IATEFL 2015 Plenary Day 3

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Ann is introduced: All of us here are in education and we stay in it because we want to improve in some way the lives of the people who come to us. Ann Cotton has directly improved the lives of 1.2 million students, students who were most in need of such improvement. Camfed battles poverty by giving education to young girls in rural Africa. Last year Ann was awarded the WISE prize for education.

Screenshot of Camfed logo

Screenshot of Camfed logo

Ann starts by telling us about the history of this area in terms of suffrage, a march that was made and stormed by the troops for challenging the status quo. This city has had a profound effect on the world.

She goes on to say that she has been fighting for justice too. When she started, education for girls was not considered a priority, especially for girls in rural Africa. She was interested in the area of gender and human rights. She visited a village in Zimbabwe, and found that the area where the Tonga people had been moved when the damn was built in 19(?6) was the poorest. They had been forcibly removed from their own land and resettled somewhere where the land was not sufficiently productive to support human life. Ann was going to do a study on girls’ exclusion from education, looking for the reasons why there were 7 boys for every girl at school.

She had not understood until that point the enormous strides that Zimbabwe had made in its education system. At the time of independence, all white children went to better resourced schools, so there was the most enormous challenge to expand education access. There were 600 places for every 1000 children in the newly desegregated system. However, Ann found a level of poverty that she had never before witnessed. The government provided food aid for two years to the Tonga people but these people had lost a way of life. They had lost access to the river, and theirs was a river culture. They used the Zambezi for trade and as a source of food. They had lived a subsistence life, but now they were under huge pressure to join the cash economy. But the colonial government was dissatisfied so they introduced a hut tax, and if the taxes weren’t paid, you went to prison. And to fish, you had to buy a fishing license.

Ann saw the connection between this history and her own history in Carmarthenshire. Her family were involved in knitting. And when factories started to produce things like socks which were more fashionable than hand-knitted socks, then her family who had earnt enough to survive by knitting by hand, they had to relocate and enter a different economy. Her grandmother was passionate about education and her four children including Ann’s mother all went into higher education. Back in Zimbabwe, she saw the desire for education that her grandmother had. She realised that everything she had read in advance of going was erroneous, as she had been expecting to find resistance to education but instead found a culture of poverty so deep that it forced very cruel choices. People were being blamed for their culture, as though that were the reason girls were not at school. But Ann heard the message from everyone she met that girls wanted to go school, that the local economics favoured the education of boys. In a community with the absence of a safety net beyond the family, this was crucial. So these people were making the only decisions they could on the basis of economics and survival. Ann found that extraordinary. She hadn’t met this idea anywhere in the literature in libraries in Cambridge and London. She thought, if this was the case here, then what about elsewhere in rural Zimbabwe and beyond?

When Ann returned home, she felt completely out of her depth emotionally, intellectually, she had never thought of raising money through an organisation, but she felt the issue needed far wider consideration, because as we still see today, there is still the impact of girls being excluded from education. We see it in high rates of mortality, maternal mortality, lack of food security, the exclusion of women from the economy. The exclusion of girls has an impact far beyond their own lives. When a girl leaves school at the age of 12 or 13, she will marry. She needs food, more clothes, so the family depend on the marriage for her security. However, the security is undermined by the likelihood of pregnancy as a teenager, in a place where difficulties in labour were not able to be dealt with. She had to be transferred elsewhere, and if she died during this journey, the cost of repatriating the body was not covered. There is always a rationale and that rationale is almost always economic. It’s about taking a bet, a risk, working out what is the best risk to take. In this case, educating sons was a better bet.

Ann felt the need to explain. She started with her supervisor, explaining that she didn’t feel she could just study. She wanted to do something with this knowledge she had happened on. She didn’t embark on her PhD as planned, kept deferring it. She didn’t know what the next would be but went around organisations explaining what she had found. From the organisations, she found complete resistance to what she said. She was angry about the closed minds she met, that what she told people about that community was being rejected. This drove her on. She had said that she would return to the chief, and after 6 months she did. He said, “ah, you’re back. I didn’t think you’d come back” and she said “But I promised. And I am ready to work with you. I have no idea what to do but we can work together to make sure more girls can go to school”. One and a half days later in the morning, she was woken by the sound of voices gathering. She hadn’t thought that all these voices were heading to the secondary school where the meeting was to take place, but they were. She arrived to find hundreds of people who had all arrived to discuss the issue of girls education. Ann was profoundly moved by this. The whole community knew about this meeting via a message from the chief. The chief is a bridge between the traditional world and the modern world, and is trusted. In this meeting they discussed how to move forward. And this is where Camfed’s model was designed.

From 32 girls they have gone on to support 1.2 million girls in countries across Africa. The idea was the child is at the centre of everything, the child is their client. How often in education does the child have to fit the system rather than the system working for the child? The question is, how do you build a community around this issue? How do you build a culture that is accountable first and foremost to the child? The document they produced describes that and that is how they designed their work. They think about the different forms of capital available. In that first meeting, Ann learnt that she had to abandon everything she had learnt from the literature. So often we think of written language of the expression of intelligence because that is the measurement system that we have, but here in the community, she found a depth of intelligence that she continues to find profound.

So the model is a system for drawing capital together. But not only financial capital. If we negotiate every action, every initiative through the lens of financial capital, all we will do is remind people of what they don’t have. So we turn to social capital, which is vast. Every community, however poor, runs because of its social capital. So the fact that the chief brought the community together is a form of social capital. Of course this was a patriarchal society, the educators were almost all men, the chief, the clinic staff. This was an area where men were making it through the education system so women were not in positions of authority. So Ann raised her voice.

Ann describes the intense arrogance of thinking the poor are a set of data and that we are entitled to know details about them (e.g. number of sexual partners) that we ourselves would not be willing to give. And what happens to the data once it is collected? It moves upwards. It doesn’t go back to the community. The power of data, however, is huge. The power of data to change behaviour, to acknowledge behaviour. Camfed works with grandmothers because many of the parental generation have died. However, the intelligence is there. They are ready to find out how they can change the educational outcomes of their grandchildren. So they have meetings and discuss the collection of data and what it can tell them. E.g. chores. Girls do the domestic chores, boys might take the animals to the field. Girls have to do more, and therefore have less space and time to study, which impacts on results. So they looked at this and worked on what to do. Later on, showing the improvements (in a graph), generated celebration.

Coming out of the system, girls were still vulnerable. Now they had the most enormous capital available in their lives, communities and future families, but they needed protection in order to be able to make significant change. So they established an alumni organisation, a powerful network. Some of the members are now in their mid-30s. And now they themselves are taking initiatives outside their own families, supporting the education of children outside their family, to the tune of upwards of 63,000 children.

Ann introduces us to a few of them. E.g. Ruka from Ghana who set up a chicken farm, which is growing now. Her community is celebrating her. It’s not only the fact of their progression but they understand the context of poverty, the psychology of it, the material impact of it. So their change-making is way beyond the change-making possible if a child without this background went into this context. If we want change, if we are serious about the eradication of poverty, we need to educate every child. We need to educate every girl and make sure that within the system they are valued and respected. Then they can emerge as pillars of society, able to fight for others like them.

Ann goes on to explain that children in this context face not only a language barrier but the barrier of metaphors and examples that they are expected to negotiate and understand. They do not see themselves in their learning materials. They enter into an educational environment that feels somehow detached and remote. So, Camfed are now working with Pearson to create materials that are more relevant to the students’ lives in their contexts, so that their experience is reflected back at them. Names and places are those with which children are familiar. So they don’t find themselves with a train timetable that looks at the distance between London and Manchester, which means nothing to them. Ann tells us about an exam question she faced that was all about cricket runs: she remembers looking at this question and being confused by it because she didn’t understand the basis of the question. In their partnership with ministries of education and with Pearson, is develop a curriculum precisely targeted at the children and these have been very successful. CAMNA (The alumni) have worked with consultants at Pearson in this development.

