook. Watch them; don’t be afraid to meet their eyes. Seeing people paying attention to your lecture is encouraging to the lecturer, it also shows them if you are following and understanding or whether they need to explain things a little bit more. Even in a large lecture hall those people in the first few rows can share this interaction with the lecturer.

listening

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NOTE TAKING: It’s not uncommon to see some people taking notes even in public lectures where there’s no course to take notes for. The act of making notes on something helps us to form memories and the written document can serve as a useful prompt for memory in the weeks and months that follow. Scientific studies have shown that it’s best (for most of us) to take notes with a pen and paper compared to typing notes directly into a tablet, we remember more (even without consulting our notes) and tend to take more useful and selective notes. One fairly widespread and successful note-taking method uses the top 2/3rds of the page (leaving a wide margin) for the core of notes in the lecture. The margin is reserved for particular things you want to single out, a name you want to remember, an article or book you want to read, advice for an assignment that you feel will help you. Lastly the bottom third of the page is where you can summarise and personalise the notes, importantly after the lecture. This may cut into your social life a tiny bit but it gives you a second chance to engage with the notes and tailor them to you personally. This will give you a big boost to your memory of the lecture.

ENGAGE: If you’re doing the things listed above you will already be engaging to an extent but depending on the size of the lecture, and the individual lecturer, engaging further may be an option. In large 1st year survey courses it may not be practical or appropriate to shout out questions or opinions, but many lecturers will welcome these at appropriate moments. Don’t be afraid to ask or even offer your view/experience. In courses I’ve taught with the same lectures the groups with more engaged learners all did better from their engagement. In British culture at the moment there seems to be a silly fashion to be anti-intellectual and anti-expert; but if you’re not interested in expertise and being intellectual about a subject why are you at university studying it. Embrace your inner geek; you’ll enjoy your course more, get more out of it and better marks as well.

REVISE and REFLECT: The lecture experience doesn’t end at the end of the lecture. Take the time to: look back over your notes; follow any interesting leads that were mentioned; re-read the slides/article/chapter associated with it. Work out for yourself what the important ‘take away’ points are for you personally, and how these fit into your wider, ever developing knowledge of the subject.

The Start is the End!

It’s almost the start of another academic year at Winchester, (Tuesday of Welcome week as I write this). Today is also the pre-sessional exam board. Our tutors have already been teaching for 12 weeks. So with that in mind, and sparked by a conversation over coffee this morning, let’s look at what a pre-sessional programme should do. The points below are all taken from feedback and expectations of students both past and present.

A pre-sessional should:

‘Teach grammar and vocabulary’ – yes and no. This sounds like a very basic expectation of any language class, (from the view that language is made up of grammar and vocabulary). By the time you get to the pre-sessional you have probably got most (if not all) of the nuts and bolts grammar you need. Additionally, the formulaic verb phrase teaching that helped you get this far isn’t as useful in academic contexts. It is true that there are words which are much more common in academic contexts. SEE Coxhead LINK. Practicing sentences with dummy subjects (ones that start with it/this etc.) can also be useful as it’s often left out of grammatical syllabi, or glossed over in application, and you will use this frequently in academic writing. Of course applying some of the grammar and vocabulary knowledge you already have; work on good drafting, proofreading, rewriting and editing skills is invaluable. So teaching grammar and vocabulary no teaching proofreading and editing of that grammar and vocabulary yes.

essay

‘Raise my IELTS score’ – No, proficiency point exams like IELTS can do no more than provide an indication of proficiency in a language. They occur on a single day and can be prepared for and even coached through. Your IELTS might go up (or it might not) the language skills you need at Uni are very different from what you need for IELTS. For example writing you will be writing an order of magnitude more for even first year papers that is possible within the framework of IELTS. What’s more what you write will be expected to be polished through several (or at least a few) drafts, supported with reasoning, citations, data, research, evidence, analysis and argumentation, again hardly possible in a couple of hundred words.

Creative Commons attribution information. Testing times. ©comedy_nose via Flickr

‘Let me on to my University course’ – Well yes if you’ve been required to take a pre-sessional before starting then this is something you need to do. However, this wording gives the impression you’re not really engaging with the pre-sessional in its own right. Any good pre-sessional prepares you for your course of study, but this is much more complicated that the tick box or a traffic light system this implies. Some Universities have separate pre-sessional programmes for different streams of study while this may be in part due to different requirements it’s also because different fields of academia tend to express themselves differently. And when you have so little time to prepare it can be a benefit to prepare very specifically. For example in many business focused programmes reports are much more common than traditional essays. In the arts and humanities (and also business) you’ll almost certainly have to stand up and give a convincing (argumentative) presentation. Whereas in the sciences you might need to report on research or give a presentation of data, but you want to let the facts/data convince the audience not try and argue them into agreeing.

The challenges of academic writing in ESL

‘Help me settle into life in the UK’ – We do pride ourselves at Winchester on the pastoral care of our students. Naturally, we’d argue that all good pre-sessional programmes do this. However, this isn’t something that will get a lot of classroom time devoted to it and even more than adjusting to the academic life this can be a very personal issue. Some students will want to study here for purely academic reasons; others will be much more keen to integrate socially as well as academically. Additionally, every different culture will need to adapt differently, and every student personally.

Coffe

‘Teach me how to do well at Uni’ – Yes this is another thing that every good pre-sessional programme does. Academic culture can be subtly (or quite unsubtly) different at different institutions let alone countries, even ones that share a single language. Many of our American international students have struggled with differing expectations, despite going to school their whole lives in English. Our pre-sessional at Winchester engages lecturers from around the University to teach and give guest lectures, workshops and seminars every week. The current heads of both the English Literature and English Language Programme are former ELTSU tutors. We’ve had lectures from Linguistics, Education, Business, Sport, Music, Archaeology, History and many more.

Shield