I'm returning to edublogging!

It's been around eleven years since I was last referred to as Queen of the EduELT blogosphere, when Kalinago English had a readership of around a million, but after setting off to study Educational Technology and TESOL at the University of Manchester in 2011, and then Game Design & Development at Futureworks, I just couldn't keep it up.  

I didn't stop writing, but my reflections turned into private affairs, ways for me to keep track of quotes, record insights that would later find their way into essays, and then storyboards for game projects, or images and videos to show tutors, and I never found my way back to my readers - who like me have probably moved on to different lives from that glorious heyday - back when we tweeted in hashtags across timezones, and edublogging was so new and cool: we were a part of a disruptive, collected community, built on making connections all over the world. When we met at international conferences for the first time, we laughed and chatted way into the night as the fierce friends we'd become, and still are, through our posts, way before ever seeing each other's faces.  

I am back now, though, because a burning passion for the page has returned. All summer I've been jotting ideas, trying to keep track of a gazillion thoughts, filling up OneNotes that span across too many different pages, sticky noting project plans into Padlets - that it's become obvious: it's time to write again. For me, for you - or maybe you'll be a brand new audience, but I'm hoping that some from the past will be here too. 

It is a personal blog, it won't have a funky name, and I've decided to keep it within the professional walls of Linkedin where everyone has a name, a purpose, a title. For those you who know what it's like to be digitally trolled you'll get it. You'll no doubt be a much smaller audience, but it will feel more real, and hey, Linkedin's still Google searchable.  

I'll be using the space they provide for the various reflections and insights I now make as I curiously navigate immersive technologies, explore and learn more about extended reality(XR).  This means that I may make mistakes in terminology, or I'll state an idea or criticism, but later change my mind when I know more. Experience from blogging has taught me just how often that can happen. And how wonderful it is when it does. So feel free to correct me, put me in my place, or generally act a guide and mentor, but do please be kind. 

On Linkedin you can find me here - I hope you'll join me there!

Caveat: Although many of the upcoming posts relate to my responsibilities as a learning technologist for the University of Manchester's Humanities eLearning team, supporting academic staff who are making their own new steps in XR or wish to do so, for the most part the trialling of apps, platforms, experiences and courses tend to take place after work or on weekends - this is a hobby, a passion, a calling. It's my play. Therefore be aware that even if I mention UoM in some posts, this is not a communication from the University of Manchester itself and all errors or offences in my statements are my own responsibility. If you have concerns, send a direct message!

See you soon,


Personalized Video Feedback on Speaking Skills

I'm back....missed me?

Hope so, I missed writing this blog and talking to you all very much.  I thought I'd kick things off by joining in Vicki Hollet's ELT Blog Carnival on Teaching and Learning with Video as this little tip is incredibly effective and something I often do within my own language classes, so know it works well.

In the examples I'll show you below, we are practising for the IELTS speaking exam, but you can use this edtech method of giving personalized video feedback for general speaking practice, as well as for any other type of exam.  It also works nicely for business learners practising presentations. Although it may sound a wee bit fiddly in the write-up, it actually is really simple to set up and do and takes up very little time to share with students - providing, of course, you have the right tools and equipment!

What you need:
  • A flipcam (or similar device)
  • An IWB 

Optional* but effective
  • A Student Blog
  • Smartphones 
  • Your blogging software's app downloaded on to your students' smartphones

Step 1
Record your students speaking using a FlipCam instead of an audio recorder.

Step 2
Plug your Flipcam, or alternative device, into the computer in your classroom and play this video on the IWB via your media player or other software.  (Note this doesn't work playing from YouTube - if you try to write on the video it pauses so you really need to play the video directly using what you've stored on the flipcam or via your computer's media player).

Pause frequently to discuss their communicative successes and weaknesses.  Additionally, with more serious mistakes or common errors, write these up directly on to the IWB screen and encourage your learners to collaboratively correct these with you.

You can choose to focus on either pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary issues or as I do, work on all of these, it depends on your objectives - don't forget you can colour-code your corrections if you like with the IWB pens.

Step 3
Get students who were featured in the individual videos to open up their blogger app, this allows them to click to open a new post, and to use the camera function in Blogger to take a picture of your IWB screen. They can then publish this new post directly into their student blog.

