Image courtesy of CalsidyroseNote: This post is my submission for the 1st ELT Research Blog Carnival. If you are interested in knowing more about writing one yourself, please go to the ELT Research Blog Carnival website.
I was barely 16 and has just moved to the ‘big city’ when I started looking for my first job. With a fist full of resumes and a dress shirt and tie on, I wandered up and down the shopping mall looking for help wanted signs when I spotted a notice in the photo store window. Having grown up around photographers and my dad having a photo shop and studio when I was younger, I thought this would make a great fit. I strode up to the counter and asked for the manager. She came out and I politely introduced myself and handed her my resume. She took a minute to look things over before spinning around and grabbing a semi-professional camera off of the shelf. “Sell it to me,” she exclaimed as she handed the camera to me. I was stunned. In that moment, I was caught completely off guard and didn’t know what to do. I took the camera (which was a new model for me) and looked it over. My brain was whirling. I was panicking. All of those things I had prepared myself for before walking into the shop fell away. I knew about photography and cameras, but that sudden disruption to my plan took me off guard.
Now, think about your students at the moment just before you press play on the class CD that came with your textbook. Are they ready, or are they slipping into panic mode? Do they know what is expected of them or are they just left to figure things out as they go along? Compound the problem by making the listening a high-stakes test such as an exit exam. How do you think they feel now? Chang & Read (2006) explore ways of providing support to English language students in a listening task on a test. While the article targets test takers, the methods they use to help students can be used in other parts of the lesson.
Chang & Read explored four pre-listening techniques to find if there were any differences between them as well as the differences for upper and lower level listeners. I liked how they went about the process, although the sample size was fairly small (around 19-21 per sub-group). Even with that small sample, we can start to see the differences between the four way of providing pre-listening support. The four methods included:
- Previewing the questions (ie. students can view the questions well ahead of time)
- Repeated input (ie. students can listen to the audio recording more than once)
- Topic preparation (ie. students received general information about the listening topic ahead of time)
- Vocabulary instruction (ie. students were taught the specific language used in the recording ahead of time)
A week before the test, the third and fourth groups were given time to look over their material (topic preparation text or specific vocabulary). All of the groups were allowed to preview the questions, so the first group became the comparison group.
For both the lower level listeners and the higher level listeners, topic preparation and repeated input provided the largest change in scores. For the lower level group, topic preparation made the biggest difference. For the higher level group, repeated input was the highest, although the topic preparation was only marginally lower. For all listeners, vocabulary instruction was the lowest, even lower than the comparison group. The authors speculate that vocabulary instruction “drew the [higher level] students’ attention away from extracting the helpful clues that were available from a preview of the test items” (Chang & Read, 2006). In other words, they were listening for the words and not the content.
One of the things that the authors commented on, and I would agree, is that students and teachers focus too much attention on vocabulary instruction as a means of improving students’ listening ability. I believe that there is a small element of that which is true, but allowing students time to prepare for content intake as opposed to structural is far more beneficial than spending time expanding their personal lexis. For EAP students, reading the textbook or supporting material on the topic before the lecture is far better than spending a good deal of time memorizing the academic word list. It’s true, there isn’t always a chance for learners to prepare ahead of time (eg. IELTS or everyday speech), but then it may be more important than ever to help students fine tune their listening for key words or phrases near the beginning of the conversation or listening to understand what the topic is and what they should be listening for.
I don’t have a problem helping students prepare for what they are listening for. Supporting them through these or other means gives them time to learn how to listen without discouraging them. I have started to supply students with additional listening material that they can do on their own time that gives them text (transcripts) with the listening along with questions to help them think through what they are listening to. My students have said that they enjoy this type of listening and they are doing more of it than without that support. The biggest thing that I took away from this study was how little vocabulary instruction helps the students in listening. While it shouldn’t be completely dismissed, the time spent on vocabulary instruction for a listening could be better spent elsewhere.
I would like to know what you think about the study. Share your thoughts and ideas with others by commenting here or sharing on Twitter using the hashtag #eltresearch. Thank you!
Oh, and I did get the job at the camera shop after all of that. I ended up working in the photographic field for many years before becoming an English language teacher.
Chang, A. C-S., and Reid, J. (2006). The effects of listening support on the listening performance of EFL listeners. Tesol Quarterly, 40(2). 375-397. Retrieved from http://18.104.22.168/tesol/tqd_2008/VOL_40_2.pdf#page=111