Just LOLing about

November 17, 2014


I can’t spy on my daughter because I can’t decipher the abbreviations she uses. I am probably better off not knowing what they mean. But here is a brief documentary and accompanying atricle explaining why technology enriches languages and that texting does not mean we are losing the ability to write. I have seen David Crystal talk about this before and he is one of the people interviewed. Have a look if you have ever worried about falling standards of language use due to the impact of the internet.

Original post here:

Testing times

November 10, 2014

I am currently preparing a talk on Teaching and Testing and how to find the correct mix of both in our classes. Here is an interesting video overview of the history of testing from Ancient China (where it was fundamental to building the concept of trained civil servants and in turn a “modern” state) to modern language testing.

Barry O’Sullivan on language testing

Preparing my talk however, I decided I needed to include a third item into the title: creativity. In the environment I am working at the moment, here in Spain it appears that nowadays nobody wants to learn a language anymore, they just want a certificate for B1, B2 or C1: the piece of paper is all they need, the language is irrelevant. The Common European Framework, with its initial goals of fostering life long learning has, for the moment, in Southern Spain at least, created an atmosphere and expectations which are completely exam focused. The danger is that our classes do the same and are reduced to this short term goal rather the longer term objective of learning and using languages proficiently.


That is why I introduced a spark of creativity into the session: we can’t just teach and test. We don’t have to be doing drama or dance in our classes but we do have to listen to students needs and interests, use them and not remain 100% constrained by coursebooks, upcoming exams etc. to the expense of genuine interaction and learning.

Sir Ken Robinson, as always, has a lot to say on this: if you haven’t seen it before this TED talk really does make you think about how limited we, as teachers, are in terms of the preparation we give students for a future none of us can predict let alone imagine.


Building bricks

July 2, 2014

holeWhen younger my son went through a phase of wanting to do everything independently, by himself. If you are not in a hurry and trying to get a kid out of the house, it can be entertaining to watch a little boy struggle into his trousers back to front.

Sugata Mitra’s plenary at IATEFL this year continues to generate controversary; indeed, his work in general does as he promotes the idea of students teaching themselves (the famous “Hole-in-the-wall” experiment) and more recently his idea of Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLEs). A search for any of these terms on YouTube or TED will give you an idea of how radical some of his claims may seem, and how persuasive he himself can be!

Some years ago I was involved in organising a TESOL Symposium on Learner Autonomy in the University of Seville. One of the speakers, Leni Dam, spoke about how much teacher work goes into developing learner autonomy! It is not something that happens automatically or even naturally. I am not sure Sugbata Mitra would agree but I think I do.

Michal B. Paradowski has a comprehensive article on the debate in the recent issue of IATEFL Voices. It can be read online and the references at the end also provide excellent follow up, particularly the comments made by Hugh Dellar and Jeremy Harmer.

My son is now autonomous when it comes to dressing. But it took time, and I don’t think he learned all by himself. Parents seem to have some small role in kids development. Teachers probably do as well: even in the future. Sometimes people need to be taught how to brick up that hole in the wall before winter kicks in although, by the same token, I think Pink Floyd had a song about the dangers of bricking everything out.

Into the valley of death rode the millions

June 24, 2013

Thanks to a colleague for pointing me to Sir Ken Robinson’s most recent TED talk. This is the kind of inspiration that would possible be better at the beginning of an academic year than the end but maybe if we have the summer to think it over we may be better prepared next September 🙂 and less of our students will run the danger of riding into a valley of death.

Check out his other talks on TEd and also his website and blog http://sirkenrobinson.com/

To IT or not to IT

March 18, 2013

seeI continue with the jigsaw or see saw that is the balance between effective pedagogical use of technology in language teaching and the utopian push that assumes technology must automatically be good, we only have to work out how best to use it. At the recent TESOL-SPAIN conference in Seville Hugh Dellar had a challenging, brave and provocative talk on “Technology and Principles in Language Learning”. This was a fascinating evaluation of the role technology has or is thought to play in the language teacher’s classroom. His argument essentially, was that we should focus more on language and learning and not be too distracted by the trills, frills and often time consuming demands of using technology in our classes. His key point is, as I imagine most teachers will agree, that technology is only one more tool we have and its effectiveness will depend on the teacher. It is also a tool we shouldn’t necessarily feed bad about not using!

About a day later Russell Stannard published an article in the Guardian (here) outlining the advantages of using the increasing variety of sound recording software and websites with students. Far from the days when CALL meant grammar bashing exercises he points out the strengths and potential of new multimedia software and sites that are very easy to use and, potentially, very useful for language learning.

Interestingly, Russell is stressing the potential for using these tools by the student at home more than a teacher using them in class. We return to the concept of the flipped classroom and in that sense perhaps there isn’t much difference between what appear to be two opposing views of technology: it’s role in class may actually be limited, may need to be limited, but what students can bring to the language class through technology may know no bounds.images

Breaking boundaries

January 30, 2013

In my last post I mentioned Dogme and Demand-High Teaching. Thinking of expanding the boundaries of our teaching I remembered this week Dr. John Fanselow who I had the pleasure of meeting at a TESOl-SPAIN conference in Seville some years ago. Here is an article which may serve as an introduction to his, rather innovative, perspective on things.


Godwin is good

October 17, 2012

I was recently reminded of Mike Godwin’s law from analysing discussion groups end of last century (yes, that for many of us were the nineties … when we all started using the internet for the first time). Wikipedia summarises the premise: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler and the Nazis.”

I suspect there is a TEFL equivalent in that all discussions amoung teachers invariably end up criticising a specific coursebook, at which point the conversation is better left die a death. Your comments welcome and the first person to mention Nazies or coursebook will be … embedded and forgotten on page 120 of the nearest teacher’s book.