Camfed have also established the learner guide programme, where secondary school graduates go into schools and work alongside the teachers, most of whom won’t be from the local area. This works on several levels: teachers feel supported in their classes of 50 or 60 children; there is this fantastic language bridge; for the children, the learner guides are a friendly face (known) and role models, representing something these children can do; parents are delighted as they can see their daughters are moving forward and respected in their communities. Finally it is a bridge to teacher training college for the young women.

Ann finished with the words of Mark Twain: When everybody thinks the way you do, then it’s time to think differently. As a community of educators, she says we all have such creativity and such great ideas and she wishes us all the best for the conference and moving forward.





IATEFL 2015: All my posts indexed!

I wrote upwards of 20 posts while I was at IATEFL 2015, so thought it would be a good idea to index them all in a single post so that they are easier to locate! 

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Day 0 – MaW SIG Pre-Conference Event Day

I divided up the SIG day into 4 posts – two sessions per post.

Part 1

  • Sue Kay – “Writing multiple choice activities – What I have learnt”
  • Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones – “Maximising the image in materials design”

Part 2

  • Nick Tims – “A Technological Toolkit for writers”
  • John Hughes – “Writing ELT audio and video scripts. From basic principles to creating drama”

Part 3

  • Kieran and Anna – “How to write ELT activities for authentic video and film”
  • Julie Moore – “Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers”

Part 4

  • Evan Frendo – “Tailor-making materials from an ESP author perspective”
  • Christien Lee – “(Mis) adventures in self-publishing”

 Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Why I love IATEFL/conferences (2015 version!)

IATEFL is over for another year (well, it’s not quite – I think the final plenary is in process as I type! – but for me it is, as I am sitting on a train to London…) and once again it has surpassed expectations. If I am honest, I wasn’t actually looking forward to it that much this year. (Which is different from previous years when it’s been an “I can’t wait!” situation!) I was tired, I felt mildly annoyed that I was losing half an Easter holiday week for it (last year Easter holiday I travelled around Sicily with some family and had an actual break!) and I generally couldn’t be bothered. I arrived in Manchester on Thursday evening, checked into my ‘aparthotel’ room and thought, “I don’t want to be here…I want a holiday…bah.” Friday morning, I walked to the conference centre. As it came into sight, all the negativity fell away, to be replaced with some more customary excitement! “I’m at a conference, wheeeeee!” I was quite relieved when the switch flipped and have gone on to have an absolutely marvellous time in Manchester. It was definitely cure rather than kill! If it weren’t for wanting to get all these thoughts down while they are fresh in my mind, I would definitely not be typing right now… Over the course of the conference I have written and published 22 posts and a further 2 are waiting for finishing touches. None of the posts are less than 1000 words in length, most are significantly more. So I have written well over 22,000 words in the last 5 days (maths isn’t my strong point – correct me if I am wrong!). No wonder my fingers are tired! But it’s worth it when you get people saying: Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 14.06.03 Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 14.06.37 Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 14.06.47 (The last tweet was in response to me admitting that my fingers were officially tired!) I have seen a huge variety of talks and workshops: EAP, materials writing, corpus linguistics, teenagers, young learners, linguistics (David Crystal this morning!), IELTS, language testing (ELTJ debate), technology, publishing… and so it goes on. I think this is one of the things I love about IATEFL so much: the opportunity to connect with the bigger picture of my profession, rather than just my tiny corner of it. I also had the wonderful opportunity of sharing what I’ve done in my tiny corner with a handful of the many people who came to IATEFL and chose my talk (despite it being second to last slot on the last full day, when everyone is knackered!). I have picked up my customary Black Cat publishers bag (aka my alternative handbag for the next 12 months till I get next years!) from the exhibition hall. What an enormous hall! It was absolutely vast. I didn’t spend as much time in it as previous years, because I didn’t want to be tempted into buying books (my usual weakness) to carry back with me when I relocate back to the UK in under two months. I did, however, treat myself to one book: The Company Words Keep published by Delta Publishing. Looking forward to trying out some of the activities in the next 6 weeks. I think I successfully managed to bump into everybody I wanted to bump into with very little organisation. And that’s another thing I love about conferences and IATEFL in particular (because it unites people from all over the place): the opportunity to catch up with people who live and work a long way away from where you live and work but who you’ve met through social media,  doing your M.A./Delta, at previous conferences or because you used to work somewhere else a long way from your current location. I LOVE all the hello’s! And as I slipped off after David Crystal’s talk today, without attempting to find anybody, I managed to avoid any goodbyes! Not so keen on goodbyes… So it was that after dragging my heels every step of the way to the conference, I felt a real pang when I handed in my lanyard and name tag for recycling and walked out that main entrance door for a final time. Having spent 5 days going in an out and…very happily.  On the plus side, I no longer have something round my neck that says IELTS and I’m no longer labelled as “Elizabeth” (Who is this “Elizabeth”? :-p ) IATEFL is over for another year but the injection of enthusiasm, freshness and connectedness that I have had from it will last for a while yet. Next year is IATEFL’s 50th anniversary, to be held in Birmingham, so if you haven’t yet made it to this wonderful conference, that could be an exciting first time! If there is any way at all you can make it, even for just a day, go! There is no way you will regret it. Thank you IATEFL, for another amazing conference. See you next year! Hopefully by then my fingers will have recovered… 😉 Thank you everybody who made my conference experience what it was – you are all fabulous! <Cheese over and out!>

IATEFL 2015 Signature event: A question of language – David Crystal

Yay, I finally get to see David Crystal speak! 

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David is the patron of IATEFL and has written a number of books and articles on the English language. Today, he is going to answer questions – collected via social media in advance of today’s session and any we have later on.

1. Can you tell the Father Christmas story?

Yeah, well you see, I was in Columbia in Bogota. There is a big mountain there and at the top a shrine, and we had gone up there to see around. There is a railway that takes you up and down again. At the top we were queuing to come down, it was a snake queue. As they waited in the queue, a Columbian family with a little boy saw them and said to his parents – it’s Father Christmas! David agreed – what else do you say to a 3 year old queue. The little boy spread the word in the queue and other children started waving and asking questions, about what they could have for Christmas. 🙂

These days in schools he is called Gandalf or Dumbeldore in schools.

2. Apart from carrying around a notebook to write down long words in Wales, do you have any hot tips for linguistic ornithologists?

Yes, you need a NOTEBOOK and PEN/PENCIL. You are always on the look-out for interesting things and there is always one around the corner saying “Hey David, notice me!” and it goes in the book. When David started writing his big book, he had a drawerful of such notebooks. The longest place name in Wales has 57 letters. Welsh doesn’t have the longest place names in the world. In New Zealand, David and his wife passed a signpost which says “Longest place name in the world, 40km” – he could not ignore this. …30km…20…10…5…1.5km and there it is. An 87 letter place name. No postcards, no hot dog stands, just the place name. Talk about understatement. Beautiful, beautiful thing. It means ‘the mountaintop where Tamatea the giant with the big knees, eater of mountains, traveller of land and sea, played the flute to his beloved.’

3. What’s the verb of the noun orientation, is it orient or orientate?

Well, both of course. Both well-represented in the corpus. But orient about 3 times as frequent as orientate. It’s especially the norm across the ponds (USA, Oz etc). Orientating ideas i.e. figurative uses, don’t attract as much criticism as the literal. When in doubt, look at a corpus. Should be one of the background resources of any classroom.

4. Will anyone be using the word ‘whom’ in 50 years?

This is the man to whom I was speaking. This is the man who I was speaking to. It’s a usage that’s been controversial almost since it came into the language as it was associated with formal usage. It became controversial when in the 18th century it got into prescriptive grammars. ->Don’t end sentences with prepositions… It went in as a rule. You should always say whom and never who in such circumstances. The opposition to that rule was there from the beginning. People noticed it was a silly rule because English had always ended sentences with prepositions, even Shakespeare does. 18th Century grammars responded, “well there you are you see, even Shakespeare gets it wrong. So to avoid these mistakes, use my grammar and follow my rules” ! It has built up into a psychologically charged usage. If you read books by pundits on correct English, you will find whom mentioned. It has become a flag, a symbol, an imagined notion of correct usage. And that is going to keep it alive. Both are valuable – we need formal and informal language. The fact that there is the contrast there plus the psychologically charged value mean it should be around in 50 years.

