Approaching Marketing Concepts from a CLT perspective

Written by: Roxana Ciolăneanu, Assistant Lecturer
Mihaela Ivan, Lecturer
Academy of Economic Studies Bucharest
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Starting from the idea that the main difference between teaching General English and teaching ESP lies in the learners and their purpose for learning, we intend to develop an approach of exploiting Marketing Concepts for ESP teaching by using authentic video materials. ESP focuses more on language in the context than on grammar and language structures. This is why we have to provide our students with the appropriate context, thus combining subject matter and English language teaching. Our students find this highly motivating because they can apply in real-life situations what they learn during in-class activities.
Introduction
English for Specific Purposes (ESP) represents a special branch of English due to its application to various specialized domains. It is a well-established fact that language is a conveyer of our thoughts, intentions, knowledge, purposes etc. It is the main code through which people can express themselves and communicate with others. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that communicative competence in language teaching means more than a simple linguistic interaction in the target language.
In this particular case of English for Marketing, we have chosen to illustrate the way in which some marketing concepts can be taught from a Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) perspective, starting from the idea that our students are highly motivated when they discover the relevance of in-class activities for real-life situations.

Theoretical Considerations

CLT is, in our opinion, one of the most appropriate approaches in teaching marketing concepts since it is based on two essential ideas: one the one hand, it focuses on the concept of communicative competence (Hymes 1971), and on the other hand, it emphasises the use of authentic materials in language teaching.
The concept of communicative competence has made career in language studies. It goes back as early as 1965 when Chomsky, for the first time, distinguished between competence (knowledge of language) and performance (language used in specific situations). Hymes renames Chomsky’s performance as communicative competence and defines it as the type of competence that includes both grammatical rules and rules of language use, thus emphasising the social, interactive and negotiating process that language involves. Canale and Swain (1980) and Canale (1983), following Hymes, go into more detail and design a four-dimension model of communicative competence: grammatical competence (words and rules, “knowledge of lexical items and of rules of morphology, syntax, sentence-grammar semantics, and phonology” (Canale and Swain 29)), discourse competence (cohesion and coherence: the ability to connect sentences in order to come up with a meaningful whole composed of a series of utterances), sociolinguistic competence ( judged in terms of appropriateness of the discourse, it involves knowledge of the socio-cultural rules of language and of discourse) and strategic competence (strategies to compensate for breakdowns in communication: “the verbal and nonverbal communication strategies that may be called into action to compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or due to insufficient competence” (Canale and Swain 30)). Later on, in 1990, Bachman reorganizes all these subdivisions into two large categories: organisational competence (grammatical and discourse competence) and pragmatic competence (sociolinguistic and illocutionary competence). Irrespective of the way various authors classify the types of communicative competence, what is really important is the fact that this type of competence is a key concept in teaching foreign languages for specific purposes and it is the main purpose of this type of classes. Ellis’ definition wonderfully summarises the essence of communicative competence in the following definition: “the knowledge that users of a language have internalised to enable them to understand and produce messages in the language” (Ellis 696).
The second as important aspect that CLT approach is based on and that allows the internalisation which Ellis was speaking about, is the use of authentic materials, that is “materials that have been produced to fulfil some social purpose in the language community” (Peacock 1997). The use of authentic materials in the classroom is discussed with a view to facilitating the students’ exposure and access to the real language, used in a real context. They are designed for native speakers and contain “real” language, as opposed to non-authentic materials, which are based on pedagogical principles and contain artificial language; they are designed for language learning purposes in the context of school only. Some other authors (Jacobson, Degener, Purcell-Gates vi-vii) define authentic materials as “learner-contextualised” materials in contrast with “decontextualized” materials that are created only for teaching and learning purposes. Another difference between authentic and non-authentic materials consists of the focus each of these two types of material places: understanding the meaning vs. understanding the form. Authentic materials give students the possibility to come in contact with real language and content rather than form and they feel that they are learning the target language as it is used outside the classroom.
Having mentioned all these preliminary general principles and, at the same time, having motivated our choice, in the following sections of this paper, we will develop a model for using authentic video material in Business English classes.
Important factors in choosing authentic video material
It is precisely because students feel that they come in contact with the language used outside the classroom that we have to be careful when we choose the source of authentic materials.
In establishing the criteria for selecting the appropriate authentic video material we follow the criteria that Berardo (Berado 63) developed for choosing authentic reading material, adapted to the purpose of this paper:
Suitability of Content: Does the video material interest the student?
Is it relevant to the students’ needs?
Does it represent the type of situation that the student will be involved in outside the classroom?
Exploitability: Can the video material be exploited for teaching purposes?
For what purpose should the video be exploited?
What skills/strategies can be developed by exploiting the video material?
Understandability: Is the material easy/difficult for the student?
Is it structurally too demanding/complex?
How much new vocabulary does it contain? Is it relevant?
Presentation: Does it “look” authentic?
Is it “attractive”?
Does it grab the students’ attention?
Does it make them want to watch more?
Using authentic video material in the classroom – advantages and disadvantages
Using authentic video materials in the classroom is a complex thing to do. Besides the many obvious advantages, there are also some disadvantages of this approach.
The most important advantage is that students are exposed to real discourse, and this leads to multiple results: informational, i.e. the students and the teacher are informed about what is happening in the world; their language knowledge is updated, in the sense that they become aware of language changes; they come across unconventional, incidental, English. Exposing our students to real discourse, we give them the possibility to get a sense of achievement by encouraging them to take part in the activity for pleasure and by giving them the chance to have their say about the topics introduced through the selected authentic materials.
The disadvantages that may appear are related, on the one hand, by the available logistics (if the lab is appropriately equipped or not) and, on the other hand, by the content itself, which can be culturally biased, thus difficult to understand outside the language community or which can become easily outdated. Natural flow of language and the accent might also create problems to students. Unnecessary vocabulary or mixed structures might appear, leading to the risk of putting students off. As for the teacher, using authentic materials in class is time consuming, because it requires a lot of preparation beforehand, but it is also rewarding afterwards.

Using authentic materials in teaching marketing concepts

The activity chosen to accomplish the purpose of this paper is based on Donald Trump’s show on NBC, “The Apprentice”, season 6, episode 4 (aired on 28 January), “Drive-Thru Duel”. We had three goals in mind that led to making this choice. First of all, it facilitates task-based and project-based teaching. Secondly, it presents the act of designing a marketing plan and the stages it consists of. Last but not least, it contributes to the internalisation and confidently use of the key concepts related to this topic, among which we mention: marketing plan, marketing strategy, brand name, target market, marketing mix (product, price, place and promotion), advertising appeal.
From a methodological point of view, the activity must be divided into relevant stages so that the students can respond effectively to the tasks they are given to accomplish. Thus, we have followed the traditional approach to video activities and we established three stages: “before you watch”, “video on” and “follow up” activities.
Before moving on to the actual description of the activity, it has to be mentioned that this lesson is intended for B2/C1 students, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

“Before you watch” activities

This first stage consists of two activities: introducing the situation and the main characters and solving a vocabulary exercise, both intended to familiarise students with the “case study” and the related vocabulary. This is essential since the students need to know the situation very well, the characters’ names, their previous achievements and, most importantly, their motivation for taking part in this contest-show. In order to keep the description short, we will mention here only the contestants’ motivations for their decisions.

Situation: Kinetic and Arrow (the two teams) compete to cook up custom chicken dishes and design creative marketing plans for El Pollo Loco restaurant chain.
Characters:
Aaron, 25 – He thinks he should be the next apprentice because of his “passion for real estate along with his personal integrity, resilience and humility.”
Aimee, 32 – “I should be the next Apprentice because I am wicked smart, tenacious and have insightful interpersonal skills as well as a high level of integrity.”
Derek, 34 – He thinks he should be the next Apprentice because he’s “not afraid to take risks and make my voice heard. While I generally respect boundaries, I’m never afraid to overstep them for the sake of advancement of a good idea.”
Heidi, 26 – “Because the Trump Organization has many dealings that cross geographic and cultural lines, my impressive record of winning new business relationships on a worldwide level makes me the ideal Apprentice.”
Marisa, 28 – “I should be the next Apprentice because my legal and political background have enabled me to take on many changes and achieve success, and these experiences will allow me to showcase my leadership ability in addition to my strong work ethic.”
Surya, 24 – Surya believes that he should be the next Apprentice because he “can operate with the same passion and energy of an entrepreneur and bring along the discipline and the savvy of a corporate executive.”

This stage allows the teacher to have their students make future predictions about which team they think will win this contest and give reasons for their predictions. The teacher is also supposed to teach students the basic vocabulary related to this activity. Here it is a possible model of such a vocabulary exercise:
Match the words or phrases in bold to the definitions next to them:

  1. “We want to bounce that off with you, guys”.
  2. “I think Marisa has no idea how abrasive she can come up.”
  3. “I can’t just sit back and go with this status quo.”
  4. “I will descend when I think something is wrong.”
  5. “I think we need to go with Bravado.”
  6. “We’re going from outhouse to penthouse.”
  7. “Would you like to take one to go?
  8. “Frank and Tim were responsible to get bulk sales; two of my best men, out in the field, to drum up the business, that’s not guaranteed.”
  9. “We need to run in efficiency in order to actually sell this.”
  10. This is a done deal, right?
  11. “What did you think of your ultimate concoction?
  12. “Marisa said she was going to head up our advertising efforts.”
  13. “I had a great idea, thinking outside the box, a big idea that ultimately was shut down very early on.”
  14. “I’m going to vocalise my opposition when I think that it’s important.”
  15. “I think Marisa had a leg to stand on you, guys.”
a.the state of a situation as it is;
b.to be in charge;
c.to accept someone’s idea or plan;
d.to talk about your ideas with someone in order to get their opinion;
e.a catchphrase used to refer to looking at a problem from a new perspective without preconceptions, sometimes called a process of lateral thought;
f.rude or unkind;
g. to become efficient;
h.an agreement that has been made and cannot be changed;
i.condescend: do something that one considers to be below one’s dignity;
j.something, especially a drink or food, made by mixing different things, especially things that are not usually combined;
k.the sale at a set discount of many products of the same kind;
l.to have arguments against one’s opinion;
m.on their way to success;
n. express or state clearly;
o.get more work and sales;
p.to prevent an opposing team or player from playing well or getting points;
q.(of food or drink from a restaurant or cafe) to be eaten or drunk off the premises.

“Video on” activities
Since the whole video is too long for the temporal limits of one single class, we have selected only the parts relevant for the purpose of this lesson. This is the reason why we should use the term semi-authentic materials instead of authentic materials, because the students are not exposed to the full length of the chosen episode. In this stage, the students, organised in teams, are supposed to develop the tasks that the real teams are developing:

The task (8.15-9.16)
Mr. Trump summoned the teams to a scenic overlook in the Hollywood Hills. Flanked by last year’s Apprentice winner, Sean, and the two executives of El Pollo Loco restaurant chain, Mr. Trump establishes the task: create, market and sell a new “pollo bowl” for the drive-thru chain.

Students’ task (team work): to design their own “pollo bowl” and establish their marketing strategy.

Marketing strategies (9.16-18.25)
Arrow, the first team, has a fast start; they concocted a tasty “Chicken Tortilla Bowl” and designed a robust strategy, based on a special offer, for marketing and sales. Aaron, who is the project manager, risks and sends out two of his best men to drum up bulk orders and the strategy pays off since they returned with a 22-bowl order.
Kinetic, the second team, cooked something unusual, combining mango, pineapple and classic chicken into a dish called “Paradise Pollo Bowl.” However, the problems appeared when Marisa, who was in charge of marketing suggests a strategy that meets with group disapproval. They had a slow start, and their strategy focused on free samples and the power of persuasion of the cashiers.

Students’ task: 1. compare their suggestions regarding the appropriate marketing strategy to the competitors’
2. judge the performance of the two teams and establish the winners.

Results and reward (18.25-21.28)
In the boardroom Sean says that Kinetic had a limited marketing strategy, earning only $313, whereas Arrow, through an inspired marketing strategy, earned $418. They are rewarded by being sent to a private beach in Malibu where Andrea Bocelli will give a concert, followed by a fireworks display, created especially for them.


Students’ task: 1. they confront their comments with those made in the boardroom and express their agreement or disagreement.
2. they made their final decision: who is going to be fired and why?

Trump’s final decision
In the boardroom, Sean once again criticised Kinetic’s marketing strategy. Marisa defended herself by accusing her team of shutting down all her big ideas. When asked by Trump who should be fires, everyone said Marisa, so he utters the well known sentence: “Marisa, you are fired!”

This stage gives the students the possibility to develop and accomplish task-based activities, following the tasks established by Donald Trump. What is all the more important is the fact that the students have the chance to make their own decisions, their own plans, and then to compare them to what happened in the real situation. Hence, they can decide which decisions are better and why, what are the reasons behind these decisions and how they are different from theirs (if they are).

“Follow up” activity

In our opinion, the best follow up activity is a project that the students have to work on in teams: all the teams will receive the same task, similar to the one discussed, and they will be asked to design an appropriate marketing strategy for it. Next class they will report back to class and they will decide together which team came up with the best idea.

