Archive | January, 2014

Research Papers from “Language Teaching”

30 Jan

As they did last year, Cambridge Journals are offering limited access to the top 10 most requested articles in 2013 from the Language Teaching Journal.

Some articles that made the list in 2012 are repeated, but there’s plenty of new material.

Access is only until the end of February – so get downloading!

Many thanks to Marisa Constantinides for sharing this on facebook.


Articles include:

Have fun!




#EdTech: Tablets in Education

28 Jan

I have a love hate relationship with my tablet.  I have a few apps that I think are genuinely useful and contribute to the smoother running of my life and a few that I keep around for reference purposes or information inflows (some of which haven’t been used in six months) and then there are some that I spend far more time on than I should and which basically fritter away more hours of my days than I have available to waste.

This is my prime concern with tablets in education.  The tablet is basically a tool.  It is neither good nor evil – it is how you use it and what you use it for that defines it’s worth.  And that comes down to the apps that are on it.

Tablets and Apps

For a much fuller overview of the issue of tablets in Education, OUP have just published a “white paper” called “Tablets and Apps in Your School” which is available as a free (registration required) pdf download.

Systematically running through things you’ll need to think about before you even start, how to prepare teaching staff to use the new technology and how you can actually use them in class – this is a comprehensive look at what tablets can be used for.

I think the problem at the moment is that tablets are still quite new and while the take up rate is increasing rapidly (not quite exponentially), it has not quite made the shift from desirable and luxurious into essential – in the same way that mobile phones have managed.  Which is not to say that they won’t, but that the requirement for people to own tablets in order to pursue education goals is quite a costly one and represents a large imposition on schools or learners.  While, in the state sector, it might be possible to centrally fund or to seek business funding for a tablet project, the private sector probably doesn’t possess the margins to go down this road.  I have enough trouble maintaining the school’s stock of audio equipment (CD players & MP3 players) without having to worry about high cost tablets (which I suppose could eventually replace all the audio kit as well!).

What will be interesting over the next few years is to see which publishers start releasing app versions of their popular coursebooks as well as maintaining the print versions.  Tablets could be incredibly efficient ways of delivering coursebook content and a quick search of the Android store shows that some publishers are already doing this:

It’s worth taking a look – some of these are free, some are free and “lite” versions of more expensive apps and some are full price.

For a good case study on how to implement tablets in a language school – International House Cordoba has been running a project for the last two years.  Jennifer Dobson reports on it in the IH Journal here: “Learning through an Ipad” – or you can watch the IH Cordoba team’s one hour webinar at last year’s IH Online Conference:

The Cheating Art

24 Jan

If you teach, you will have encountered cheating.  And if you’re honest, you’ve probably cheated yourself at some point in the past – I don’t remember specific incidences of cheating from when I was at school, but I do remember attempting to ask my classmates for answers, little slips of paper in pencil cases and writing the answers out onto rulers and the insides of pencil cases, hands, wrists and arms.  I also remember that hunched over posture, arm wrapped all the way round the test paper, to guard against someone cheating off you…

Ann Loseva has just written a great post on the impact the accusation of cheating can have.  This prompted Graham Stanley to reflect on encounters with plagiarism and cheating he has had as a teacher and to investigate the cheating culture.  Both of which have inspired this post and a lesson that I ran with some CAE (Advanced) classes yesterday.  The lesson outline follows at the bottom of this post.

One of the things I tried to do in the lesson was to gather some informal data on how prevalent cheating is.  In percentage terms, it makes interesting reading, though as I occasionally asked for a show of hands the validity and reliability of the study is questionable!

  • 100% of my students said they had cheated on a test.
  • 53% said they thought it was OK to cheat on a class test.
  • 0% said it was OK to cheat on a formal exam
  • 60% said they thought cheating was culturally acceptable in their country

I’ve heard different theories for this last statistic.  One is that Catholic countries are more tolerant of cheating because these are minor sins that can be absolved and penance performed for following confession.  Another is that people who live or have lived under more authoritarian regimes have a greater need to understand how to “game the system”, in other words, cheating is a necessary life skill.