5. It seems that English speakers have dropped the present perfect in some uses e.g. just in US English. Does this trend apply to other uses and how grammatically acceptable is it?

There has been a shift in the last few decades. The important point is, English speakers have dropped the present perfect in some cases. E.g. I already went instead of I’ve already gone. I just ate instead I’ve just eaten. The common factor is the adverb. Just, already, yet. These are the contexts in which US English differs from UK English. When there are no adverbs there, US manage quite well with the present perfect. The adverbs carry the time reference and this motivates the shift. They are very important. I go to town is just the present tense, I go to town three days a week. Three days a week gives the habitual. Shifts in use might elbow their way into an acceptability matrix due to how much it happens.

6. Do you predict any change in English grammar in the near future due to the impact of social media?

No. Absolutely not. Well, it’s too soon to say, but certainly not in the near future. When the internet arrived, the prophets of doom made these kind of predictions which didn’t turn out to be true. Remember there was no internet before 1991. Google 1999. Text messaging 2000. Chatrooms, 1990s. Facebook 2004. Youtube 2005. Twitter 2006. It’s all very recent. But it takes time to influence grammar. Vocabulary and pronunciation can change quite quickly but grammar, no. It takes time. Remember when the internet came along, everyone thought it was the coolest thing ever. Free information. It’s a lovely world. In the 1990s, they wanted to show people how cool they were, by inventing a new plural ending. For these guys, add a ‘z’. So if you download films, they are legal. If you download filmz, then they are pirated. Tunes, legal. Tunez, pirated. So ‘s’ and ‘z’ became a new plural ending for a while, but then copyright came along, and usage died out largely. That’s the only example David knows and it didn’t last very long. So not going to happen in the near future.

7. In many languages in my part of the world, we say there are six tastes but in English only 5. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, hot. Is there a word to refer to the taste of a raw banana?

Of course! Bananaish or Banana- like. That’s the beauty of English. -like and -ish endings mean you can talk about anything you like in a fuzzy sort of way. English has more words for taste than you might think. How do you find out? Well, this is what David did. He went to the OED to the historical part of the thesaurus. It traces the history of vocabulary in English in terms of clusters of words that relate to a particular theme. So what words were there available for Shakespeare to talk about weather or vehicles? You can find out. David looked for taste. You can find dozens. Savoury, nutty, spicy, picant, unctuous, rancid, zesty, sugary… the vocabulary of English isn’t as denuded as taste terms as you might think.

What do you call your beloved now? Darling, sweetie, honey. In the middle ages, you would use names of fish. E.g. Prawn. Oh my prawn, I love you so much. Shakespearean, “ladybird” – in Romeo and Juliet.

8. Does Cockney slang count as a dialect? And do you have it in your repertoire?

It’s a dialect, yes. Rhyming slang is a lexical feature of that dialect. Accent is pronunciation, dialect is local vocabulary and grammar, with vocabulary as the dominant. No, it’s not in David’s repertoire, though he has studied it. Rhyming slang still exists e.g. “plates of meat” – feet. A rhyming phrase that relates to a particular word in the language. It was originally a kind of criminal slang. Still developing: I forgot my Barack Obamas – my pyjamas.

9. An article in the Washington Post entitles on English majors wanted focuses on the decline in English majors in the US. Computer majors have soared. Why should people invest time and money on an in-depth study of English?

David doesn’t see an opposition between the two. Whatever the language you are studying, computer guys need to know it to face the problems that come up. E.g. refining the nature of searches means an in-depth understanding of language will help you. Also, you won’t get your advertisements right. E.g. There was a story about a street stabbing in Chicago. The ads down the sides were trying to sell knives. Buy your knives here. Cheap knives on EBay etc. Everyone was embarrassed. They asked David to solve it. It’s obvious what’s gone wrong: the stupid software (not English sophisticated) had found the word knife, looked in the advertising for the word knife, found it and there it was. For us, knife as a weapon is different from knife as cutlery. Different collocations too. So the analysis needs to include the collocates. Murder and police, you usually don’t get in a cutlery context. A little bit extra awareness of language can help solve a problem. Now multiply that by all the pages on the internet… 4/5ths of the words in English are polysemic and therefore could give rise to the knife situation. Anybody in the internet and advertisement world needs this kind of awareness to avoid trouble.

10. With the increasing presence of English in an environment/region where it is not L1, futurologists have predicted the extinction of other languages, what do you think? 

There are two main reasons for using language. One is for being intelligible, promotes the use of a standard language, the other main use is to express identity, so we have different languages, accents, dialects. Any international language that becomes seriously global always comes with a risk to minority languages, as it is the language of power and communication, it is dominant. But, do you want to lose your identity? No, not at all. And the best way to maintain that identity is maintaining local language, dialect and accent. If I want to show you I am from Wales, I could wear a big badge, or a big hat or I could play a harp. But there problems with these – you can’t see them in the dark or around a corner. How do you express your identity in the dark or around a corner? Speech. Speech reaches everywhere, which other forms of identity don’t have. So there is a strong force pushing for survival of languages. But it’s a problem alright, in the course of this century, unless something happens, 1/2 the languages in the world will die out. Not necessarily because of English – whatever the dominant language is, e.g. Spanish and Portuguese in South America.

People are already beginning to talk about an English family of languages. In 50 or 100 years time, yes, there will be mutually unintelligible varieties of English. There already are. E.g. Singlish. Somebody coming in from outside doesn’t understand what’s going on. Over 100 years shifts could become grammatical as well as vocabulary/pronunciation. This is language for identity. Standard English won’t die out, language for communication. We will just become diglossic. Learn standard English for international purposes, and a local dialect for other purposes.

11. With the rise of EFL, what are your thoughts on dropping native speaker and referring simply to variants of English?

David only uses it in a biological context not a linguistic context. There has always been variety – accents, dialects. This has increased enormously, because of the enormous immigration into Britain, has produced lots of diversity, and globally. Recognising this has an impact on everything we do. The fact that there is now so much “non-native” variation is simply a natural development similar to the diversity amongst people in the biological native context. People are all just speakers or writers on youtube, for example. There is a blurring of distinctions. Think of the couple who speak English as their mutual language, EFL, have a child, and speak to that child in English, then that child is a native speaker of EFL. At the end of the day, teaching knowledge is the important thing, in a teaching context. Pillow talk and nursery rhymes are the most difficult things for “non-native speakers”, according to a Swedish friend of David’s. No corpus of it – an IATEFL potential project? Watch out for microphones appearing between you in bed… 😉

12. To what extent do you think the use of English in pop music is just a fad? Or valid evidence of the spread of English?

Pop music drives the language around the world of young people at least and perhaps slightly older people too. David thinks there might be a Pop Music SIG one day…it’s already there in the Media SIG or Literature SIG.

13 <I took a finger break! This typing malarkey is not as effortless as you might think! Especially on Day 5...>

14. Now that more than the majority of English communication is between L2-L2, how will we teach?

One must become more aware of different varieties of English, when teaching listening. It is much easier these days thanks to the audio side of the internet. Do you know the website called IDEA? The International Dialects of English Archive. It is based in Kansas. The aim is to collect good quality examples of all dialects of English. There are over 1000 already. Or you can visit David’s site http://www.yousaypotato.net and you can listen to all the recordings of people saying potato that exist already. You can record yourself too, so can your students. What we need is the expectation that variety and divergence is the norm.

15. What about the plural ‘they’? (audience question)

Our pronoun system doesn’t allow an alternative. So we are stuck with using a plural to refer to a singular. Not the first time that singular and plural have come together e.g. plural you and singular you. English pronouns rely on context to distinguish between singular and plural. But the 18th century guys took against it, so we have a problem: People will criticise its use in circumstances where you should be adhering to traditional notions of correctness. To avoid criticism in EAP, avoid using it. If you don’t mind criticism, then fine. David avoids it in radio programmes so that people should focus on the message not the grammatical point. Socio-linguistically is where the problem is.