Step 4
Open up your individual student's blog post(s) to edit it the post, change the photo size if necessary and you can now upload their videos into their blog posts directly.   Alternatively, you can also load up the videos to youtube (keep them unlisted!) and then embed them into each blog post.

Now, both you and they have a permanent record of their speaking which can be reviewed for practice at their leisure or can be used to demonstrate progress over time!

What to do if you don't have a FlipCam
- you could also use your phone, but in my experience, it takes too long to upload to the computer/youtube etc.  FlipCams are really cheap (also try EBay and Amazon for secondhand ones) and they are dead simple to use, especially in class, so actually I would just recommend getting one - one of the most important functionalities is the ability to simply plug directly into the computer's USB and play right away.

What to do if you don't have an IWB
- you could upload the video into a Google Drive Presentation, and type up notes beside the video but these are extra steps that would mean not doing it in the classroom with your language learners in real-time.
- if you have a data projector, you could instead beam the video directly on to a whiteboard and then follow the same steps as above.

What to do if not all of your students have Smartphones
- get the student who does have one to be in charge of posting to Blogger/ taking the picture and uploading it to the blog.  If none of them do, take a picture with a normal digital camera and upload to a shared space you have set up for them.

What to do if you don't have a student blog
- just get the students to take a picture with their smartphones anyway, they can store the picture within their picture galleries.  However, this isn't as effective as being able to watch the video again, which is what you get by permanently storing it in a blog, so actually I would just recommend setting one up.  Blogger is really easy and as the settings allow for privacy, students have a special non-threatening place where you can store samples of their writing, set extra listening and reading tasks, along with doing nifty things like the above!


p.s. if you have any questions, or something wasn't clear in the write up, please don't hesitate to comment below - if you try this out and find this useful do feel free to share with your classroom teaching colleagues and there is no need to credit this post, simply share how to do it - however, if you are writing up an essay, article, blog post, doing a webinar, how-to video, giving a conference presentation or even creating a book of edtech activities, then please understand this blog post is a creative commons copyrighted material, therefore in all  of these cases, please provide proper citation to me as the originator and author. Thanks!

Defining GLEE

Oxford University Press has just posted a short article I recently wrote for their blog about the benefits of using gamified language educational e-tivities in the ESL classroom.  I thought I’d reactivate my blog briefly for a quick posting (I’ll be back properly once my MA’s over in September and I can't wait!) to provide you with an example of edu game play and also to explore the definition of GLEEs in a little more in depth.

Playing to learn

The three groups I had divided my adult ESL students up into stared up at the Interactive Whiteboard which showed a Spin the Wheel grammar activity which I'd found on the internet.  One of the team leaders pressed on the big red button while 3 digital avatars on screen sat patiently waiting in a row, watching the wheel go round and round until it stopped. The pointer rested on the yellow pie-piece and a pop up message then read:

A: I have decided to learn a foreign language.
Q: Have you? Which language ______.

Team Green’s group of real students huddled together. Their captain furtively whispered so the other teams wouldn’t hear them “ Is it ‘will you learn,’ ‘are you learning’ or ‘are you going to learn?”  The students argued softly about the different options on screen.  Then the digital clock started counting down from 5 seconds, letting them know that they would have to decide on an answer as soon as possible or they’d lose both the points from this question and their overall advantage.

“It’s a plan” one member said a little uncertainly. “Yes” the other agreed more confidently, “It must be B, are you learning means he already started, no, no, he decided…”

Their team leader yelled out “B” as he pressed the board in the nick of time.  A bell rang out indicating the correct answer had indeed been chosen, the screen rewarded their points and their digital avatar clapped her hands on screen and smiled.  Blazing across the board the words “Congratulations Team Green” flashed up letting them know they'd won the entire match.

The winners responded in kind, mimicking their avatar, gesturing their success to their opponents with their fists in the air. A quick burst of disappointment flitted across Abra’s face, one of the youngest Saudi girls on one of the losing teams, until she piped up excited at the possibility of a rematch “Teacher, can we play again?”

What was going on in my classroom?

We were playing a GLEE.

Gamified Language Educational e-tivities (GLEE) is a term I coined during my studies at the University of Manchester for an MA in Educational Technology & TESOL. I use this and the corresponding acronym (coincidentally a synonym for joy) because I consider the commonly recognised phrases, originating in the 1970s and earlier, of “serious games” (Abt, 1970) and “educational games” (Bock, 1969), to be confusing misnomers which do not take into account the potentiality for seriousness in normal game-play (Huizinga,1944) nor do they adequately reflect the intrinsic educational properties found within many leisure games, whether what is played is Chess, Monopoly or World of Warcraft.

In my opinion the use of the word game in both these phrases is inappropriate.  This is because games, in their essence, are entirely voluntary activities, i.e. chosen by their players out of their desire to play them (Huizinga, 1944), rather than because they are made to do something (Schiller, 1775 cited in Botturi & Loh, 2008). Conversely, even if they are enjoyed, as was described in the vignette above, classroom activities and e-tivities are generally chosen by the teacher - there is an expectation for the learners to do the exercise on the part of the teachers.

While learning may indeed occur during game-play of normal games, this learning is not a core objective of the activity - games are played for the very fun of playing them.  As St. Thomas Aquinas reflected way back in the 1300s, this fun does not carry any additional purpose, other than to meet the game’s objective through the following of the rules. So when and if an educational objective is set as the activity’s primary goal, with the secondary goal being to appear as if what the students are doing is playing a game, it is actually an alternative activity with dual objectives.

The rationale behind the definition of GLEE and GLEA

Starting at the end of the acronym, the E and A which refer to activities and e-tivities, i.e. to the environment which the experience is based upon allows us to discuss their differences much more easily.

Activities refer to paper-based, photo-copiable tasks but they also discuss role-play, simulations and physical learning experiences, such as sending students out on scavenger hunts.  The sort of thing that we, as ESL teachers, have been doing for years  - remember the Hadfields’ communicative activity books and the resource packs that come with just about every textbook these days?

E-tivities, on the other hand, are ‘short, active and interactive online learning’ Salmon (2003:1) experiences, i.e. activities that take place on digital devices, on computers, Interactive Whiteboards (IWB) and mobile equipment.

By using the adjective educational to describe this type of activity and e-tivity, we can separate out from the activities and e-tivities used in business, marketing or military settings. That also allows for the dual objectives i.e. both educational and game, to be discussed as two unique items for review.


Whenever we want to talk about the changing state of a thing we add the suffix of change, (to -ify something – think of clarify, justify, and modify). This incredibly apt neologism, which unfortunately is frequently misunderstood, refers to changing something that isn’t normally a game (e.g. learning English grammar) into something that appears as if it is one. However, they are not really games, in the way that most of us understand games.

By referring to the activities that are made to seem like they are, gamified lets us talk separately about digital and video games which may also be used in educational settings, digital play and game based learning, as well as the other blended learning activities that tend to have a more traditional (textbook pages, gap-fill, matching, multiple-choice)  approach in delivery, dynamic and appearance - without confusing their different functions.

Finally, this acronym allows us to explore the different types of educational experiences, so we can further label them appropriately, i.e. GMEE math educational, GHEE history educational and so on, and if we just want to be generic, we can also call them all GEEs: gamified educational e-tivities.

Abt, C. (1970) Serious Games. NY, USA: Viking Press.
Bock, B. (1969) For Educational Games. The Clearing House. Vol 44(1). p49
Botturi, L. & Loh, S. (2008) Once upon a game: rediscovering the roots of games in Education. In: Miller, C. (ed.) Games: Purpose and Potential in Education.  NY, USA: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. pp 1-22
Huizinga, J. (1944) Homo Ludens: a study of the play-element in culture. Trans. R.F.C. Hull (1949) London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited.
Salmon, G. (2003). E-tivities: the key to online learning. London, UK: Kogan Page Ltd.

Image Credit: By See-ming Lee from New York, NY, USA (Happiness / 20100117.7D.02031.P1.L1.BW / SML) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you would like to ask anything about this definition please don’t hesitate to comment below - if you would like to read up on the benefits of using GLEEs in the language classroom and to find out where to find digital e-tivities on the internet, please travel on to the OUP blog post here.

Mobile Assisted Language Learning - English TeachingApps (1)

This is the first in a series of posts on MALL (mobile assisted language learning) apps currently available via GooglePlay.

The infographic was created as one of the appendices for a recent assignment on my MA in Educational Technology & TESOL and shows a general overview of Android Apps for English language learning.  The second post in this series will feature the top 7 and also explain why they're definitely worth recommending to students and the third will highlight some of the design and pedagogical problems in other apps.

(view infographic in higher quality here)

To see this infographic full-sized/better quality, please click: here

Despite all the hype surrounding the use of mobile language learning apps (dominating the discussions at many global ELT conferences these days) in a recent study by Busuu and the I.E. Business School, they disclose that only 2% of the global language learners they polled currently consider mlearning as an efficient way to study.  In part it may only be because we're simply at the start of a trend, but it is also possible that this is due to the fact that a great deal of the apps produced today for "anytime, anywhere" learning (Geddes, 2004 cited in Kukulska-Hulme & Shield, 2008) aren't actually pedagogically sound, aren't convenient to use and aren't well designed. 

What do you think?

Is the problem the cost?
Is the problem size?
Is the problem usability?

Is it something else?

Let me/us know your thoughts!

Why I don’t like Second Life (by Jacqueline Goulbourne)

Imagine a world where you can make a cartoon avatar of yourself and do whatever you like in an international community of English speakers.

Well, it already exists, in Taiwan where I have spent most of my career teaching,  it's called ‘World of Warcraft‘ and the mission of almost every parent of teenagers there to wrest their kids off of it!  But imagine if something similar existed, primarily for education, business and sex.  That exists too and I’m fairly certain that it’s nothing we’d really want to get students involved in.

I’m sure many of you disagree and are using Second Life in your practice to good effect, so my intent is not to disrespect your work, but to explain the problems I have with Second Life and other such virtual worlds.

I first experimented with Second Life in 2003 when friends of mine had set up an experimental teacher training space.  I didn’t really get interested.  More recently I came across Second Life in a wee teacher training course I’m doing.  I fought against my inherent tendency to not engage with things that don’t resonate with me and decided to ‘join in’ and not be such a negative Nancy.  Although I have an aversion to ‘virtual worlds’ and to speaking through machines in any way (I don’t use telephones) I put this aside in order to try and retrieve any babies in this bathwater.

I Googled up Second Life and was met with this screen:

[screenshot from https://join.secondlife.com/ ]

The user sees this screen with avatars that can be chosen.  Your avatar can be customised later on but I immediately took real exception to the prototype avatars that were presented for customisation.  These include a slightly scary rabbit, a robot and lots of white kids who clearly resembled extras from a 90s vampire film.  The only black woman present is wearing a short dress with a flower in her hair and high heeled shoes - a very different aesthetic to the white women presented.  One of the men has a shirt open to show rippling pecs but generally, the male figures are covered up.  For me, it doesn’t represent an acceptable aesthetic to present to students in my care, particularly young women.

There are two strands to my  misgivings: firstly the absence of ethnic diversity and secondly, the overt sexualisation of young women, in the Second Life avatar choices.   As a teacher joining in, I tried to choose an avatar that could represent my self without making myself ridiculous.  I’m 37, pretty fat, greying, and generally get dressed in the dark.  My choices ranged from avatars that mostly looked like a 14 year old version on myself: pale skinned, bone thin, and dressed in black with lots of eyeliner and it seemed undignified and self-abasing. 

I’m not scarred by the experience. But then I’m a confident, English-speaking adult.  I can articulate why I don’t want to be this 1990 version of myself and tried to change it.  Can we expect young, perhaps not so good at English students to raise their own misgivings to their educators or will they simply go along with what the teacher, or the authority wants them to do?  Thinking back to my time teaching junior high school girls in Taiwan, none of those prototype avatars is of Han Chinese or any other Taiwanese ethnicities.

What’s the message here?

White people (and the token African American) own English. You are different. Go get yourself a white identity to join our English-speaking world!

OK, yes, you can choose to brown/yellow/black up later if you want to, but that’s not the standard issue human in this community.

Don’t we want our students to come and sit at the table as equals? To join the English-speaking communities that they are passionate about?

In my Real Life classes, every kid is a beautiful prototype of the individual they want to become as they are: be they fat or thin, with braces, wearing unsexy clothes - with a wonderful inheritance of Chinese ethnicity, not something to be tagged on later, once they have chosen their ‘core’ avatar.

Am I over-thinking this?

Perhaps, but if we use these tools in the classroom, we are also raising the question of who ‘owns’ English.  We have to ask who funds a lot of these communities and to what business or political ends?  To promote ELT as a British, Australian, White American/European activity?  Why?

Is that congruent with our principles, desirable for our personal teaching contexts?

Cartoon images hurt as much as photographic images.

As a teacher I’m rarely didactic and I know I can’t change the world, but I am absolutely committed to making every child  in my care feel like they can be whoever they want to be and that includes valuing and celebrating every child’s individuality and identity and not promoting certain images as a norm within an educational context.

Jackie has been a teacher for 15 years, around the world,
but mostly in Taiwan.

English: time 4 a revamp?

Nothing so amazes me more than the fact, that despite so many other languages havie large governing bodies which analyze, stay on top of and make changes to their language in order to better fit the times, that English doesn't.

I think we should, especially as its reach extends across the globe.

If I could change the English language., then I would

- add an extra grammatical tense:  The "Ever Present" Tense
  • it annoys me somewhat to tell students to use the present for "habits, permanence, facts." If it's for all time, then there should be a specific tense that refers to this because for most people, present = now.

- I'd add two extra pronouns to reflect gender reality.
  • heshe and shehe

- I'd also love to revamp spelling entirely to make it better reflect the way words sound
  • if the ch sounds like an sh, it should be an sh
  • regular past tense endings are a waste of time teaching.  Why not write workt not worked, filld not filled - loaded can stay loaded.

What do you think?  Any bug-bears you've noticed while teaching our fair language?  What would you change if you could?


image credit
Teaching an old dog new tricks by Fouquier on Flickr

Extrinsic "VS" or "AND" Intrinsic Motivation?

In the last couple of weeks prior to restarting classes, I've been watching a lot of television. The weather's not been particularly nice and I'm too poor to do anything else.  That's the downside to being a student at my age, I guess.  The upside is: imagine the best conference you've ever been to and think of one of the great presentations - one that has really had an impact on your teaching... now imagine that instead of a 45 minute session you get to have access to months of amazing lectures, group discussions and articles to read to follow up and challenge yourself with.  So, poverty is worth it, I guess.

But anyway, back to TV, one of the theme songs, from Weeds, has become a real earworm.  It goes, for those of you who don't know it,

"Little Boxes, little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and yellow one 
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same..."

The song makes me think about motivation, a lot.  Or maybe I was thinking about it before the song and it just drummed it in.  We all know that learning doesn't happen without motivation.  But what is it really?   Where does it come from?

Usually, it gets boiled down into three categories:

Extrinsic Motivation (external influences)
e.g. money, rewards, good grades, trophies, certificates, job position

Intrinsic Motivation (internal influences)
e.g. enjoyment of a task, passion, a drive to seek challenges, autonomy, inherent satisfaction

Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something simply because it is enjoyable while extrinsic motivation is more about getting a specific value or outcome based on what you have done (Ryan and Deci, 2000).

Amotivation is basically when you can't be bothered.

It has also been determined, through extensive empirical research by Deci & Ryan, Vallerand and others over the decades, that extrinsic rewards put a damper on intrinsic motivation.   I think though, that we have to be a bit cautious with this sort of thinking as it could very easily lead one into an assumption that extrinsic motivation is bad and that intrinsic motivation is best.  A dangerous position I feel, because for the most part, whether we like it or not, our adult language learners are more likely to come to us extrinsically motivated than intrinsically.

They want to learn English to integrate into society, to get a job promotion, to ensure job security, to get a better pay cheque, to speak to their foreign colleagues and close the deal.  If not this then they want to know that when they go on holiday, they won't get lost.  Sure, there are a handful of housewives who just fancy learning it, but usually because someone else told them it is the "thing" to do. And the teens mostly just want to pass the course, get the certificate, and get on with life.