Conclusions

Communicative competence is one of the main desiderata in the foreign language classes since one of the buzzwords in the contemporary society is communication. Thus, we have to provide our students with every instrument that helps them be successful and effective. The approach discussed here, Communicative Language Teaching, seems to be of great help in this respect. The very fact that it is based on authentic materials opens great opportunities to develop students’ communicative competence in the target language, thus fulfilling their needs, expectations and interests. Moreover, it makes its contribution to the development of their ability to give authentic responses to authentic situations. At a higher and more general level, CLT motivates students and creates self-confidence and desire to learn for life.
References:

  • Berardo, S.A., 2006, “The Use of Authentic Materials in the Teaching of Reading”, in The Reading Matrix, vol. 6, no. 2, www.readingmatrix.com
  • Canale, M. and M. Swain, 1980, “Theoretical Bases of Communicative Approaches to second language teaching and testing”, in Applied Linguistics, vol. I, no. 1, Oxford: OUP.
  • Ellis, R., 1994, The Study of Second Language Acquistion, Oxford: OUP.
  • Hymes, D., 1973, “On Communicative Competence”, in Sociolinguistics, Pride and Holmes (Eds.), Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Jacobson, E., S. Degener, V., Purcell-Gates, 2003, Creating Authentic Materials amd Activities for the Adult Literacy Classroom, NCSALL (National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy).
  • A Framework for Teaching and Learning, in Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, OUP, www.oup.com/elt
  • www.tv.com/the_apprentice/drive_thru_duel/
  • http://tv.yahoo.com/the_apprentice/show/35539
  • http://www.nbc.com/The_Apprentice_6/

Journals in the foreign language classroom

Written by: Scott J Baxter, University of Minnesota, Crookston
scott.baxter@gmail.comhttp://scott.baxter.googlepages.com/home
Abstract: In this paper I describe some of the ways that journals can be used as teaching tools in the foreign language classroom. I begin by describing the concept of writing to learn, which is the theoretical foundation that journals are based on. After that, I give some practical advice for using journals in the classroom. Finally, I end the paper with advice and opinions from some students at the American University of Bulgaria.
Writing to Learn

One way to begin is by thinking about the concept of writing to learn. But, rather than starting with a definition of the concept, I would like to start with a thought experiment. If someone asked you to grab a piece of paper and jot down an answer to the question, what things are important to me as a teacher, what would you say? Perhaps you would write about the things you want your students to learn. Or maybe you would write about what sort of atmosphere you like to have an your classroom. Or perhaps you would write about the factors that led to your becoming a teacher.
If you had, in fact, grabbed a piece of paper and jotted down some information, you would have been doing a type of writing called writing to learn.Writing to learn is thinking as you write. And this thinking as you write is the kind of writing that happens when people keep journals.
Writing to learn is based on the assumption that students’ thought and understanding can grow and clarify through the process of writing. And this growth in thought and understanding can certainly happen in the foreign language classroom.
Writing to learn is usually contrasted with writing to communicate. Writing to communicate is the sort of graded writing that is usually assigned in classrooms. Art Young (1999, p. 14), describes seven differences between writing to learn and writing to communicate. First, writing to communicate emphasizes discovery thinking, as opposed to critical thinking. Second, the emphasis is on developing ideas rather than revising, crafting, or clarifying. Third, the writing is designed to make sense primarily to the writer, rather than a reader. Fourth, the audience is self and trusted others, rather than a distant audience. Fifth, the language can be personal, rather than academic and formal. Sixth, the teacher plays the role or mentor or coach rather than judge. And, finally, the forms include things like journals, blogs, and rough drafts rather than graded essays, reports, or business letters.
This list of seven differences is one way to think about how writing to learn and writing to communicate are different from each other. Another way to think about what writing to learn is illustrated by Christine Casanave and Miguel Sosa:
“An intermediate or high-intermediate second language student (you, your students), bored by textbook exercises, longs to be challenged by something more interesting, which almost always means something more difficult and more interactive and almost always something outside the conventional school setting. Like the scholar and the piano student, the second language student experiences the world in complex ways, multidimensionally and multimodally, through body and mind. In the language class, we can draw on these experiences—what the student at some level already knows. To express the complexities of her lived experiences and embodied cultural knowledge and then to communicate with others both within and outside her own culture, she must merge experiences, emotions, images, beliefs, and sensations with language, squeezing out lines of words in speech and writing and letting the spoken and written words build on each other. But if she is doing this in her L2, she must hold to a belief that may make her fearful at first–she must believe that she does not have to wait until her language is error-free in order to transform her experiences and complex thoughts into lines of words. The lines do not need to be long. The grammar does not need to be perfect. They do need to connect with the student’s mind, body, and experience. She also needs to be convinced that there is a receptive audience consisting of other people who are interested in what she has to say. In other words, she must be convinced that someone (in our example, a teacher and peers) is interested enough in her to listen well to her words and to help her put them into coherent lines that can be shared with others” (Casanave, 2007).

Advice
Having described what writing to learn is, let me now offer some advice about using journals in the classroom. Art Young is one of  the world’s expert’s on the topic of journals. He says

“But probably my best advice on journals is to make regular, frequent use of them in class. Teachers new to journals sometimes assign them on the first day of class, require maybe three entries a week, and then don’t mention them again until midterm. When they read them, they realize that the journals are the product of a marathon writing session the night before, complete with properly identified different dates. Journals need to be integrated into the fabric of a course.”
Young continues by saying “… Students learn that journals are valuable, not just “busywork,” because they are used daily as students and teacher build the knowledge of the course” (Young, 2006, p. 16).

To add to Youngs advice, I offer seven suggestions:
First, ask students to buy a notebook they can easily carry around in their backpacks. Inspiration for a journal entry might come to them at any time, and they are more likely to write in their journal outside of class if it is easy for them to carry it with them wherever they go.
Second, the language of the journal could be English, but it could also be their first langauge (L1). Or it could have both. For advanced students, it makes sense to have them use the target language. For beginners, a journal in their native language might be a place where they can express their feelings without having to worry about remembering difficult grammar or vocabulary.
Third, collect them and read the journals on a regular basis. But do not correct. If you feel you should respond, then talk about something you liked. Remember that “In a language class, in the end, everything boils down to the same question: can you use language to convey whatever your thoughts are? … can you express something about yourself, your ideas, your curiosities, and questions?” (Casanave 2007).
Fourth, leave a blank page between entries for room to comment later. Class time could be devoted to having students read and re-read entries and respond to what they have written. In my experience, students really enjoy having a chance to comment on their own growth and development in the journal.
Fifth, encourage students to write about a wide variety of topics, but the topics should always, at least in some way, connect with the class. Making the connection between the class and the larger life of the student can offer a number of creative possibilities.
Sixth, if possible, keep a journal along with your students. Ask your students to write during class time, and write along with them. I kept a journal along with my students. Writing with your students is a powerful model for them. It tells them that the teacher takes the ideas of journals seriously and so should they. Keeping a journal along with your students also helps you see how much time it takes, helps you be reasonable with what you expect, and gives you a clue as to how interesting the prompts are that you give to your students.
Finally, look for ways to use the journal during class time. If you can find ten minutes to give the students a chance to say what they think about today’s class it will make things more engaging for them. Look for ways to connect the journal with what you consider important in the class.
Student Opinions

I think that there is real and genuine value in listening to the voices of the learners. Part of having a learner-centered classroom, at least in my opinion, means hearing the voices of the learners. Hearing the voices of the learners is something that has real value. Those voices, for me, remind me of the reasons I like being a language educator.
In the spring of 2007, I used journals as an integral part of my classes at the American University of Bulgaria. At the end of the semester I asked them to talk about what surprised them and what advice they have for students who are asked to keep journals. To end this paper, I offer three sets of opinions from my students
Student Opinion 1

I was surprised by the ease with which the whole process went. It wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t scary and it didn’t bite me. Probably the most surprising things about keeping a journal was the volume of paper I wasted (whole two trees dead- I feel like a murderer) and the exactness of details kept in my mind. which however have no chance of being released except when a person is with a piece of paper and pen.
Advices: Be creative! Love your journal! Your journal is your friend! (so are trees but you know, this is a journal-tree trade-off) Be specific! Be sincere! Be up to date with entries! Be ready to argue and defend your position! Be ready to make mistakes- both grammatical and spelling- that’s why it’s a journal and not a paper. Write about things you’re interested in and which you like- make it interesting! (make a tree’s death meaningful) (Magdalena, Bulgaria)

Student Opinion 2

At the beginning I did not exactly know what a journal was. I realized that one day as I was reading my journals I compared the ones I had written in the beginning with the ones I had written in the end. They differed so much from each other. The journals I had written in the beginning of the semester were more formal and seemed more like essays. I remember writing them on pieces of paper at the beginning and then in the notebook. Scott told me about that and also while listening to other people and discussing in class I started to change my way of writing journals. I became more open to them and less formal. I started writing using “I” and expressing my exact opinion on everything. And that was the thing I appreciated most. Usually I kept my ideas to myself as I am very shy and sometimes even if I wanted to say something I did not. Writing journals helped me not only ameliorate my writing, an aim that I think I realized, but also it helped me ameliorate as a person. It stimulated my critical thinking and looking at things deeper. I started to look at them from a different perspectives and analyze them more. I found it really helpful either in the developing writing skills perspective or developing self-confidence and being more analytic. I really appreciated it and I am grateful to the professor. I really appreciated his choice and I think every student has to experience writing journals. I actually think that I will continue to write them, even after this class. I will make it a tradition and I will always remember my persuasion class with Scott. (Erka, Albania)

Student Opinion 3

Keeping the journal was probably the best part of the course. At the beginning, I was very skeptical and worried, finding hundred reasons it would be difficult. I understood what a journal meant and for what purpose it was kept. And I made sure from the beginning I make the proper difference between the journal and the diary. But OK, I have to tell what surprised me. Well, first after being asked in my previous Exposition class to write those formal essays with the fixed forms, I felt like I did now know how to write in English anymore.
And we started writing the journal from the beginning, and it was a continuous work. I have to say it was a very good practice. And we were told that the style of writing was free, we could write however we felt like writing, without caring about the form, grammar or spelling. And I understood I did not have problems to write in English as I thought before. Free writing is not just a very good practice (for the written English). In my opinion it is a lot more than that. By opening the journal and starting to write on a topic before prior thinking on what to write, I realized I would come up with some really good thoughts and observations of issues. So it helped us not in just improving our performance in written English, but also in training us to think, to reflect on issues, to think of the problems and try to find solutions, to put thoughts (very straight ones) for another project so we could set the work. I really feel like it helped me a lot, meaning in lot of ways.
And I did not expect this, that is why it surprised me. I did not expect that I could put that much of reflective and valuable writing in my journal. And more than surprised me. I am grateful I had to keep this journal as it made me understand I am not limited in writing English, and I do not really need three days to write a 500-word essay, which will turn out to be not that good. And I am also grateful I had to keep this journal as it made me think of a lot of things I would not think of otherwise.
At the very beginning I thought it would be very hard to come up with topics that would be connected to the class. But it didn’t take me a lot of time until I realized this was not a problem at all. The persuasion class was filled with various activities and we always had something to write about, something we could continue analyzing further, something we could express our concerns about, something we could argue about. Furthermore, we had little projects and papers all the time and the journal was where I started to work on all of these. And I really mean when I say that it helped a lot. Because I felt that the journal was the best place I could express my ideas. I could write a perfect draft in there, I could put the best very first thought in there. And it did not take much time. Because at first we were all stressed thinking that keeping a journal will take us a lot of time. Surprisingly, again it turned out it didn’t. And this all about the free writing. Not just that you make a good writing, but you also finish it for a shorter period of time. And I am grateful for this too. Now, when I had to write my papers it did not take me more than three days. And these papers were even longer than 1000 words or 1500. And as a result they turned out to be better.
So surprisingly, keeping the journal brought back my self- confidence for writing in English. It also helped me broaden out my thoughts, pushing me to think further about stuff and analyze problems. Surprisingly, I felt really good about keeping it and I might consider continuing to keep it (but I admit this will be hard for the mere reason we don’t have much time here). And, lastly, I am grateful for being asked to keep a journal, letting us have it as an obligation, because otherwise we wouldn’t.
I will conclude by giving advices to students who are asked to keep the journal.
I would advise them to accept it from the beginning as a very good opportunity and not to worry about it at all. I would advise them not to think they will waste a lot of time writing the entries. Because they won’t. They will actually gain time as they will become not just better but also faster at writing. And I won’t mention all the other reasons I mentioned above (the helpful skills and improvements one gains from keeping the journal). But for all these reasons, they should understand from the beginning the importance of the journal.
And they will always find topics. I am sure when I say this. The last advice I want to give them is to just start writing, even if they think they don’t have what to say on that topic. The words will come, the ideas too.
I am pretty sure everyone at the end will understand the importance of keeping a journal, but I hope they understand it at the very beginning, so they will enjoy keeping it and never consider it as an obligation. (Arita, Kosovo)

References
Casanave, C.P. & M Sosa. (2007). Respite for Teachers: Reflection and Renewal in the Teaching Life. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Young, A. (1999). Writing Across the Curriculum. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Realizing A Turkish European Language Portfolio

Written by: Rebecca Shaffer, English Preparatory Program Lecturer, Fatih University
Download: Appendix as Adobe .PDF
Abstract

The European language portfolio (ELP) has been established in many European educational institutions to improve student’s effective production of English.  In attempts to provide higher quality English education, the ELP has been adapted for Turkish EFL students at Fatih University.  Two portfolio designs are evaluated and critiqued to get closer to finding an effective Turkish ELP.  The concepts of learner autonomy and self-evaluation are essential to the ELP design.
1. Introduction

How is it that so many EFL students at Turkish universities cannot produce even basic sentences in a language they have studied since youth and will be using in many cases as a medium of higher education?  The problem is partially due to a lack of practical language use, as too much emphasis is placed on grammar rules and formulas.  Perhaps a way to improve students’ effective production of English is to implement and correctly use the European Language Portfolio (ELP) as a pedagogical tool.  The ELP is an opportunity for students to develop and improve their written and spoken English through genuine feedback from the teacher. This paper will first look at what exactly an ELP is according to the Council of Europe. Then, a description of two portfolio design formats used in B2 classes at Fatih University’s English preparatory program in Istanbul, Turkey will follow. The first design, modeled after the Canadian benchmarks (2000) was implemented in the 2003-2004 academic year and an updated design closer to the ELP was fully implemented in 2005.  During the 2005 fall semester, some problems were encountered with this ELP adaptation. In order to address some of these problems a revised version of this ELP adaptation was used in B2 classes in the 2006 spring semester.  The differences between the two designs in student output and comprehensive use of academic English as well as pragmatic functions are clearly evident. This paper will then conclude with an overview of the steps that have been made towards realizing an effective Turkish European Language Portfolio.
2. Description of The European Language Portfolio

What is a portfolio?
According to the Common European Framework, a portfolio is a personal notebook documenting an individual’s cultural and linguistic knowledge, experiences and background. (Council of Europe, 2000)  Thus, an officially approved portfolio can be given as a part of university and job applications. The benefit of such a portfolio is that employers and educators can see the real-life language level of potential employees or students.
The ELP has two main functions: a reporting (assessment) function and a pedagogic function. In other words, the ELP should be not used only as a grading tool but also as an interactive teaching tool.  Included in this portfolio are three sections: 1) the language passport, 2) the language biography and 3) the dossier.  The language passport and language biography provide information about one’s proficiency in different languages as well as cultural experiences in those languages.  The last element, the dossier, gives individuals the opportunity to showcase their language achievements through documents and other selected materials.  (Council of Europe, 2000). The European Language Portfolio for Adult Learners lists the following materials as appropriate inclusions in the dossier: diplomas and certificates from language teaching institutions, letters, photos, mementos, stories, pages of diary, poems, projects, tests, essays, homework, group work, etc (90).
Thus, it is important for language learners to establish strong portfolios for two reasons: 1) to learn a foreign language in a real-world context and 2) to be prepared for educational and employment opportunities in the EU.
EFL instructors can see portfolio as a means to teach their students real-life English as well as provide one-on-one feedback on their written works. They can aid them in self-realization of their errors as well as guide them to better production of English.  Ideally, students could include work completed in our program in their dossier to showcase their language abilities.
3. Comparative portfolios: an old ‘known’ and a newcomer
In attempts to improve the quality of EFL education at Fatih University, a portfolio design adapted from the Canadian Language Benchmarks was implemented in 2003.  The structure of this portfolio design is described below. This design was used for two years and later readapted in 2005 to closer match the ELP given Turkey’s close political relationship with Europe.  Although successful in terms of student improvement, some evident problems were encountered with this adaptation.  In order to experiment with alternative designs, a revised version of the adapted ELP was administered during the second semester of the 2005-2006 academic year.  Both the first ELP adoption fully implemented in the fall semester of 2005 as well as its revised form used in B1 classes (called A-level at Fatih University) during the 2006 spring semester will be discussed in detail. A criticism of the strengths and weaknesses of each design will follow their respective descriptions.
A. An old ‘known’: Portfolio Design One (Fall 2006)
B1 students spend a total of 22 hours in the classroom per week: 4 for writing, 6 for grammar, 4 for listening and 6 for reading.  In addition to these hours, B1 students also spent 2 hours in a portfolio class where they presented their homework assignments in an oral presentation. The assignments and structure of this portfolio is described in detail below:
The Homework:
Students submitted 3 written assignments every week: 1) a summary of a graded reader 2) a summary of a newspaper article and 3) a writing assignment. Also, a grammar element is included in the portfolio as well in which students answer a grammar question asked to them in class, and based on their answer received a score.
In the class:
In 80 minutes of allotted class time the students each gave two-minute oral presentations of their book or newspaper article summaries, sometimes writing assignments. Other students who are listening were randomly asked after each presentation to comment on what their peer discussed for 5 out of 10 points of their own oral presentation.
Additional Projects:
A three-stage revision project was spread throughout the entire academic year. Stage one requires organization of all portfolio work into a dossier.  Stage two entails intensive revision of several major essays and some other portfolio assignments, but is completed in the second semester. (This revision project is also extended into the second design)
Time:
Number of students per teacher: 54
Amount of time for portfolio classes: four 40-minute class periods
Amount of time available per student: almost 3 minutes
Strengths of portfolio design One

The most evident strength of design one is the development of summarization skills.  Students are offered a variety of realia (books and newspaper articles) to first comprehend and then restate in their own words.  This exposes students to real, practical uses of English by native speakers.  Also, some pragmatic devices (apologies, making requests, etc.) can be learned through exposure to realia. Additional writing assignments allow students to develop their academic writing skills with essays and writing assignments focused on their personal interests.  Basic essay styles such as classification, narrative and comparison and contrast are examined in detail.  Feedback from the instructor further helped students understand how they could better improve their work.  Students made average improvement on their oral presentation skills as they had very limited time to cover all their material, thus, leading us into a discussion of the problems inherent to this design.

Problems encountered in portfolio classes and student work
As is can be seen from the above description of design one, there is not adequate time allotted to actually advise students on how to improve their writing and general English skills.  Thus, the instructor is essentially giving students busy work and not real, effective homework practice. Like the saying goes, “quality before quantity,” EFL teachers too should focus on their students actually producing quality work that might be able to be included in an international language portfolio, not just many mediocre assignments.
With such a portfolio class, the teacher is essentially running a ‘doctor’s office’ where they see their student ‘patients’ one-by-one for a couple of minutes each and then sends them out and calls the next one in.  This is not an environment that nurtures student improvement through teacher-student interaction, but rather a waste of time and teacher’s resources, not to mention an ineffective use of student effort.
Students do display gradual improvement in their overall written and speaking skills, but many students still reproduce the same errors week after week despite proof-reading comments made by the teacher.  This indicates a deficiency in the student-teacher interaction of portfolio design one, that can be most likely related to a lack of time to focus on individual students.  Also, since the whole class is together as a unit, individual one-on-one tutoring is not possible.  Given the low teacher-student ratio, a more personal classroom setting is not practically achievable.  This problem is later addressed in the second semester when a second instructor works with half of the B1 students, allowing more time per student.
B. Attempt to find a solution: Portfolio Design Two ‘the Newcomer’

In order to solve some of the problems seen in portfolio design one, a revised portfolio was designed for the second semester, spring 2006. B1 students spent 16 hours a week in English classes: 3 for writing, 5 for critical thinking, 3 for listening and 5 for reading. In addition to these 16 hours, students spent 2 hours in English for specific purposes (ESP) courses (divided by major) and 2 hours in portfolio class. The raising of the teacher-student ratio alleviated some of the problems related to limited one-on-one time with students.  Also, ten minutes was added to all class periods (taking classes from 40 minutes to 50), including portfolio also allocating more time to individual student mentoring.  But perhaps the most drastic change in terms of class structure was the splitting of students into two groups, A and B, who alternated weeks.  Thus, only half of the students presented their portfolios one week and the other half the next week.  This allowed students to have adequate time to focus on the quality of their work as well as allow more time for one-on-one interaction with each student in the classroom.
Secondly, the nature of portfolio assignments was adjusted to foster independent critical thought in students. For example, instead of simply regurgitating a summary of graded readers, students had to make critical commentaries of the book from prompts presented to the students (see appendix A for prompts).  Students also completed a news report at the end of the semester in stage three of a revision project.  This forced students to connect at least three events they wrote about in previous newspaper summaries and to critically analyze them.  Thus, the reigns of critical thought were gradually handed over to students through step-by-step designed projects and essays units.
Thirdly, oral presentations were significantly extended from not even a full three minutes to eight to ten minutes.  This provided students with more opportunities to develop both their spoken English and oral presentation skills.  The addition of a visual aid forced students to organize a multi-media presentation that is often suitable in academic and professional atmospheres.
Lastly, the accumulation of their personal growth was evaluated and demonstrated through stages two and three of the revision project.  After having organized their works into a notebook, students were able to clearly document their improvement (stage one).  In stage two students selected two of their major essays and one newspaper summary to heavily revise.  They were also asked to write a one-page revision reflection in which their strengths and weaknesses as well as feelings during revision were discussed. Thus, most students have at this point achieved confidence in their ability to correct and evaluate their own writing as well as being to think about an English text critically.  Stage three gives students more responsibilities in further developing their revision skills as their critical thinking skills.  Students again revised two different essays (not from stage 2) and wrote a news report (mentioned above).  Lastly, a two-page self-evaluation was required, asking students to discuss how they improved their English skills and comment on their strengths and weaknesses.  In the conclusion of their evaluations students were asked to grade themselves and defend their case.  This forced students to take autonomous responsibility for their learning, or at least think about their own role in learning. Self-evaluation and student autonomy is later shown to be an important goal of the ELP in the discussion section.
Below is a summary of portfolio design two:
The Homework:
Students submitted 3 written assignments every two weeks: 1) a critical commentary of a graded reader 2) a summary of a newspaper article and 3) a writing assignment, sometimes a short writing and sometimes an essay. (The grammar element has been removed).
In the class:
In 100 minutes of allotted class time the students each give eight to ten minute oral presentations of their book or newspaper article summaries, sometimes writing assignments.  The student also had to provide a visual aid, anything from a poster to an object, to enhance their presentation.
Additional Projects:
The three-stage revision project from deign one was continued. Stage two required intensive revision of several major essays. In the final stage students must selected three news articles from their previously completed portfolios and wrote a critical news report connecting the events.
Time:
Number of students per teacher: 27 (divided into two rotating groups – 13 to 14 students/week) Amount of time for portfolio classes: two 50-minute class periods
Amount of time available per student: almost 8 minutes
Noticeable steps forward: getting closer to a Turkish ELP

Perhaps the most obvious improvement seen in the revised design was the focus on independent student thought.  Critical thinking skills are presented to students in a step-by-step format where they first focus on summary and then eventually to making connections between separate events in the news report.  The first semesters graded reader only provided opportunities to practice summarizing a text.  Unfortunately, in several cases students simply plagiarized their summaries as a large pool of uncritical summaries is eventually accumulated among the student body.  In order to not only curb plagiarism but to also encourage students to understand the main ideas and themes of a book, stimulating prompts were provided to students in the second semester, encouraging independent analysis of their reading of books.  Although weaker students struggled during the first weeks, eventually students were able to express even if very basic, critical thoughts about what they read.  These open-ended prompts also pushed students to use pragmatic language associated with critical analysis as well as incorporate pragmatic information found in realia into their own writings.
Below are some samples of student writing exhibiting the development of critical analysis:

Average student: “In 2005 it was very hot.  Also, it was very cold and there were many severe storms around the globe.  Climate change was one of the most important environmental problems of 2005.” (From news report introduction)
Strong student: “Despite the fact that technology has been developing day by day, a lot of people die of incurable diseases.  As we known, one of these diseases is cancer.  Although there are some new treatments against some kinds of cancers, there are significant steps for the cancer.  Firstly reasons to cancer, secondly diagnosis of the cancer and treatment of the cancer.” (News report introduction)
Exceptional student: “Education is important for people’s life.  It begins with parents at home, then children begin to go to school, but some people prefer not to go to school.  They prefer to study at home and take some exams with the students who go to school.  Although home schooling have some advantages, its disadvantages are more than advantages.  I think it is not good educational system.  It has some difficulties.  For example, parents have to bear the full responsibility for children’s education, learning with no teacher is very difficult and the students have no social life.” (Argumentative essay)
An important element that received much more attention in the new ELP was the oral presentation.  The amount of time allotted to student presentations jumped drastically, from a minimum of less than three minutes to eight minutes.  Students were able to cover most of their prepared material, gaining experience in how to complete presentations from start to end.  Students also had more time to express their ideas in their new language, eliminating some of the stress caused by not having much time to construct their thoughts and ideas in comprehensive English. The visual aid also forced students to think about how to visually represent their presentation, an element essential in academic and professional arenas.
Another important element stressed in design two was revision.  The second and third stages of the revision project really pushed students to rethink their essays.  Everything from vocabulary, structure and thesis were thrown away, changed and restructured into new, improved essays. Peer-tutoring also had an important in student revisions.  Students were required to submit peer-tutoring worksheets as part of their final revision grade as well as write short essays about their revision experience.  These activities encouraged students to take full advantage of the entire revision process and understand that writing is not just a finished product but an ongoing process.  A short reflection essay allows teachers to see what the student learned from the revision process, thus enabling them to better help the student based on their independent needs and/or interests. Lastly, each step of the revision process was included as a percentage of their overall portfolio grade to further emphasize the importance of this constructive process.
Overall, students were provided with opportunities to develop not only their critical thinking skills and writing, but also their speaking and oral presentation skills.  Also, the two-week time period gave students adequate time to really polish their works as opposed to quickly and unsatisfactorily completing weekly assignments.  Thus, design two emphasized the quality of student work in all areas.
4. Discussion

