Presented at the 48th annual meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL), Aston University, Birmingham, UK on September 4th, 2015


In order to make sense of abstract thought, humans have developed a rich facility for metaphor. These metaphors are loaded with meanings to be unpacked and interpreted. Research into education has a strong tradition of metaphor analysis, utilising metaphors for education to categorise differing attitudes towards the learning process. This work suggests the potential of metaphors as a shorthand for attitude systems. If this promise can be realised then researchers will have a powerful tool at hand.

This study seeks to test the hypothesis that learners’ metaphors for learning may reveal something about their perspectives and attitudes, with a particular focus on learner autonomy. In this study, the researcher assessed the propensity of Japanese university students for autonomous language learning using a survey developed by Shimo (2008), in addition to classroom observation. The same students were asked to complete short sentence fragments ‘A teacher is …’, ‘A student is…’, and ‘A classroom is…’ using metaphors, in writing. The complete sentences were subject to content analysis and followed up with one-to-one interviews.


The analysis of the metaphors employed by teachers and / or learners is a well-established technique. Herron (1982) and later Nattinger (1984) attempted to put language teaching methodologies into metaphorical contexts. Herron suggested that the grammar translation method was equivalent to gymnastic training – both require exertion and practice in order to attain proficiency. Nattinger’s disquiet in attempting to apply a computational metaphor to the relatively new methodology (at that time) of communicative language teaching perhaps reflects the computer’s place in society at that time; as computer technology has become entangled with human life, the human brain as computer metaphor has become dominant.

The relationships between metaphor, thought and society are fluid. As some work to express complex systems or ideas with metaphors, others analyse the metaphors we use to find out what lies beneath. Oxford et al. (1998) undertook an extensive survey of teacher and researcher narratives, and organised teachers’ conceptions into four major philosophical viewpoints on education; social order, cultural transmission, leaner-centred growth and social reform. Education as social order, for example, contains metaphors in the teacher as manufacturer subset suggesting a focus on efficiency, uniformity and end product.

de Guerrero & Villamil (2002) categorised the teacher’s role by metaphor into nine groupings as follows.

(category) (example) (counterpoint)
teacher as co-operative leader movie director learner as active participant
teacher as provider of knowledge TV set learner as recipient of knowledge
teacher as challenger or agent of change lion tamer learner as object of change
teacher as nurturer gardener learner as developing organism
teacher as innovator explorer learner as resistor
teacher as provider of tools tool carrier learner as constructor
teacher as artist potter learner as raw material
teacher as repairer mechanic learner as defective individual
teacher as gym instructor aerobics trainer learner as gymnast

Research has shown that the favoured metaphors people use reflect their attitudes and perceptions. For this study, I wanted to test the connection between metaphor and learner autonomy. The challenge was to measure autonomy. Learner autonomy is multidimensional and dynamic (Benson, 2013) and thus very hard to measure effectively. I drew on two previous studies, both of which took place in higher education in Japan.

Shimo (2008) attempted to discover if the level of self-perceived learner autonomy was linked to language proficiency. From a working definition of learner autonomy as the capacity to take responsibility for one’s own learning, she created a survey which assessed three domains; orientation for reflecting on learning processes, orientation for enhancing learning opportunities and orientation for reflecting on language abilities. The resulting eighteen question tool was a useful starting point for my study.

Murase (2015) developed a far more imposing questionnaire of 113 points, in an attempt to measure autonomy across four dimensions; technical, psychological, political-philosophical and socio-cultural.

dimension definition example statement
technical the ability to set goals, plan learning and study independently I set achievable goals in learning English.
psychological motivational and affective factors If I worry about learning English, I know how I can cope with it.
political-philosophical attitudes towards authority and hierarchy Students should always follow their teacher’s instructions.
socio-cultural orientation towards other learners and cultural differences in learning If I am doing something different from other students, I feel worried.


For this study, I melded elements from both questionnaires to focus on the learners orientation to others (other learners and teachers), self-awareness, and the technical capacity to practice independent learning. Students were asked to mark their level of agreement with a series of statements on a five point scale. The questionnaire was administered in Japanese to five classes of second year English majors at a Japanese women’s university. A translation of the final 26 point questionnaire is attached here.

Next, the same students were asked to complete four sentences with metaphors; A teacher is like____, A language learner is like___,A classroom is like___,Language learning is like____. They were also asked to give reasons for their metaphor selection.

Finally, the students were invited to semi-structured interviews. The first part of each interview related to their language learning experience and attitudes, and in the second part they were asked to select pictures which best matched their metaphors for learning, These pictures were generated from the learners’ questionnaires.


The larger data set (the first two questionnaires) is still under analysis, so here I would like to focus on just one of the students who agreed to be interviewed; ‘Melanie’.

Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.001


Melanie has a very strong orientation to learning with others, but she still expresses a level of dependance on the teacher. These are some of the comments she makes at the beginning of our interview.

Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.002

Next we look at a selection of pictures, generated from the student questionnaires. The first picture she selects is an image of god, taken from Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’. Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.003

This metaphor is in line with her learner autonomy measurement, although there is a certain level of self-awareness that wasn’t previously apparent.

Talking of the class, she shows how important the social aspect of learning is for her.

Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.004

Her metaphors for learning are intriguing. She comes across as very optimistic, which reflects her strong ‘affective’ score on the measurement. But it seems that she sees positive and negative situations as something to be borne or muddled through, out of her control. This bears out the lower score she received for technical autonomy on the measurement.

Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.005

Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.006

Metaphors and Autonomy BAAL Extract.007

In the slide show below you can see more.

My Teacher is a Watering Can: Metaphors and Autonomous Learning by Darren Elliott


Benson, P. (2013). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. Oxford: Routledge.

de Guerrero, M. C., & Villamil, O. S. (2002). Metaphorical conceptualizations of ESL teaching and learning. Language teaching research, 6 (2), 95-120.

Herron, C. (1982). Foreign‐Language Learning Approaches as Metaphor. The Modern Language Journal, 66 (3), p. 235-242.

Mahlios, M., Massengill‐Shaw, D., & Barry, A. (2010). Making sense of teaching through metaphors: A review across three studies. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 16 (1), 49-71.

Murase, F. (2015). Measuring Language Learner Autonomy: Problems and Possibilities. In Everhard, C. J., & Murphy, L. (Eds.). Assessment and Autonomy in Language Learning. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nattinger, J. R. (1984). Communicative language teaching: A new metaphor. Tesol Quarterly, 18 (3), 391-407.

Oxford, R. L., Tomlinson, S., Barcelos, A., Harrington, C., Lavine, R. Z., Saleh, A., & Longhini, A. (1998). Clashing metaphors about classroom teachers: Toward a systematic typology for the language teaching field. System, 26 (1), 3-50.

Shimo, E. (2008). Learner autonomy and English language proficiency: An exploration among Non-English majors at a Japanese university. 近畿大学語学教育部紀要 (Kinki University Department of Language Education bulletin). Vol.8, No.2, p.153- 178

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Presented at EUROCALL 2015, University of Padua, August 27th, 2015

The Background

When the university I was working at bought a set of small video cameras, I was intrigued. I started playing around with them in class, first I had the learners record and transcribe conversations, then I guided them to make skits and instructional videos. You can see some of the projects I have worked on previously here.

Over the last few years since I first began using student video, there have been two major developments. The first is the ubiquity of smartphone technology. We have now reached the point (in my context, at least) at which almost every student has a video recording and editing suite in his or her pocket. The next development, obviously connected to the first, is the rise of online video. YouTube, Vine, Facebook, Instagram, LINE; this is what our students are watching. Instead of television? Perhaps.

I had these ideas in mind when I was presented with the opportunity to teach an advanced and an intermediate communication class at a local university. I had carte blanche, and I decided to make this a video project class. I set up a website to deliver the content, and chose a number of different video genres (some traditional, some more modern) to analyse and replicate with the learners.

I decided from the start to allow the students a lot of freedom in how they produced the videos. I suggested different methods, but gave very little technical instruction unless asked. My goal was to allow them to use the tools with which they were most comfortable, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to support each other. I wanted very much to avoid ‘technological determinism’ – the tools were secondary to the learners and their products.

To begin, it was necessary to find out what they had, what they could already do, and what they thought.
Fortunately, every single student had a smartphone.

Eurocall Extract.001

Recording is always easy. The main challenges in student produced video are editing and sharing the completed file. Unfortunately, my favoured tools were unfamiliar.

Eurocall Extract 2.001

The students were mixed in their willingness to share online. Some were quite keen.

Eurocall Extract.001

Others were more conservative, and actually quite naive.

Eurocall Extract.002

Eurocall Extract.003

There were also some differences in their familiarity with editing software.

Eurocall Extract.004

But for pretty much everyone, the smartphone would be the tool of choice.

Eurocall Extract 2.001

The learners’ first task was to create a self-introduction video and deliver it to me. This example took me a few minutes, using the apps Splice and Vimo on an iPhone 6.

An Introduction to Darren Elliott from darren elliott on Vimeo.

The students fared quite well, and were able to teach each other the techniques they had used to broaden the knowledge base of the whole class.

At this point, we started the project work. Please visit the individual pages at the website to see how each project developed.

News Report

YouTube Movie Review

Directors Commentary



TED Talk

Soap Opera

For each of the projects, we analysed quintessential examples and tried to replicate them. For example, the YouTube movie review is delivered straight to camera with jump cuts and onscreen text and pictures. Soap operas tend to cut between the actors and dwell on reaction shots in close up. TED Talks begin with a personal story and lead in to the message.

What I found was that, although learners had technical trouble with hardware and software, they were generally very adept at replicating style accurately. For example, the background music may have been too loud, but the actual song fit perfectly with the style of video the learner was making.

To conclude the semester, the students interviewed one another (on video, of course) using this list of suggested questions.


I’d like to highlight a few common responses.

Firstly, the students almost all referred to technical skills when asked what they had learnt. Editing skills, adding audio commentary and subtitling, these were the things they took home from the course. Some of them had used their new skills in other classes, others in their personal lives.

The most popular project across both classes was the subtitling project. This was quite challenging technically, but it allowed the students to express their creativity and also to talk about issues which affected them directly. This also came out in the TED talks and the news reports – students tended to choose local issues and topics important to them as university students.

Finally, there was a shift in attitudes towards their smartphones. Most of the learners had initially seen their phones as communication tools. Actually, I believe that if they had assessed their use more carefully they may have found they were using their devices to consume, create and share media too. However, the general perception of the smartphone was that its main function was text messaging. By the end of the course, many of the students reported a broader view of their phones and of their own relationship with their devices.

If you attended my presentation in Padova, thank you! If you didn’t, thank you for reading. Either way, I’d be happy to hear your questions or comments below.

Goodwyn, A. (2003). English teaching and the moving image. Routledge.

Marshall, J., & Werndly, A. (2002). The language of television. Routledge.

Potter, J. (2012). Digital media and learner identity: The new curatorship. Palgrave Macmillan.

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An Interview with Laxman Gnawali from darren elliott on Vimeo.

In February of this year I visited Kathmandu for the second time in my life, this time in a professional capacity, and had a great experience hosted by the good people of NELTA. Amongst them, Dr. Laxman Gnawali, who I present here. Dr. Gnawali has contributed a great deal to the success of NELTA over the last few years, helping it become a model for other national teaching associations. Nepal has its challenges, but I met many, many wonderful people who had gathered from across the country to share ideas and enthusiasm. My overwhelming impression from my visit was that of burgeoning self-confidence and pride in the achievements of the association and its members.

In this spirit, after the terrible earthquake of April 2015, I’d like to encourage you all to support NELTA and its affiliates in trying to help those who need it most. The Jai Nepal Youth Group is a group of Kathmandu University graduates and other professional volunteers who are working right now to get supplies out to neglected areas. One of the organisers, Umes Shrestha, was interviewed as IH scholar at the recent IATEFL conference in Manchester. NELTA itself is involved in relief work, and perhaps the best place to keep up to date with them is via Facebook. Other aid agencies are now on the ground and taking contributions.

There will be more to do after the dust has settled, so please continue to support Nepal and don’t let this story just fade away out of international sight.


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An Interview with Claire Kramsch from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I spent a very enjoyable half an hour talking with Claire Kramsch at the 2014 JALT National conference in Tsukuba, Japan, and here it is for your perusal. Professor Kramsch is the director of the Berkeley Language Center, a teacher of German, and a researcher with an extensive body of work related to culture and language, discourse and language pedagogy.

