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Moral Dilemmas – Book Review

22 Feb

Imagine you are teaching a group of business people, all of whom work for the same company.  They have been told that their eligibility for the next round of promotions depends on their achieving a certain level of English.  All of them are busy and none of them have much time.  Over the course, there have been quite a few absences and not very much homework.

It’s now the end of the course and the students are doing their final evaluation tests.  As they do, you notice one of the students is referring to a piece of paper they have on their lap under the desk.

What do you do?

Does it make any difference to you what happens?  What about the student?  Is it fair to the other students?

Welcome to the world of Moral Dilemmas!

mini-moral-dilemmas-250x354

Moral Dilemmas is a new mini-ebook from Lindsay Clandfield and published by The Round that explores issues like this and more.  The example above is my own and is not from the book, but is an example of the way such ethical conundrums have to grab us, take us out of our comfort zones and force us to re-evaluate our value systems.

It is this ability that makes these situations such universal constants.  It doesn’t really matter where you are from or what belief system you have, issues like this cause us to stop and re-evaluate our relationships with the world around us.

That said, these dilemmas tend to work better in contexts where there is a more relativistic approach to morality and less absolutism.  I can see that in some contexts the dilemmas as presented may not be viewed as dilemmas at all, but more as a logical progression of “if that, then this”.  This potential problem is addressed though, with the author suggesting a more nuanced critical approach of exploring the alternatives in terms of their implications on the individuals and wider society.  In short, if the students all agree that (to take our example) cheating is wrong and the HR department should be notified within 30 seconds of presenting the problem, that the teacher draw out all of the possible courses of action and ask the students to think about what they might mean.

The dilemmas themselves are very usefully presented:  the dilemma itself is described, along with brief teaching tips on how to adjust each dilemma to a local context.  Avenues of further exploration are suggested as well as vocabulary areas that might come up in discussion.

There is also a very useful “What if…” section, which considers some of problems that might arise when using the material with a class and suggests some strategies for dealing with them.  These range from looking at relevance and appropriacy to immediate agreement, slipping into L1 and when things get too up close and personal for everybody’s comfort!

***

Who should buy this book?  It’s aimed at teachers working with classes of B1 ability and above, but beyond that I would think is quite a useful resource for anyone teaching English.  It’s the sort of book that would sit easily alongside titles like the Discussions A-Z series, or Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking, on the staffroom bookshelf – something handy to dip into and find a useful activity as when is needed.  Though obviously as it’s an ebook, a more recent comparison would be the Parsnips series (see elsewhere on this blog) and we should be talking about a staffroom Kindle instead!  Definitely a keeper, I look forward to trying some of the activities with my own classes!

Moral Dilemmas” by Lindsay Clandfield is available for  £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.

 

 

 

Brainstorming – Book Review

8 Feb

The process of brainstorming in the classroom is often a rather haphazard and stilted affair.  Learners are coming into a topic area they know little about and feel uncomfortable in, they might feel that they don’t have the language to express their ideas as fluently as they would like, and when ideas do get produced – they immediately get shot down as impractical or unrealistic.  The confident and extrovert students dominate and the weaker or more introvert students sit there quietly not really saying much, so that the teacher ends up getting feedback from only a couple of the members of the group.  Fortunately, however, there is another way….

In their new mini ebook, “Brainstorming”, from The Round, Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston take us back to basic principles and the origins of brainstorming in the world of 1950’s advertising.  The focus here is non-judgmental idea generation – it’s not about quality, but about quantity and where all ideas have equal value and where one idea from one person sparks a thought elsewhere in the group and where participants feed off each other’s energy and creativity to generate the largest possible set of ideas in the time given.

Which you can totally see working at half past four on a Friday afternoon with a group of tired teenagers, right?

This is where the book comes into it’s own.  Erasmus and Houston run through a series of clear procedures for working with idea generation that attempt to mitigate some of the issues that might arise:  setting the stage, focusing the activity, avoiding negative feedback, guiding the discussion and remembering the objective.  It occurs to me that there are some groups where this might take some initial learner training, possibly particularly with teenagers, before they understand how the ground rules work here and what the constraints are, but where perseverance would yield huge benefits in terms of the directed creativity that the learners could then bring to the class.