So where it all gets a bit sticky for me, is that sometimes our extrinsically motivated learners really enjoy learning.  Why not, after all?  Sometimes we teachers can inspire them and sometimes their colleagues do and sometimes they develop an interest for the language - but all this interest and high from learning a second language does not take away their primary extrinsic goals.

In more recent research, Ryan and Deci have made a point of re-examining extrinsic motivation more closely, placing extrinsic motivation on a continuum and have created this taxonomy:

The idea is that learners can be in a state of external regulation (wanting rewards or avoiding criticism), or one of introjected regulation (constraints are internalized and set by the learner).  Identified regulation means that the behavior is thought of as being self-determined and finally the last type is integrated regulation - the person learns willingly because it fits in with the rest of the life activities and life goals (Vallerand, 1992).

Despite the fact that there is so much literature on extrinsic and intrinsic motivations and I'll continue reviewing it all, I really can't help but wonder if motivation is not actually something quite fluid. Can't you (or our learners) be one type and the next day, another?

But more importantly, if by categorizing motivation into boxes and then onto further hazy sub-boxes, might we be missing out on the fact that humans are infinitely complex creatures who can be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated at exactly the same time?

What d'ya think?


image credits:
plant fondo oscuro by eric caballero

Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25, 54-67.

Vallerand, R. & Bissonnette, R. (1992). Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Amotivational Styles as Predictors of Behavior: A Prospective Study. Journal of Personality. 60:3. 599-620.

Sweet Words vs Monstrosities

More than a century ago, Henry Sweet wrote The Practical Study of Languages and through it, criticized the existing methods of the day, much as we still do now.   The book's myth-busting objectives reviews phonetics, alphabets and pronunciation issues before diving into methods, grammar, vocabulary and texts. 

In fact, while scanning through the text, I honestly couldn't help but think I bet he'd have been a blogger if he were around today.  His prose is tight, easy to read and the language direct.

His obvious annoyance at the 'insufficient knowledge of the science of language' (1899:3) like my own, literally jumps off the page.  Given that this post is part 2 of No Evidence for a Fixed Aquisition Order, I'll hone in on this one quote which I wanted to share with you, for reflection, as it neatly wraps up the debate on authenticity vs manufactured texts:

...the dilemma is that if we try to make our texts embody certain definite grammatical categories, the texts cease to be natural: they become either trivial, tedious and long-winded, or else they become more or less monstrosities' (1899:192).

Really sounds like he was describing Headway long before it ever arrived to influence all the other copy-cat productions from then on and into today.  The question is though, will it influence tomorrow's or can we teachers at least try to stop it before it does?


Image credit
Wikimedia commons, wolf in sheep's clothing

Sweet, H. (1899). The Practical Study of Languages.  London, UK. J.M. Dent & Co.
(Available for free online from Google Books)

Fixed Acquisition Order? = No Evidence

I'm busily packing up the stack of books I used for my MA assignment on Methods and Approaches while looking into authentic materials, yet before I take them on back to the library, I thought I'd share a little snippet I came across.

It's this:

"Very briefly, there is substantial research evidence to support the use in language learning of the linguistically rich, culturally faithful and potentially emotive input supplied by authentic texts. What is more, there is little evidence of a fixed acquisition order, which is the rationale for the use of phased language instruction and which is often used to repudiate the use of authentic texts for language learning.  (Mishan, 2005:11)

So not to harp on about all this again but what gets me when I read this is if publishers and textbook authors aren't simply churning out carbon copies of each other, albeit with ever glossier, shinier pictures than the last lot, then why do these tomes always start off and carry on virtually the same way?

Why do teachers teach the verb to be, there is/there are, present-tense followed by present-continuous, question words, prepositions of time and place and adverbs of frequency* and so on and so forth, ad infinitum?

And to top it all off, horror of all horrors, why do so many students think this must be the way to learn a language?

Did we come to this ideology because the holy books have logos on them, thus convincing us that there were at some point, a bunch of wise and saintly academic authorities who like monks in monasteries, researched language acquisition before writing up their commandments?  Who made this "order" - who publicized it? Who pushed it?  Where did it come from?