If you like this interview, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes to hear more as soon as they are released, and tell your teaching friends!

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An Interview with Thomas Farrell from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Reflective practice is a way for professionals (in education, social work, medicine and many other fields) to assess their work and manage their own development. Even if you don’t know it by name you may well have engaged in a form of reflective practice in formal or informal training programmes. In this interview we discussed reflective practice, what it is, what it isn’t, and where it’s going.

I’ve done quite a lot of these interviews now, and everyone I have spoken to has been gracious and thoughtful. Some of the interviewees I knew little about before I spoke to them but in preparing for, and then conducting, the interview I have become interested in their work. On the other hand, Thomas Farrell is someone whose work I have been interested in for a long time. What would he be like in real life, I wondered? I enjoyed a long conversation with the charming Dr. Farrell at the JALT conference in Tsukuba, Japan last autumn. Both his plenary and his workshop demonstrated that academics do not have to be dry to be rigorous.

Dr. Farrell hosts an excellent website, where you can read more of his work. If you are looking for a book to start with, I think ‘Reflective Language Teaching: From Research to Practice’ published by Continuum is a very accessible introduction. His latest book is on my list when the next budget allocation arrives in April….

If you enjoy this interview please share it with your colleagues. You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

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What is haiku?

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form. Traditional haiku has a number of rules relating to both form and content.

Each poem consists of three lines, made up of five, seven and five syllables. The entire poem is seventeen syllables long, and can be recited in a single breath.
The first line should end in a ‘cutting’ word.
Every poem contains at least one proscribed seasonal word. These connect the poem to the natural world.
Haiku should relate personal experience and conjure up a visual image. Emotions and moods should be invoked rather than directly stated.

In modern Japanese haiku, and English language haiku, these rules may be ignored or adapted to serve the poet and his / her poetry. For example, urban haiku may not allude to nature at all. International poets may select different words to indicate the seasons.

Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.

(Richard Wright, 1998)

Translations of Japanese haiku into English often capture the mood better if the translator is not required to stick to the syllable structure too rigidly. You may agree that the second translation here is more elegant, even though it breaks the syllable rule. The writer should leave some room for the reader to develop his or her own interpretation.

furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

(Matsuo Bashô, 1686)

an ancient green pond
a frog leaps in from above
splash! the sound of water

an old pond
a frog jumps
the sound of water

Haiku for Accuracy

There are a greater variety of possible syllable patterns in English than in some other languages, including Japanese and Nepali.

Syllable Formation-2

In English, a syllable can be fronted by as many as three opening consonants.


onset – nucleus
ccc – v

Many English syllables also include a coda.


onset – nucleus – coda
c – v – c

Japanese does not allow this, and in fact almost all Japanese syllables consist of a consonant onset and a vowel nucleus. This leads Japanese speakers to add extra vowel sounds between consonants. Thus tree becomes to-ree. Speakers of languages which lack consonant clusters can benefit from the tight focus on phonology required for English haiku writing.

This tight focus can also be beneficial for both teachers and learners when working on grammatical accuracy. In a long form essay, the extent and variety of error correction is often overwhelming for students – receiving two pages of written work covered in red pen is demotivating, and most of the feedback is unlikely to lead to greater accuracy in subsequent work. Working on three line / seventeen syllable poem, however, learners can focus on prepositions, articles and auxiliary verbs within a very tight framework.

Haiku for Creativity

Traditional haiku writers may use a saijiki – a seasonal lexicon. Creating a saijiki in English is a useful activity for learners to review and recycle the English they already know before they create their own poems. Of course, teachers can ask their haiku writers to stick to a particular theme or to utilise vocabulary from a particular lexical set.

One traditional form of haiku is the haibun, a narrative broken up with haiku. Iida (2010) outlines a process from reading and interpreting the haiku of others to writing one’s own which takes a narrative / free-writing to haiku direction. Learners are asked to write freely about a moment they remember (perhaps on a particular day, to help them focus). They use these notes to create their haiku.

In haiga, poets illustrate their haiku. Either the illustration or the haiku can come first. In the classroom you may ask learners to write haiku for one another’s illustrations, or to bring a photograph from home to use as a prompt for a poem. There are many other ways in which a creative teacher can exploit the rich mental images conjured up by haiku.