I found the section on “problem statements” to be a useful way of looking at generating ideas for specific issues and the re-formulation of the “problem” into a “how can I…” question seems like it would be a great way of looking at things for students in an EAP context as well as students preparing for writing tasks in ELT exams.  Re-focusing the problem statement is essentially the same thing as refining your research question into something that you can actually answer, or it represents a useful “way in” to some of the exam writing tasks – getting students to move away from simply producing writing for you the teacher and into thinking about the purpose of their exam writing by asking questions like “How can I get the editor to publish my review?” or “How can I get the principal of the college to upgrade the sports facilities?”.  This would almost certainly lead to an improvement in their written work!

brainstorming cover

Three other activities that I particularly liked in the book – and I’m limiting myself here because otherwise I would basically be copying out the whole thing – are:

The problem skeleton:  I think this would be another one that is great for writing tasks and analysing questions, especailly in the way that it breaks larger tasks down into smaller more manageable chunks.  Writing an essay on “the environment” is quite a daunting task, but using the problem skeleton to identify sub-topics and then sub-sub-topics would be a great way of making the tasks more accessible.

Rolestorming:  a brilliant way of extending out of the typical role play scenario.  Even in the most engaging of role plays or mingle activities, there is always an element of the learners essentially reading the information off the little piece of paper in front of them and basically comparing notes as opposed to taking on the role of the person they are meant to play.  Rolestorming is a great way of getting the students to think about the background, motivations and emotions of their characters and to really give them the chance to step outside of themselves for the task.

PMI:  A great follow-up activity for working with the ideas that you have generated in an initial brainstorming task, the PMI process lets you grade and select the ideas that you want to take forwards.  In essence it is a format for critical reflection and evaluation.  Again, I can see this being excellent for writing tasks where the learners need to decide what is relevant to the question and what ideas slot together most effectively.

 

***

Who should buy this book?  I don’t see this book as having a limited audience in that way.  I think there as much in there for teachers who have been teaching longer than they care to remember as there is for teachers who are just starting out.  It is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, it gives you the tools you need to achieve a goal and in its own way, it is the spark that will lead you to you own lesson-based light bulb moment.

Brainstorming” by Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston is available for £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.

Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

10 Aug

most requested ebooks

The concept of Parsnips in ELT has always intrigued me.  These are the things that you’re not supposed to talk about with your classes, the taboo topics that might get you into trouble or which your students might protest at.  These are the topics that mainstream coursebooks leave out.

And for a very good reason – coursebooks are market dependent and they rely on economies of scale to make a profit.  A coursebook that cannot be used in an entire region of the world because it touches on political issues that might offend ruling regimes means potentially losing money in sales.  But this leads to some interesting omissions and to a one size fits all policy that essentially has us teaching to the lowest common cultural denominator. And to what someone once described as “in-flight magazines for the grammatically challenged” (Scott Thornbury I think…?).

Personally, I see no problem in touching on Parsnip topics in the classroom.  The acronym stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, Pork.  I think I’ve probably done lessons on all of these at one point or another and you can find at least two lessons on this blog involving pigs….

The key with anything like this is (a) common sense and (b) sensitivity.  If, for example, you happen to be teaching English to the highest cadre of the ruling junta in the benevolent dictatorship of wherever, then a lesson on freedom of speech and the democratic principle might not be advised (although some would argue that it was the perfect opportunity).  Equally, if you are teaching a lesson on a topic and notice the students are unusually silent, be prepared to ask them if they would prefer to do something else instead.  It is not our job to force our opinions upon our students, but we are not doing our jobs properly if we deny them the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day.

If you do enjoy spicing up your standard ELT menu with the odd root vegetable, then help is at hand in the form of a new e-book:  Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone (vol. 1).  This ebook is free to download and is available in multiple formats (epub, mobi & pdf) and contains one lesson on each topic from a collection of authors including myself.

Parsnips in ELT Cover

Not everything in it might be to your taste and if so, you can do what my children do with their vegetables – push it to the side of your plate and leave it for someone else to deal with!  There is, however, enough in there for you to find something you like or to at least start you thinking!

The book has an accompanying blog where you can find some of the ideas from the book as well as a range of shorter ideas to stimulate discussion on the Parsnip topics with your classes: http://imagearies.com/wp-parsnips/.

If you try any of the lessons in the book, do let us know how they go!  We’re always keen to get feedback on the ideas!  Either leave a comment here or on the Parsnips blog.

Above all – have fun!

Cambridge First & Advanced in 2015

16 Oct

If you prepare students for FCE or CAE, then this might be useful for you.  Cambridge English: First (FCE) and Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) have recently undergone significant revisions to their structure and organisation.

This has been on the cards for some time and indeed I blogged about it back in May.

