Do you still use loop input?

The other day in a conversation with two trainers, I heard two questions. From the first: “Do we still use loop input these days?” and from the second trainer(2) “What is loop input?”

I first learned about ‘Loop Input’ in an excellent training session with Tessa Woodward and she wrote a book called Loop Input (Pilgrims 1988). It’s now out of print though I bought a copy from the woman herself so I guess she has a few left for sale in her garage if you want one. You can also read an article by her here.

Anyway, in answer to the two questions: Yes, most trainers use it a lot though may not know it’s called loop input. And in answer to the second question (What is it?) here’s a brief summary with an activity to illustrate how it works.

When presenting a new teaching technique, it is common for trainers to follow this two-step procedure:

Step 1: The trainer asks the trainees to pretend to be students and then models or demonstrates the technique.

Step 2: The group discusses what was done before trying out the new skill themselves in their teaching practice.

So, in effect, you are doing two things in parallel: (1) Pretending to be language learners and then (2) Learning about teaching.

Loop input on the other hand offers an alternative by combining the two steps so they are less in parallel but work more in combination: as a loop.

Here’s an example of a loop input activity to train teachers to use dictations which Tessa originally outlined in her workshop though this version is in my words (so don’t blame her if it doesn’t work). In it, the trainer dictates a text describing how dictation works. In this way, the trainees experience the process and consider the content at the same time.

A training session on dictation1 Explain that you will read a text aloud and each participant needs a pen and paper to write down as much of it as possible. Read the following text to them: ‘A dictation is simply the teacher (or someone) reading out a piece of written text and asking the students to write down what they hear. The text could be the first few lines of a newspaper article, a verse of a song, even the instructions to another activity. It’s useful since it practises writing and speaking as well as listening. If you include language that you’ve recently taught in a dictation, it is also a good way to evaluate whether students have learnt it.’2 Afterwards, pairs or groups compare their texts afterwards. Read the text again so that everyone has the entire text (more or less). Briefly discuss as a class what the listeners found difficult and what they would imagine students would find difficult about doing a dictation.3 Now read the second part of the text on dictation below, which is about how to read dictations. You can either read this as you would any other dictation or, in order to illustrate the process of reading a dictation, read it differently from the way suggested by the guidelines in the text (i.e. incorrectly). So, for example, read the dictation slowly the first time, very quickly the second time (faster than normal) and finally, very slowly again.

‘As a general rule, the first time you read the text, read it at natural speed. The second time, extend pauses in natural places, such as at full stops and commas. The third time, read it again at natural speed. At the end, hand out a printed version or ask the students to read back what they have to you so that you can write it on the board.’

Afterwards, ask the group what you did wrong each of the three times you read the dictation.

Loop input appears to have the benefit of presenting information quickly and more efficiently than presenting the technique as it would be done with students and then discussing it. However, a loop input activity will also require discussion afterwards and some ‘unpacking’ of the process and content.

I have also observed – on pre-work training courses – situations where trainees have not seen the connection between the loop activity and the type of activity they might use in class. But without doubt, used in conjunction with other techniques, it can be effective.

Once you start using loop input in your training sessions it’s hard to give it up for a while! For example, you can do a session on reading skills but instead of using a reading you’d normally use with students, you use a reading text about how to teach reading and ask trainees to complete the types of tasks (gist questions, comprehension question, orally summarising) that we ask students to do with a reading text. See also the session on teaching listening skills which uses loop input. It’s very addictive!

So I’ve answered ‘What is loop input?” As to the question, “Do we still use it?” Well, I do. Do you?

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