Conclusions and Advice

You can choose which rules to follow and which ones to disregard, it all depends on your goal. If you want to work on pronunciation, focusing on syllable patterns seems more important. If you are more interested in working on vocabulary, then it may be better to allow more freedom.

Not every student can write an essay or a short story in English, but a three line poem is certainly achievable. What is surprising is how expressive such short poems can be.

Further Reading

Donegan, P. (2003). Haiku. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

Higginson, W. J., & Harter, P. (1985). The haiku handbook: How to write, share, and teach haiku. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hunke, M. (2014). Spoken language in motion: Acquiring German basic rhythm and dynamic stress through haiku and tanka. ことばの世界: 愛知県立大学高等言語教育研究所年報, (6), 111-120.

Iida, A. (2008). Poetry writing as expressive pedagogy in an EFL context: Identifying possible assessment tools for haiku poetry in EFL freshman college writing. Assessing Writing 13, 171-179.

Iida, A. (2010). Developing voice by composing haiku: A social-expressivist approach for teaching haiku writing in EFL contexts. English Teaching Forum, 48(1), 28-34.

Iida, A. (2012). Writing haiku in a second language: Perceptions, attitude, and emotions of second language learners. SINO-US English Teaching 9, 1472-1485.

Lee, B. Y. (2011). The Practice of Haiku Writing in Second Language Classrooms. Komaba Journal of English Education, 2, 23-44.

Yasuda, K. (1973). The Japanese haiku: lts essential nature, history, and possibilities in English with selected examples. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

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a class with no teacher from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I don’t blog about my classroom practice as often as I used to, but I still have a great interest in reflective practice. One difficulty in maintaining meaningful reflection is that your reflective needs change over time. A worthwhile exercise, then, is to revisit past practice. I have a blog, and a stack of notebooks from several years in the classroom. I like to look at what I’ve done and see how it fits with my current practice. How would I do this differently now? Have I changed, and if so have I changed for the better? Does this connect to anything I have read, seen or experienced since it happened?

I’m trying to piece together the genesis of this piece. About five years ago, I had a lovely class who I thought could do even better. To shake things up, I decided to opt out of my responsibilities for a week, and the blog post I wrote about that (and more importantly, the second post about the students interpretations of the experiment) generated a lot of discussion. A little after that I reviewed a book called ‘The Developing Language Learner‘, a book which made a tremendous impact on me. When I was involved in planning the PanSIG conference in 2013, I was keen to bring Judith Hanks, one of the authors, to Japan as a speaker.

This video is my presentation for the joint TED / CUE forum at JALT 2015 (if you don’t know the acronyms, don’t worry… I’m too far gone to pick them apart here). I always enjoy these events because you can see so many different ideas around a theme, but I particularly wanted to attend this forum because it was to be chaired by Thomas Farrell, someone whose work I have admired for a long time. The conceit was to present ten slides for thirty seconds each, but I just made a five minute movie and narrated it live.

I can now reframe what happened in this class through my subsequent reading into Exploratory Practice and Reflective Practice. As an experiment, I don’t think I’d be able to do this now. What is really interesting is to see myself as a younger teacher, and not necessarily a worse one. I’m very satisfied with my teaching these days, and that’s not good. Maybe I was a little less slick and a little less polished in those days, with a little less book learning, but I was probably a little more daring and possibly a little more engaged. Time to shake things up again?


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I spoke to Dr. Folse at the 2013 JALT conference shortly after a very engaging plenary. We discussed writing and vocabulary, teacher development, and his extensive experience of both teaching and learning languages around the world. You can read more about Dr. Folse and his work at his own website. This interview is audio only.


There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

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An Interview with Rubina Khan from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Rubina Khan is Professor of English Language Teaching and Teacher Education at the University of Dhaka, and joined us at the JALT National conference in 2013 as general secretary of the Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA). We talked about her work with the association, and about English language education in Bangladesh, as well as the many joint regional projects BELTA is involved in. JALT’s connection, through the Teacher Helping Teachers SIG, is a very worthwhile long term project.

There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

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An Interview with Regine Hampel from darren elliott on Vimeo.

This interview took place in June 2014 at the JALTCALL conference in Nagoya, Japan. I was joined by Professor Regine Hampel of the Open University, and we discussed CALL, distance learning and blend learning.

There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

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