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TEFL Masterclass – Noticing in ELT: What It Is, How It Can Promote Language Development and How to Work with It

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Neil Harris – Teacher Trainer & Director of Marketing@CELT Language School.

Neil Harris started his career in ELT in 1993 after completing a CTEFLA with IH London. He quickly realized that language learning and teaching was his true passion. Neil has worked in a variety of roles in the UK and Italy, including as a teacher, Senior Teacher, EAP Lecturer, DoS, Teacher Trainer, Business Development Manager, and Director of Marketing. Currently, Neil focuses on developing online ESP medical English and teacher development programmes in his role in agent-based marketing and course development.

What you will learn

The diversity in educational and training background and experience of teachers around the world is such that teachers come to the ELT classroom with different levels of understanding of the many theories and models of second language acquisition (SLA).

This masterclass looks at noticing, part of the cognitivist SLA camp. Noticing tells us that students need to attend to and then process a language item before it makes its way into long-term memory and the learner’s individual interlanguage.

What is noticing? How does it work? What are the arguments in favour and in opposition to noticing as first put forward by Schmidt in the late 1980s and early 1990s? How can we work with noticing in our classrooms?

This masterclass begins by explaining what noticing is before suggesting some broadstroke good practices for its use in the classroom and then proposes some practical activities to encourage noticing techniques for use by teachers and students alike.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Noticing in Language Development

Neil Harris led a masterclass focused on the concept of ‘noticing’ in language development. This session aimed to unpack the role of noticing in learning languages and to provide practical applications for teachers and learners. The essence of noticing is centred around the conscious awareness and mental processing of language features, playing a pivotal role in the cognitive approach to language learning.

Understanding the Mystery of Language Learning

The masterclass delved into the complexities of how people learn languages, using the examples of successful bilinguals Arsene Wenger and Kristin Scott Thomas to highlight the varying nature of language acquisition. It emphasised the significance of understanding these nuances to enhance teaching methodologies. The relationship between language input (what is heard or read) and output (what is reproduced) was explored, with an emphasis on Richard Schmidt’s theories that differentiate between general language input and the specific, processed input that becomes ‘intake’.

The Significance of Noticing and Its Practical Implementation

The session underscored the importance of noticing in language acquisition, suggesting that more effective noticing leads to better learning. It highlighted the role of teachers in guiding students to effectively notice language features. The concept of ‘noticing the gap’, introduced by Merrill Swain, was also discussed, relating to learners’ awareness of the disparity between their language use and that of more proficient speakers. This concept is key in helping learners identify and correct their mistakes.

Strategies for Implementing Noticing in Language Teaching

Harris shared practical strategies for incorporating noticing in language teaching. These included the use of receptive skills to introduce new language within context, the importance of avoiding cognitive overload, and ensuring multiple opportunities for language practice. He also stressed the significance of personalising language learning to make it more relevant and memorable for the learner.

Innovative Activities to Enhance Noticing

Several effective activities and approaches to enhance noticing were presented. These included Dictogloss for noticing language gaps, text enhancement to draw attention to specific language forms, balancing inductive and deductive learning methods, and contrasting first and second languages to aid comprehension. The session also covered the inclusion of collocations and false friends in vocabulary teaching, promoting independent language discovery, and strategies for recording and retrieving language.

Encouraging Independent Learning and Peer Collaboration

Harris emphasised the importance of encouraging students to become independent ‘language archaeologists’, engaging deeply with the language through tasks such as collecting authentic language examples. He also recommended peer sharing and research activities to develop noticing skills and promote collaborative learning. These approaches aim to make students more self-reliant in their language learning journey.

Conclusion: The Essence and Importance of Noticing

In conclusion, the masterclass reinforced that noticing is a crucial aspect of language learning, requiring deep engagement with language both inside and outside the classroom. For teachers, understanding and integrating noticing activities into their teaching is vital for facilitating effective language development.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Even if I was unfamiliar with the term noticing before the masterclass, to what extent is noticing already a part of my language teaching toolkit?
  2. Noticing in ELT textbooks has become closely linked with inductive learning. How can I make use of noticing in deductive and inductive grammar teaching and learning?
  3. To what extent is it important for language teachers to be familiar with the different theories and models of second language acquisition like noticing? At what point should these be introduced (pre-service or in-service)?

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