Firstly, EFL instructors must maintain a positive, optimistic attitude towards portfolio.  An effective and enjoyable portfolio for both student and teacher can be achieved.  In fact, the portfolio itself can be a motivating tool, “having a Dossier can be motivating, especially in school language learning. Knowing that the results of a project will be in the Dossier as an example of what one is able to do can be an additional incentive to creating an attractive-looking product a learner is proud to present” (Schneider and Lenz 43).
The first portfolio design for B1 classes seemed to usually serve a reporting function only, in other words, a tool of assessment of final product writings.  However, Kohonen warns us that “if portfolio work is largely limited just to the reporting function of the ELP there is the possibility that the ELP will not find a meaningful place in regular classroom practices.” (2001b). Here lies the root of the problem with this portfolio design.  The first step in solving this dilemma is to move away from an assessment-based portfolio and towards a more pedagogically-focused one, the assessment aspect not to be completely forgotten of course.  Thus, ‘the dual function of the dossier provides an interface between language learning, teaching and assessment’ (Kohonen 2001b).  This ‘interface’ can be achieved when instructors  serve as guides to student’s learning process and providing regular feedback regarding their language development through written assignments. Students must then take responsibility for their own language skills by improving their written work with the guidance of teacher comments and tutoring. (Kohonen 2001b) Thus, students will start to take charge of their own learning and learn to become self-aware of what they are learning.   On a final note, to effectively promote the pedagogic function of the ELP, language teachers need to consider the following kinds of questions in their national and local settings (Kohonen 2001b):

  • How can students be helped to develop a more differentiated awareness and understanding of the phenomena of language, communication, learning and learning processes?
  • How can they be guided to direct their learning efforts and monitor and assess their language skills?
  • How should they be taught to establish and maintain mutually beneficial and responsible social relationships in their learning groups and communities?
  • How can students be guided to acquire new knowledge, understanding and skills increasingly on their own?
  • How can they be provided with sufficient support, tutoring and encouragement?
  • How can they be helped to build up and modify their physical and social learning environments?

If instructors at Turkish universities ask themselves these questions, perhaps an ELP format suitable for the cultural and educational background of Turkish students can be realized. By implementing an appropriate format instructors could ideally achieve both a pedagogic and reporting function in portfolio. By looking at other successful ELPs perhaps the current portfolio designs can be evaluated and improved to find a suitable ‘Turkish’ European Language Portfolio:
5. Conclusion
Though perhaps a challenge, Turkish Universities can better motivate learners to become autonomous learners through use of the European Language Portfolio. Students should be made to realize their role in learning and through appropriately designed class activities, be made aware of their learning process.  Self-evaluation should also be employed to reinforce this as seen in Fatih University’s second portfolio design.  Revision needs to become a key element in portfolio and in-class activities.  The goal of EFL instruction should be fostering quality student work and progressive learning, not the quantity of student work.  Fatih University’s first portfolio design seems to focus on the latter, instead of the former.  The second revised design seems to have addressed some problems, but can perhaps be further developed to be even more successful.  The emphasized elements of critical thinking and revision seen in the second portfolio design focus on helping students produce quality work, worthy of being included in a language dossier (see section 1: ELP). Students achieve quality work by producing work from their own original thoughts, placing the center of learning on the student not the teacher.  Thus, learner autonomy is cultivated in a portfolio classroom.  Although a total complete realization of achieving an autonomous learning environment may take years, some first steps can be made.  This has been shown through the first forms of the Turkish ELP, which will only further develop until its most appropriate form is achieved.


References and Works Cited

  • Center for Canadian Language Benchmarks. 2005. Relating Canadian Benchmark Skils to Essential Skills: A Comparative Framework.  Ottowa: Center for Canadian Language Benchmarks.
  • Council of Europe. European Language Portfolio. 2000. Strasbourg, France.
    *Note: permission to republish given to Ankara Universitesi, Tömer. 2004.
  • Kohonen, V. 2001a. Developing the European language portfolio as a pedagogical tool for advancing student autonomy. In L. Karlsson, F. Kjisik and J. Nordlund (eds.) All         together now. Papers from the Nordic conference on autonomous language learning.     Helsinki: University of Helsinki Language Centre, 20–44.
  • Kohonen, V. 2001b. The European Language Portfolio: From portfolio assessment to portfolio-oriented language learning.  In Kohonen, V. & P. Kaikkonen (eds), Quo ,
  • vadis foreign language education? Tampereen yliopisto: Tampereen yliopiston   julkaisusarja A 27, 77-95.
    Retrieved on 26 January 2006 from http://www.caslt.org/pdf/kohonen_european_language_portfolio.pdf
  • Schneider, Günther and Peter Lenz. European Language Portfolio: Guide for Developers. Lern-und Forschungszentrum Fremdsprachen University of Fribourg/CH.
    Retrieved on 26 January 2006 from http://www.coe.int/T/DG4/Portfolio/documents_intro/Eguide.pdf

Download: Appendix as Adobe .PDF

Stories in the primary classroom

Written by: Zhivka Ilieva, Dobrich College, Shumen University, Bulgaria
Download: Appendix in Adobe .PDF format
Abstract: The paper views an example of using a story in English in 3rd grade. It provides a lesson plan with materials, a short discussion and the most important results and conclusions.
Using stories and drama in the foreign language classroom we make the educational process livelier, funnier and more interesting and exciting for the students. Young learners are easily motivated to study by the pleasure they experience in class (Brewster et al 2002, Simeonova 2000, Frohlich-Ward 1991); by the interest that is provoked towards the foreign culture (Cook 1992); by their success in learning and acquisition (Lightbown and Spada 2002); by the interest provoked by films, music, by the use of computers and the internet.
In order to be successful, studying should be positive experience (Donaldson 1987), the material should be meaningful for the students and related to their daily life (Frohlich-Ward 1991; Gardner 1993, Genesee 2001, Georgieva 2004). Young learners need activities that attract and keep their attention, that provide opportunities for meaningful communication (Bloor 1991, Gardner 1993, Georgieva 2004, Wright 2003).
Stories are interesting and meaningful texts, they are part of children’s daily life and activities. They provide positive and relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. The activities connected to stories attract students’ attention, keep their interest and motivation because they are set in meaningful context with meaningful roles and therefore provide meaningful communication.
Stories help us avoid standard boring drills since repetition is set in the context of a story, the activities are connected to the problems of the characters, which turns it into meaningful repetition. Natural and meaningful context aid communication, contribute to students’ successful performance in communication in the foreign language. Listening to stories and working with stories is funny and pleasant for the students, stories and story books are very rich in cultural information which can be used implicitly or explicitly in class.
Here follows a case study based on story lessons aiming at communicative skills development.
LESSON PLAN
Age: 9-10, 3rd grade
Aims: Learning actively the phrases while enjoying the story and preparing for role play. Developing oral communicative skills in the situation of the story (drama) and then in other situations
Objectives:

  • Vocabulary: revising and enriching animal names, living places, environment
  • Grammar: imperative; can
  • Social language: practising conversation (meeting someone, greeting people)
  • Repeated phrases: Can you tell me how to ….
    • Nothing is done without trying.
    • And he/she tried.
    • The house that is for you will not be for me!
    • Just as you please!
  • Skills: Developing listening and speaking skills
  • Interdisciplinary problems: places to live in: various creatures – various houses

Time: 3 classes English + 1 Arts & Crafts
Materials: the story “The House That Suits You Will Never Suit Me”* (Eccleshare J. 1995 Five Minute Stories, Scholastic Ltd)
* The original story contains 3 characters – a worm, a bird and a fish. We (the teachers) changed the worm for a mouse and added 3 more characters – a wild duck, a bear and a squirrel (Appendix 1) and also changed the end of the story into a happy end – like in the fairy tales.
PROCEDURE
Lesson 1

  • I Warm up
    Talking about the following animals: mice, fish, birds, wild duck, bear, squirrel – where they live, what their house is e.g. a hole, a nest, a cave etc.
  • II Storytelling 1 (without the end)
  • III Discussing the story.
    It can be done in native language in order to receive feedback and all the pupils to understand what the story is about. At the same time is discussed the problem about the different creatures and the different houses they inhabit, the suitability of the house of one creature for other creatures. During the discussion some of the new words and phrases are introduced.
  • IV Storytelling 2 (without the end) – the pupils who want to, who have remembered the phrases, take part in the story.
  • V Discussion how to help the main character, adding more animals and situations; guessing the end of the story (might be in NL).
    Students are given time to discuss in groups who else the character can meet and what advice would he receive this time.
  • VI Telling and discussing the end of the story

Lesson 2

  • I Warm up
    Storytelling with the students – the whole story with the situations added by the students.
  • II Game – the teacher mentions one of the characters and the students say the advice the character gives to the man (e.g. MOUSE – make a hole; BEAR – go to the mountain and find a cave; BIRD – make a nest SQUIRREL / BIRD – find a tree).
  • III In pairs students practice the dialogue from the episodes.
  • IV In groups of three (a story teller, a man and another character) the students choose another episode to practice.
  • V Preparing for role play. Distributing the roles and first rehearsal (the dramatization is prepared for a feast of the class so part of the rehearsals are practiced during the Periods of the Class

Lesson 3 – Arts & Crafts
Drawing pictures and emblems of the characters, preparing crowns with their images for dramatization.

Lesson 4

  • I Revision – Storytelling – the students take part
  • II Roleplayusing the expressions from the story in a situation, different from that in the story. The students receive tickets with roles (Appendix 3) – two situations for pair work.

Finally the pupils performed the dramatization at a class feast in front of their parents.
The discussion after storytelling 1 is very important because sometimes there are pupils who have difficulties in grasping the meaning of the story in English – they enjoy the pictures we use, mimes and gestures and after the discussion in native language – after understanding exactly what the story is about, they can take part in the second storytelling.
During the discussion after the first storytelling a student decided to retell an episode in Bulgarian –  meeting the bird and building a nest – “… and he gathered branches, tied them on his back and started climbing the tree…” This detail (tying the branches onto his back) was originally in the story, but while simplifying it for the class we decided to skip it. Since the child had not read the story before, we can conclude that children really extract great part of the information from the context – one cannot climb a tree if s/he holds something in one’s hands. When the students pick up the key words and expressions, they can easily understand the message from the situation.
Discussing new characters and episodes children have to use their imagination to invent more story characters to take part in the story e.g. a spider, a goat, a butterfly, a bee, a rabbit, a snake, an ant, a snail, a monkey, a lion. As a result of this activity the story was enriched with a few new episodes (in Appendix 2 there are the new situations received with three different groups of students).
While the students work with their hands during the Arts and Crafts activities, they discuss the story, the characters, their roles using English as well as Bulgarian.
The aim of the role play (Appendix 3) is to activate the phrases from both roles – asking for and giving advice and directions – using the expressions from the story in a situation, different from the original one. The activity also aims at enriching students’ linguistic, social and cultural experience – recipes are given in imperative – this is part of their linguistic and sociolinguistic competence. Another aim of the activity is developing tolerance towards various traditional meals and arousing interest in the foreign culture. Here are examples of the expected dialogues:

A: Can you tell me how to make Yorkshire Pudding?
B: Easy. Go to the kitchen. Take flour and salt; add an egg and some milk. Mix it and bake it 30 min. Serve it with roast beef.
A: That sounds delicious. The food that is good for you will be good for me.
A: Can you tell me how to make an apple pie?
B: Easy. Go to the kitchen. Take flour and salt, add some butter and milk. Then take it to the fridge, add apples to the pastry and bake it 45 minutes.
A: Mmm that sounds delicious. The food that is good for you will be good for me.

Some of the most interesting results of the role play activity are:

  • 47% of the students start their conversations with greetings, one student includes vocative – social language – a sign for the development of their sociolinguistic competence.
  • 64% of the students include the phrase ‘Nothing is done without trying’ although the roles in the tickets do not require it – it is part of the learnt model and they cannot easily separate it from the other phrases in the same situation.

We can follow:

  • the students’ linguistic competence – the most often met mistakes and the fields for further work (word order, etc);
  • the development of their interlanguage and the interference of Bulgarian – expressions like: ‘The food that is … good for you is good and for me’ and ‘Go in the kitchen’ are literal translation from Bulgarian;
  • the students’ sociolinguistic competence – using social language not because the ticket with the role says so, but because it is normal to start a conversation with a greeting;
  • the development of the students’ discourse competence – 27% of the students use first and then talking about the events: ‘First go to the kitchen, then…, then…’; we can follow their ability to build a text about a succession of events;
  • the students’ strategic competence – they sometimes use similar words – similar in pronunciation or derivatives (service instead of serve), but the most often used strategy is the pause – they pause or repeat the first word until they remember or think of the following one.

Using stories in the primary classroom heightens students’ interest in English and their motivation – their willingness to study at home and to participate in the activities in class. This allows them to demonstrate larger part of their knowledge and skills in the foreign language; and us to follow easier their linguistic and communicative development and provide appropriate additional activities.

References

  1. Bloor 1991: M. Bloor. The Role of Informal Interaction in Teaching English to Young Learners. In C. Brumfit, J. Moore, R. Tongue (eds), Teaching English to Children, Harper Collins Publishers.
  2. Brewster et al 2002: J. Brewster, G. Ellis, D. Girard. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. London: Penguin.
  3. Cook 1992: V. Cook. Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Edward Arnold a division of Hodder & Stoughton.
  4. Davcheva and Berova 1993: L. Davcheva & N. Berova. Discovering Britain. Sofia, Prosveta.
  5. Donaldson1987: M. Donaldson. Children’s Minds. London: Fontana Press, Harper Collins Publishers.
  6. Eccleshare 1995: J. Eccleshare. Five Minute Stories. London: Scholastic Ltd, 132-134.
  7. Frohlich-Ward 1991: L. Frohlich-Ward. Two Lessons: Five-year olds and seven-year-olds. In C. Brumfit, J. Moore, R. Tongue (eds), Teaching English to Children. Harper Collins Publishers.
  8. Gardner 1993: H. Gardner. The Unschooled Mind – how children think and how schools should teach, London: Fontana Press.
  9. Genesee 2001: Fr. Genesee. Introduction. In Fr. Genesee (ed), Educating Second Language Children. The whole child, the whole curriculum, the whole community. Cambridge: CUP, 1-12.
  10. Georgieva 2004: М. Георгиева. Развиване на комуникативни умения на деца, изучаващи чужд език. ЧЕО, 2, 14-25.
  11. Lightbown and Spada 2002: P. Lightbown & N. Spada. How Languages are Learned. Oxford: OUP.
  12. Wright 2003: A. Wright. My Personal History of Teaching Young Learners. CATS, 1, 6-9.
  13. Simeonova 2000а: Й. Симеонова. Чуждоезиково общуване и комуникативна ориентация на преподавателя. ЧЕО, 1, 31-40.

The role of tests in students (de)motivation

Written by: Helen Trugman, Holon Institute of Technology
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Abstract
This paper focuses on the role of testing at the third stage of motivation process dealing with sustaining the learner’s initial interest. The paper will examine several factors related to the test design and how they influence the students’ decisions about their further efforts. In particular, I will analyze test characteristics that function as motivation-busters, i.e. demotivate students and might even contribute to ‘learned helplessness’ (Seligman 1975). At the end some practical recommendations will be provided on how to avoid problems with test design and thus turn learning into a gratifying task for both students and teachers.

1. Motivation

Motivation is a multifaceted phenomenon, which is defined in Williams and Burden (1997:120) as “a state of cognitive and emotional arousal, which leads to a conscious decision to act and gives rise to a period of sustained intellectual and/or physical effort in order to attain a previously set goal”. In other words, motivation is analyzed as a three-stage process encompassing more than simple arousal of interest. It also involves sustaining that interest and investing time and energy into the necessary effort to achieve certain goals. In this paper I will focus on the role of testing at the third stage, which deals with sustaining the learner’s initial interest. It will be examined what factors related to the test design might influence the choices students make about their further efforts. In particular, I will distinguish between motivation-boosters, i.e. test characteristics that make students persist in achieving their goals, and motivation-busters, i.e. test characteristics that demotivate students and interfere with their decision to pursue their goals.
Motivation-boosters and motivation-busters are closely related to harmful and beneficial backwash, which is understood as a negative or a positive effect of testing on the teaching process respectively (see Hughes 1996). Sources of harmful backwash discussed in Hughes (ibid.), such as drilling for skills checked at the test or neglecting skills and topics not included in the test, can be analyzed as motivation-busters leading to student disappointment and discontent with the teaching process. On the other hand, beneficial backwash acts as a motivation-booster, which is achieved by designing tests that form an organic part of the teaching process. Specifically, a good test checks students’ skills and knowledge acquired in a course or, alternatively, helps to reveal which skills and knowledge students have not yet acquired, and thus forces a teacher to introduce them in class.

2. General background

In Israel, university students are required to take reading comprehension courses in English for Academic Purposes in order to be able to cope with vast materials in English in their content courses. The goal of such a language course is to equip students with reading skills and strategies needed to meet their academic requirements in other courses. As discussed in Kirschner, Wexler, and Spector-Cohen (1992: 537), such conditions call for “extensive and varied testing in order to maintain student motivation and cooperation and to ensure some degree of standardization among courses with a large teaching staff”. Since university programs usually range over a broad array of subjects, no uniform tests for English programs exist or can ever be designed. Therefore each institution devises its own tests following the general guidelines of the reading comprehension program. The lack of uniformity in the test format is often accompanied by the freedom in teaching techniques and choice of materials enjoyed by university teachers to a certain extent. The latter, though a welcome and generally positive phenomenon in the academia, might inadvertently lead to negative backwash. Specifically, a teacher’s teaching techniques might happen to be at variance with the course objectives in an institution. The fact that many English teachers teach in several different places and thus might use the same materials or techniques across various institutions also contributes to the problem. The discrepancy between the teacher’s materials and methodology, on the one hand, and the course objectives in a particular institution, on the other, might result in negative backwash, and thus demotivate students. As English program coordinator and teacher-trainer, I have witnessed the negative impact of badly-designed tests on student motivation. The purpose of this paper is to present a number of factors contributing to bad test-writing with the aim to raise the teachers’ awareness of these stumbling blocks and, ultimately, to make learning more gratifying for both students and teachers.

3. Factors  to be considered in test-writing

3.1.    Thematic relevance of the test
Testing should aim at checking what students have learned and whether they can apply that knowledge to new real-life tasks. Therefore it seems only natural to test, for instance, a design student on reading materials that are thematically related to her major courses. Thematically unrelated testing materials will only complicate the student’s task by affecting her anxiety level and increasing the likelihood of failure due to general misunderstanding of the issue discussed. Hence, poor choice of the text for a reading comprehension test may function as a primary motivation buster. In addition, it might send a wrong message with respect to making a further effort in class. Specifically, when students invest time and effort in acquiring topic-specific vocabulary in class yet have to deal with thematically unrelated articles on a test, they are left with the question—‘What is the purpose of learning new words in class if I have to rely heavily on dictionary use during a test anyway?’ If we teachers admit that we cannot teach students all the words they need, so why cannot we admit that students cannot know all the words and give them a thematically relevant test? By carefully choosing the topics for unseen tests the teacher will avoid antagonizing her students—they will not feel cheated by the teacher and the system as a whole. Moreover, a test article that is theme-related to classroom discussion turns the test from the motivation-buster to the motivation-booster: familiar topics and vocabulary not only reduce students’ test anxiety, but also demonstrate how worthwhile their efforts in class were and hence inspire them to persist in their learning effort.
3.2     Level of difficulty
It is obvious that a test which is more demanding and challenging than anything practiced in class will have an adverse impact on students’ confidence and subsequently their motivation. Such a test will yield a heated debate in class with the teacher being accused of wrongdoing, unfairness, and eventually being the source of students’ failures. Besides getting embittered, students get a wrong message again: ‘No matter how hard I learn in class it does not prepare me for the test.’ Their self-esteem deflates, desire to persist in learning gradually dissipates, motivation gets busted. Some students end up feeling that they are so lacking in control over what happens to them that they lose all incentive to try to succeed. This learning style has been identified by Seligman (1975) and got the name of ‘learned helplessness’. Learners who do not perceive themselves to be in control of their own actions, become easily demotivated, find it difficult to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate responses, show symptoms of anxiety and depression (cf. Dweck and Wortman 1982), and give up trying altogether.
While failures and negative student feedback are predicted when the test is of higher level of complexity and difficulty than classroom activities, negative backwash and subsequent demotivation of students is not an evident outcome in the opposite case—when a test is easier than classwork. However, this discrepancy also has a harmful effect on sustaining students’ efforts. Specifically, it also sends a wrong message to the student (though of a different kind)—‘You have already attained the level necessary to pass the test. Do not exert yourself! Relax! Lie back, and enjoy your life!’ Although students may be happy with high grades on a test, they do not necessarily realize that it is an easy test which is responsible for their high grades, but rather tend to praise themselves for the achievement. This is a quite natural response to success: we blame others for our failures and attribute successes to ourselves (M. R. Leary 2004). Some students might become overly, and unjustifiably so, confident and lose interest in further studies, which in turn, may affect their performance on a following test in an unpredictable way.
We may thus conclude that in order to avoid these pitfalls the test writer has to correctly evaluate the level of difficulty which will be appropriate for each test, for its particular purpose and time in a course.
3.3     Concord between testing items and course objectives
Tests (either progress or achievement ones) serve as an important criterion for both teachers’ and students’ achievements, checking not only what has been taught in class but also what students have managed to learn. Therefore final achievement tests should be based on course objectives and should not involve an element of surprise or novelty for students. The final test is not devised for learning; it is devised for evaluating students’ acquired knowledge and expertise in the course and hence how successful the course has been in accomplishing its objectives.[1] Only tests based on course objectives promote a beneficial backwash effect on teaching. When, however, a teacher’s syllabus does not correspond to the course objectives we expect negative backwash. In such cases a test may contain items that have been specified in the course objectives, yet have not been introduced in class by a teacher. However, a bigger problem arises when the test-writer includes test items that have not been specified in the course objectives and hence were not taught in class. For example, this happens when the course objectives explicitly emphasize developing reading skills, yet tests contain tasks checking specific grammar or vocabulary items.[2]
Moreover, types of skills introduced and practiced in class might be at variance with those tested. For instance, if a teacher focuses only on intensive reading skills while a test also checks global reading skills, her students will be at a disadvantage. In one case, students of the pre-intermediate level, who only studied for a month, were given a test with a global reading question spanning four paragraphs of the text and requiring cross-paragraph mapping of the argument. There was no cue provided leading students to a specific section of the text and thus facilitating their task. Even if a teacher expected such a question on a test she could not possibly prepare her students for this advanced task within the four weeks of studies. Nor could she prepare them when such skills were not stated as objectives of the pre-intermediate course at all.
In a similar vein, students who are used to doing in class only items checking their language recognition, such as multiple-choice or true/false questions, will be puzzled by test items that require language production skills, such as sentence completion, open-ended questions, flow charts, blank-filling exercises, etc.
We may conclude that in order to avoid student disenchantment with a test and with a language course in general, a tripartite link is required: what is taught in class and what is tested must correspond to the course objectives. This correspondence is achieved by familiarizing the teachers with the course objectives and the test format before the course starts, as well as by their direct involvement in test writing and/or test reviewing during the course.
3.4     Test item design
This factor directly pertains to the second principle of test writing posited in Kirshner, Wexler and Spector-Cohen (1992:539): test questions should be as easy for test takers to process as possible. There is no general consensus among English teachers or language testers on this assumption either. Sometimes test items can contain language at a higher level of difficulty than the language of the text. Then comprehension of test items becomes an inherent part of the reading comprehension test. However, this is not a very common practice (cf. Heaton 1995:116). Nevertheless, clarity and logical coherence of test items are generally accepted as a good test-writing principle for they directly affect students’ performance on a test. Ambiguous, unclear, illogical questions do not serve any other purpose than confusing students and forcing them to guess the right answer rather than deducing it. In this section, I will illustrate a number of common problems with test item design. All of them adversely affect students’ performance and result in failures or lower than average grades, and thus have grave ramifications for student motivation. Specifically, students are demotivated not only by the mere fact of getting a lower than expected grade, but also by the belief that no matter how hard they learn they cannot prepare for the test, which is unpredictable and hard to understand. Students become convinced of their powerlessness and sometimes may develop test anxiety symptoms or even get depressed.
The following common types of problems with the item design will be illustrated: [3]
A.      ambiguous instructions
B.      illogical instructions
C.      imprecise or unclear instructions
D.      true/false tasks based on compound propositions
E.      unjustified inferences
F.      multiple-choice questions with multiple or no answers
a.       ambiguous instructions
Ambiguity of instructions implies two or more possible interpretations of the test item. It often stems from sloppy formulation of item instructions. The following examples illustrate the ambiguity of the instruction ‘paragraph X is one of…’.  It is inherently ambiguous due to its vague wording—it might refer to intra-paragraph relations, i.e. the organization of ideas within one paragraph, as in example 1.
Example 1:

  1. Between two and five million Gypsies live in this world today. For centuries they’ve wandered about Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and even in North America. Yet hardly anyone knows anything about these secret people. Read the history books—the Gypsies are never mentioned.

Q:   Paragraph 1 is one of…
a)       comparison                             c)      contrast
b)      example                                  d)      chronological order
In this example the connector of contrast ‘yet’ is supposed to signal the correct answer: Paragraph 1 has contrasting ideas, hence it is one of contrast. Alternatively, the same instruction can refer to inter-paragraph relations, i.e. involve identification of the function or purpose of a paragraph with respect to other paragraphs in the text, as shown in example 2.
Example 2:

  1. A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. One drug might have saved her life but it was available only from a druggist who charged 10 times what it cost him to make it. The woman’s husband, Marty, could only come up with half of what the druggist charged and the druggist refused to sell the drug more cheaply or to let Marty pay the balance later. Desperate, Marty broke into the druggist’s store to steal the drug. Should Marty steal the drug when that is the only way he can save the life of his dying wife?

2.    During the past two decades, children and adults around the world have been asked this question as well as others presenting similar moral dilemmas. Following are some typical responses to the Marty dilemma.
Q:   Paragraph 1 is one of…                                                                             
a)       chronological order                c)      example
b)      comparison                             d)      contrast
In example 2, students have to understand that the first paragraph of the text introduces the topic by providing an example of the moral dilemma; hence, (c) is the correct answer.
If students encounter one and the same instruction used differently within one test it will definitely confuse them. They might interpret the same instruction in a similar vein and get a wrong answer. A more serious problem arises when one and the same instruction can be interpreted in two ways for one and the same test item, and the test-writer overlooked this possibility, as demonstrated in example 3.
Example 3:
8. Thus, the 45 studies that I have reviewed provide striking support for the universality of Kohlberg’s first four stages. However, his higher stages do not account for moral reasoning involving principles of collective or communalistic well-being. It appears that in other cultural groups and social classes, mature moral principles are held that are distinct from our own.
Q:   Paragraph 8 is one of…
a)             contrast                                  c)      example
b)             summary                                 d)      illustration
The presence of the connector ‘however’ inside the paragraph signals that choice (a), ‘contrast’, is the right answer. However, the connector ‘thus’ at the beginning of the paragraph allows to interpret this paragraph as presenting a summary of the discussion. As a result of this ambiguity, all students who interpreted the instruction as referring to the intra-paragraph relations failed, for the intended answer was (b), requiring analysis of inter-paragraph relations.
b.      illogical instructions
Lack of clarity in the test item can also stem from faulty logic. This kind of problem tends to confuse better students who are good at logical reasoning. Consider the following example.
Example 4:
Laura Ashley expanded her tiny operation not to maximize profits but to defend and promote traditional British values, which she felt, were under siege from sex, drugs, and miniskirts in the 1960s.  From the beginning, she and Bernard exercised tight control over all aspects of the business, keeping design, manufacturing, distribution, and retailing in-house.  The couple opened a central manufacturing and distribution center in Wales; and they proudly labeled their garments “Made in Wales”.  They provided generous wages and benefits to their employees, thereby avoiding the labor unrest that crippled many British industries throughout the 1970s. They also established close relationships with their franchisees and customers, who grew fiercely loyal to the company’s products and the values they embodied.
Q: Name two causes and their effects for the success of Laura Ashley in the 1970’s.
This item aims at checking students’ understanding of cause-effect relations within the text. Cause-effect is usually a binary relation, with a cause (or a number of them) leading to an effect/result (or a number of them). In the above task cause-effect relations are not clearly defined: if we have to find causes of the success of Laura Ashley’s company in the 1970’s, then the company’s success is the effect. The illogical instruction ‘Name… effects for the success…’ further complicates elicitation of the right answer. After a careful analysis of the passage, it becomes clear that in the text there are three interrelated factors that represent a chain of causal relations, with the immediate result of the first cause functioning as the cause of the next event:
For this complex relationship to be understood properly the question should be rephrased as—‘What two causes and their (immediate) effects ensured the success of Laura Ashley in the 1970’s?’ Yet a better way to present this complex logical relationship is to give it as a flow chart with the final result provided, as shown below.
causes                                           effects
c.      imprecise or unclear instructions
I call imprecise those instructions which are carelessly written and not sufficiently explicit. Imprecise instructions cause confusion on a test and cause students to waste time on trying to figure out the genuine intention of the test writer. It often happens whenever a text allows for a number of answers, depending on the degree of their generality. For instance, one of the most important reading skills taught in a reading course is distinguishing between general and supporting ideas, or between main ideas and specific details exemplifying them. We teach students to pay attention to these distinctions and we expect them to apply their knowledge on a test. However, when a question can be answered either in a general or a specific way, it is important to indicate what kind of answer is required. In order to save students’ time spent on pondering over which answer is better, it is advisable to provide additional instructions, such as ‘Give general ideas’ or ‘Give specific information’ if such confused is to be expected. In the absence of such instructions, care should be taken to reveal the intentions by the question format. The following example illustrates how a question format misled students with implied miscues.
Example 5:
15.  Experts see more disturbing patterns.  “It definitely diminishes self-esteem,” said Stanly Rosner, a psychologist in New Canaan, Conn., and co-author of “The Marriage Gap,” a study of the breakdown of contemporary marriages.  “These people end up feeling like losers even though they may only be responding to external cues.”  Repeated emotional upheaval, he said, is driving some of them to heavy drinking and drug use.

  1. Children of parents who marry several times are another concern.  “The youngsters are the saddest part,” said Dr. Robert Garfield, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia who specializes in stepfamily issues.

17.  ‘I see children not being able to concentrate, a sense that nothing lasts and a loss of faith in relationships.” Dr. Garfield said.  “They never develop trust or long-term values.  They become self-centered and cynical.”  Other experts, including Dr. Rosner, maintain that such children will continue the pattern because it is so familiar.
18.  Multiple marriages also aggravate sibling conflicts.  “We are entering a period of interfamily feuds the likes of which you have never seen,” said William Selsberg, a lawyer in Stamford, Conn., “Who is entitled to get college money if there isn’t enough to go around?  How do you equitably settle the claims of the children from the different marriages when the parent dies?  What if the children from a former marriage are left out of the will?  Estate planning is becoming impossible.”

  1. The adults also suffer financially, gradually getting poorer.  “You see their life style getting progressively worse each time they marry again,” said Mr. Felder, the Manhattan divorce lawyer. “Equitable distribution depletes the assets.  They’re stuck with regular commitments to a spouse or children from a previous marriage.  It’s a finite cup.  Only so many people can take from that cup before it’s empty.”

Q:   List five negative effects of multiple marriages mentioned by the experts.
a)    _______________________________________________________
b)    _______________________________________________________
c)    _______________________________________________________
d)    _______________________________________________________
e)    _______________________________________________________
If a student goes by the rules and looks for general ideas stated in topic sentences (italicized in the passage), he immediately encounters a problem: Where is the fifth effect? Since there is no other general idea found in the text, the student faces a dilemma: Am I supposed to give specific examples or general ideas? If specific details are needed then which of those mentioned in this passage am I to cite? There are at least a dozen specific examples of negative outcomes mentioned in this passage. The lack of precise instructions coupled with a misleading question format leads to an infinite number of combinations that can be given as possible answers. Moreover, the teacher is forced to accept all of them since the instructions do not mention either paragraph numbers on which to base the answers or what kind of answers are expected. Asking for five answers serves as a miscue to students and leads to their confusion and puzzlement.
It is important to note that it is not always the weaker students who are misled by ambiguous, imprecise or illogical instructions exemplified above. On the contrary, better students who can provide an alternative interpretation of the test item seem to be more often confused by such instructions (cf. Huges 1996:39). Therefore it is a moral duty of test-writers to carefully examine test items for ambiguity and let other colleagues scrutinize them before administering a test.
d.      true/false tasks based on compound propositions
True/False questions are not considered to be a very sophisticated task. In fact, they are a variation on multiple-choice questions with a 50-50 chance of guessing. However, they might present a real problem if they are badly constructed. This might occur, for instance, when the proposition given in a test item is compound and the decision on its truthfulness is to be made based on the sum of true/false conditions for each part of the proposition. Consider the following example:
Example 6:
These cues, which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms, are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.
Q: True/ False:  Culture cues are as important to us as our language, and we are aware that we are using these cues.
Support your answer with a quote from the text.
In this example, students are presented with a compound sentence and asked to decide whether it’s true or false according to the text. In addition, they are to provide justification for their answer. It can be inferred from the text that the first part of the proposition is true, while the other part is false. Determining the truthfulness of such a sentence entails not only determining the truthfulness of each member of the compound but also some knowledge of logic. Specifically, students have to know that a conjunction of a true and a false proposition necessarily yields a false proposition (i.e. – & + = –).  Moreover, they usually puzzle over which part of the sentence has to be supported, and in many cases give partial or incorrect support, thus losing all the points. Therefore, such true/false questions, which are in essence a sum of two independent true/false items, should certainly be avoided on tests.
e.       unjustified  inferences
Another source of confusion lies within test items based on inferences. Inferring is an advanced reading skill which has to be developed and practiced extensively. Yet, the borderline between inferring information based on the text and plain guessing is not always clear-cut. Quite often students find it hard to distinguish between a logical conclusion which can be drawn from the text and an idea that cannot be judged true or false based on the text. A particular problem emerges when students are asked to judge a sentence as true or false when the information in the original text does not allow them to draw such a conclusion, as in the following example:

Example 7:
Westerners tend to value a tough, individualistic and dominating leadership style including the ability to take independent decisions and have them successfully implemented. The higher a Japanese manager rises in a company, the more pains he will take to hide his ambition and capability and not to be seen as a forceful leader. Westerners who look for a decisive and charismatic Japanese boss are likely to be disappointed.
Q:   True/False: Although Western leaders are dynamic and motivated, while their Japanese counterparts are modest, there is a reciprocal respect for these traits. Support your answer with a quote from the text.
Does it follow from the text that Japanese or Western leaders reciprocally respect or disrespect one another’s traits?  Certainly not!  The text conveys an idea that leadership styles in two cultures, Western and Eastern, differ in a certain way, and one would not find openly tough or individualistic Japanese leaders, in contrast to Western ones. However, no conclusion can be drawn on their mutual attitudes. Hence the question is intrinsically confusing, and there is no justification for either answer in the text. Note that the teacher will also experience problems trying to justify in class why the sentence is false, as the key prescribes. A heated argument with students about such questions can only trigger their disappointment, hostility towards the teacher, feelings of powerlessness and loss of interest in the language learning process. Motivation gets busted!
f.       multiple-choice questions with multiple or no answers
As convincingly argued in Hughes (1996: 61), it is very difficult to write good distractors for multiple-choice questions. One of the common mistakes with this kind of item is the presence of several correct answers. This problem is illustrated in example 8.
Example 8:
The final question I considered was whether all instances of genuine moral reasoning in all cultures match one of Kohlberg’s stages. A number of studies, I found, have reported examples of clear moral judgments that were very difficult to score using Kohlberg’s model. In my study of Israel kibbutzniks, for example, I found that the cooperative working class values of the kibbutz – communalistic equality and happiness – were missing from Kohlberg’s model and scoring manual. Some kibbutzniks argued that Marty had every right to steal the drug because allocation of the drug should be in the hands of the community and used to promote the ideals of collective equality and happiness. Psychologists Anne Tietjen of the University of Washington and Lawrence Walker of the University of British Columbia had a similar finding in Papua, New Guinea. There, some village leaders placed blame for the Marty dilemma on the entire community…
Q:   Paragraph 7…
a)    lists reasons to support Kohlberg’s theory.
b)    brings examples of different cultures concerning moral judgments.
c)    summarizes the main idea of the whole article.
d)    shows contrasting points of view to Kohlberg’s theory.
From the topic sentence of this paragraph it is clear that not all types of moral reasoning find a correlate in Kohlberg’s theory, some cultures present judgments distinct from those predicted by the theory. Therefore (d) seems to be a plausible answer. However, when the reader proceeds to read she finds two examples of such opposing views given from Israel and Papua, New Guinea. Hence, (b) appears to be the correct answer as well. The student is left with an irresolvable dilemma and has to resort to guessing.
Another common fault with multiple-choice items is the lack of the correct answer, as demonstrated in example 9.
Example 9:
1.    The problem is not an inability to take action but an inability to take appropriate action.  There can be many reasons for the problem – ranging from managerial stubbornness to sheer incompetence – but one of the most common is a condition that I call active inertia. Active inertia is an organization’s tendency to follow established patterns of behavior – even in response to dramatic environmental shifts.  Stuck in the modes of thinking and working that brought success in the past, market leaders simply accelerate all their tried-and-true activities.  In trying to dig themselves out of a hole, they just deepen it.
2.    Because active inertia is so common, it’s important to understand its sources and symptoms. After all, if executives assume that the enemy is paralysis, they will automatically conclude that the best defense is action.  But if they see that action itself can be the enemy, they will look more deeply into all their assumptions before acting.  They will, as a result, gain a clearer view of what really needs to be done and, equally important, what may prevent them from doing it.  And they will significantly reduce the odds of joining the ranks of fallen leaders.
Q:   The main idea of the text is:
a.    to show how only successful companies are paralyzed when they are confronted with disruption in business conditions.
b.    to illustrate the inability of organizations to take appropriate action in response to vast business changes.
c.    to follow the successes and failures of several major organizations in various fields of business.
d.    to compare and contrast the business methodology of good companies that go bad.
This task presumably checks students’ ability to identify the main idea of a long academic text. However, all the multiple choices provided express the purpose of the discussion, the goal that the writer wants to achieve in his article rather than the main idea (i.e. ‘There are several reasons for companies to stagnate, with active inertia being the most common one.’). Moreover, none of the choices matches the real purpose announced by the writer in the second paragraph of the excerpt: to better understand the sources and symptoms of active inertia in order to prevent it and avoid failure. Thus we can only predict students’ frustration with such a task and their inability to make an intelligent choice. Similarly to example 8, in this case students are forced to succumb to plain guessing and a negative backwash effect is inevitable.

3.5     Test terminology and layout
Confusion can also stem from such a trivial thing as use of unfamiliar terminology for instructions on tests. Since there exist synonymous terms for nearly every language phenomenon, special care should be taken to use consistent terms in class and on tests. For instance, if students use in class such terms as ‘general questions’ and ‘intensive reading questions’ but the test paper mentions ‘global reading questions’ and ‘close reading questions’ instead, a student’s time will be lost on figuring out the instructions rather than answering the questions. To prevent confusion of this type students should be exposed to all kinds of terminology and learn synonymous terms before a test is administered. Alternatively, some standard terminology and question format can be worked out at the department to be used both in class and on tests. This will not only save students’ time and effort on a test but will also boost their confidence due to their familiarity with instruction terminology and question format.

4. Conclusions

I would like to conclude the discussion with some practical recommendations in order to help teachers, test-writers and course developers avoid the problems discussed in the paper. It is crucial for the teaching staff to be actively involved in test preparation at all its stages:
a) firstly, by evaluating the topic (factor 1) and the level of difficulty (factor 2) of the text intended for the unseen test;
b) secondly, by providing feedback on the suitability of test items types and their level of  complexity (factor 3);
c) thirdly, by scrutinizing all test items in an attempt to find any fault with the instructions, item choices and eliminating ambiguity or imprecision (factor 4);
d) finally, by checking the test format for inconsistent instructions, confusing terminology and poorly designed layout (factor 5).
Peer reviewing of tests is a time-consuming and tiring process, yet its results are gratifying—high-quality tests that reliably check both teachers’ and students’ work and help them sustain the interest for long time. In this way tests stop being motivation busters and start working as motivation boosters, turning language learning into a fruitful and enjoyable task for both students and teachers.


References:

  • Dwek, C.S. and C. B. Wortman (1982) “Learned helplessness, anxiety and achievement motivation.” In: H.W. Krohne and L. Lanx (eds.) Achievement, Stress and Anxiety. London: Hemisphere.
  • Heaton, J. B. (1995) Writing English Language Tests. (Longman Handbooks for English Teachers). London and New York: Longman Inc.
  • Hughes, A. (1996) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.
  • Leary, M. R. (2004) The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kirschner, M., C. Wexler, and E. Spector-Cohen (1992) “Avoiding Obstacles to Student Comprehension of Test Questions”, TESOL QUARTERLY, Vol.26, No. 3, pp.537-556.
  • Seligman, M. (1975) Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: Freeman.
  • Williams, M. & R. L. Burden (1997) Psychology for Language Teachers: A social costructivist approach. Cambridge Language Teaching Library. Cambridge University Press.

A list of texts used for language tests cited in the paper:

  • Example 1:          “This Race of Strangers”
  • Example 2, 3, 8: “A question of morality” by John Snarey, Psychology Today, June 1987
  • Example 4, 9:      “Why good companies go bad” by Donald N. Sull, Financial Times, 3 October 2005
  • Example 5:          “Repeated marriages- a growing trend” by Andrée Brooks
  • Example 6:          an excerpt from Orberg, K. (1958) Culture Shock and the Problem of Adjustment to a New Cultural Environment. Washington, DC: Department of State.
  • Example 7:          “Leadership”, downloaded from the Internet, © Nicholas Brealey Publishing

[1] This does not necessarily apply to other types of tests, such as practice or mock seen or unseen tests, which can contain test items unfamiliar to the students. Practice tests put the emphasis on learning rather than assessment of students’ achievements and can be administered at the beginning of a course and self- or peer-graded. Hughes (1996: 10-11) also concedes that ‘the content of these [final achievement tests] must be related to the courses with which they are concerned’, however, he acknowledges that ‘the nature of this relationship is a matter of disagreement amongst language testers’.
[2] See Kirschner, Wexler and Spector-Cohen (1992:542) for the discussion on why grammar and vocabulary knowledge should not be tested on an integrative reading comprehension test.
[3] All the examples cited in this paper have been taken from reading comprehension tests administered at institutions of higher education in Israel. The list of articles used for language tests exemplified here is given at the end of the paper. Italicization in reading passages and questions is mine.

“ThinkQuest” – quest for knowledge, technology literacy and global collaboration

Written by: Vanya Katsarska, Aviation Faculty, National Military University
“ThinkQuest” Competition offers an inspiring learning experience to students and teachers all over the world. Students work in teams and create websites on various educational topics. In the process they not only practice their English, but they also learn research, writing, teamwork, and technology skills.
The presenter would like to share her experience and inspire other teachers to set off in quest of knowledge, technology literacy and global collaboration.

If I had to describe contemporary students in one adjective, it would be neither curious, nor lazy. I would say digital. Digital kids. They play PC games, pass online tests, communicate via the internet, research using web materials, etc. I strongly believe that we, teachers, should mirror the way our children/teenagers are learning outside the classroom. And to do that, we have to integrate wikis, blogs, webquests, podcasts into the language classroom as much as we can and engage and motivate our students to learn.
I’d like to discuss a project which inspires students to learn, think, connect and share – the ThinkQuest Project.
ThinkQuest is an international competition for primary and secondary students. Students are challenged to create the best educational websites – on any school topic they choose. Using their creativity and skills, kids should develop a unique website in terms of content and web design. These sites are hosted in the ThinkQuest Library, a rich resource visited by millions worldwide. The idea is to help children in the English-speaking countries and all over the world with their school work and home assignments. Students write FOR students tough school topics in a simple and straightforward way. It’s something like a wonderful encyclopedia created by students for students.
A ThinkQuest Team must be comprised of at least 3 and no more than 6 student members and one Primary Coach. The team may also include one Assistant Coach. Teams compete in one of three age divisions: age 12 and under; age 15 and under; age 19 and under. Teams may be comprised of students and coaches from within a single classroom or from many different classrooms, schools, communities, or countries around the world. Multi-location teams and multi-language websites are encouraged because they give global perspective to the topic.
2006 ThinkQuest Competition had 12 prize-winning web sites and they were created by multinational teams of students from countries including: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
Topics for the Thinkquest Competition vary from very broad to narrow ones. For example in the “Geography & Travel” category, “World Guide” is a website for all countries around the world – click on a country and you can see the capital, population, language, religion, etc. There are also websites for a single country – “All about Turkey,” “Croatia.” There are even narrow topics – “The fountains in Kansas City.” You may be sure that an exciting journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click on the ThinkQuest Library. There are over 6000 websites on a wide range of topics in various categories: Books & Literature Business & Industry Computers & the Internet Health & Safety History & Government Philosophy, Religion & Mythology Science & Technology Social Sciences & Culture Sports & Recreation.
ThinkQuest Competition? Why not? Benefits.

  • Developing reading skills

No matter how glamorous the web design is, how catching the flash, students are not going to succeed if they don’t have solid content in excellent English. While developing their website content students gain various skills and strategies in reading and writing.
ThinkQuest Competition is a wonderful way to enrich students’ vocabulary. As we all know, there is a reciprocal relationship between vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. The better the students’ vocabulary knowledge is, the better they perform with reading comprehension tasks. Similarly, the more the students read using the appropriate skills and strategies, the more their vocabulary develops. This project plays an important part in both vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. In the process of creating their project, students use different ways of reading – skimming and scanning, extensive reading and intensive reading. They also develop various reading skills and strategies which are often elusive, even mysterious for students to acquire  – inferring; distinguishing fact from opinion, statement from example and main ideas from supporting details; using appropriately the appendix, the chapter headings, different tables, graphs, diagram, charts.

  • Developing critical thinking and evaluating skills

Although the Internet may appear to be an easy concept to grasp, it can be a very unfriendly jungle out there. In fact, just telling students to go to the Internet to search for something is similar to, as several authors put it, “trying to get a drink of water from a gushing fire hydrant” (Warschauer, Shetzer, & Meloni, 2000, p. 85).
Anyone in the world can make a website for little or no cost at all. Thus, we have opinions which may not be credible. While developing their websites students learn how to compare ideas, judgments, and opinions in the text against their own ideas and against those of other writers. The Web provides opportunities for students to learn to question, classify, and analyze what they read. Thus they develop their critical thinking and evaluating skills.

  • Developing skills and strategies for research work

That’s new ground for the younger students. Planning, searching in books and internet, note taking, using information is something our children are unaware of. The coach should teach them the whole process – from determining key words and phrases to evaluating information. The coach should teach them exploratory research which structures and identifies problems and constructive research which develops solutions to problems. Students also learn and use various research methods – case studies, interviews, experiments, observations, etc.

  • Ensuring student-centered approach

After finishing their research, students become producers of knowledge – which is a highly rewarding outcome. ThinkQuest is a person-centered approach that tries to enable students to realize their potential and develop a justified feeling of satisfaction. The fact that the students themselves have created something gives them a great feeling of personal achievement.

  • Going global

Students research and present their findings to an authentic audience. The teacher is no longer the only audience to their work, they go global. And I believe the more the learners are exposed to real world tasks, the better language users they will become.

  • Learning about copyright issues

The Foundation takes plagiarism very seriously. Any plagiarism or copyright violation results in the disqualification of the students’ website. During the process students learn how to find out if something is copyrighted or not. They also learn how to contact people in order to get permission to use things like images or clip art. The point is to learn what research is really like.

  • Developing writing skills

Much of the information students need for their website is buried in long, difficult-to-read reports and articles. Students need to simplify it and make it clearer for their peers. Sifting through all the info to find memorable facts is difficult. They find out that some sources have only a few relevant sentences, while others are long and contain too much technical language. Creating “middle ground” between the two extremes – difficult, technical, adult language and simplistic, childish language – make for an immensely challenging writing task. Sometimes due to the huge amount of data available, it is hard not to cram in everything they could. However, site’s content has to be of reasonable length so that readers would stay focused.
KISS is the rule in writing – Keep it Simple and Straightforward!

  • Communication

Communication is one of the barriers teams need to overcome, but they all learn to be flexible. Time zones need to be crossed in order for this to work, and there is always someone who has to be up early or stay up late. Synchronous and asynchronous communication among team-members allows learners to practice specific skills such as negotiating, persuading, clarifying meaning, requesting information, and engaging in true-life, authentic discussion.
ThinkQuest gives students the chance to work with children from diverse cultural, religious, and geographical backgrounds. It acts as a bridge for cultural exchanges that deepen understanding and enhance the trust and friendship among the young people participating in this program. It promotes mutual understanding and tolerance, respect for identities and cultural diversity.

  • Putting Technology to Good Use

Great content is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. ThinkQuest shows us how technology can be put to good use. One of the girls participating in the competition says: “During the summer, I spent at least two hours each day doing tutorials for Flash and Dreamweaver.”

  • Team work

Here’s what one ThinkQuest student has said: “In the beginning I was bossy and wanted everything to be done my way. Some of the team members quit because of my unwillingness to share tasks, so I was left alone to do most of the work. I had to find new team members to help. That year, I learned two important values: teamwork is the key and a team without respect for each member flounders.”
The ThinkQuest Competion helps students become more responsible and cooperative in relation to other people.
Is all that glitters gold? Disadvantages.
The ThinkQuest Project takes a great deal of time, energy, and commitment. You must be warned that many teachers and students get addicted to ThinkQuest and put their lives at risk. It breaks up real-life friendships and leaves school cafeterias empty.
Conclusion
ThinkQuest challenges students’ intellect. All skills are valued – languages, drawing, webdesign. The project cuts across lines of race, religion, culture, politics, and distance for a common goal, a common good. Anybody who does ThinkQuest does not go unrewarded. Even if kids don’t get the trip to SanFrancisco, they get a big Award. For they have gained knowledge. They have acquired new skills. They have practiced their English. They have worked together as a team. They have learned to sacrifice. A quest has a beginning and an end. Both are important, but the end is determined by what you do in the middle, how much you work, how much you try, how much effort you put in. And even if the end is not the end students were expecting, they know that they have done something great. And that is reward enough.

