Blog Archives

The teaching of listening comprehension

As listening is an integral part of language as a system of human communication, it should be a compulsory and integral component of any language teaching syllabus . The ELT syllabus should focus on the teaching of real-life listening strategies that are involved in daily human interactions. For procedural purposes listening comprehension lessons should follow the steps below:

1.  The preparation stage

The teacher is invited to select only one or two sub-listening skills as suggested in the syllabus. For the effective achievement of the goals stated for listening comprehension, the teacher should be aware of what each sub-skill is and what is involved in its teaching. Focus on one sub-skill at a time ensures the spiral progression of the practice of the sub-skills.

2.  The execution stage

The listening comprehension lessons should follow three main stages:

  • Pre-listening:

The main objective of the pre-listening stage is to activate the students’ schemata and make them ready for the listening activities. Activating background knowledge should be taken as a listening sub-skill in itself. For this reason, ‘activating background’ knowledge should be an integral part of every listening lesson. The teacher is invited to vary the strategies used to activate the learners’ background knowledge from lesson to lesson. Pre-listening activities include:

  • Group brainstorming.
  • Pair-work interactions (on a topic related to the topic of the listening lesson).
  • Whole class discussions/debates.
  • Think-Pair-Share.
  • Poser sessions.
  • Portfolio discussion.
  • Oral presentations.
  • Video-watching , etc…

Any of the activities above could serve as pre-listening activities for the listening comprehension lessons.

  • While-listening:

This stage should deal with the development of the target competency. Each listening comprehension lesson focuses on training the learners on one or two listening strategies.  Being aware that listening skills, like reading skills, cannot be developed over one session or even one year of instruction, it is preferable to state the objective of the listening comprehension lesson in the form of a ‘training’ objective. That is to say, the teacher can say, for instance: ‘by the end of this lesson, the learners will have training in scanning for specific information / skimming for the gist.

It is assumed that strategy training should be the main focus of each listening-comprehension lesson. Therefore, the learners should be instructed on how to practice the target skill. For this to happen, the teacher is invited to move from simple skills to those which require more cognitive involvement on the part of the learners.These steps can be followed for strategy training in listening comprehension:

  • Select one listening comprehension strategy at a time. (e.g. in Unit 1: making predictions about the listening passage/ scanning).
  • Name the target strategy and state it as the objective of the listening lesson.
  • Model it using the same listening passage or a different one.
  • Allow the learners to practice it.
  • Provide scaffolding to the learners as they are practicing the strategy.
  • Allow the learners to independently practice the strategy.

 ‘Making predictions’ should be taken as a listening skill. In fact it is a real-life skill; whenever we are listening to someone speaking, we make predictions about what he/she’s going to say later. So, the learners should be trained on how to use the given clues to make predictions about subsequent details in the passage being listened to. In video-viewing, using images and the sequence of events can help the learners further predict what’s coming next.

‘Skimming’ is an authentic skill which is frequently practiced in real life. ‘Skimming’ is when the learners identify the main idea of a spoken/written text. While trying to identify the main idea of a spoken passage, the listeners do not have to listen to all the details in the text. The main idea (the gist) can be understood from the first sentence(s) or from the first part of what is being said. In video-watching, images are sufficient to provide the learners with the main idea. So, the teacher should choose the most appropriate part of an audio/video track which would allow the learners to get the gist of what is being listened to.

In unit 2 of the textbook, for instance, the target sub-skill is ‘scanning for specific information’. In this this strategy, the learners try to locate specific details in the text. Specific information can also be understood using video images as support. A detail can be names, dates, figures, numbers, percents, amounts of money, etc. So, as a strategy, the teacher is advised to train the learners on how to locate specific information in an audio text usually through directing them to where the detail is being discussed without having to listen to the whole text.

  • Post-listening:

The post-listening phase of the lesson should be devoted to discussing the importance of the strategy dealt with in understanding the text . During this phase, the teachers can also further exploit the content of the text. If the audio/video text is about a topic related to ‘family’ or ‘friends’, for instance,  the post-listening stage can be devoted to a speaking session in which the learners talk in groups or give a short talk to the class about their families or relatives. In this stage, the teacher can also link the listening class to a ‘reading comprehension’ or a ‘writing’ class, making the topic being discussed as a starting point for the coming lesson. Other activities that can be dealt with after a listening lesson include:

  • Pair-work  on the ideas  dealt with in the listening audio/video.
  • Group work discussion on an aspect of the text.
  • Short talk/presentation related to the topic.
  • Paragraph writing about the topic (about my family, for instance).
  • Quick-writes.
  • Story-telling in reaction to the topic.
  • Role-plays (imitating the people in the video).
  • etc.,

What do you think?

A national EFL syllabus.