Recently however, I gave an online workshop for International House, which was available to IH staff around the world, and which outlined the changes being made to these exams and discussed some of the implications of those changes.

The workshop was videoed and has been posted on you tube – you can watch it there or here, but it is about an hour long – so make sure you have a cup of tea or a glass of wine (depending on your preference or the time of day) before you press play!

 

Unfortunately, I suffered from the odd wifi glitch during the presentation, so service is interrupted every now and again.  I have, however, also posted my slides on slideshare, so you can download and view your own version – and watch any sections of the workshop that need some kind of clarification!

 

In the webinar I mention a number of coursebook reviews for the revised First exam.  You can find them here:

Any questions about any of this – let me know!

 

Book Review: Punctuation..? (and a competition!)

25 Jul

Punctuation..? by User Design is a svelte and elegant illustrated guide for the rest of us.

As you might have guessed from the title, it gives an overview of 21 different punctuation marks from the everyday comma to the more esoteric pilcrow.  Do you know what a pilcrow is?  I didn’t.  Apparently it’s the backwards filled in P that I usually see when I click the wrong thing in my word documents…

Punctuation Graphic

The layout is simple and straightforward:  each punctuation mark under examination is given a description and its uses are supported by explanations and examples – and simple, yet effective line drawings at the top of each page.

It is a visually appealing book that seems very accessible and clearly lays out all of the rules of punctuation that most of us think we have an instinctive command of and which most of us are probably wrong about.  According to the book I have committed at least one punctuation crime in this piece – there are probably others I don’t know about!  There you go – an impromptu quiz:  Provide a list of all the punctuation mistakes you can find in this blog post and put them in the comments section below.  The winner will get a free copy of the book!  Not that the winner of a competition like this will probably need a book like this, but I bet even they don’t know what a pilcrow is…!

This is a prescriptive grammar of punctuation.  It declares the rules in no uncertain terms and seems to borrow its authority from its chief reference source, Oxford dictionaries, and I wonder how much of it is designed to appeal to the pedants and those who view themselves as the last bastions of defence against the corruption and decay that has seeped into the language (there is a somewhat plaintive note in the apostrophe section to the effect that it “has largely vanished from company names and other commercial uses”).  The questions I ask myself are (a) does it matter? and (b) is it useful?

Yes.  I think it probably does matter.  I spent approximately six hours marking “academic” essays yesterday and at least three of those hours railing at my students inability to punctuate properly.  Proper punctuation is more than the written equivalent of verbal pause, though it is seldom used otherwise; it helps determine the relationships between clauses and between sentences, helps to signify the writer’s intent and to package information in such a way that makes meaning accessible to the reader.  In short, our students need to know these rules.  Once they do, they can flout them with impunity like the rest of us – but at least then it would be a principled choice.

So who is it useful for?

I’m not sure that it is a book for students itself, at least not for language learners.  Most native speaker students would probably benefit from a copy, certainly by the time they go to university, if not before.  I think though, that language learners at any level under B2 would find it difficult to access and certainly difficult to apply.  B2 students would need help with some of it and C1 (advanced) would probably be alright with it.  Obviously there’s a lot in it that isn’t really relevant to language learner needs – though the book is not intended as such and it is unfair to judge it on those terms.  I do think it would be a useful addition to most teachers’ rooms though.  Punctuation is often a neglected aspect of language teaching and as I think now I can only recall an overt section on punctuation in one book – somewhere in Advanced Expert – which makes me wonder how much punctuation knowledge us teachers really have!

So if you can’t tell your hyphen from your dash or your interpunct from your guillemets – this is the book for you.  Punctuation..? is available from the User Design website and probably other places as well, but I couldn’t tell you where.

 

*****

I mentioned a competition earlier – so here are the rules:

I am the ultimate arbiter of the competition and what I say goes.  You have no legal recourse or anything like that if you don’t like my decision.  I will try to judge as objectively as possible, but I will be reviewing any and all entries and choosing what I think is the best and most complete one.

If you don’t like your first entry, you can enter more than once – but I’ll stop reading after the third attempt.

Deadline for entries is the end of August (Sunday August 31st 2014).  Any entries submitted after that will be ignored.

I will announce the winner both by putting a comment under this section and in a separate blog post in the first week of September (2014).

Good luck!

Coursebook Review: Complete First

26 Jun

Complete First

Guy Brook-Hart

Cambridge University Press,  2014.

As the Cambridge English: First exam is changing from January 2015, this review is one of a series of coursebooks designed to prepare learners for the exam.  Reviews are also available for:

The version of the book I looked at was the 2nd Edition, with 2015 exam specifications.

Practicalities:

Unsurprisingly for a Cambridge English: First exam preparation book, this is a B2 level coursebook, though it seems aimed at a university age market, somewhere between 18-24.  I say that because some of the recurring characters in the book are student age and while some of the content is aimed at older adult students, the feel of the book is definitely young adult.  I’m honestly not sure how much material there is in there.  The structure is quite bitty – lots of smaller self-contained sections – and obviously it depends how you teach the material as to how long it takes you to cover it.  If you just pushed on through, with a bit of bookending to give the lessons a beginning and ending, then I expect it would be about 5 lessons a unit.  If you extended out and made some of the smaller sections a lesson focus and supplemented to that effect, then maybe 8 lessons a unit?  So somewhere between about 80 hours and 140 hours of material, but then that upper figure does require additional material from elsewhere.

Components:

I only had access to the student’s book and the workbook.  There is also a teacher’s book and resource CDROM available.  And the “Presentation Plus” pack, which seems to be the digital version of the book and teacher’s book, adaptable to projector or IWB.  Which I haven’t seen.

Skills Work:

The criticism here is one that can be leveled at many exam books:  much of the skills work is skills practice, not skills development.  Receptive tasks are dealt with in the standard “pre-task prediction / task / one question discussion” model.  Productive tasks are dealt with from a model / language input perspective.  Which is, again, quite common and not necessarily a bad thing – learners do need the relevant language to perform the relevant tasks after all!  The writing sections are quite detailed and mostly seem to use a model for learners to analyse and do lead learners through all the different things they need to consider for exam success, though I’m not sure about the integration of language input work into these sections, it seems a bit split focus to me.

Language Work:

Language input is mostly text based in what I think of as attempted noticing – the examples are often drawn from the text and then analysed, or at least the learners are given the chance to think about which rules apply to what.  Followed of course by lots of practice activities.  One nice feature is that the language practice is often contextualised into an exam type task, giving practice of the task types without an overt focus, though these do also appear elsewhere in the units.

Engagement:

Not too bad – there’s enough white space on the page so that it doesn’t come across as too crowded or overbearing, though it does get a little bit dense in places.  Lots of sunny blue sky pictures with carefully multi-cultural smiling faces….

Overall Comment:

6.5/10.  I think the book has everything it needs, and which learners need, for some fairly thorough preparation.  Despite the young adult focus, it feels like quite an old book and just looks a bit dry in places.  I think for an adult group it would be fine.  My main concern is how easy it would be to work with – I suspect it would need quite a lot of adaptation.  Obviously all books need a certain amount of adaptation to fit the needs of their classes, but I feel that Complete needs a bit more work than most – not because the materials are poor quality, they are not – but because this is a book where you need to make constant decisions about what to leave in, what to leave out and what to focus on in class and I think that makes it harder work to use effectively than some of it’s competitors.

 

Complete First

 

Disclosure:  The image and title links above and at the top of the page are affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links provide a small referral fee. 

 

 

Coursebook review: Objective First

26 Jun

Objective First

Annette Capel & Wendy Sharp

Cambridge University Press 2012 (3rd Ed.) / 2014 (4th Ed.)

 

As the Cambridge English: First exam is changing from January 2015, this review is one of a series of coursebooks designed to prepare learners for the exam.  Reviews are also available for:

The book I looked at was the 3rd Edition, which is based around the 2008 exam specifications and NOT the revised 2015 specifications, however the links on the page are to the 4th edition, which does contain the revised specifications.  I’m assuming that there aren’t significant changes to content or approach – but will revise and update this review when I finally get to see the new edition!

Practicalities:

This title seems aimed at the adult / young adult section of the B2 market, the themes and questions aimed at the students look like they require a bit more life experience than the average teenager possesses.  It looks eminently teachable though – three very neatly self contained double page spreads per unit that I think parcel up into lessons quite effectively.  With 24 units, this makes about 72 lessons in the book or about 90 hours of material (obviously depending on your lesson length, you may need to drop some bits or add a few more bits in!)