Have our beloved and not so loved at all textbook authors ever done any research into whether this "order" works or not, feel free to state your claim if so, or have they too assumed it to be so because their editor (or his boss) said so?  I do really want to know... if this phased language instruction has ever been tested scientifically, systemically, qualitatively, quantitatively, longitudinally and by whom because I'll happily eat my hat if you can prove it so.  Show me, please, where are the peer-reviewed research articles documenting the processes that occur and don't occur - why folks must learn just so?  Surely, truly, it can not be that with almost one third of the world now learning English and millions of others learning other languages that we still can't answer this rather simple and professional question? 

Or is our industry made up of snake-oil salesmen dancing in pale moonlight?

Of course not.  But nonetheless, I'm not kidding, be it down to good intentions or not, this billion-dollar grossing industry can not really have just been compiled on good faith alone, or can it?

Because it seems so.

Today, despite that I now have access to fields of journals I will tell you that not for a want of trying can I find one single verified report showing brain scans done on language learners proving on any kind of level that the brain receives and organizes grammatical structures this way.  Countless snoringly dull case studies and endless fascinating assessments to wade through that go into the depths of our practices and into what makes a good language learner and what doesn't, what strategies teachers can get students to employ, the effects of motivation, aptitude, age and gender studies and how there really is no best method, no there isn't... and yet, nope, nary a word on this so called fixed acquisition order, stage by stage and step by step, despite the fact that so many of us somehow continue to hail the god of grammar.

Were we sold a Brooklyn Bridge and made to sell it on classroom by classroom?

Time to wise up, folks, methinks.


Image credit:
The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City by Webfan29 at en.wikipedia


Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials.  Bristol, UK: intellect.
Prabu, N. (1990). There Is No Best Method - Why? TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 24, no.2.  161-176.

Other posts
Reasons I don't like textbooks

How did English become the Global Language?

One of the things I did today was comment on Scott Thornbury's blog post, O is for Ownership... and in my ramblings I talked about how sometimes ideas are out there, floating about in the greater Universe, simply lurking, waiting to be captured by he who listens and is prepared to act.  (It's that sort of day).

Those sorts of thoughts come, I guess though, from my youth when I was a NewAger and instead of being a reflective English teacher and practitioner or even a student,  I wrote NewAge articles philosophizing on the questions of one's path through life - instead of

"How do we learn?" "What is motivation?"
"How can the new technologies help us teach Speaking?' I wondered how we transformed from monkeys to... well, whatever we are now.

Even though it was a long, long, long, long time ago and many years have passed since those days of adventure, climbing up into volcanoes and knocking back beers while lying on Asian sandy beaches, curled up around men with long wise beards in front of dimming fires while arguing over the very nature of our beingness, the story, no matter how fantastical, of the 100th Monkey never really left me.

So today, through the rambling stroll of a streaming mind, the philosophy that we learn from those around us, consciously, subconsciously and through the trawling of multi-dimensional layered communications recorded in the shared higher consciousness, I am led to only this question:

How did English become today's one Global Language?

Okay, it's not completely, yet it surely is on the way.  By 2020, a prediction not a fact, a greater majority will speak it than those who don't, right?  It isn't the easiest language.  Nor the prettiest.  It is instead a messy code, made up of archaic irregularities, tortuous, nonsensical rules and ridiculous tongue-defying pronunciations.

So what on earth, or beyond earth, happened to set this particular meme into play?

When did the Tipping Point occur?

Who were the players, who washed the first sweet potato, who made washing it important? Who decided that English should take the place of Esperanto?  Was it life itself?  Was it a bunch of academics studying applied linguistics unraveling the codices of the brain and because they happened to be English speaking, while sharing the nature of our brains ability to learn, the onus was on English to prove the hypotheses... or was it the availability of native English speakers racing across a globe to have an adventure while earning a little cash?

Was it a curtain coming down or a wall falling down?  Was it the Almighty Dollar or Nike's abuse of children in factories? Was it Coca-cola's fault or a legion of British soldiers conquering a New World?

How did it all happen so fast?

We talk about our students' needs to learn English but somehow we don't ask how that need arose in the first place.