What NLP has to tell us language teachers

Written by: Mario Rinvolucri, Pilgrims, UK
NLP, in this context, means Neuro-Linguistic-Programming which, incidentally has nothing to do with the new science of Neuro-Linguistics, the neurological view of language reception and production with which NLP is sometimes confused. If you look  NLP up on Google you will find many more entries about Natural Language Processing than about Neuro-Linguistic-Programming. Given that the price of taking a four  week NLP Practitioner Course is sky high, more than double to cost of most other therapy training courses, some people think NLP also means Never-Lower-Prices!
In this article I want to share with you four of the basic things that NLP has taught me:
Learning 1: Without adequate rapport I can do very little as a teacher
By “rapport” I  mean “relationship” or “harmonious being with”. NLP holds that without rapport you can do no useful psychological work with people and I would maintain that without  an adequate “ emotional bridge” between you and your students you can’t really teach them much.
If you tell a joke and most of your students laugh when you loose the the punchline you have established “humour rapport” with them.
If you tell the class a moving story and you can feel the students ( or most of them) hanging on your every word, then you have achieved “ narrative rapport” with them.
If you are explaining something difficult and you pause for a longish time to marshal your thoughts, and the students stay silent with expectant looks on their faces, then you have reached a state of “reflective rapport “ with them.
If you ask the students to stand up and do a physical exercise, and if the energy from your body is mirrored in their movements then you have got “physical rapport” with them
My Blagoevgrad plenary started with just such a physical exercise:
I asked the whole assembly to put their note books to one side, to stand up and to prepare to imitate my actions and echo my words.
The first part of the text, which I delivered in French, went roughly like this:
The leader looks intently at the ground in front of him, smiles and shows wonderment on his face
Beautiful……..ah….. so beautiful…….. Wow …..  what a beautiful flower
The leader leans forward, looking yet more closely….
What a beautiful colour! …… red…..crimson….what a marvellous red rose!……….
( These were the opening lines of the text)
What this little group-mirroring exercise did was to get me and the people in that hall into various degrees of linguistic and physical rapport. I say “varying degrees” because many people entered joyously into the activity and gave themselves to it, while others showed with their body language that they were far from sure of the value of what we were doing.
The group-mirroring exercise is a marvellous  pronunciation activity for any students from beginners to advanced  as it invites the students to “ surrender” to the leader’s sound system, rather than to cling onto their own way of saying the words. The exercise invites the student  to flow as the leader flows and to abandon their own , often partially mistaken, phonological system. This exercise comes from the work of Bernard Dufeu, and to find out more you could visit this website: www.psychodramturgie.de
I mentioned earlier that not all the people in that hall warmed to the “group-mirror” work.
While Bernard’s exercise allowed me to gain initial rapport with a lot of the audience, with a minority it had a neutral or negative effect. It was now time to reach out to this minority.
The second  exercise we did, and we worked in pairs, went like this:
Person A:  zero
Person B:  one hundred
Person A:  two
Person B:  ninety eight
Person A:  four
Person B    ninety six
Person A:  six
Person B:  ninety four
(The partners stopped when they reached fifty)
While the group mirroring exercise is linguistic, kinaesthetic and inter-personal in nature, this second one appeals to minds that love sequence, mathematical order and focusing inwards. It appeals to the logical-mathematical and intra-personal intelligences ( after Gardner) You will find  a gold mine of such simple intellectual-focusing exercises in A.R.Orage’s  book On love and psychological exercise, Sam Weisner, New York 1996.
Learning 2:  Observation is as central to NLP as it is to teaching
When a student speaks to me she is offering me a feast of  physiological information.
Her speech tempo will be slow, medium speed or fast.
She may speak from high is her voice box or from low in her voice box : the pitch of her voice will seriously colour what she is saying.
She may be a high volume, booming speaker or her voice may be nearer the whispering end of the loud/quiet spectrum.
Her speech may be accompanied by a few subtle gestures of the face or she may be a person who makes great use of her hands.
NLP has taught me how, if I want to, I can consciously observe voice features, that we normally take on board at a level below consciousness. This gives me much fuller information about the state of mind and body of the speaker.
To be skilled in such observation is not important in casual conversation but becomes useful when you are dealing professionally with a person who has a problem.
Visual observation is also central both to NLP and to teaching. By watching a person’s shoulders, chest and neck you can normally get an idea of how they are breathing: from the belly or from the upper part of the chest, slowly and calmly or in shallow, fast way.
A person’s breathing, together with their posture tell you a lot about their emotional state.
Your interlocutor’s  face  muscles give you finer awareness of how they are feeling as do colour changes to the cheeks and neck.
During my talk we did some work on recognizing what  a person’s eye moments tell you about their inner state.
It became clear by experimentation that when a person looks up to the right or to the left or when they stare away into the distance they are usually accessing internal pictures.
Sometimes a person, as they talk to you, is experiencing feelings, and when this happens their eyes will often be cast down to their right. You will often see this eye-movement  in photos of  politicians who have been given the push!
In conversation people sometimes talk to you and sometimes talk to themselves in your presence. When this happens, when they go into an internal dialogue which you can hear, they will typically be looking down to their left.
If you see a person’s eyes staying level, to the left or to the right, they are talking to you from their inner world of sound.
As is obvious, reading the sensory clues offered by a person’s eye movements allows you to understand the words they are saying to you more fully. Observing eye-movement patterns allows you to understand better the way they are processing information  and speaking to you about it.
Learning 3:  NLP  has opened my eyes to the sensory nature of much language
I have known since my school days that poets use language for marvellous sensory evocations. What NLP has shown me is that many of the simpler words in the language provoke a sensory reaction in the mind without a person consciously thinking about it.
Let me give you this word:
Elephant…………….
You may have done nothing of a sensory nature as you read the word
You may have got a mental image of an elephant
You may have heard an elephant trumpeting
You may have felt joy or fear that you associate with being near these large beasts
You may have breathed in the smells of an elephant house……
In Blagoevgrad  I asked people to write down these five headings:
I see          I hear           I feel through my body,        I taste        I smell

I then dictated non-abstract words  like   bread   I go for a walk    cheese
and asked them to put each word in the column corresponding to their first sensory representation of  it.
It is interesting that with a powerful word like mother nearly half the participants got a kinaesthetic representation, with maybe a quarter mentally seeing mother and maybe a fifth hearing her. A handful of  people associated the word with the realm of smell.
This exercise, which, incidentally, is a  good lower intermediate vocabulary revision technique, helps me understand another dimension of  the “word” in that many non-abstract words have a sensory dimension as well as  a colligation or grammatical aspect, a collocational pattern, and a particular kind of emotional prosody. ( see Michael Hoey’s Lexical Primings, Routledge, 2005)
What thrills me about this discovery is that the sensory representation  a listener or reader gets for a word is highly subjective and depends on their own inner  psycho-physiological structures. NLP has helped me broaden my understanding of what a word is.
Learning 4: What NLP has taught me about correction
I used to honestly think that correction was a student right and that my job as teacher was to correct in as equal a way as possible. As a young parent I used to think that I should treat each of my children “equally”.
What illusions! Each child perceives the world differently and has different needs so simplistic “democracy” and “equality” of parental offer  is way into the land of absurdity.
As a parent you soon shed these beautiful, well-motivated illusions.
NLP has helped me understand that the same is true of correction in the FL classroom.
There are at least three groups of students within a typical teenage or adult language class:

  • A minority  of students who internally resent any teacher-initiated correction. These students put up with correction from the teacher on the social level, but internally brush such correction aside. These students only want teacher help when they themselves ask for it.
  • A minority of students who appreciate the teacher as a subject expert and who really want a lot of teacher-initiated correction. These students  internalize correction  and really benefit from it.
  • A largish group of students who sometimes internally accept teacher-initiated correction and who at other times could do without it, depending on their mood.

At this point you may be thinking  “fine, theoretically, but what do I do tomorrow morning in my class in Varna, Plovdiv or Sofia?”
Let me give you a  practical answer. Suppose the students are doing a writing exercise in class, ask each person to write clearly on a piece of paper on their desk either:

Come when I call you
– Or –
Correct me when you want to

This simple teacher action gives the student a degree of autonomy and allows  them to decide how they want to be treated. It allows the very independent ones freedom to write without feeling bridled or threatened, and at the same time, it allows you to devote more time to the ones who feel happy with your expertise.
Conclusion:
The above four learnings from NLP are those that I shared with my participants at the The Blagoevgrad Conference. It is perhaps a little simplistic to say that these learnings arise uniquely from experience of using NLP. The first Learning, about the need to achieve empathy, is something that inchoately, all young teachers learn from their own students. My understanding of empathy derives too from  Jacob Moreno and psychodrama, from the work of  Marcia Karp, a New York therapist, from the application of psychodrama ideas to language teaching in the work of Willy Urbain and Bernard Dufeu and from many other sources.
Though NLP has helped me understand the nature of student self-correction in ways I never did before….some of my earliest thinking in this area was influenced by the work of Charles Curran and his intuitions about how a language learner moves  from a state of new born-like dependence through a sort of “adolescence” towards independence.
NLP, however,  is useful to language teachers in that it has magpied through earlier therapies, hypnotherapeutic approaches, cybernetics and other areas and come up with a new. if sprawling synthesis.
You could find out more about NLP by reading a general introductory book on it, such as Introducing  Neuro-Linguistic-Programming, Seymour and O’Connor.
You could get hold of a book of language teaching exercises inspired by NLP, like Unlocking Self-Expression through NLP, Baker and Rinvolucri, Delta 2005 and thus you can come into this kind of thinking as you watch your own and your students’ reactions.
In my introductory paragraphs I mentioned that NLP one month courses in the great cities of Europe are grimly expensive, so the best courses for you to take would be two week EU funded courses language teachers. Every summer major EFL training institutions in UK offer two courses to teach NLP to language teachers. You get on these courses free if the Bulgarian Agency awards you an EU scholarship. Good courses are on offer at Bell, NILE and my own place, Pilgrims. Naturally I hope you come to us and do not go to the excellent opposition!

Foreign language teaching and intercultural training

Written by:Maria Momchilova, Sofia University, Department of Language Learning
momchilovabg@yahoo.com The ever expanding global mobility, the increased economic interdependence in the world of business and trade, the development of modern information and communication technology has enhanced our knowledge and awareness of people from other cultures. To be able to communicate effectively with representatives of other cultures, one should know more than the language of the target culture. Therefore, the role of the foreign language teacher is to provide intercultural training to her/his students in addition to the teaching of a foreign language. The acquisition of intercultural communicative competence is the underlying and essential aspect of modern foreign language teaching and intercultural training.
Intercultural training in the foreign language classroom focuses on the interpersonal dynamics that take place when individuals from one culture interact and communicate with people from another culture.(Hammer) The intercultural training provided by the teacher of a foreign language should be aimed at helping students learn and adapt to new and unfamiliar cultural values, practices, and behaviors surrounding them in the foreign environment. Cultural differences between people can arise because of differences in what they do (actions), what they produce (artifacts), and what they mean by what they do and what they produce (interactions).
The efforts of the foreign language teacher providing intercultural training should cover three main areas (Kealey; Blake, Heslin and Curtis):

  1. Personal adjustment and satisfaction
  2. Intercultural interaction
  3. Professional effectiveness

Personal adjustment and satisfaction of the student of a foreign language placed in the target culture is connected both with the temporary effects of culture shock, which arise from the initial adjustment to a foreign culture environment, and with the long-term psychological satisfaction with living in the foreign culture. To soften the culture shock the foreign language teacher should alert the students of any great cultural differences between students’ own and target culture. Students should know that culture shock is often triggered by exposure to unfamiliar aspects of another culture(food, environment, nonverbal communication, body distance). Still it is a natural and normal part of the adaptation process to a new cultural setting. Failing to experience culture shock, on the other hand, may be an indication that the student is mentally distanced(remains emotionally apart) from the target culture.(Brislin)
Intercultural interaction – the main concern here is with the dynamics of social interaction. “Intercultural interaction refers to being socially involved with nationals and demonstrating interest and knowledge of the host culture”(Kealey). Many foreign language textbooks develop some of their teaching materials around topics such as national holidays, cuisine, historic and literary heritage. The foreign language teacher should focus on these and raise the learners’ interest and awareness of the relevance of such knowledge. Additional materials should be brought into the classroom, inviting students to share personal experiences and discuss different cultural perceptions.
Professional effectiveness refers to the ability of a person to accomplish her/his professional goals in a culturally appropriate manner, and in so doing to successfully transfer knowledge, skills, and/or technology to target country nationals. The foreign language student should not forget that s/he is the ambassador of her/his country no matter where s/he goes, so s/he must be fully aware of the image s/he creates of her/his native culture in the target culture.
Learning a foreign language should no more be viewed as simply mastering an objective of academic study. The focus for both teachers and students should be on grasping how discourse in the target language conveys specific cultural meanings and values in and across all target language-using cultures. Intercultural learning and the acquisition of intercultural communicative competence are the essence of modern foreign language teaching, therefore, the foreign language teacher needs to identify and develop the five core intercultural communication skills (Hammer) relevant to the cross-cultural interaction of their students.
Interaction management is the first of those skills. It reveals how participants engage one another and take turns in the conversation.
Immediacy shows the degree to which the participants are approachable during an interaction.
Social relaxation relates to how the people interacting manage the stress and anxiety felt in the process.
Expressiveness shows to what extent participants are able to express their opinion and ideas during an interaction.
Other orientation – are participants attentive, interested in, and adaptable towards one another during interaction.
These five skills seem to be culture-general in their underlying dimension, but culture-specific in their behavioral manifestation. A foreign language student, who has developed these skills is viewed as a highly competent communicator by members of other cultures.
The foreign language teacher should establish the model of the effective intercultural communicator focusing on self-awareness, realism (realistic expectations when faced with target culture), tolerance, openness to others, sensitivity, non-judgemental attitudes, which are essential in minimizing misunderstanding and building trust and affiliation with a representative of another culture. The foreign language teacher is the person to encourage her/his students to become both fluent in the target language and multiculturally literate.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Blake, B.F., R.Heslin, and S.C.Curtis, Measuring the Impact of Cross-cultural Training, Handbook of Intercultural Training, SAGE, 1996.
  2. Brislin, R., Understanding Culture’s Influence on Behavior, Harcourt, Fort Worth, TX, 1993.
  3. Hammer, M.B., Cross-cultural Training: The Real Connection, Intercultural Sourcebook Vol.2, Intercultural Press, Inc., 1999.
  4. Kealey, D.J.,The Challenge of International Personnel Selection, Handbook of Intercultural Training, SAGE, 1996.

APPENDIX

Never underestimate the importance of local knowledge