Components:

I only had access to the student’s book and the workbook, though there is also a teacher’s book with a teacher resources CD ROM available (not sure what those resources are…); and something called a Presentation Plus DVDROM, which appears to contain a digital version of the book that allows you to manipulate the content in  a variety of interesting ways.  Sounds expensive though…

Skills Work:

Skills are predictably exam focused and within the units the receptive skills are largely practice based.  Some of the task set up may help build skills but the impression is that rote practice is enough for the exam.  Each unit invariably contains a small speaking section, which may or may not be exam focused and a receptive skills task.  Writing is only dealt with in the “writing folders”, which alternate with the “exam folders” to provide specific exam segment development and strategy guides.

Language Work:

There is quite extensive language input – at least one double page spread per unit is dedicated to grammatical input and practice and I think the fact that they are laid out across two pages (mostly) helps make the input sizeable enough to form the key component of a lesson and consequently a lot more teachable than in some books.  There is a nod to guided discovery approaches in that learners are often asked to consider the evidence and figure out the rule (or choose from some rule possibilities), but for the most part the language input is rule based instruction, application and practice.

Engagement:

The double page spread system makes the book very easy on the eye and very accessible – despite the fact that there’s often quite a lot of content on the page, it doesn’t feel overwhelming and from a teacher’s perspective it looks easy to figure out where to start and stop.  The graphics are fairly standard – the typically bright, colourful and inoffensive coursebook fare.  The smaller unit size means there are more of them in the book, 24 in total, which I think would probably add to a learner’s sense of perceived progress as they motor through, and which also allows for a bit more variety in the range of topics.  It is an adult focused book though, so teenagers may have some issues in responding to discussion questions that assume more experience than they have.

Overall Comment:

9/10.  I really like the way this book is organised and I think it gives exam learners exactly what they need to prepare effectively for the exam – with the caveat that this preparation takes place over an extensive 100 hour course!  I think the structure makes it relatively easy to teach with and the clear focus that each section of each unit has makes it easy to decide where the focus of each lesson lies.  The exam folders and writing folders, when used effectively (and I think some adaptation is needed here), should give the learners a very thorough overview of what is required of them and what they need to do to be successful.

 

Objective First

 

Disclosure:  The image and title links above and at the top of the page are affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links provide a small referral fee. 

 

Coursebook Review: Ready for First

25 Jun

Ready for FCE

Roy Norris

Macmillan Education 2013

As the Cambridge English: First exam is changing from January 2015, this review is one of a series of coursebooks designed to prepare learners for the exam.  Reviews are also available for:

The book I looked at was the version containing the 2015 exam specifications.

Practicalities:

Aimed at B2 level students, it comes across as quite an adult orientated book, though young adults would also no doubt be able to access the content.  There is also quite a lot in there – depending on how you teach the book I would say there are about 5-8 lessons per unit, or somewhere between 80 and 120 hours of material, not including any supplementary resources.

Components:

I only had access to the coursebook and the workbook.  There is also a teacher’s book with a DVDROM and each coursebook comes with an access code to the Macmillan online practice site.

Skills Work:

All of the skills work is, as you might expect, contextualised towards exam structure and content.  Reading tasks have a very clear “pre-task / task / post task” structure and one of the little touches I particularly liked was that the post reading task requires a personal reaction from the student towards the text or the content of the text.  They also do this with some of the listenings.  Writing seems to be dealt with mostly through a process of model analysis.

Language Work:

There are some nice review activities in the post-unit revision sections and I quite liked the organisation of the language input which seems to be more categorised by use than by specific language point (e.g. “talking about habits” rather than “the present simple”).  That said, the language input is mostly rule based derivation and application.  PPP without the final P – I fail to see why it is not possible to include open  productive tasks in these sections.  As it is they contain quite a lot of input & practice and I don’t know how “teachable” they would be.

Engagement:

Generally quite good – it looks nice and engaging, there’s not too much on the page.  At least as far as the skills and exam focus sections are concerned.  As soon as you hit a language input section however, the text tightens up, becomes denser and more impenetrable.  The topics are, as you might expect, the same old faces, but are dealt with as well as can be expected.  More adult than teen.

Overall Comment:

6/10.  This was the first book I looked at and originally I was quite impressed – I still think it is a good book, but I would not like to teach from it in my context.  There is too much in there to deal with effectively within the time frame (100 hours) I have available and unless the book expects me to simply motor through the language sections without worrying about learner take up of the target language, I really wouldn’t like to have to teach them.  The rest of it’s good though.

Ready for FCE

 

Disclosure:  The image and title links above and at the top of the page are affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links provide a small referral fee. 