16. <finger break mixed with getting lost due to tired fingers>

17. Would you mind doing the rap song?

The context for this was that somebody asked me what trends are affecting pronunciation around the world. The change from stress-timed to syllable-timed.

<little video clip of David rapping will be uploaded when I get a net connection that permits!>

And that, sadly, brought us to the end of a fascinating hour and 20 minutes! Glad to finally have seen David Crystal talking, as awesome as expected! A great end to the conference for me. 

IATEFL 2015 Bringing corpus research into the language classroom – Jane Templeton

Corpus time! This talk is by my M.A. colleague of yore, Jane Templeton, also known as corpus guru! 🙂

We start with a small thought experiment:

A class of students don;t know how to use a dictionary. They are reading. One of them asks you the meaning of a word. There is a dictionay next to him. What do you?

  • a. Tell him to look it up
  • b. look it up yourself and tell him
  • c. show him how to look it up

The answer was C, which led us to the following questions:

  1. Why is C the best from the point of view from the student, compared to the others.
  2. Would you expect him to be instantly proficient in dictionary use?
  3. What would you advise if he couldn’t find a word in the dictionary?

Jane explained that her talk is based on some assumptions from Timmis (2015):

Corpus research is potentially useful for learners. It contains information about frequency and behaviour and frequent language is often useful.

However, the potential is not being exploited fully. We will look at ways of doing this, overcoming some limitations:

Jane wasn’t quite sure what to with CR research or techniques to use with students to start with. The two main objections she encountered at work was that 1) it’s too difficult for the students and 2) data driven learning doesn’t work.

She set out to disprove this. In actual fact the opposite happened… CR is difficult for students. Research requires technical expertise and knowledge, time, that most teachers don’t have, never mind students. But this isn’t the kind of corpus research we need students to do.

Data driven learning should work (see Timmis, 2015 again) – it enables more authentic language use, rich input, inductive learning and promotes and practices the skill of noticing, which is very important. But in 2009, it hadn’t been shown it’s more effective as a language presentation method than traditional methods. It was shown to be effective as a reference tool.

For students to learn, for learning to take place, students need to be engaged – either by the language (Relevant to them, they want to use it, need to use it) or by the task, if it’s a task they might replicate outside the classroom, that they can engage with.

So why didn’t DDR work for Jane? The teacher selects the language so it might not be relevant, T researches it, filters results, creates questions and practice activities. The task might not be engaging. Concordance lines do not naturally occur (except in texts about concordances and corpus!) so concordance line tasks are not authentic for them. So it depends on if that particular student at that particular time likes that kind of activity: some do, some don’t.


Even if we can move more students into the green zone, some of them will always get left in the negative zone. It also is very time-consuming for the teacher. So all in all tends to fall to the way-side.

Show vs Tell

Jane talked about the importance, generally, of showing rather than telling students information.


Jane then showed us how she used www.wordandphrase.info to solve a problem she met in class – finding collocates to use with weakness, opportunity and threat of the SWOT analysis to show obtaining benefit. Type in the word, click on search, click on the word when it appears in the box. Choose from the list of verbs.

E.g. overcome weakness; combat threats; counter threats; etc.

This was the first time she used this site as a reference tool with students. The next time it came up was with a different group of students, with whom she was mind-mapping globalisation. They needed verb collocates with threats.


Back to wordandphrase.info to discover…

One of the threats POSED BY globalisation TO local businesses.

How is this useful?

You/the students can use it to answer questions such as these:

  • What verb can I use with noun to express meaning?
  • Is the noun the subject or the object of the verb?
  • Is it the direct object?
  • If so, is the verb used in the passive?
  • Is the noun the indirect object?
  • If so, what preposition is used between the noun and verb?

…and so on.


Quick, easy, no preparation required (just used in the classroom in response to queries), authentic task (they can use it outside the classroom) and it’s relevant as it’s based on language that comes up in class.

These are the kinds of errors you can address:


Errors relating to structure, collocation, formality/register etc.

If you are interested, email Jane and she will send you a link to the wiki she is launching for students to help them use wordandphrase.info independently. (I will link to it from this post once I have the link!)

Jane also showed us “AntConc” where you can do a frequency search and look for content words. You can also discover collocations around key content words. You can use it to check errors. You can compare your own text as a student to an authentic text and look at differences in the way language is used. This can be stylistic e.g. Bangladesh used 4 times in an authentic text vs 25 in a student text.

The aim is to help student be able to do this themselves in the future, in their academic writing.


Jane left us some advice to bear in mind as we set off to try these tools with students:

  • Try it!
  • Don’t be scared.
  • Try the activities on the wiki that Jane has made (for access/the link email her at the address provided below), think about how you could use it with your students.
  • Don’t worry if things don’t work, it happens.
  • Don’t feel you have to know everything. It’s ok. You and your students can learn together.
  • Give students scaffolding.
  • Enjoy it!

(And remember the tools are just as useful for us teachers as for students…!)

To find out more/get the link to the wiki, contact Jane on j.templeton@leeds.ac.uk

A very useful, interesting talk and I look forward to seeing the wiki in the near future when it is launched! 🙂


Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice (Routledge Corpus Linguistic Guides) Routledge.

IATEFL 2015 Making it awesome: teaching and reaching teens – Niki Joseph

Anybody who has been following my posts will have noticed the variety of talks I have managed to attend so far, but there has been a conspicuous gap which is now about to be filled: teaching teenagers! Hoping to come away with fresh ideas for how to engage my lovely little teens back in Palermo. 🙂

Niki Joseph taught and lived in Portugal for 20 years, currently lives in Australia but is British. This workshop is about teenagers. Niki came away from IATEFL thinking that there are lots of frameworks for primary teaching but less for teens. This year, there seem to be many more teen-related talks.

Her framework is AWESOME! This checklist is to be applied over a series of lessons.

First of all, what are we talking about? Teenagers. Teaching them can be really challenging (as with any age or level). Teen years are from 13-19, however 11 year olds and 25 year olds may display “teenage” attributes. These guys spend half their life at school, so it is important that our lessons are engaging/motivating etc.

Activity #1

This will hopefully demonstrate a few points. Statements and sentences to encourage examination of beliefs. Stand up if you agree. Try not to be influenced by everybody, hold your ground!


These are the statements we did the activity with!



A is for Amygdala: it’s all about the brain.

Up to about 15 years ago neuroscientists still believed that moodiness in teens was all due to hormones. However, this has been disproved: everyone has hormones. They have now discovered that there is an awful lot going on inside the teenager brain. When we are younger, we have experiences and make connections. By the time we get to teenage years, our brains are full of these connections and we need to start choosing which are important. The rest fall away. The teenage brain is being remodelled or rewired. The brain is on its way to becoming 3000 times more efficient than it was.

At primary, you can only teach 5-6 words per lesson, whereas teens can pick up up to 15. They have better short-term memory. It has literally grown. If you think of pre-school children, the brain is like a dirt track, by the time they are teenagers, it is a freeway with no tolls!

Dopamine is a chemical that is released in our brains as a result of risky activities, it is a feel good chemical. Different from adrenaline. That’s why teenagers enjoy “risky” activities like roller-coasters.

How can we translate this into the classroom?

So the activity that we did as a “warmer”, we could do with teenagers. It takes guts to stand up on your own.


  • “Everyone should have the same amount of homework”
  • “There should be less tests” 


You could also get them to move from one side of the classroom to the other.

Every single class, they should leave with something new. You need to provide something new – a new activity, new language, something to wake them up. Their dopamine levels might be quite low, and that leads to listlessness and boredom.

W is for writing

The teen years are the years that we write. You wrote your first poem, you wondered if you were going to get published, it’s an emotional time. You text your friends. You look for information. Then from school you have assignments, tests and lots of writing.