My students thought both these ideas were rubbish, though one student did point out you are more likely to break the rules if you think the rules are wrong and where you have absolutely no respect for your national leaders and politicians, this lack of respect may extend to the rules the government enforces.  This also filters down to the classroom – when the students have little or no respect for the teacher, they do not value the lesson content as much and equally see no point in attempting to perform well on their tests.  My little survey certainly seemed to suggest that the more seriously they view a test, the more effort they put into preparing for it and the less likely they are to cheat in it.

The seriousness with which they view their tests also comes from how much value they perceive the test to have.  There are tests they are given because the system demands it – neither the students nor the teacher value them and they are treated as a formality.  Students told me stories about their teachers “monitoring” during the tests and pointing out incorrect answers, telling students the answers under the cover of fake cough.  One student told me “I cheat when, it’s like I understand the topic or something and I know it but the test wants answers I don’t know.” – essentially, when the test is testing the reproduction of knowledge rather than any deeper level of understanding.

What worries me most, though, and which sums up the cheating issue in a nutshell is the feeling that they all agreed with:  “it’s easier than thinking.”  How do you combat that?  Seriously – any and all answers gratefully received!

Two ways that suggest themselves:  (1) Zero Tolerance and (2) Better Invigilation.

There does have to be a policy decision somewhere near the top of the academic tree about what is acceptable and what is not within school walls.  Personally it annoys me when I see students frantically copying each others’ homework right before class because it defeats the purpose of setting the homework in the first place – I’d rather they were late with it – but that’s the sort of thing I let slide.  But I have struggled to impose any kind of test discipline (for example, no talking during tests – there’s always someone who makes some kind of comment!) – mostly because it simply isn’t considered part of test protocol here.  There’s a sort of “don’t ask / don’t tell” situation – the policy against cheating is theoretically zero tolerance, but only as long as you don’t have to put it into practice…

Better invigilation:  in theory I’m sure we all agree that no teacher should invigilate their own students (or subjects) and that invigilators should be doing absolutely nothing other than monitoring the exam room for the duration of the test.  In practice however, this is unlikely to happen in all testing situations.  But a teacher who is marking, lesson planning or doing the crossword is not invigilating – they are increasing the opportunity for students to cheat.  If schools and institutions are serious about reducing or stamping out cheating – invigilation policy is certainly a good starting point.

References (my lesson plan follows below the picture):

The Lesson I did with my classes:

(1) A letters circle ( A C E H T) on the board – students make as many words from the letters as they can in a minute.  Feedback: did you get the five letter words TEACH / CHEAT?

(2) Quick Poll:  (This was done quite conversationally and involved some definition of terms on both sides – what constitutes cheating / the difference between a test and an exam etc)

  • Have you ever cheated on a test?
  • Do you think it’s OK to cheat in a class test?
  • Do you think it’s OK to cheat in a formal exam?
  • Is cheating culturally acceptable in your country?

(3) Split reading:  I divided the class into two groups:  Group A got Ann’s article and Group B got Graham’s article.  They read their article and in their groups had to come up with a comment they would write under the blog article.

Then I paired one student from group A with one from group B and they summarised what they’d read for each other and discussed whether having read the articles would change their views or behaviour as regards cheating.

(4) Lexical mining:  Each pair had to find two or three words / collocations / expressions that they either (a) thought would be useful, or (b) liked the sound of, or (c) didn’t know.  These were collected on the board (each pair had a board pen) and in small groups they peer taught what they could, working it out from context.  I then filled in any gaps.

(5) I then gave student a handout with the following questions from The Internet TESL Journal:  (you may wish to edit these for your cultural context).

  • What is your definition of cheating?
  • Have you ever cheated?
  • Why do you think that people cheat?
  • Have you ever cheated in an exam?
  • Have you ever been caught cheating on an exam?
  • If you had a chance to cheat now, would you take it?
  • In what situations do people usually cheat?
  • Have you ever been cheated on by somebody else?
  • Describe a time when you cheated and it helped you.
  • Do you think if people stopped cheating the world would be a better place?
  • What do you think of people who cheat in their relationships?
  • What do you think can be done to prevent cheating?
  • What are some things you can do to prevent cheating?
  • What would you do it you saw someone cheating at something.