Coursebook Review: Gold First

25 Jun

Gold First

Jan Bell and Amanda Thomas

Pearson Education 2014

As the Cambridge English: First exam is changing from January 2015, this review is one of a series of coursebooks designed to prepare learners for the exam.

Reviews are also available for:

The book I looked at was the version containing the 2015 exam specifications.

Practicalities:

Aimed at B2 level students, the book looks as though it would be best suited to teenage / young adult classes.  Depending on how you teach the book, there’s probably five or six lessons per unit, or about 70 lessons in the book, so somewhere between 80 -100 hours of material.  Not including the progress tests and review sections.  It is a graded book, starting off a bit easier and building up in difficulty as the book goes on.

Components:

I only had access to the coursebook and the exam maximiser, which is precisely what you would expect – lots of practice activities.  Though the blurb promises there is interactive whiteboard software and online material for the teacher, as well as the standard teacher’s book.  Plus additional online resources for the student.

Skills Work:

One of the things I like about the book is the way in which all the skills work seems to be based on the principle of development, rather than simply practice.  The focus is on training for the exam rather than just exam skills.  While I completely agree with the ethos behind this choice, I also feel that Gold First lacks the bite that it needs for learners to be aware of the reality of the exam.

Language Work:

Lexis is mostly dealt with in chunks, collocations and phrasal verbs, though with some topic based match and gap sections as well.  Structures are pulled out of key texts and analysed – a sort of GDPP (guided discovery, practice and production) – and I like that there are productive activities linked to the language input

Engagement:

It seems very approachable, not at all daunting or scary.  There’s enough space around the text and exercises to give learners space to jot down notes and answers.  The images are all very standard – soft focus, bright and colourful – but there aren’t many on the page, so they don’t distract.  The topics are all the usual suspects – no doubt chosen according to some exam past paper meta-analysis.

Overall Comment:

7/10.  I think the course has enough to work with for an extensive year round course and I think it is appropriate for my local context, where most of the students are in their mid-teens.  I am wary about two things though:  the graded nature of the book and the lack of explicit modelling of exam tasks and strategies.

Gold First

Disclosure:  The image and title links above and at the top of the page are affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links provide a small referral fee.  

100 years of English Exams

13 Sep

Dropping through the door of the school this morning was a lovely bundle of goodies from CELA (Cambridge English Language Assessment):  the latest copy of “Research Notes”, several posters and two books!  I guess this is one of the perks of being a Cambridge test centre – the occasional freebie.  The books are (1) Hawkey and Milanovic’s “Cambridge English Exams – The First Hundred Years” and (2) Weir, Vidakovic & Galaczi’s “Measured Constructs – A history of Cambridge English language examinations 1913 – 2012”.

You may have been able to spot a theme there…

Cambridge English Exams the first hundred years                                   Measured Constructs

Obviously, it’s not been possible to read the combined 1000 pages plus in any great depth so far, so what follows are really only initial impressions.

The first book comes across as a bit of a corporate hagiography.  It is supremely glossy and full of lovely colour images to break up what would otherwise be quite a large amount of fairly dense text.  The content does look interesting, for anyone who’s interested in these things, but the book seems to deal more with the evolution of the Cambridge brand, product range and corporate partners than anything else – I’m not entirely sure who the book is aimed at, or why they might want to read it.  I was also quite surprised that this website not only gets a mention (on page 325), but that one of the diagrams from my “Changes to CPE” post is reproduced.  It is always nice to know that someone rates your work highly enough to reproduce it and I should be quite clear that it was attributed to this website; nevertheless it raises some interesting questions about copyright and reproduction permissions.  When an organisation like Cambridge University Press reproduces content without having asked permission, does that make it OK for the rest of us to do it as well?  (NB:  I have not sought permission from Cambridge to reproduce the images in this post…)  To read more on this topic, check out Sue Lyon-Jones’ post “Copyright, Plagiarism and Digital Literacy“.

The second book, Measured Constructs, is to my mind the much more interesting of the two, though it is also likely to appeal to a specialist audience.  It offers an incredibly in depth description of the evolution of the Cambridge language exams series, from a construct perspective – in other words how the testing of language knowledge and language skills has changed over the years.  In achieving this, the book delves into the “significant, theoretical and practical advances in pedagogy and socio-political developments” within ELT since the turn of the last century.  Thus, as views on the nature of language acquisition, learning and purpose have shifted  – so have the constructs of the exams and so it is possible to read this book not only as the evolution of the language exam but as a history of ELT itself.  That said, it is likely to be of more use to those with an academic interest in testing and evaluation.