How can we make it motivating and engaging for learners?

We can use critical thinking skills. I.e. Bloom’s taxonomy. The easier ones are the lower order, the higher require more language and thought process. We should be encouraging them to analyse, evaluate and create.

Activity #2 

Compare a Lower order thinking skills activity and a higher order one.

  • 30 seconds to write down sentences or words on a topic given by Niki. “My favourite animal”

My favourite animal is the horse. Horses are all beautiful and they all have individual personalities.

  • 30 seconds to write down information about an animal that you’ve never seen but that you would like to see. But don’t say what the animal is.

It is white and shaggy. It lives near the north pole, on the ice caps. It goes fishing.

Analysis: The second activity is more creative. You had to think whether you’d seen it before or not because you weren’t supposed to have seen it. And you had to not what it is.

  • Choose a number or roll a dice to select a topic (a list of 100 topics); E.g. Write about a festival from your country.

Niki did it for fluency, didn’t “mark” it, just responded to it.

You could make it more challenging by changing the topic a bit e.g. How would you celebrate an ‘inside out’ day? This is an easy way of bringing in higher order thinking.

E is for Ether #getconnected #usetechnologyintheclassroom

Everybody is connected, especially teenagers. If not, images are probably still very important to them. If they have a mobile phone, they can generally take a photograph with it. With technology you can also make word clouds, voice recordings, use apps/sites/tools and, as mentioned, images.

Activity #3

Take a photo with your phone. Think of 3 ways to use it (the picture) in class. 

  •  Describe the photo, what can you see? (speaking/writing)
  • Say what happened before/after it was taken
  • This photo is part of a crime scene, what happened?
  • Find the photo which is most like yours (i.e. mingle)
  • Hashtag the photo – in its simplest form a hashtag tells you something about a photo in just two or three words.

S is for Speak about it

We have lots of activities to get our students speaking. They can be great when they work but can be horrible when they don’t. When you try to get people to speak and they won’t for whatever reason. There are lots of reasons why – too large a class, not good at listening to others, lack of language or ideas, they use mother tongue, maybe they feel it’s a test, maybe they feel the topic isn’t relevant.

Activity #4

Imagine in your course book that the activity says they need to talk about “talking to tourists in my country” or about “travelling in my country” . At first sight, it’s not particularly appealing to teenagers.

How to make it more interesting?

  • Use phones/internet connections to browse for interesting places to go and what to do there.
  • Role play of chatting up the tourist
  • Where would you take a pen-friend? Where would you take me?

“You are in a town and a teen from another country asks you some questions?”

“Look at the picture of young people on a train journey and tell their story”

-> They need something that relates to them. Their world revolves around them. We need to tap into it.

The activity also needs to be done in the right order, to set the activities up for success:

  • opportunity to brainstorm ideas
  • time to prepare language
  • some controlled practice
  • rehearsal time (v. important – gives them the opportunity to succeed)
  • presentation

Also important for presentations: to set a time limit and maximum number of slides; let learners choose the topic; check your learners have the language; give the listeners something to do – a listening task. Teens won’t sit and listen “for interest”.

 O is for older, other


They are all different. Differentiation is important. You can also give them choice – teenagers like choice, they feel empowered to it. So if you want them to make a presentation on a specific topic, but let them choose the tool: poster, video, powerpoint, prezi etc.

Activity #5:

You want your learners to do a review unit from the course book. What choices could you give them?

  • Open book/closed book
  • in pairs/alone/in groups
  • do an exercise then compare the answer/don’t compare
  • in pairs, one reads and one writes
  • do 3 activities, your choice which 3
  • as a test

M is for music

Always answering the questions “Who am I?” “How do I feel?” “Where can I go?”

Use music as often as possible.


E is for Excellence

We need to provide enough challenge, to enable them to reach excellent. Extend things, get them reading. Instead of ZPD, flow – “energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment.”

To contact Niki: niki,joseph@gmail.com

IATEFL 2015 An Engaged Tone: How ELT might handle the ‘EdTech revolution’ – Nick Robinson and Laurie Harrison

I can’t remember what the abstract for this one was, only that it roused my curiosity and I wanted to be here. In any case, with Nick Robinson (who until yesterday was the MaW SIG coordinator) speaking it’s bound to be good. This is also the last talk I’ll watch before my own which is in a couple of hours time. Gulp…

Laurie and Nick are from ELTJam (yes, *that* blog!). Today they will talk to us about how ELT will handle the EdTech revolution. Since its conception two years ago, the main focus of ELTJam has been looking at two different worlds – ELT and EdTech, which seemed to be something interesting springing up out of the high-tech start-up world. There’s lots of cool interesting stuff happening, and through the emergence of “EdTech”, that world is starting to get very interested in education and ELT. They want to explore how it might play out.

The ‘…’ around EdTech Revolution are deliberate. They don’t subscribe to it. BUT, over the last 15 years, a lot of change has happened and as a result there is and will be a big impact on education. We are not just talking about the fact that there is tech in ELT – that is nothing new – but that it has coalesced into a movement under the banner of EdTech.


Bill Gates is driven by evangelical zeal to transform the world of education. George Lucas is a leading figure in EdTech did you know that? 21st century learning etc. Sugata Mitra….! Google, Apple, Microsoft all moving into education in a big way. Duolingo. Voxy is also a well-funded EdTech start-up. EdTech is within ELT already, they are interested in it as a movement.

What are the characteristics of this revolution?

  • Money – there’s a lot of money pouring into education right now that wasn’t previously. Big corporations and companies are throwing money at it, specifically digital education. We have venture capitalists into a start-up, who are looking for at least 10 times return.
  • Disruption – education is seen, by a lot of people in the movement, as a sleepy, backward, old-fashioned place that is ripe for disruption.
  • Grassroots entrepreneurship – with the digital technology available now, it is easer than it ever has been before to create a digital education product and get it out into the world. We are seeing more and more teachers in ELT thinking “I can do this” – who think they have identified a need in the market and think they can do something about it.
  • Polarisation and controversy: On the one hand you have “EdTech is an amazingly wonderful thing. It is going to transform education. We are going to equip learners for the 21st Century” on the other, you have “EdTech is a conspiracy to take over the world” (or similar).

What about ELT?

Specifically, is there polarisation and controversy? Enter Sugata Mitra at IATEFL last year! A mixture of standing ovation and people walking out in protest. Standing ovation because he is doing something very interesting, trying to improve access to education etc and the converse, that he is saying teachers are redundant, not needed.

Not all EdTech in ELT is controversial. But some is. And some is more controversial than others. Controversial – Sugata Mitra, adaptive learning etc. Less controversial: there’s lots of cool free stuff out there we can use for learning. Some things will become more acceptable over time.

Let’s take a closer look at the Scale of controversy in ELT about EdTech. This is the SCREECH index!!! 😀

This is brand new, this is the first announcement of it. It’s early days.

At the top we have zero (uncontroversial) to 5 (most uncontroversial)


Maybe things will move up the scale as they become less uncontroversial.

Meanwhile, ELT has three response choices: Resist! Surrender! Engage! i.e. refuse it completely, accept it blindly or engage with it and getting involved with it in order to change it for the better and…make it less screechy!

How might that happen?

We will look at publishers, language schools/institutions, teachers and writers


Thinking back to the characteristics of the EdTech revolution, one of them was disruption. Our sector is ripe for disruption with new ideas and money. ELT publishing is a good target for this.

So publishers need to engage actively in order to be able to stand up to the massacre or ignore perspective of EdTech. ELT publishing needs to look outside itself: look at its competitors, who is out there in EdTech land? Yes they know to an extent, but not enough. DuoLingo is free and trying to market itself directly to language schools. How will publishers complete? How are they making this free product sustainable? How are these products developed so quickly? Understand how it all works. There is potential mutual benefit. This could be by working with established EdTech companies or interesting new start-ups who need help to get the next level with their really good ideas. Finally, most EdTech companies are terrible when it comes to the methodology behind the products, most ELT publishers are hot on that. Somewhere there is a marriage in heaven waiting to be made!

Within publishers there is stuff that can be done too. E.g. within the publishing company, create start-ups. In-house start-ups.


Doesn’t need to look like this, but needs to be small, self-contained.

E.g. Newsmart: The Wall Street Journal. This was developed as an in-house start-up at News Corp (?). The question was can we create an interesting product using content from the Wall Street Journal? The answer was yes.

“If it isn’t digital, we don’t do it”

This was said by the head of the English programme in a big chain of language schools.

The first thing we are seeing a lot of is expansion beyond the four walls of the school. An illustrative example of the scope of ambition a school can have. EF London has Englishtown, completely online programme that has had 2 million students.

British Council – lots of apps, podcasts etc. They have an app portfolio of these things, they are not just a language school chain anymore. They also have the MOOC. ELT’s first MOOC didn’t come from a publisher but a language school chain. The lines between language school and publisher are more blurred now. Language schools are saying, we can build these courses for ourselves, we don’t need publishers. And now they are selling these to other schools. So customers become competitors.

DuoLingo and Voxy started by selling direct to learners, now want to sell direct to language schools. So language schools have power to influence the product and make it better via feedback. They could do with some improvement, time to feed into that.

Teachers and Writers

We’ve seen teachers starting to solve some real problems in their classrooms. Meanwhile – problem – in EdTech high-up people don’t have active recent classroom experience. In start-up weekends, people get together to come up with ideas for new products. Only 5% came from ELT and only one active teacher showed up. Marie Goodwin. And she won. With a reading device that helps children struggling with reading. Her idea came from the classroom.


We are starting to see teachers talking to learners about EdTech. #ELTyak is a hashtag for learners and teachers to address.

Why do it? You get insights, you get your assumptions challenged.

Teachers or writers – 3 things you might want to learn to engage with EdTech:

  • Read “The Lean Start-Up” by Eric Ries.
  • Figure out how to get some cash
  • Look at Easy Tweets – you need to learn coding (you can do it in 3 months)

Don’t let EdTech just happen to you. As whoever we are, we can get involved and do cool stuff!


Contact details


Another really interesting talk! 🙂


IATEFL 2015: Storytelling in the 21st Century Primary Classroom – Viv Lambert and Mo Choy


Love the cheshire cat! 🙂


We started with “Welcome welcome” song and some storytelling from Alice in Wonderland. This was to remind us what storytelling feels like. Today we will learn about its relevance in the 21st century. Storytelling evolved as a way of passing on knowledge and culture from generation to generation. We are all storytellers. E.g. when we tell anecdotes. We edit, sequence, choose words for effect, add gesture and expression, and most importantly, emotion. Without emotion it’s just a list of events. It’s a shared experience and still an important form of communication.

We all use stories in the language classroom, children love them, see them as a treat like songs. You get all the language in one package, one context. Children listen with purpose – to know what will happen next.

There are pedagogical reasons for it:


Being literate opens doors for everybody in all walks of life. The more we read, the more we learn about life, the better we can connect with people. Lots of studies have shown the benefits of reading on both first and second language development. E.g. Krashen. The knock on effect is better speaking, writing, spelling. Children who are keen readers do better in all subjects. Reading for pleasure has more influence on how well children do at school than social and economic factors.


How do we choose stories for the language classroom?

We have graded readers, stories in course books, anecdotes, childrens’ own stories… but what about selecting storybooks?


Further activities could be acting, craft etc.

With young learners, images are very important to aid with processing. Genres xx have used in Story central: a myth, a superhero comic, a folktale, a factual story (based on a news story). There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to selecting stories. Anything which the children will enjoy and will let them learn something about their world has value.

“There’s no such thing as a child who hates to read, there are only children who have not found the right book.” – Frank Serafini.

We do have a continuous stream of attention-grabbing information from our devices, but at the same time, it also gives us more choices of reading material e.g. ebooks, audio books. If you share reviews online, you become part of a community that helps you find the books you like quicker, through recommendation.

Whispersync technology – allows you to synchronise audio and text versions of the book, so that you can switch between the audio and the book, or listen at the same time with the words highlighted as you go. (Like Black Cat)

Digital storytelling can add interactivity. A good blended learning course allows print and digital to work side by side. For example, showing the pages of the storybook on an interactive whiteboard, you can zoom in on the frame you want to focus on and highlight the text, pause the audio, do all manner of things. Storytelling videos add yet another dimension.

<We are shown a storytelling video from Storycentral>


With this endless stream of entertainment from the technology around, then getting information isn’t the problem anymore. The question is how we navigate the maze of material out there. Children need to know what to do with it and what trust to place it in. This is where critical thinking comes in. We need to develop reasoning skills. Critical thinking allows us to question – who wrote it? when did they write it? what was their perspective? It’s a way of analysing and evaluating all that information around us.

So, to equip children for life in 21st century, understanding a text isn’t enough, they need higher order thinking skills:


It all sounds a little ambitious, with young learners? But actually, children are natural critical thinkers. What parent or teacher hasn’t at some stage been exasperated by constant questions from children? Why this? Why that? If you want to improve your critical thinking skills, act like a 6 year old! In the classroom, there is a lot of emphasis on passing tests and getting the answers right, while critical thinking encourages divergent and creative thinking. The child is not an empty slate but someone with valid opinions. There isn’t always a correct answer.



Which are higher order thinking? Which are lower order?

  1. Lower
  2. Lower
  3. Lower
  4. Higher
  5. Higher
  6. Higher

So the first three are simple comprehension questions, require recall and have a correct answer. The last three involve evaluating, imagining and predicting. You have to think more deeply to answer these. They had to find ways to simplify these questions, in some cases it could be a reason to use mother tongue.



  1. Fact
  2. Opinion
  3. Fact
  4. Opinion
  5. Opinion

Being able to distinguish between fact and opinion will help children to evaluate what they learn and gauge the reliability of what they encounter.



Describe the picture. Adjectives. Lush. Tranquil. Now imagine you are a teenager living in a house in that scene. Your friends live in the city. Wifi is rubbish. Transport links are terrible. Now describe it. Boring. Isolated. Desperate.

As you can see, two totally different points of view, about the same place.

Enter the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (Task)

Whose point of view is it?


  1. Town Mouse
  2. Country Mouse
  3. Country Mouse
  4. Town Mouse
  5. Country Mouse

Questioning whose point of view is expressed helps us to identify bias.

The Ant and the Grasshopper 


What do you think is going to happen next? Winter comes… the grasshopper has no food and is hungry/miserable. Predicting what’s going to happen next involves analysing a situation and imagining whats going to happen. Encourages children to think ahead and think about the consequences of actions. And hopefully to make better decisions as a result!

Are you an ant or a grasshopper?


“Imagine you have a magic pen. Draw something.” – They asked people of all ages to draw something and got this wide array of answers:


  • Bill, age 61 – spring
  • Sheila, age 82 – a nice cup of tea after a long day’s shopping

How simple critical activities can be even though the involve these higher order skills.



We started with Alice, so now we are going to finish with Alice too.


Alice is questioning! The moment she descends into the rabbit hole, she questions everything she thought she knew. A true critical thinker!

Brilliant session! Looking forward to getting back in the classroom with my Ms (11-12 year olds) now!! 🙂


IATEFL ELT Journal Debate: Language testing does more harm than good

Nothing like a good debate! Besides, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Richard Smith present, given how heavily I’ve drawn on his work in my learner autonomy projects… 



The ELT Debate is an annual fixture in the IATEFL conference. It is a symbolic event in some ways, representing the relationship between ELTJ and IATEFL.

Language testing is a hot topic this year, with 46 other talks on testing and evaluation. Ways of testing have been described elsewhere in the conference as an uncertain and approximate business, there has been talk of fairness too.

The motion for today is that Language testing does more harm than good. We have Richard Smith to propose, from University of Warwick. To oppose, we have Anthony Green from the University of Bedford, a certified language testing enthusiast!