The students made notes individually on their own answers and then came together into two larger groups to share and discuss their responses.

That took pretty much the whole lesson (75 minutes) – with more time I would have done some reactive language feedback on correction following that final discussion, but we can do that next time!

Ten Things Worth Further Investigation (#04)

7 Jan

The holiday period is over and as usual, interesting posts from other people have been piling up in my inbox, or have been glanced at and put to one side for later, more detailed, examination…

(1) Arriving today, via freetech4teachers, is the “Word Tamer” site, a flash based interactive “game” for developing students’ abilities to craft a good story.  While it’s aimed more at native speakers, I would expect B2 level learners and above to be OK with the language level and it would be quite a nice way of helping teens think about what makes a successful story (possibly for FCE?).  The only criticism I have is that you can’t combine the different elements you create while on the site, you’ll have to get the students to either make notes on paper, or transfer everything into a separate document.  Check out the site here:

(2) Academic Language seems to be a hot topic at the moment:  Stephen Krashen’s denouncement of “Academic Jibberish” is doing the rounds at the moment:  is there a tendency, he asks, for academics to obfuscate their message in obtuse language in the hope that people will agree with what they can’t understand?  This is a post I’m hoping to come back to in more detail later this week, so stay tuned!

(3) Whether “jibberish” or not – learners of English often find academic discourse difficult to access:  two recent posts are here to help with that:  Cheryl Boyd Zimmerman’s post on the OUP blog (offering a taste of her upcoming webinar) looks at “Academic Language and School Success” – offering some key considerations.  Todd Finley at Edutopia has “8 Strategies for Teaching Academic Language” – including some nice analysis tasks for learners to work with.

(4) #ELTChat offers up their highlights of the year, in the form of a nice summary by @Ven_VVE.  If you are an educator on twitter – you should check out #ELTChat – a source of much support, inspiration and innovation.  It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one for whom things go wrong – and to pick up solid advice on how to make things go right!

(5) The new year is typically a time for reflection and looking back at the successes and failures of the previous year – at the end of December Geoff Jordan posted his Aplinglink Awards for 2013:  awards were given in the categories Best Book, Best Contribution to SLA, Best Article, Best Blog, Best Video, Best New Overview, and Best Contributor to ELT Methodology.  Go read his post to find out who the winners and runners up were!

(6) Just as we reflect at this time of year, we also look forwards.  At the iTDi blog, the latest issue “13 for 2014“, has Chuck Sandy, Ann Loseva, Josette LeBlanc and Kevin Stein sharing their thoughts on the year gone by and hopes and plans for the future.

(7) Two great offerings from the Digital Play blog that were doing the rounds just before Christmas: Argument Wars and Vortex Point 2.  Argument Wars is a game based on landmark civil rights cases from the USA – the learners have to find the best arguments and find logical connections to craft supporting points, in order to win their case.  Excellent for advanced (CAE) level groups.  Vortex Point 2 is a hunt and click flash game where you have to find things and do things in the right order to solve a mystery.  Lesson plans for both these games are available via the links.  Thanks to my colleague Neil for telling me about these in the first place!

(8) The teacher as researcher is, or can be, a contentious issue; with questions as to the validity, reliability and wider applicability of such studies.  Marisa Constantinides’ latest post asks the question “Can Teachers do Research?“, looks at how they can do the research, what the lessons of such research can be and who should be learning them…  (A must read article, by the way, for anyone doing their DELTA or an MA…)

(9) How much of a students’ test score is down to the teacher?  (Or in other words, can you assess the worth of a teacher based on the performance of the student?) – Apparently, about 15% or so.  Larry Ferlazzo shared the graphic on the right, taken from an ETS sponsored lecture by Dr. Edward H. Haertal.  ETS are the providers of the TOEFL exam series, and while the lecture (downloadable in pdf via Larry’s post) makes it quite clear that the research relates to an investigation of a specific teacher assessment measure used in US education – it raises yet more interesting questions to throw into the testing debate.

(10) And finally…  and more because I think it’s just a fantastic illustration of an incredibly complex issue, but an image I think should be on every staffroom wall from the always excellent and amusing – a cartoon about ADD: