Teaching mediation in the English language classroom
In this series of articles, Tim Goodier talks about mediation in language teaching, learning and assessment. Today, you’ll learn what mediation is, how you can teach it and how it can benefit your learners.
You can also sign up to Tim’s webinar: An introduction to teaching mediation here.
What is mediation in English teaching?
Have you ever noticed how your understanding of something often develops when you try to explain it to someone else?
That’s the result of mediation, a core facet of communication that occurs when we take into account the needs of others, and adjust our own expression accordingly. When we mediate, we don’t just think about what to say, but also how to say it. This often results in new meanings and ways of communicating them as a result.
In general, mediation includes activities that:
- Aid understanding between people
- Make things more comprehensible
- Make connections between ideas and information
- Support ‘talking things through’ to reach new conclusions
These things happen all the time in lively communicative classrooms, so it’s nothing new right?
How does the mediation fit in the CEFR?
Mediation has become a hot topic of discussion in language learning recently because the concept has been significantly updated in the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).
The CEFR now gives us detailed descriptions of what learners ‘can do’ in a whole range of mediation activities at levels A1-C2. These descriptors have been published in the CEFR ‘Companion Volume’ (2018).
A key thing to note here is that the CEFR doesn’t break things down into four skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing. Instead it describes four ‘modes’ to better reflect how communication occurs in real life:
- Reception: comprehension in listening and reading
- Production: formulating something new to say or write
- Interaction: engaging in conversation or written exchanges
- Mediation: adjusting the message for the recipient
So it’s important to note that mediation is not something to add to the four skills. Rather, it’s an aspect of how we use the four skills and often integrate them.
What is the relevance of mediation activities?
Many teachers are asking why they should focus on communication skills in this particular way now. One compelling reason is how the demands of communication are rapidly changing in the 21st century.
Communication online is increasingly inter-cultural, requiring greater self-awareness of how we use language to be adaptable and cooperate. Everyday tasks are becoming increasingly automated, so that universities and employers place higher value on soft communication skills that support creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
This is particularly true for English, which is seen as a key language that opens up opportunities in international education and careers.
Teaching mediation activities can therefore help prepare learners to become more versatile and successful communicators in this changing environment.
How can we teach mediation?
We can now refer to the CEFR to select what mediation activities learners can (reasonably) aim to do at each level, because thousands of language professionals have agreed on this in surveys.
For example, at level B1 in a collaborative activity, learners ‘can ask a group member to give the reason(s) for their views.’ Whereas, at level B2 learners ‘can further develop other people’s ideas and opinions’.
In this way, can do statements can be the springboard to set clear learning aims and success criteria for courses. In turn, they help us design relevant classroom activities, focus learners on task expectations, guide reflection on task performance and assess task achievement.
“Springboard” is a key term, because the CEFR is not a syllabus or course. It’s up to us to design learning activities around the backbone of the CEFR statements, according to what is relevant to our learners.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be rocket science. As noted earlier, mediation itself really isn’t anything new (teachers mediate every day).
In this series of webinars and blogs. I’ll be exploring how teachers can flexibly create opportunities in their courses and with different learner groups, for the practice and development of mediation.
An introduction to teaching mediation – a webinar with Tim Goodier
Tim’s first webinar will take place this Thursday 12th March 2020. He’ll give you an in-depth introduction to mediation and will be on hand to answer any questions.
During the session we’ll look at the new descriptors for teaching mediation, expand and clarify the concept and its relevance to the needs of 21st century language learners. We’ll also consider how mediation is already an integral part of the communicative classroom.