Alexander Sokol

An EFL teacher and thinking skills: married or divorced? Link to recording of presentation

Alexander Sokol comes from Riga, Latvia, where he used to work as a secondary school EFL teacher for 13.5 years. He is now the academic director of TA Group – an educational company dealing with teaching, teacher education, research and consulting in the field of teaching thinking (www.ta-group.eu). Alexander is the principal developer of The Thinking Approach to language teaching and learning. He has got a PhD in thinking skills in language education from the University of Strasbourg. Thinking is definitely a buzz word today. Most EFL teachers agree that it is important to develop learners’ thinking skills. Moreover, many of us tend to believe that we actually develop learners’ thinking in EFL classrooms, as learning a language is always about improving one’s thinking. However, under a close examination this ‘marriage’ often appears fake. A large number of EFL teachers hardly ever make any contribution to the development of their learners’ thinking. Some even believe that it is harmful to teach thinking in the language classroom.In this talk he will speak about the place of thinking in the EFL classroom and pose a few questions a modern EFL teacher should be able to answer.

22 Responses to Alexander Sokol

  1. Dear All, I am looking forward to talking to you about thinking in the ELF classroom this Sunday.

  2. Charles says:

    I’m looking forward to meeting and listening to you both online and here in Riga.

  3. Hi Alexander,
    Very interesting talk about a thought-provoking topic (of course!). Could you elaborate a bit about how you think this can be developed across all levels? For example, someone mentioned during the session that it seems obvious that it’s easier to get advanced students to develop thinking strategies and reflect, but maybe those are very difficult concepts to get across to beginners? Or even if it’s not difficult for them to understand, they don’t have the vocabulary necessary to explain the process or reflect. That goes along the same line as for YLs, I suppose. Thanks very much!

    • Hi Noreen,
      yes, at a first glance, it seems that it’s easier to develop thinking when teaching more advanced learners. In reality, however, it’s often much easier to deal with younger learners (whose language level is often lower). The thing is that older learners are often used to a certain way of learning and it’s extremely difficult for them to change habits.
      As to having limited vocabulary and it being more difficult to reflect, yes, but who said everything should be verbal? If we look at the steps of the Thinking Task Framework I spoke about (http://ta-teachers.eu/teaching-thinking/75-thinking-task-framework), the challenge can easily be organised irrespective of the level of learners. Step 2, building strategies, is easier with more advanced learners, however if we allow for the strategy to be presented in different ways (eg visual), it becomes more accessible to lower levels, doesn’t it? The same is true about reflection – here we can also invite learners to use different channels, can’t we?
      So, to sum up, HOW we get our learners to go through the steps of the Thinking Task Framework will differ from their level, however it’s possible to do it at all levels. We are now developing materials for children aged 4-6 and these steps are integrated there as well – they will soon be available at the project website (www.ta-parents.eu) and can serve as a good example of doing at at A1 level.

  4. Hugh (UK) says:

    Thanks Noreen. I was asking that question in the session. I did enjoy the session, Aleksander, and it will certainly motivate me to try to integrate more thinking into lessons. You m,ade a complex theme interesting.

  5. osnacantab says:

    Alexander. You certainly provided us with an opportunity to think. I am writing here slightly extending my question which you answered in Adobe. The possible conflict that I have in mind is that thinking is, surely, analytic – a search for some kind of rules. My anxiety is that learning a foreign language (just my view) does not involve analysis and rules, at least not superficial rules
    and that encouraging learners of a foreign language to approach the learning process analytically could encourage them to adopt false, that is inefficient strategies not rooted in the nature of language learning. In other school subjects – the study of fiction, History etc. the approach seems excellent. But the teaching of thinking in TEFL, for example, though admirable in general educational terms would seem to encourage the adoption of a rule-based view of language and encourage learners to engage in an inductive approach – devising their own rules from their own language experience. It would encourage them to ask “Why?” all the time. And (in my view of course) language learning has so much to do with exposure and deep subterranean processes that we so not understand than any analytic, rule-based approach and reflecting on “why?”.

    • Dennis, thanks for taking it further. Let me share a few comments.
      Thinking I am referring to is as much analytic as it is synthetic. Effective thinking is not only about taking things to bits and pieces but also about putting them together and making meanings.
      Most language learners are not interested in language as a means rather than an object of study. Therefore, in the Thinking Approach we’ve only got one Technology – the Creative Grammar Technology – that deals with language as an object. The other four Technlogies (http://www.thinking-approach.org/index.php?id=2) use language as a means. In the context of language learning it means that the ‘why?’ question is asked about other things (not necessarily the language) and the rules are developed not about the language as such but the tasks learners are dealing with and where language is used as a means. This, in turn, creates the natural context for language use and lots of natural exposure.
      I’d be interested to hear what you think about it.

  6. Marie helene says:

    Dear Alexander,
    Thanks so much for making us think & allowing us to change our view on thinking!
    I enjoyed the webinar thoroughly!
    I was asking about culture because in france, we are to teach all 5 language skills (writing, listening, reading, talking: alone or with different people) but we have to do it through culture studies (i’m not sure I’m being clear…. ).
    I mean we have to think first of the lesson (culturally speaking) we want to teach & then see which tasks are best, which linguistic items our students will need & so on…
    Thanks again!:)
    Marie helene

    • Marie, if you would like me to comment on how I see integrating cultural issues into the Thinking Approach based lesson, I’d like to have an example of what you are referring to as cultural studies.