The rules of engagement:

For 15 minutes, Richard will propose. Then, over to Tony for 15 minutes of opposing the motion. After this, the floor is thrown open to comments for 20minutes. These will be addressed by the speakers all together at the end of the debate. At the end, there will be a vote!

Richard Smith proposes: 

Richard isn’t a testing specialist but has an interest in the history and future of the profession and perhaps is the only person foolish enough to accept the challenge (his words!). He hopes to give voice to concerns of teachers, his students at Warwick, from many countries and start a debate which will continue beyond the conference. We need to be critical of the dominance of testing in our profession at this moment. The growing dominance of testing in ELT is reflected in the number of talks at the conference. Debating and being critical enables us to make changes. As we have done in materials, use thereof, content, with regards to native speaker models etc but we haven’t yet had this kind of debate about testing.

Looking at the pages of the newspaper in the conference pack, there is a large number of advertisements for tests and for preparation for these tests. It would be interesting to analyse the change in this over time.

Richard defines the proposal as referring to proficiency tests and their use, as well as institutional tests (achievement tests) that students must undergo and university entrance tests. Large-scale testing, institutional testing rather than assessment more broadly e.g. classroom assessment. So we are not talking about portfolio assessment, continuous assessment etc. (Which Richard thinks are good things, as are diagnostic tests etc.) It is achievement tests and proficiency tests that are in question.

Why has there been so little criticism until now? Because it is a big business and many of us are involved in some way. We feel in some way removed from the business. The specialism of testing is engaged with at specialist conferences. As teachers, we feel we lack the expertise to criticise, to change things.

Richard has done some research and is pleasantly surprised that there are critical debates going on amongst testers. However these haven’t filtered down to us as professionals here. He recommends The Power of Tests  to follow up on the subject. He also went back to Language Testing for Teachers by Hughes, who says that too often language tests have a damaging influence on learning. I.e. backwash, or now, wash-back. Too often they fail to measure what they are intended to measure. It is an uncertain and approximate business. Tests don’t measure everything that is worth testing, only what is measurable.

What should we try to measure that we aren’t measuring?

  • Education itself. (He is quoting from a book from 1961 by Robert Lathan)
  • Insight into one’s language.
  • Insight into other cultures
  • Insight into one’s own culture
  • Attitude to minority groups.

We only measure utilitarian things.

Can we assess intercultural competence? learner autonomy? Things we think are valuable? These tests are not doing that. “Any assessment of language impoverishes one’s view of the nature of language as communication” – 2001. What about the role of native speaker norms in testing? Tests are still predicated on these. We also can’t capture the dynamism of language. We are expecting students that we test to conform to a norm to which they do not belong. Tests are not yet reflecting the realities of trans-languaging. They act as a barrier to change in our profession. They are a conservative force.

Areas of harm:

  • teaching to test/backwash.
  • increasing dominance of tests leaves less and less time for higher values (that we value as educators)

There is a hegemony in our field of proficiency as all-important. We see around the world the dominance of proficiency tests. But do we really want a system where only utilitarian goals are important?

What about the impact in a broader sense on the psychological well-being of learners? What is the psychological and social impact?

Anthony Green opposes:

Starts with a health-warning – those of a nervous disposition, with a weak heart, should leave the room now. AG is a language tester. Be afraid. Be very afraid. He is going to give us a test. If we fail, a preprogrammed testing noose will tighten around your neck…

First question:

MCQ can choose more than one answer

  1. Are you or have you ever been a teacher?
  2. Are you now or have you ever been a trainer?
  3. Are you now or have you ever been a publisher?
  4. Are you now or have you ever been a psychopath?
  5. Are you deliberately setting out to harm your students?


  1. You have made a test and given it to your students.


Why did you do this?

  • a) to kill time because you were bored and wanted to keep students busy
  • b) you don’t much like your students, you want to punish them
  • c) because you wanted to see how successfully they performed on the content of the course

Is it harmful? No. Tests are jolly good things because we know that regularly testing students is a way to improve performance and memory. It encourages practice, enhances the practice done, it guides teaching and learning. We know what students have learnt, we know what we need to cover in more detail. Tests are an absolute necessity. Without tests, there can be no effective teaching. We only know if we have successful learners if we do some kind of testing of our students.

AG recognises that RS wants to talk about standardised tests (2% of testing that gets done) and that’s fine. So let’s imagine we have a world where there are none of these tests. What might it be like? We don’t have to think that hard, history can inform us. Testing has only been with us for a relatively short time. Not true to say there has been no debate over it. In 1889, Herbert Spencer brought together essays called The sacrifice of education to examination. So it has been talked about for a long time.

What are tests accused of?

  • causing the wrong sort of learning, they narrow down the scope of it.
  • narrowing the curriculum, only what is on the test is studied
  • encouraging students to think about competition rather than self-improvement
  • being biased in favour of one group or another

All of this may be true. But the motion is that language TESTING that does more harm than good. But is it the tests or the ways in which people are using and abusing them? Is it the test or the teacher’s idea of what test preparation involves? Is it the fault of the test or the fault of the teachers or the teacher trainers or the education system or the publishers? Who drives this? The content of the test, or use/misuse?

Let’s go back to this idea of throwing away formal tests. No more IELTS, TOEFL, Pearson etc. We can go back to pre-1800s when it was so. What happened? Say you wanted to get a job where you had to use a language, what did you do? If you had a rich, influential relative, you would be handed it; if not, your option would be to buy one.

Think about your pilot who will fly you home? Would you prefer they had done a carefully constructed test that shows they could communicate with air traffic control? Or one who had paid someone for the job?

Tests are a better alternative than the bribery, corruption and old-boy networks that we used to have. We depend, sometimes for our lives, on effective language tests. That is not to say it’s perfect. There is a lot wrong with tests in widespread use today. So we need to all get involved and engaged with language tests. For this, we need to get involved with language testing – studying how tests are made, why they are made that way, whose interests they serve and what social purposes they carry out? We shouldn’t bury our heads in the ground and leave it to Cambridge etc. but study how these things are done, understand the thinking that goes into them, and engage with it. Take responsibility. Identify problems and deal with them, if there are problems.

AG would urge us to engage more with language testing, identify where its doing good and support that good, and identify where harms are happening as well as what is causing those harms. Even in our own classrooms, we can do better. The way we do better is by not pushing language assessment/testing to the end of the CELTA or an afterthought in an MA. It should be central to our practice. We have to engage with the way tests are made in order to improve them and maximise the real good that they do for our students.

Comments from the floor

Now that the scene has been set, we have 20 minutes for audience comments.