No doubt, changing the currently used textbooks in the teaching of English in Morocco is a crucial necessity. However, before writing and publishing new textbook, there are other critical areas that have to be dealt with first; otherwise, the change would be no more that a waste of money for some and huge budgets for others.

There are so many problems with the current EFL  textbooks. I am not going to deal with issues that concern the activities,texts or any other materials in these textbooks; yet, my concern is with with some macro areas. The disparities that exist between the three textbooks that are used in teaching the baccalaureate level (and other levels as well) are due to the lack of a standardized structure that makes the broad goals (macro-competencies) that are targeted in all the textbooks coherent with each other.

For any possible reform to be successful in achieving the goals of teaching foreign languages in Morocco, it must start from building up a ‘robust’ EFL syllbus. It has never been enough to give textbook writers a list of topics and language items, and ask them to build a textbook that complies with the list(s).

For this reason, I do believe that starting from building a national EFL syllabus (some might prefer to use the term curriculum) is of paramount importance for many reasons. First, this syllabus should make clear the profile of the Moroccan EFL learner/speaker that we want to have by the the time he/she finishes the secondary school. It’s not enough to specify that profile in broad terms that might be cross-curricular or inter-disciplinary. The EFL learner should be specified in terms of what he/she can do with the English language in very clear,  manageable and measurable items.Certain statements such as ‘by the time he/she finishes the baccalaureate level, the Moroccan learner should be able to sustain a conversation to achieve his/her communicative needs” or “the Moroccan learner should be able to write a simple e-mail to inform the (recepient can vary) of his/her own persoanl life,culture, needs and opinions….). These are sample ways in which the profile of the learner can be specified in terms of his/her own performance, not in braod terms such as ‘to communicate with the other’. These performances should specify what the learner should be able to do in all the four language skills in addition to what he/she can do with the use of ICT to further pursue learning language and using it for inter-cultural communication.

By clearly determining the profile of the language learner we want, we provide the textbook writes with a road map to follow while designing the activities they will include in the textbook. These activities have to target developing specific language skills that contribute to the development of the general profile of the learner (language competencies). Many of the “activities” in some of the textbooks that are currently used have no clear objective,maybe more than throwing the learner into an ocean of language where he/she has to seek his/he chance of getting through it safely.

Of equal importance in any future change of the textbooks is the specification of the approach to be used for teaching EFL in Morocco.  I think that it’s high time clear terms were used. Textbook writers are not sure whether  the approach is “approach par compétence” or “standads-based appraoch”. This explains why one doesn’t find the specification of the targeted skills in clear ways at the beginning of every unit in the textbook. Sometimes the terms standard, skill and competency are used interchangeably. The focus should be on what is to be achieved, not on importing “concepts” that distract people’s (textbook writers’, supervisors’ and teachers’) attention from focusing on achieving clear competencies.

In my opinion, textbook writers and teachers should be aware of the approach that they have to follow while designing texbook activities/tasks or being involved in actual classroom practices. In language teaching, I suppose it is enough to make people aware of the main principles that are involved in language teaching. These principles have have to adhere to the ‘communicative function‘ of language teaching. Therefore, there is no reason to tell people in some references that we are adopting “the competency-based” approach, in others “the standards-based approach” and still in others “the communicative approach”…. Specifying the targeted competencies necessitates and drives with it a language teaching approach/method. In saying “the Moroccan learner should be able to use language to exchange information…’, it’s clear that any technique used to teach the activities that target such objectives must be ‘communicative‘. Teaching for communication doesn’t rule out comparing/contrasting cultures/languages; it neither neglects speaking about other cultures and getting insight into the aspects of life of other people; hence, I do believe that, without having to mention it, the 5 Cs of communication that are the cornerstone of the standards-based approach are embedded in any communicative classroom.

One last thing that has to be specified for textbook writers, and mainly for language teachers, is the type and function of assessment in language teaching. It’s high time teachers were clear about whether language assessment is  for learning or of learning. A national syllabus has to make it clear when to test the learners summatively because we need grades for reasons of evaluation ,and when to assess the learners -not because we want to collect grades- but because we want to understand and maybe redirect and correct the way we teach/the way learners learn. In other words,it just doesn’t make sense to to advocate ‘formative assessment’ and grade learners at the same time.

Changing the current textbooks, using new names, new colors is of great interest; however,  it  wouldn’t end the ‘communicative’ crisis our secondary school learners are facing when it comes to using foreign languages. Any coming textbook reform should be prceded by a clear text which specifies the terminal competencies of our learners, the approach that should be used to achieve those competencies as well as the role(s) of assessment in language teaching.

this is where reform should start!

There have been many reforms in our (Moroccan) educational system from 1956 up to Imagenow.The last reform should normally have given fruitful results by the end of 2010.The last ten years has seen a “give away” not to say a waste of huge amounts of money for what is called the “emergency plan”. It was normally supposed to reform our educational system within the 2000- 2010 period. However, with the exception of building new schools in some rural areas and recruting more untrained grduates, there is no real reform as it was expected by the whole nation.