Does anyone have thoughts or theories?

image credit: colobus monkey by garthimage

Does Gender-Segregation in Classroom Lower Second Language Acquisition?

(Guest post by Brittany Lyons)

For decades, proponents of gender-segregation in classrooms have argued that separation of children by gender fosters a successful learning atmosphere. However, recent studies have shown that segregating classrooms by gender impacts student learning negatively.

The negative effects of separate classrooms are apparent in linguistics especially, where girls tend to develop strong academic abilities earlier than boys. Establishing gender-segregated classrooms denies boys and girls the opportunity to learn from each other, and reinforces the long-ago debunked idea that "separate but equal" is effective in institutions of learning.

Research conducted at Tel Aviv University suggests that girls help foster a stronger learning atmosphere in classrooms, and that both boys and girls benefit from being in mixed gender classes. The study found that test scores were higher overall in many areas, including reading comprehension, science and math, when boys and girls were in mixed classes. Test scores increased for both genders, and a high ratio of girls was linked to enhanced learning.

This data is supported by older education studies, which found that girls tend to excel in language arts as young children, while boys consistently develop later. This difference is true of children in many countries, and from many different linguistic backgrounds—not just in English-speaking high-income families with parents who can afford the cost of further education, be this at home, sending their children abroad or even via a distance learning program such as an online PhD education.

Whether the disparities in language acquisition are based in the brain or in upbringing, marked differences do exist between boys and girls, especially in elementary school classrooms. Listening to their female peers speak and interacting with them during classroom and playground activities helps boys to develop stronger language arts skills.

Schools who have attempted to institute gender-segregated classrooms have often seen an overall decrease in test scores, which shows that gender-segregation in schools is not effective for either boys or girls.

Another chief drawback of segregated classrooms is that they do not allow children to share their knowledge and experience with each other, but rather perpetuate gender-based cultural disparities. Learning how to interact with different people is seen as a key goal of education, especially in early childhood. Children who are deprived of the chance to interact with peers of different genders may have trouble relating to or communicating with individuals of the opposite gender later in life.

Many psychologists who focus on child and adolescent development have voiced concern that gender-segregated classrooms impact the social skills of students well into adulthood. They perpetuate unfounded stereotypes about how men and women are different, and contribute to gender-based prejudice.

The effects of gender-segregated teaching can have an impact on older students as well. Decreases in test scores occur in single-gender classrooms in both middle and high school, and grade point averages in general fall. This decrease in GPA can adversely affect students as they apply for college and scholarship opportunities. Depriving students of their best chances to enter excellent colleges and secure funding does them a disservice. The goal of public education should be to prepare individuals for successful careers and successful relationships, both of which are harmed by gender segregation.

Many of the ideas that proponents of gender-segregated classrooms have introduced into public discourse are nothing but old prejudices in new forms. These individuals argue that boys and girls are inherently different, and that they should thus be separated in classrooms. They argue that boys are more aggressive than girls, and that girls can only learn in cooperative environments. As the American Civil Liberties Union has noted in lawsuits against school districts with sex-segregated classrooms, none of these beliefs have been substantiated by science.

  • But what do you think - should boys and girls be separated? Why or why not?
  •  Have you noticed any differences in the way that males and females learn languages?

Blog post author
Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog. 

Image credit
Wikimedia commons, Daytona School

#Twitterspam works because...

most people are actually,


To be a spammer in 2011, you have to major in Human Psychology?

Practice makes perfect?

I mean there is a sort of cleverness in their approach, isn't there?

I seen a real bad blog about you. http://link2avirus

Have you seen this photo of you? http://going2wreckhavoconURcomputer

Check out this video with you in it! http://love2spam

Given the amount of people who spam me each week, because their accounts have been hacked BECAUSE they were silly enough to click through on one of these..  I think I've got to stop wondering how/why people are silly enough to fall for this trap and got to start slapping some kudos on the devious as they definitely know how to get folks caught in their webs.

If I can apply this to anything in terms of my professional development as an educator, then I'd have to say it really emphasizes my belief that learning has to be personal to prick, to stick.  

But anyway, folks, seriously, read and take note:

If you get this sort of message from someone you don't know, don't click on it.  

Wise up!


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