  • From Turkey: Agrees with AG – it would be unfair for teacher and students if there were no language tests. From students’ perspective, they are spending a long time learning and if there were no tests, at the end of the time you wouldn’t know where you are or where you are going. The critical point here is the data. What we do with the result of the test. If the data is used for assessment for learning, it is beneficial. If not, it is loss of time.
  • There is a difference between assessment and testing: the nature of the organisation providing the test has a big influence. What is their agenda? Responsibility is with the test-makers and organisations to make sure they are testing what they say they are testing, to produce reliable results.
  • From Middlesex University: sympathetic with Richard – frequently has nightmares that she has to take her maths O’ Level again, or that she has to do her university Spanish exam again. Speaking for the students who undergo the psychological terror of testing and exams. But..works in testing now. A lot of people would be out of a job if tests were scrapped. Not a good reason but the biggest issue at the moment is the visa issue. On pre-sessional courses, IELTS score or equivalents are required. There are politics and politicians deciding.
  • Mexico city: works with a publisher, schools are constantly asking for testing/standardisation tools.
  • Alan Maley: the consequences of failing a test, on the student. When he was 11, he took the 11+, the test that at that time decided whether you went to grammar school or a rubbish dump. Your whole career was decided by that test. He failed it. Then he got a scholarship to a Cambridge college later on.
  • Salford: language testing is not isolated from  broader educational trends. Those trends are test, test, test, test. We are driven by tests and test scores. Language testing is part of that narrative. We need to be cautious about when and why we test.
  • The problem isn’t with the tests themselves but the overuse of them and the publishing/testing industry coming together with ever more endless tests. And again and again, you are preparing students for tests. Proficiency tests have their place but maybe there are too many moments where students have to take tests. The testing industry is part of this narrative.
  • Jeremy Harmer: quoting someone, “the whole point about testing is that it is a money delivery system, delivering money from governments to private companies”. The current government is trying to put in place tests for children when they enter primary school. The whole point is, we are all involved in testing but if you look at the way testing is used, which can’t be divorced from the test itself, it frequently does more harm than good.
  • The point is, whose responsibility is it? AG put responsibility with teachers, trainers etc but that is not the only responsibility around. But it also lies with testers. Do testers consider the social and political consequences of tests? Gatekeeping? Tests have got consequences and it’s up to the testers to think about these. “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent, it is the innocence which constitutes the crime”
  • What is education for? Do testers realise how much power they have? Power in the wrong hands does a lot of harm. What about test-taking strategies and skills? How do they affect the validity of a test? The fundamental question is, what do we want our students to come to school for? What about growth and development?
  • We live in a world of scarce resources. So we have to have a method to decide who gets access to resources. If we didn’t have tests, there would be another way. When teachers teach to the test, they undermine the value of the test. If you want a better test, it’s going to be a lot more expensive and take a lot longer to assess people? Tests serve a very limited purpose, so we shouldn’t try to over-interpret what they can do. We all are in this together and unless we are all talking about it, and taking responsibility, then you can’t lay the blame at someone else’s door.
  • Denmark: supports Richard. Really concerned with all the national tests that exist in Europe from the age of 3. Everything said in favour of tests is teacher-directed. What about the learners?

Time for comments ran out

Our two speakers have 4 or 5 minutes to summarise their case

Richard Smith:

Testing has been exploited as a method of control and power, as a way to select, motivate and punish. Richard did a mock debate with this motion, with his students within the language testing option, a popular option, and most of them were in favour of the motion but by the end, they were in against it, as it is “a necessary evil”. Do we want evil in our profession? If there is harm being done, which we have established there is. Not just wash-back but psychological damage etc.

So what to do about this problem? “Tests and their demands are forced on test takers and teachers from above and they are forced into a position where they have no choice but to comply with demands.”

So let’s do something about it! RS wants to extend an olive branch to AG and thank him for engaging with teachers, with the profession. RS wants critical assessment literacy not just testing literacy. The testing industry should be giving back to the profession not just taking from it e.g. scholarships, financial support, planting forests for reducing carbon footprint etc.

Anthony Green

99% of testing that happens is done by teachers in the classroom for the benefit of student learning. There is no way that we can teach our students unless we test them and train them to assess themselves too.

Back to large-scale testing. The tobacco industry caused a lot of damage. Did it reform itself? No. It reformed because consumers took control and pushed reform onto it. The motor industry. 30 years ago, cars were death traps with no safety features. As educators, you have a duty to students to take back control of language education from the language testing industry and give it back to learners where it belongs. Make language testing and assessment work for learners, not the language testing and assessment industry. But they are not going to reform themselves. If you want to improve the practice of language assessment, YOU need to take control. AG is delighted that there is this debate, THIS is being critical of language testing. Always ask the question, in whose interest is this being done, and how might it be done more in the interest of the learners. It will only be done better if you engage with testing. Let’s develop our assessment literacy and improve testing, not leave it to the evil Goliaths!


Now the final moments – it’s time to vote. We are going to vote by popular acclaim. Graham has a device to monitor how loud the “yay” cheer and the “nay” cheer is… He will compare the data and we may have a winner…

Ooops…the device broke down… make your own decision! 🙂

IATEFL 2015 – Academic Writing Forum

I’m only staying for the first half of this, as I want to head to the MaW SIG open forum, but hopefully the first half will be the best half! 😉 I think I actually wanted to be in the Forum on Different Perspectives on Feedback, but at 2 minutes before start time, I am actually too exhausted to try and start finding the appropriate room in this absolutely vast building. So EAP writing it is! 

15 minutes per talk then questions, so I should catch just under 2 talks.

Integrating simulations in a seminar based approach to EAP writing

Learning the context and conventions of writing in another language is a great challenge for students (Hyland, 2003)

The advantage of a content-based approach is providing a more focused background and vocabulary for students’ writing. However, non-native speakers may be reticent in seminar situations. A simulation enables students to participate in a real-life like situation by assuming real roles. It is a reality of function, as participants have to act according to a role. The environment is simulated, life-like but not real. It is structured.

4 stages to a simulation:

  1. Briefing (readings and discussion; at the end of the stage, instructions, handing out roles)
  2. Preparation/group work, depending on the type of simulation. Debates work well, so students are on one side or the other.
  3. The simulation stage is where the debate takes place, so students give persuasive speeches and discuss.
  4. There is finally a debriefing for some cooling off.


  • Learners are motivated and gain opportunities for meaningful practice.
  • Creativity is encouraged.
  • Realism and relevance are injected into the classroom.

How about in EAP writing? 

Readings and discussions can give students background/information about essay topics.

Sample simulation 1: Endangered languages


  • Students are given the above situation. They receive roles for the hearing. Readings are assigned too. Journal articles and newspaper articles. Videos are watched.
  • Students spend a class period and time outside class preparing. Then in a subsequent class, the hearing takes place.
  • Several writing assignments can be integrated into this: summary responses to the readings, journal entries describing the simulation role, argumentative essay, different topics possible.

Why do students like this?

By the time they write about the topic, they are primed by all the background information. They gain an opportunity to be creative in developing their roles. Most students enjoy debating.

Some students felt shy in role, some felt the roles were too restrictive, some thought too much research was involved. Some students were too dominant.


Simulations provide an effective framework for thinking about the topic of the essay and lots of background information. More in-depth reading and discussion is promoted. 4 skills are integrated.

Jennifer Macdonald: Beyond the 5 paragraph essay

This refers to the formulaic “McEssay”/IELTS essay – intro, three body paragraphs, conclusion; based on personal opinion/experience. Not based on external sources/research.

It shouldn’t be the sole genre of writing classes, as  it only really exists in writing courses. Corpus data suggests that other genres of writing are more common for undergrads and postgrads at university. So to prepare them for what awaits them, they need something else. They need to be able to refer to source texts, for example. Many students’ English training focuses on preparation for a standardised test e.g. IELTS so they think 5 paragraph essay is all there is.

How can we break this mould?

  • Teach concept of genre. Get students to think about it before and during writing.
  • Unpack the genre. What is the purpose, what is wanted?
  • Provide resources on genre that students can access independently
  • Assign (For reading and writing) a variety of texts (explanation, definition, methodology, recount, case study etc.)

Genres are like footwear, need to use the right one in the right context. Not the end of the world if you don’t but it’s “kind of weird” if you don’t e.g. snowboots on the beach. Inappropriate.

Most likely you teach mixed disciplines/backgrounds so you probably can’t teach a genre with full authenticity but in the assignments you give, aim for as many aspects as possible. You also need to find work-arounds for research as much isn’t practical.

Look at the British Council LearnEnglish Writing with a purpose website.

Explanation: descriptive account, written to demonstrate understanding of the object of study and the ability to describe and explain systematically how it functions.

-> Can be a paragraph (topic sentences, paragraph-level skills can be introduced)

What to describe? Anything! Draw on web etc.

(Within academia this would be part of another genre.)

Definition: structures used in this genre are of particular interest.

Methodology recount: description of procedures undertaken by a writer – methods, results, discussion.

At this point it was nearly time for me to leave and I also ran out of steam! Though corrected now, I kept making typos because my fingers (and brain?) were so, so tired!! Anyway, it’s ok because Jennifer’s slides are available here. And the upshot of it all was that there is life beyond the 5 paragraph essay and lots of it! I will definitely be having a look at her slides when my brain is functioning better…