  7. Marijana says:

    I missed the presentation. I convinced myself it is in the evening GMT. Sorry I couldn’t make it, but when I listen to the recording will come back with some more comments :))

  8. Marijana, I am looking forward to your questions and comments.

  9. osnacantab says:

    Alexander, first, thanks for finding time for making the comments you have so far.

    Not surprisingly,, the Thinking position on language learning is more developed than I had realised. I feel I must do a bit of homework before II comment further. Thanks for answering. Dennis.

  10. osnacantab says:

    Alexander,

    Thanks for coming back the next day as one of the audience!

    I did a bit of homework as promised and could see that your exercises served a different purpose even if, superficially, they looked like ordinary tasks. I guess my comment – comment rather than criticism – is that you are inviting learners to reflect on the language they are learning and to draw their own conclusions about descriptive rules. I can see that particularly at higher levels this could be useful. I suppose I am more concerned with lower levels where I don’t want them to be consciously inspecting the language and searching for explanations and accounts even if the explanations and accounts are their own.

    Greetings,

    Dennis


    *

    Dennis Newson
    Formerly : University of Osnabrueck, GERMANY
    Committee member | Discussion List Manager, YLTSIG Online | IATEFL YLT SIG
    Creator: YLTSIG NING
    Committee member IATEFL GISIG: Members & Promotion
    Winner British Council ELT 05 Innovation Award
    Unrepentant grammarophobe
    YLTSIG Website

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    • Dennis,
      as you know, I am always happy to continue.
      I feel it’s time we brought it down to more specific examples to make sure that we both understand each other (and other people who are reading this understand what we mean). You are speaking about lower levels. Let me take a few examples (real examples from what some of my colleagues are doing with children).

      Example 1. When working with adjectives (we normally keep to a more communicative grammar approach in the Thinking Approach, therefore we call it Describing Objects and it obviously includes more than just adjectives), learners notice that words describing objects look different. Some have -er in the end, some are preceeded by ‘more’, some by ‘the most’, etc. They collect these different ‘appearances’ and come up with some ideas. Then they check them through reading more authentic texts.
      Example 2. When dealing with ‘Speaking about the Past in English’, learners notice that there are different ways of showing that the action was in the past. Some words have -ed in the end, some don’t. Even those that have -ed sound different when we hear them. Again, learners come up with some ideas on the difference and check them.

      I can give many examples like this for different levels. My question here is what you see as dangerous in this approach from the point of view of language learning. In what way this search for explanations may be harmful. In fact, from experience, younger learners normally see this ‘search for explanations’ as a game. The moment they understand that the teacher is not expecting the ‘right’ answer from them, their attitude become completely different.

      And one more thing. As I tried to say earlier, in the Thining Approach we do get learners to come up with their ideas for rules or strategies, but these rules are not necessarily about language. They can be about doing a particular task where language is just one of the aspects, e.g. making a presentation or writing an article to the school newspaper.

      Now back to you, Dennis 🙂

      Alexander

  11. Great presentation. I’ve just seen the recorded and read the comments here, so I’ll do as Dennis: take some homework before talk about the subjetc, but I think it’s really interesting and also a challenge for us to put it in practise it.

  12. philipquick says:

    Hi Alexander,I see where your coming from ,but I think Philosophy is much more exciting. Again it needs to be more human approached. Have you seen a Channel 4 Uk tv show about Philosophy, where they discuss issues ,such a staus anxiety,how to deal with failure,happiness etc. It teaches you ,how to think Philosophically about your every day problems in life.
    In EFL Ive never been able to find a lesson plan, where I can get students thinking Philosophically in an EFL framework which incorporates other language points. In other words I havent got the tools myself to write a lesson plan. Existentialism seems to me an interesting approach. Do you know any links to good Philosophy lesson plans?
    Best Regards Philip

  13. Philip, thanks for the comment. In my philosophy, whether something is more or less exciting depends on one’s context and purposes. I believe that the Thinking Approach is much more exciting for the purposes of developing one’s skills and dispositions for dealing with non-typical problems. I admit, though, that for other people and purposes philosophy can be more exciting.
    I am afraid I haven’t seen the show about philosophy – can you share a link please?
    Re your question about the framework for integrating philosophical thinking and language points. I can’t tell you if they exist (it might be useful to check what P4C enthusiasts have done in the context of language education) but I am sure that you can use some of the ideas of the Text Technology of the Thinking Approach (http://www.thinking-approach.org/index.php?menu=1&id=15) for this purpose. For example, you can use the text that meets your ‘philosophical’ requirements and the tasks framework from the Text Technology. I think it should work.

  14. philipquick says:

    Alex here is the link…just check Alain de Boton on you tube…his documentary about Epicurius is worth looking at. Amazingly this great philosopher said 2,000 years ago that shopping wouldnt make people happy.
    Just as a side note, i was reading my Face to Face advanced book and it clearly states in their [the teachers book] that all the exercises are designed so that students dont need to think too much, in order to get them speaking!!!All the best from Philip in Moldova

  15. philipquick says:

    THX am gonna try out your text technology ideas…am sifting through them….and gettin on ur wavelength!!!

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