Any educational reform should appear at the achievment level of the learners, and since Moroccan teachers, on the whole, still complain about the deteriorating level of most learners, then we can simply say that the reform was diverted to another direction, not to where it should go normally. Add to this that the results of the learners,in standardized national/regional tests show that our learners are far away from achieving the minimum level of the targeted competences- if any competence is targeted!.

To be fair, I am not blaming the learners as many other people would do.But, we have to look at the primary areas that should be targeted by any educational reform in this country if we really want to see improvement at the level of the learners’ attainment. I don’t undermine the huge positive impact of buidling schools for Moroccans in rural unpriviledged areas, though again those newly established schools need to be demolished, lest some of them fall over the heads of our kids…It is obvious that our ministry officials like to talk about numbers, about the quantity of things and I have never heard anyone of them talking about quality. Have you? I might be wrong. Review the ministerial reports, and tell me please if I am wrong. I suppose that the following axes have to get prominence, and their evaluation should be on the improvement of our learners’ achievement of certain pre-specified, achieveable and clear-cut competences that have to be clearly stated by the coming official documents.

1- Moroccan teachers should get efficient and effective training which should be easily reflected in and evaluated by classroom practices. It’s funny to hear of a training and to associate it with chicken! It’s also funny to hear people saying that they have to conduct a training session because they can’t spend a training budget on something else. This reminds me a very rigid mechanical system in which if you divert or use something in another place or for another reason, the whole system stops! Training has to be purposeful. It has to target clear objectives that are achieveable as well. How many trainings have you gone through under the old-fashioned term “pedagogie d’integration” or “evaluation” or “GENIE”… How much of that have used in your classes? How much of it is felt by the learners? How much technology is now “Generalized” in our schools?

My view is that trainings have to start from basics. It’s so funny to train a teacher on how to use digital resources while he/she still lacks the essentials of teaching the basic skills. Iam not against such trainings;yet, I think that our should know how to read, write and communicate first. I am not generalizing; but, this has brought to my mind the idea of differenciating training, It’s ok if the ministry conducts trainings on how to use Web.2 tools for profesional teachers WHO DON’T face difficulties in dealing with basic skills, not only in English but also in other areas! Do we have the internet in schools? How many multimedia classrooms do you have in your schools? How often can you access it if you have one? I think my point is clear!

2- The second area that should be targeted is the recruitment of new teachers; I mean trained teachers. I can’t imagine an educational system who is normally supposed  to produce / educate (choose the term you agree with) the elite, maybe the leaders of the country, and at the same time it is used as an engine that absorbs unemployed people. Education is not an area that can accept fatal errors. The errors appear immediately in the same year they are made. If you recruit an unemployed graduate to teach physics be sure that he/she will be teaching something else,at best the physics of the 70s!How would you expect the results of the learners by the end of the year. I am not against employing people. That’s one of their basic rights. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t be in schools. Please think of somewhere else. A place where they need no training and where the effect of lack of training would cost no more than tearing out a paper and rewriting it.

3- Part of the reform’s money should target making the school materials available for the learners. You know there is poverty! You know Moroccan parents ,especially in rural areas, usually have more than two or three children at schools. Think of how a father of three or four -I have seen cases of more- would afford to buy textbooks for their kids.I can’t imagine textbooks of 50dhs (English textbooks), in maths and other science subjects, the price is doubled. Forget about the quality of the textbook now; I am not speaking about that! I suppose that you all feel the plight of Moroccan families at the beginning of the school year. As a teacher, I have seen a textbook that is used for more than four or five years by different learners. Think of how it will look; forget about the exercises and the “tasks” inside!  Think about the effect of that on the learner’s achievement. They have bought large screen TVs ,and maybe they will send electronic textbooks in the future.

4- The last area I am going to speak about is the training of inspectors. I am using this term, though I have a reservation about it, simply because there are some areas in the educational system which need inspection, instead of educational supervision. There should be enough supervisors, not for “inspecting” teachers, but for helping them with their professional development. I have seen many trainings that were conducted by some people on topics they themselves have not understood,maybe they never heard about. It’s a waste of the learners’ time to bring teachers to a training that they cannot evaluate. Evaluation requires change of what is evaluated if it proves to be a failure. To evaluate a training, it must be conducted by people who can assume responsibility for its success or failure. That cannot be done by a teacher because simply that’s not his/her primary job.

These are crucial areas to hit for immediate reform,and building more schools should happen ,not at a later stage, but at the same time. After all, what’s the use of building a school if after five or six years the learner still can’t write or read his/her name? You all correct national/regional exams and you know how our learners answer. They are not to blame; you are not either.

I have tried to keep this post very short. I hope it’s to the point.

%d bloggers like this: