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Contents

ELT Journal Volume 62 Number 3 July 2008

Articles
Richard Cullen
Gary Barkhuizen
Simon Evans
John Macalister
Shosh Leshem
and Rivka Bar-Hama
Fumiyo Nakatsuhara

Teaching grammar as a liberating force 221


A narrative approach to exploring context in language teaching 231
Reading reaction journals in EAP courses 240
Implementing extensive reading in an EAP programme 248
Evaluating teaching practice 257
Inter-interviewer variation in oral interview tests 266

Point and counterpoint


Ramin Akbari
Colin Sowden
Ramin Akbari

Transforming lives: introducing critical pedagogy into ELT


classrooms 276
Theres more to life than politics 284
Education is filled with politics 292

Survey review
Hitomi Masuhara,
Naeema Hann, Yong Yi,
and Brian Tomlinson

Adult EFL courses 294

Reviews
Mara Luz C. Vilches
Bev Davies
Linda Scott
Sandie Mourao
Gregory P.Glasgow

How to Teach English (Second Edition) by J. Harmer 313


The Oxford ESOL Handbook by P. Schellekens 316
The CELTA Course by S. Thornbury and P. Watkins 318
500 Activities for the Primary Classroom by C. Read 320
Teacher Language Awareness by S. Andrews 322

Websites for the language teacher


Diana Eastment

Open access 325


IATEFL 329
Please visit ELT Journals website at
http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org

Teaching grammar as a liberating


force
Richard Cullen

The idea of grammar as a liberating force comes from a paper by Henry


Widdowson (1990) in which grammar is depicted as a resource which liberates the
language user from an over-dependency on lexis and context for the expression of
meaning. In this paper, I consider the implications for second language teaching of
the notion of grammar as a liberating force, and identify three key design features
which, I propose, need to be present in any grammar production task in which this
notion is given prominence. These are: learner choice over which grammatical
structures to use; a process of grammaticization where the learners apply
grammar to lexis; and opportunities to make comparisons and notice gaps in their
use of grammar. I then discuss, with practical examples, types of grammar task
which exhibit these features. These tasks all derive from traditional E LT practice,
but have been revitalized to support an approach to teaching grammar which
emphasizes its liberating potential.

The liberating
potential of grammar

In an essay entitled Grammar, and nonsense, and learning, Widdowson


(1990: 86) wrote:
. . . grammar is not a constraining imposition but a liberating force: it
frees us from a dependency on context and a purely lexical categorization
of reality.
Given that many learnersand teacherstend to view grammar as a set of
restrictions on what is allowed and disallowed in language usea linguistic
straitjacket in Larsen-Freemans words (2002: 103)the conception of
grammar as something that liberates rather than represses is one that is
worth investigating further. In this paper, I first explore the implications of
this statement for our understanding of the nature of grammar and the role
it plays in communication, and then go on to discuss how this
understanding might inform approaches to teaching grammar in second
language classrooms.
Widdowsons conception of grammar as a liberating force may be a striking
image, but what he meant by it is not contentious. Without any grammar,
the learner is forced to rely exclusively on lexis and the immediate context,
combined with gestures, intonation and other prosodic and non-verbal
features, to communicate his/her intended meanings. For example, the
three lexical items dog eat meat could be strung together in that order to
communicate the intended message that the dog has eaten the meat (which
E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccm042
The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Advance Access publication March 15, 2008

221

we were going to cook for dinner), provided there is enough shared context
between the interlocutorsthe empty plate, the shared knowledge of the
dog, the meat and our plans for dinnerto allow the utterance to be
interpreted correctly. With insufficient contextual information, the
utterance is potentially ambiguous and could convey a range of alternative
meanings, such as:
1 The dog is eating the meat.
2 A dog must have eaten the meat.
3 Dogs eat meat.

It is grammar that allows us to make these finer distinctions in


meaningin the above examples, through the use of the article system,
number, tense, and aspect. It thereby frees us from a dependency on lexis
and contextual clues in the twin tasks of interpreting and expressing
meanings, and generally enables us to communicate with a degree of
precision not available to the learner with only a minimal command of the
system. In this sense, grammar is a liberating force.

Notional and
attitudinal meanings
in grammar

The above examples illustrate how grammar is used to indicate differences


in notional meaning (Batstone 1995)that is differences in semantic
categories, such as time, duration, frequency, definiteness, etc. The
liberating power which grammar gives usto transcend the limitations of
lexis and context in the communication of meaningis also deployed in
expressing attitudinal meanings, such as approval, disapproval, politeness,
abruptness, and social intimacy or distance, etc. (Batstone op. cit., LarsenFreeman op. cit.). The following example from Batstone (ibid.: 197)
illustrates how a writer might deliberately contrast two tenses to indicate
approval and disapproval towards the respective subjects of the verb:
Smith (1980) argued that Britain was no longer a country in which
freedom of speech was seriously maintained. Johnson (1983), though,
argues that Britain remains a citadel of individual liberty.
Commenting on this example, Batstone (ibid.: 198) suggests that the use of
the past tense
signals that Smiths argument is no longer worthy of current
interest . . . it is (in two significant senses) passe,
whereas the contrasting use of the present tense in the following sentence
shows that
Johnsons argument is held to be of real and continuing relevance.
The writer is here using grammar to signal something about his attitude
to the ideas he is discussing.
Central to the notion of grammar as a liberating force is the view of grammar
as a communicative resource on which speakers draw to express their
intended meanings at both levelsthe notional and the attitudinal. As such
the use of a particular grammatical structure is a matter of speaker choice.
As language users, we may wish to be very clear about what we want to say,
or deliberately ambiguous, or non-committal. We may wish to sound polite,
distant, direct, or even rude. We may wish to convey formality or informality

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Richard Cullen

according to the context in which we are operating. To do all these things,


speakers use the linguistic resources which the grammar of the language
makes available to them: grammar is thus at the service of the language
user, and the teaching of grammarespecially if we wish to present
grammar to our learners as something which is liberating and
empoweringshould aim to reflect this.

Focus on form and


output tasks

The kind of liberating force attributed to grammar so far lies in its intrinsic
natureas a resource to enhance power and precision in the
communication of meaning. However, there is another sense in which
grammar might be termed a liberating force, and that is in its potential as
a focus of second language instruction to drive forward learning processes
and so help to liberate the learner from the shackles of the intermediate
plateau. There is a considerable body of evidence in second language
acquisition research (see, for example, Long 2001; Ellis 2005) to suggest
that a focus on formthat is, a focus on specific grammatical forms as they
arise in contexts of language useis an essential ingredient to raise the
ultimate level of attainment (Long op. cit.: 184). In particular, second
language researchers such as Swain (1995) and Skehan (2002) have
argued strongly that output tasks which are both system-stretching, in
that they push the learners to use their full grammatical resources, and
awareness-raising, in the sense that they allow learners to become aware
of gaps in their current state of interlanguage development, are crucial
elements in a pedagogy designed to provide the required focus on form.
One of the practical implications of the notion of teaching grammar as
a liberating force, therefore, would be in the design of production tasks
which challenge learners grammatically, and also lead them to notice gaps
in their knowledge of the target language system.

Three design features


in teaching grammar
as a liberating force

From the foregoing discussion, I propose that an approach to teaching


grammar as a liberating force should include the following three
elements:
1 Learner choice
Given that the deployment of grammar in communication invariably
involves the speaker or writer in making a free and conscious choice
(notwithstanding the fact that having chosen a particular grammatical
structure there are conventions to observe regarding its acceptable
formation), the first element is that the learner must have a degree of
choice over the grammatical structures they use, and deploy them as
effectively as they can to match specific contexts and meet specific
communicative goals. In this respect, an emphasis on grammar as
a liberating force would favour a process rather than a product approach
to teaching grammar (Batstone 1994; Thornbury 2001), whereby learners
are not compelled to use a particular grammatical structure which has
been preselected for themit would be difficult to conceive of grammar
being genuinely a liberating force if they werebut rather they choose from
their stock of grammatical knowledge to express the meanings they wish
to convey.

Teaching grammar as a liberating force

223

2 Lexis to grammar
If grammar liberates the language user by enabling him/her to transcend
the limitations of telegraphic speech (using lexical items alone), there
should be a progression from lexis to grammar both in the way language
and materials are presented to learners, and in the language we expect them
to produce. A grammar production task would typically require the learners
to apply grammar to samples of language in which the grammar has been
reduced or simplified, as typically found in notes of a meeting or
a newspaper headline, where the meaning content is conveyed primarily
through lexical items. Such tasks, where the learners are in effect asked to
map grammar on to lexis, involve a process known variously as
grammaticization (Batstone 1994) or grammaring (Thornbury 2001). By
engaging in this kind of activity, learners experience the process of using
their grammatical resources to develop the meaning potential contained in
the lexical items and express a range of meanings which the words alone
could not convey. Such a process is not dissimilar to the processes involved
in first language acquisition whereby the child moves from communication
through telegraphic utterances involving strings of lexical items to the
gradual deployment of morphemes and function words. It is not, however,
a process promoted in traditional approaches to grammar teaching such as
the presentationpracticeproduction format, where the learners are
typically asked to move in the opposite directionthey begin with
a preselected grammatical structure, and then have to slot lexis into it.
3 Comparing texts and noticing gaps
The third element in teaching grammar as a liberating force derives from
well-established principles of task-based pedagogy (for example, Willis
1996; Skehan op. cit.) and relates to the importance of allowing the learners
to focus on grammatical forms which arise from their communicative
needs, and in particular as a result of noticing gaps in their own use of
grammar. These gaps are noticed through a process of comparing their
output on a language production task with that of other learners or more
proficient users, for example, a sample text, or a written transcript of native
speakers doing the same task (Willis op. cit.). The focus on grammar is thus
reactive rather than proactive (Doughty and Williams 1998), because it
arises from the specific communicative needs which the learners discover in
the processes of doing the task, reviewing their performance and comparing
it with others. In this way learners experience the liberating potential of
grammar, not just to help them express their meanings in a particular
activity with greater precision, but over time, through a sustained
programme of comparing and noticing gaps and differences, to enable
them to develop their proficiency and sensitivity in the target language to
increasingly more advanced levels.

Task types for


teaching grammar as
a liberating force

Four task types which exemplify these different elements are discussed
below. At the outset, I should point out that I do not claim any originality
for them, since they all involve classroom activities which have been in use
for many years, particularly as exercises to develop writing skills. Indeed
some, I would suggest, have partially fallen into disuse. What I am aiming
to do here is to show how fairly standard techniques, which have stood the

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Richard Cullen

test of time, can be revitalized and adapted to support a more contemporary


approach to teaching grammar.
Task type 1: Grammaticization tasks
In these tasks, the learners use their grammatical resources to develop and
expand information presented in the form of notes in which grammatical
features are reduced or even omitted altogether. The example in Figure 1
shows a grammaticization task using newspaper headlines, based on an
idea in Thornbury 2001. The three elements are clearly present in this type
of task: first, the learners have a free choice over which grammatical features
to use to expand the headlines, either individually or in consultation with
others; second, they start with lexis and add grammar to it, as well as any
additional lexis that may be required to develop and elaborate the story; and
third, after doing this, they compare their texts with one another and with
the original paragraph in the newspaper, and in this way naturally focus on
and discuss some of the differences between their use of grammar and that
of the original text, as well as differences in content. They can also be asked
to look for any patterns in the way grammar is used in the opening
paragraphs in all four stories, for example in the use of the present perfect
tense, relative clauses, clauses in apposition, and the use of the passive.

figure 1
Grammaticization task
using newspaper
headlines. (Headlines 1,
3, and 4 from The Times,
London, 31 August 2007;
headline 2 from the
Ashford Express, Kent
Messenger Group, 16
August 2007.)

Other grammaticization tasks, suitable for higher-level studentsacademic


writing classes, for examplecould include the use of bullet points taken
from PowerPoint presentations prepared by the students themselves. These
would be used to cue the writing of short paragraphs and summaries,
thereby giving practice in essay writing skills.
Task type 2: Synthesis tasks
Synthesis tasks (Graver 1986) are variations on grammaticization tasks and
take the form of exercises which start with a short text, consisting of a string
of short, non-complex sentences which the learners are required to combine
in some way so as to reduce the number of sentences and create a more
natural piece of text. The technique is a traditional sentence combination
task done at text rather than sentence level, and requires the use of various
grammatical devices needed for the construction of complex sentences,
such as relative clauses, purpose clauses and subordination, as well as
cohesive devices such as linking words. An example is given in Figure 2.

Teaching grammar as a liberating force

225

Again it will be seen that the task combines the three elements noted above:
the learners have choice over the grammatical devices they think are needed
to reconstruct the text in the most effective way, drawing on their own
knowledge of the language. They compare their versions with one another
and with the teachers own version and so have the opportunity to expand
their own knowledge. Finally, although the task may not, strictly speaking,
move from lexis to grammar, it certainly moves from a text where the
grammar has been artificially reduced or simplified to one in which it is
more elaborated. The task also develops sensitivity to writing style and what
makes a coherent, fluent narrative.

figure 2
Synthesis task (adapted
from an idea in Graver
1986)

Task types 3 and 4: dictogloss and picture composition


These two task types are variations on the same procedure, in that they
require the students to reconstruct an original text by supplying more
grammar to it, and then comparing their new versions with those of
others. In dictogloss, or grammar dictation (Wajnryb 1990), learners
have to listen to and take notes on a short text read aloud to them, before
trying to reconstruct the text from their notes. Dictogloss clearly meets
all three criteria for designing tasks which emphasize the liberating
nature of grammar. The students move from lexis to grammar as they
strive to grammaticize the notes they made while listening to the text;
they choose from their own grammatical resources while reconstructing
the text; and finally they compare their versions with one another in order
to improve and refine them (Thornbury 1997), before comparing them
with the original version. A particular advantage of dictogloss is that the
texts selected (or specially written, as in Wajnrybs 1990 book) can be of
any typedescriptive, narrative, argumentative, etc.depending on
the aims of the lesson and needs of the learners. The example in the
Appendix is a paragraph from a Wikipedia entry about the Hubble
Telescope, which, if used with an upper-intermediate level academic

226

Richard Cullen

writing class, perhaps as part of a unit on space exploration, could lead to


a focus on various grammatical features such as the use of the present
perfect tense in descriptive texts of this kind, structures used with
superlative forms of adjectives, and word suffixes (astronomy, astronomer,
astronomical).
Picture composition is another traditional technique used in teaching
writing which lends itself to this approach to teaching grammar. In order
to provide for the lexis to grammar dimension, the sequence of pictures
used would need to be accompanied by key words (provided either by the
teacher or negotiated with the whole class). In addition, some language
can be built into the picture sequence itself, as is typically found in
a cartoon strip. The procedure shown in Figure 3 begins by following
a fairly traditional sequence (Steps 1 to 3) based on a similar task found
in Ur 1988 (see the example in the Appendix), but adopts a more
structured procedure for focusing on form at Steps 4 to 7, one which is
more consistent with the task-based cycle of teaching described by Willis
(op. cit.). I have made the element of comparing texts deliberately less direct
in this task, in order to avoid giving the students the impression that the
stories which they composed in Step 1 and edited in Step 4 are less worthy or
interesting than the other groups stories or the teachers version,
presented at Step 6. The teachers version in fact is only a composite of the
individual group versions (and it is important that it is presented as such)
and is available as a source for comparison at the end of the process when the
students correct any errors in their own texts.

figure 3
A procedure for a picture
composition task

Teaching grammar as a liberating force

227

Conclusion

In this paper I have identified three elements which I see as being central to
an approach to teaching grammar which emphasizes its role as a liberating
force (as defined in Widdowsons essay), and have gone on to show how
these elements can be incorporated into the design of grammar production
activities in the E F L classroom. As has been pointed out, the approach
which these activities exemplify is task-based in design, in that the focus on
form comes after a freer activity in which the learners use whatever
language resources they can muster: the teaching progression is thus from
fluency to accuracy rather than vice versa. The activities also follow a process
approach to teaching grammar, in which grammatical items are not selected
and presented in advance for learners to use, but rather grammar is treated
as a resource which language users exploit as they navigate their way
through discourse (Batstone 1994: 224). Gaps in their knowledge are
noticed later through the process of matching and comparing so that work
can begin on trying to fill them.
There are two further observations about the task types presented here
which need to be made. Firstly, given the scope of this paper, I have looked
only at types of task which require learners to produce language and have
not discussed receptive grammar tasks designed to raise awareness of the
various notional and attitudinal meanings which can be expressed by
grammar. Such tasks would involve considering the effects created by
changing some of the grammatical features used in a text, or asking learners
to make grammatical choices in a given text, for example, between active
and passive verb forms, and then comparing their choices with the original
text. Such awareness raising activities would also have an important role in
teaching grammar as a liberating force since they emphasize the notion of
learner choice in the use of grammar. Secondly, all the task types presented
have involved the learners in the creation of written texts, and are derived
from fairly standard guided writing tasks. This emphasis on writing is
deliberate: writing is generally done with more care and attention to
grammatical accuracy than speaking, while having a written text to study
and compare with another written text makes it easier to focus on form and
to notice and record features of grammar which might otherwise be
overlooked.
Finally, although I have argued in this paper that a process-oriented
approach to teaching grammar is more consistent with the notion of
grammar as a liberating force than a product-oriented approach, I am not
claiming that such an approach is inherently superior, and preferable at all
times and for all levels of student. There are many circumstances where it
may be necessary and desirable to pre-select language items for attention
prior to setting learners loose on a task, particularly for lower-level students,
and as a general policy a balanced combination of the two approaches is
likely to be the most effective teaching strategy to adopt. However, if we are
serious about emphasizing the notion of grammar as a liberating force in
our teaching, we need at least to provide opportunities for our learners to
experience its liberating potential through the kind of process-oriented
grammar tasks described here.
Final revised version received October 2007

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Richard Cullen

References
Batstone, R. 1994. Product and process: grammar
in the second language classroom in M. Bygate,
A. Tonkyn, and E. Williams (eds.). Grammar and the
Second Language Teacher. Hemel Hempstead:
Prentice Hall International.
Batstone, R. 1995. Grammar in discourse: attitude
and deniability in G. Cook and B. Seidlhofer (eds.).
Principle and Practice in Applied Linguistics. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Doughty, C. and J. Williams. 1998. Pedagogic
choices in focus on form in C. Doughty and
J. Williams (eds.). Focus on Form in Classroom Second
Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Ellis, R. 2005. Principles of instructed second
language learning. System 33/2: 20924.
Graver, B. 1986. Advanced English Practice (third
edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Larsen-Freeman, D. 2002. The Grammar of choice
in E. Hinkel and S. Fotos (eds.). New Perspectives on
Grammar Teaching in Second Language Classrooms.
Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbawm Associates.
Long, M. 2001. Focus on form: a design feature
in language teaching methodology in C. Candlin
and N. Mercer (eds.). English Language Teaching in its
Social Context. London: Routledge.
Skehan, P. 2002. Task-based instruction: theory,
research and practice in A. Pulverness (ed.). IATEF L
2002: York Conference Selections. Whitstable: I AT E F L.
.

Appendix
1 Dictogloss text

Swain, M. 1995. Three functions of output in


second language learning in G. Cook and
B. Seidlhofer (eds.). Principle and Practice in
Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thornbury, S. 1997. Reformulation and
reconstruction: tasks that promote noticing. E LT
Journal 51/4: 32635.
Thornbury, S. 2001. Uncovering Grammar. Oxford:
Heinemann Macmillan.
Ur, P. 1988. Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Wajnryb, R. 1990. Grammar Dictation. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Widdowson, H. 1990. Aspects of Language Teaching.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis, J. 1996. A Framework for Task-based Learning.
London: Longman.
The author
Richard Cullen is Head of the Department of English
and Language Studies at Canterbury Christ Church
University, UK. His research interests include
classroom discourse, teacher and trainer
development, and the teaching and learning of
grammar, with a particular interest in spoken
grammar. He has worked for the British Council on
teacher education projects in Egypt, Bangladesh, and
Tanzania, and has also taught and trained teachers in
Nepal and Greece.
Email: rmc1@cant.ac.uk

Students are given the first sentence of the text. They have to recover the
rest by taking notes as it is read aloud to them (twice) and then
reconstructing the text from their notes.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a telescope in orbit around the Earth. It is
named after astronomer Edwin Hubble, famous for his discovery of galaxies
outside the Milky Way and his creation of Hubbles Law, which calculates
the rate at which the universe is expanding. The telescopes position outside
the Earths atmosphere allows it to take sharp optical images of very faint
objects, and since its launch in 1990, it has become one of the most
important instruments in the history of astronomy. It has been responsible
for many ground-breaking observations and has helped astronomers
achieve a better understanding of many fundamental problems in
astrophysics. Hubbles Ultra Deep Field is the deepest (most sensitive)
astronomical optical image ever taken.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Space_Telescope

Teaching grammar as a liberating force

229

2 Picture
composition
material

(The sequence of pictures is taken from Ur 1988: 218)

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Richard Cullen

A narrative approach to exploring


context in language teaching
Gary Barkhuizen

In recent years there have been persistent calls for teachers to explore their teaching
contexts in order to become more aware of them and to understand them. Doing
so would enable teachers to make more informed decisions about their practice
and their students learning. This article outlines a narrative approach for exploring
context. A narrative inquiry case is presented to provide a framework for the
discussion. Emerging from this narrative case are three levels of story applicable to
the participant English teachers lives. A brief description of these levels is provided,
and is followed by an illustration of each using extracts from the written story of one
of the participating teachers.

Introduction

I discovered the power of narrative inquiry while interviewing Afrikaansspeaking teachers from South Africa who had immigrated to New Zealand.
My aim was to discover their language-related experiences as immigrants
living and working in a new country, and so I prepared a series of
appropriate questions to ask during the semi-structured interviews. I soon
discovered that the interviews took on a rather different shape from what I
had planned and expected. Instead of a basic question-answer format, the
interviews looked more like conversations; the sort of casual discussions one
has with friends and family about familiar topics. Furthermore, a lot of what
the teachers said took the form of stories. Below is an extract from one of
these. In this extract, the primary school teacher tells of a time back in South
Africa when, as a result of recent language-in-education policy changes, she
was required to use both English and Afrikaans as the languages of
instruction in her classroom. She ends by saying that this early experience
prepared her for teaching in New Zealand, even though, at first, she
struggled in this new English-only context.
So I had all of a sudden to be able to talk Afrikaans and English at the same
time. It was rather hard to change, the worst was to be able to tell a kid off in
English. You would do the whole thing in Afrikaans and the kid would look
at you and, could you please translate that? It is a hard thing to be able to
tell a kid off or to get mad in English instead of in Afrikaans. But it went very
well and some of my senior classes I had to speak Afrikaans and English in
the class at the same time, which gave me a good ground to come here,
a good starting point even though I smashed it all up when I came.
It is easy to see how this extract from the interview is a story. Firstly, there are
people or characters in the story; the teacher herself, the South African
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The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Advance Access publication May 29, 2007

231

students in junior and senior classes, and the students in New Zealand. The
story also refers to different times; when she was teaching in South Africa,
when she first started teaching in New Zealand, and currently at the time of
telling the story. Finally, the story is located in different places; broadly South
Africa and New Zealand, but also more specifically in schools and
classrooms.
These three elements (characters in interaction, time, and place) interrelate
to produce what Clandinin and Connelly (2000) refer to as a threedimensional narrative space which provides context for any particular story.
The three dimensions are as follows:
1 the participants in the storytheir own experiences and their

interactions with others;


2 the time during which the story takes place, including its temporal

connections to history and the future; and


3 the physical settings or places in which the story is located.

Any story is positioned within the matrix or space that these three interrelated
dimensions create, and it is within this context that the story is understood, by
both the teller of the story and the narrative researcher. As Phillion and
Connelly (2004: 460) say, context is crucial to meaning making.
I very quickly became aware of this during my interviews with the
immigrant teachers, and decided to explore further how other teachers and
teacher educators had engaged with narrative in their work. My findings
revealed that there is a relatively long history of narrative inquiry in general
teacher education. (See, for example, Gudmundsdottir 1997, a special issue
of the journal Teaching and Teacher Education which focuses on narrative
perspectives on research in teaching and teacher education.) Furthermore,
in the field of language teacher education, there is a fast growing interest in
narrative inquiry (Bell 2002; Johnson and Golombek 2002).
In this article, I argue that a narrative approach to exploring ones teaching
context leads to a good understanding of that context. This, of course, has
important implications for teachers, in terms of their own practice and
consequently in terms of the learning outcomes of their students. I present
a narrative inquiry exemplar (Lyons and LaBoskey 2002) located within
a South African university context to provide a framework for my
discussion. Emerging from this narrative case are three levels of story
applicable to the participant English teachers lives. I illustrate these story
levels with narrative data from one of the teachers.

Claims of narrative
inquiry in teacher
education

There are substantial claims made about the value of narrative inquiry for
teachers in both the theoretical and empirical literature on language teacher
education. These can be summarized as follows:
1 Narrative inquiry is reflective inquiry. Through constructing, sharing,

analysing and interpreting their teaching stories, teachers get the


opportunity to reflect on their own practice and to articulate their
interpretations of this practice. Constructing and thinking about stories
in this way, therefore, involves both introspection and interrogation.
2 And the consequence of this is meaning making; in other words, making
sense or gaining an understanding of ones teaching knowledge and
practice.
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Gary Barkhuizen

3 The result of this deeper understanding is change; change within self

and ones practice. Johnson and Golombek (op. cit.: 4) make this point,
saying, inquiry into experience . . . can be educative if it enables us to
reflect on our actions and then act with foresight. When teachers
articulate and interpret the stories of their practice, their own practice,
they develop their personal practical knowledge to the extent that they act
in the future with insight and foresight.
4 As we know, this is not always easy to do. Any teaching situation is
a complex, dynamic arrangement of many factors. In constructing stories
teachers bring together many of these, and in reflecting on the stories
there exists the potential for them, therefore, to see the whole picture. So,
as opposed to focusing on only one or two isolated variables in a particular
context, stories include many of these linked together, and the process of
making sense of the stories means unravelling this complexity.
5 Narrative inquiry is contextualized inquiry. Calls for a context approach
to language teaching highlight the necessity of placing context at the
heart of the profession (Bax 2003: 278), which involves teachers
exploring the numerous aspects of their particular, local contexts such as
the needs and wants of their students, the teaching resources and
facilities available, the school and community culture, existing
syllabuses and language-in-education policies, as well as the wider
sociopolitical context (even at the level of the state) in which the teaching
and learning take place. The aim here is to emphasize the particularity
of teaching, one aspect of what Kumaravadivelu (2006: 69) calls
a postmethod pedagogy: Particularity seeks to facilitate the advancement
of a context-sensitive, location-specific pedagogy that is based on a true
understanding of local linguistic, social, cultural, and political
particularities.
The purpose of such a particular, context-sensitive approach is for teachers
to make sense of their own working situations and thus to practise in
a contextually-appropriate way. The reasoning behind such an aim is that
teachers teach best and learners learn best in situations that are compatible
with their backgrounds, beliefs, and expectations. I am suggesting in this
article, as others have done elsewhere, that one way to achieve this
understanding is to undertake narrative inquiry in the form of constructing,
interpreting, and reflecting on ones personal teaching stories.

A narrative inquiry
exemplar

To explore narrative inquiry in language teacher education further, beyond


the literature, I had the opportunity while visiting South Africa to collaborate
in an inquiry with English teachers in the context of a university
postgraduate ELT course. I was the lecturer on the course, and its focus was
on recent issues to do with language teaching, generally and in the South
African context. There were only two students in this class, one with 20
years English teaching experience (Ill call her Roxanne), and the other,
a recent graduate with no classroom experience (Ill call her Betty). The
intensive course ran over the period of a month, with two-hour meetings 23
times a week.
These conditions appeared to me to be ideal for engaging with narrative
systematically for the first time. The potential for interaction was high and
the content of the course lent itself to debate and open-ended discussion,
A narrative approach to exploring context in language teaching

233

especially since the two students came from very different cultural and
educational backgrounds. Roxanne completed her teacher education in
a west African country, taught English there, and then worked in a southern
African country before moving to South Africa. Betty too was educated
outside South Africa, in a different southern African country, and went to
South Africa to complete her first degree and to study for an English
teaching qualification.
Our narrative work involved the following:
1 The students were required to write a series of three personal narratives

or stories (about 1000 words each) which together would form one long,
connected story. The stories were to be submitted to me as part of an
assignmentsee below. The following topics were suggested to provide
some focus to the stories:
a Introduce yourself and tell the story of your interest in English teaching.
b What are your ideas regarding the process of becoming a language
teachergenerally, as well as personally?
c What are some of the desires, fears, concerns, moments of joy that
language teachers experience?
2 Opportunities were created in class for the students to share their

3
4

stories with each other and with me. This was done in an informal way,
and these conversations, together with those stories which stemmed
from them, as well as entirely new stories, contributed to the data of
the inquiry.
Of course, I too was part of these conversations, and so shared my own
experiences of English teaching and being a teacher educator.
All these stories were integrated with our more formal discussions and
interpretations of the theoretical literature we were reading during the
course, including that on narrative inquiry in the field of language
teaching.
My independent involvement included keeping narrative notes of my
experiences during the course. In these notes, I recorded what I was
learning about narrative inquiry, how our story telling and sharing was
progressing, and what we were learning, both individually and
collectively, about language teaching and language teacher education in
the contexts in which we lived and worked.
Lastly, as part of their assignment (see point 1 above), the students were
required to conduct a content analysis of the three stories they
constructed; that is, analysing the stories for themes, and then
organizing the themes into categories meaningful to themselves as
(prospective) English teachers (Ellis and Barkhuizen 2005;
Polkinghorne 1995). To do so, they were encouraged to use Clandinin
and Connellys (op. cit.) three dimensional contextual space to guide
their analysis and interpretation.

Three interconnected
levels of story

When I analysed all these narrative data I noticed that our stories seemed to
reflect context at different levels. In other words, our exploration of the
contexts in which we had taught, had been taught, and had observed teaching,
revealed that our personal stories of these experiences interconnected with
other stories, those at varying levels of remove from our own. The important
word here is interconnected: the stories mutually construct each other.

234

Gary Barkhuizen

I represent these levels as followssee Figure 1:


1 The inner circle consists of a particular teachers story. This story is

personal, and embodies the inner thoughts, emotions, ideas and theories
of teachers, as well as the many social interactions in which they take part
during their teaching practice. This story is constructed in teachers
immediate contexts, for example, during classroom lessons, during oneon-one conversations with students and colleagues, and in teaching
journals or portfolios.
2 A second level of Story (with a capital S) spreads wider than the
immediate psychological and inter-personal context of the teacher.
Included in this Story are consequences of decisions typically made by
others in the work environment, as well as their attitudes, expectations
and prescriptions; for example, a schools language-in-education policy,
the wants and needs of the community from which the students come,
and the methods and materials which teachers are required to use by
their supervisors and budget-conscious administrators. At this level of
Story teachers usually have less control; less power to manipulate the
complex arrangement of variables that construct their practice, and
consequently their stories.
3 A third level of S T O RY (in capital letters) refers to the broader
sociopolitical context in which teaching and learning takes place. Here
teachers have even less power to make decisions about conditions which
influence their practice. Examples of STO RIES include national
language-in-education policy, imposed curriculum from Ministries of
Education, and socioeconomic circumstances in a region. The use of
capital letters to refer to this level of S TORY merely signifies a wider,
macro context and the power often associated with it. In no way does it
diminish the worth of any individual teachers story.

figure 1
Three interconnected
stories
A narrative approach to exploring context in language teaching

235

These levels of story are obviously interrelated, and at times it may be


difficult to distinguish them. This is to be expected, since the three levels of
story are very much interconnected. For any particular teacher, it would be
impossible to make sense of any one level without considering the others.
Exploring context in language teaching, therefore, necessarily means
exploring all three levels of story.

Roxannes story,
Story, and S T O R Y

In this section, I illustrate the three story levels by presenting extracts from
Roxannes story constructed during our narrative inquiry exemplar in South
Africa.
story
Roxanne taught English at primary and high schools in a west African
country (where she was born) before moving to another country in southern
Africa where she taught English at university level. She then moved to South
Africa and continued her teacher education by embarking on a further
qualification. The following extract from her written narrative clearly
suggests context at a personal level; specifically her inner thoughts about her
philosophy of teaching and her goals for her students.
I desire to impart knowledge effectively to learners in a manner that they
will clearly understand each topic of discussion and develop a love for
English as a second language. This desire motivates me to prepare very
well before going to the classroom to teach. There is also the desire in me
for my students to develop proficiency in the language and display this by
participating actively in class activities, perform well in tests and exams,
but more importantly, for them to acquire lifelong skills in effective
communication (both in written and spoken) in English in different
settings.
Roxanne remarked in her analysis of her narrative (the second part of the
assignment) that writing her story was the first time she had articulated this
personal dimension of her teaching life: it has given me the opportunity to
reflect critically on some important aspects of my life that I have not given
serious consideration to previously, especially my learning/teaching
experiences in the [west African] ES L context.
Story
At this level, Roxannes story connects with Stories going on at a level outside
her immediate domain; that is, the context is such that her control of her
practice within it is not as intimate and secure as at the level of story (with
a small s). The following extract illustrates this contextual level:
School inspectors (experienced teachers) from the Department of
Education also come regularly to inspect the teaching/learning activities
going on in the schools. All of these are done to ensure that the required
standard is maintained. I learnt a lot from all these experienced teachers.
Here, Roxanne reports on an external monitoring process, and her
comment suggesting that she learnt much from such surveillance is
evidence of the storyStory connection. The next extract is part of a longer
story which relates her experiences of teaching a literature-based English
course for the first time, in an unfamiliar cultural context. In the final

236

Gary Barkhuizen

sentence she once again connects this wider context to her own personal
practice.
I had a more mature group of students from an entirely different
cultural background, more numerous in number than each of the
classes I had taught previously and a new course, Literature and Society,
which I had to relate to their society and culture. It was quite challenging
at first.
STORY

Throughout Roxannes narrative she makes connections to S T O R I E S


which relate closely to her own. For example, the bad economic situation in
her country meant that she had to put off her teacher education for a few
years.
I had to work after high school in order to save some money for my
university education because of the economic situation of my family and
most families in [the country] under military dictatorship. During this
period, the economy of [the country] was in a very bad shape and many
workers were retrenched from work without any benefits.
Once she qualified as an English teacher the government Education
Department deployed her (as it did all graduates) to teach in a location
different from where she lived:
A program was designed to promote unity to some extent. Graduates who
qualify . . . are sent to states different from their states of origin in order
for them to be introduced to different cultures and languages in the other
part of the country. Since I hail from [name of] state and speak [name of]
language, I was posted to [name of] state with a language and culture
different from mine.
In order to qualify and work as a teacher in the context of this S TORY,
Roxanne had to go along with these conditions. She had no power to resist
them.

Conclusion

Roxanne ends the analysis of her three personal stories by commenting on


her experience of writing them during the course.
I have come to learn how to continuously identify problems in my
teaching beliefs and practice and . . . to reflect always on my past learning/
teaching experiences and think of how I can make the needed changes in
order to become a better language teacher in the future.
Our collaborative narrative inquiry, therefore, was productive for her. She
became aware of the importance of critical reflection and meaning making
when writing her story; reflection which brought together the three
contextual dimensions of place (her west African country of origin, South
Africa, different schools and classrooms), time (past, present, and future)
and the many social interactions in which she engaged (with inspectors,
colleagues, students), as well as reflection which spanned the three levels of
story, Story, and S T O RY.

A narrative approach to exploring context in language teaching

237

Although I have presented only Roxannes experience of our narrative


inquiry in this article, Betty too found the experience useful. In her analysis
of her narrative writing she remarks:
From doing this narrative exercise I have learnt a lot about what it is that
motivates my interest in language teaching. My past plays a huge role in
the decisions that I have made and it is amazing to see how teachers from
my high school years have had such an influence on my growth and
interest in language education. . . . Another reality thanks to this exercise
is that my personal values have surfaced. It is evident that I am in a place
of transition in my life where all the puzzle pieces have not been put
together. I am in the process of doing that though.
Betty was a pre-service teacher with no English teaching experience.
However, this extract clearly shows that through her narrative reflections
she has begun to interpret and understand her current development as
a language teacher. She does this particularly by making connections to her
past experiences as a language learner in high school.
I suggest that contextual explorations through narrative similar to those of
Roxanne and Betty would be equally productive for other English teachers
working in different contexts. Roxanne and Betty constructed, shared, and
analysed their stories as part of a course assignment requirement, but they
could just as easily have done so as practising teachers in their own schools
away from the constraints of any assessment.
The same applies to other English teachers. There are many ways that they
could do this: they could write their teaching life histories; they could record
in story form significant or problematic teaching and learning events in
their classrooms; they could relate to each other in scheduled conversations
the desires, fears, expectations and personal meanings they experience in
their daily teaching lives. By doing so they would necessarily engage with the
context of their teaching, and through the telling, re-telling, and
interpretation of their stories they might begin to impose order and
coherence on the stream of experience and work out the meaning of
incidents and events in the real world (Carter 1993: 7). This real world is
the context that so many in the field of language teaching are urging us all to
explore.
Final revised version received December 2006
References
Bax, S. 2003. The end of CLT: a context approach to
language teaching. E LT Journal 57/3: 27887.
Bell, J. 2002. Narrative inquiry: more than just
telling stories. T ES O L Quarterly 36: 20713.
Carter, K. 1993. The place of story in the study of
teaching and teacher education. Educational
Researcher 22/1: 51218.
Clandinin, D. J. and F. M. Connelly. 2000. Narrative
Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

238

Gary Barkhuizen

Ellis, R. and G. Barkhuizen. 2005. Analysing Learner


Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
S. Gudmundsdottir (ed.). 1997. Teaching and Teacher
Education 13/1: 1136.
Johnson, K. E. and P. R. Golombek. (eds.). 2002.
Teachers Narrative Inquiry as Professional
Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. 2006. TE S OL methods:
Changing tracks, challenging trends. TE S O L
Quarterly 40/1: 5981.

Lyons, N. and V. K. LaBoskey. 2002. Why narrative


inquiry or exemplars for a scholarship of teaching?
in N. Lyons and V. K. LaBoskey (eds.). Narrative
Inquiry in Practice: Advancing the Knowledge of
Teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.
Phillion, J. and F. M. Connelly. 2004. Narrative,
diversity, and teacher education. Teaching and
Teacher Education 20: 45771.
Polkinghorne, D. E. 1995. Narrative configuration in
qualitative analysis. Qualitative Studies in Education,
5238/1.

The author
Gary Barkhuizen works in the Department of Applied
Language Studies and Linguistics at the University
of Auckland in New Zealand. His teaching and
research interests are in the areas of language
teacher education, learner language,
sociolinguistics, and all things narrative.
Email: g.barkhuizen@auckland.ac.nz

A narrative approach to exploring context in language teaching

239

Reading reaction journals in


EA P courses
Simon Evans

This paper looks at two specific problems faced by second-language university


students attending courses in English for Academic Purposes: expository texts and
reading-to-write tasks. A reading reaction journal (RR J) can provide a forum for
students as they activate a variety of reading strategies when reading expository
text and in addition, can provide a focal point for students as they critically respond
to text(s) before engaging in formal reading-to-write assignments based on the
text(s). Responses from one group of students who used RR Js appear to confirm
that the journals can indeed fulfil such a purpose.

Introduction

Students in English for Academic Purposes (E AP) programmes are often


required to read and write about expository texts. Such texts present
a number of specific difficulties to the first language (L1) reader (Merkley
and Jefferies 2001). For the second language reader (L2) we may assume
that these difficulties are similar (if not magnified), and thus the process of
reading, noting, and writing up the notes is a fairly well-established E A P
activity. A reading reaction journal (RR J) is a notebook in which students
summarize and react to texts they read. In essence, the R RJ plays a bridging
role in the reading-to-write process. Thus, the R RJ provides a focus for E A P
students as they activate metacognitive reading strategies, note the content
of a text, while at the same time, providing a focus for students to record
their ongoing critical reactions to the ideas presented in a text before
addressing formal writing tasks.

Reading reaction
journals and
expository texts
Problems posed by
expository texts

Expository texts present a number of difficulties for L1 readers, and it may be


safe to assume that L2 readers face similar problems. At the micro-level,
there are issues of marked language structures, uninteresting writing styles,
and specialized vocabulary. At the macro-level, there is a need to activate
prior knowledge, and the fact that the concepts in the text may be completely
new to students. Two further macro-level issues are particularly relevant
here. First, the rhetorical structure of a text may be unfamiliar for
inexperienced readers, with ideas and concepts presented in a special way to
show relationships, such as comparison and contrast (Merkley and Jefferies
op. cit.). The reader also needs to be familiar with the organization of
expository text, such as the key role of the abstract and/or introduction in
indicating the purpose of a text at an early stage. Secondly, surveys of
textbooks reveal that ideas are often poorly explained, with connections

240

E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccm018


The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Advance Access publication April 17, 2007

between ideas seldom made explicit (Hyona, Lorch, and Kaakinen 2002).
It is these two issues which can be specifically addressed by RR Js.

Metacognitive
reading strategies in
reading reaction
journals

L1 studies indicate that the depth of cognitive processing by the reader is of


key importance in the process of comprehension (Oded and Walters 2001).
Furthermore, the deeper the cognitive processing, the more likely that ideas
will be retained in memory (Friend 2001). Thus, there is growing
recognition that the process of successful reading is dependent upon the
activation of metacognitive reading strategies, as outlined by Allen (2003):
1
2
3
4
5
6

Deciding important points.


Relating ideas to readers lives.
Summarizing.
Filling in points not explicitly made.
Making inferences.
Asking questions.

Outlines (often referred to as diagrams, concept maps, frames, knowledge


maps, vee diagrams, and graphic organizers) are visual representations of
the overall rhetorical structure of a text. Detailed outlines note the ideas
contained within a text, and how these ideas relate to each other. Outlining
in the R RJ can incorporate the metacognitive strategies of deciding the
most important points (strategy 1), filling in points not explicitly made
(strategy 4), and making inferences (strategy 5). Outlines can also begin to
accommodate a greater range of cognitive learning styles, particularly
with regard to students preferences for visual, as opposed to written,
representations of ideas. In addition, a written summary (paraphrase) to
accompany an outline should activate strategies 1, 3, 4, and 5, and can help
confirm the source texts main ideas, and may involve further selection and
discrimination of relevant information.
To assist deeper cognitive processing of the ideas presented in a text,
students need to go beyond outlines and summaries. Slotte and Lonka
(1998) distinguish between knowledge telling, where ideas are repeated,
and knowledge transforming, where ideas are applied to real world contexts.
Thus, students need to note their reactions, and relate ideas to their own
experiences, consistent with metacognitive strategy 2.
Allen (op. cit.) notes that student questioning of a text is important
(strategy 6). However, she does not discuss the nature of the questions, and
the distinction between display and referential questions is important.
With display questions, questioner and respondent probably know the
answer. Such questions deal with surface issues, requiring only that readers
refer back to the text, seldom demanding deeper cognitive processing.
Referential questions involve a genuine request where the questioner may
not know, or is unsure of, the answer. There may not be an answer as such
questions are likely to seek justification and opinion. Referential questions
demand greater cognitive involvement with the text and are normally
dependent upon the reader finding gaps in the writers ideas, and/or the
readers understanding of them. Such questions can serve to activate several
metacognitive reading strategies and, written in the journal as the text is
read, play an important part of in-class peer discussion, and can stimulate
ideas when writing about the text. Thus, RR Js allow for the simultaneous
Reading reaction journals in EAP courses

241

activation of metacognitive reading strategies to assist the L2 reader with


unfamiliar rhetorical structure, and poorly explained relationships. (See
Table 1.)

table 1
Summary of
metacognitive reading
strategies (Allen 2003),
and ways to activate
them in the R R J

Reading strategy

Activity in the R R J

1 Deciding important points

Outlining/paraphrasing/referential
questioning

2 Relating ideas to readers lives

Applying ideas to real world contexts/


referential questioning

3 Summarizing

Paraphrasing

4 Filling in points not explicitly made

Outlining/paraphrasing/referential
questioning

5 Making inferences

Outlining/paraphrasing/referential
questioning

6 Asking questions

Referential questioning

Reading reaction
journals and reading
to write
Problems posed by
reading-to-write

The difficulties posed by expository texts are especially significant for


students required to write papers based on assigned texts; if the set text has
not been properly understood, follow-up writing tasks become that much
more difficult. Such reading-to-write tasks are particularly demanding as
students are required to summarize, analyse, synthesize, and present
opinions on ideas contained in the set text(s) in an academic genre. In other
words, students need to critically engage with the set text(s) before formal
writing assignments are addressed. The writing process in general has been
much discussed and researched, while the reading-to-write process has
received little attention (Ruiz-Fines 1999).

The reading-to-write
process and reading
reaction journals

RR Js can help students as they engage in the reading-to-write process. As


one writer has observed, good writers are reader-centred, revise what they
write and focus on meaning and on communicating their message to the
intended audience (Ruiz-Fines op. cit.: 47). This interpretation considers
reading-to-write as one of drafting and rewriting as part of a process to
a final product. However, reading-to-write also requires students to think
critically about the ideas in a text. Students not used to such critical
engagement can find this especially challenging. Furthermore, thinking
critically should not be seen by students as a one-off activity for a writing
task, and should be viewed as an ongoing approach in academic discourse.
Thus, RR Js can fulfil an important bridging function as students develop
a critical response to a text before addressing formal written tasks (such as an
essay), and can also help train students to develop a critical thinking habit.

Reading reaction
journals in one
EAP class
Programme of study
at International
Christian University
(IC U), Tokyo

First-year students at ICU are required to enrol in the English Language


Programme (EL P), which trains students in critical thinking, reading
expository texts, and argumentative writing. Students read set texts which
form the basis of their Academic Reaction Papers (ARP), where they
summarize a writers arguments and ideas, before presenting a critical
response. (See Fearn and Bayne 2003.) Students later write argumentative
essays based on the set texts. Thus, set texts and formal written responses
are core aspects of the programme.

242

Simon Evans

Student engagement in the reading-to-write process in my classes is


illustrated in Figure 1. With set texts as a base, students in the Spring term
write three ARPs, leading to the argumentative essay. The set text is the
focus for the RR J entries, hence the solid line connecting these nodes.
In writing A R Ps, students are encouraged to draw upon the notes and
comments already made in their RR Js. When writing essays, students are
encouraged to draw upon previous work in the ARPs and RR Js; reference
to the set text remains an option at all times. Students may decide not to
follow this advice, hence the broken lines connecting the set text and
formal written assignments.

figure 1
Helping L2
students cross the
reading-to-write
interface at ICU

Implementing
reading reaction
journals

Students need guidance in how to keep the R RJ, especially at the beginning,
and guidelines can help. (See Appendix.) Examples of previous students
journal work provide a valuable opportunity to observe the range of
strategies that can be employed. Without such exposure, students are less
likely to explore other learner styles, tending to produce paragraph-level
notes as opposed to outlines, colour coding, abbreviations, and so on.
Students are encouraged to experiment until they find a style that they
feel comfortable with, and they may also require guidance in making
outlines of a text. Exposure to example R RJs quickly enables students to
identify some of the basic functions of the journals. Students are
informed that each time a reading is set, they are to use their RR Js, and that
they need to bring the journals to each class as a basis for peer group
discussion. How well students are noting the ideas in a text can be
determined in-class by content questions where students are only allowed
access to their RR J.
Student reactions to the ideas and arguments presented in a text are
extremely important. Students need to give reasons and examples to
support their reactions, and one way to encourage this is to have at least one

Reading reaction journals in EAP courses

243

session a week where students exchange journals so that they read, react,
and respond to each other in writing (this can be done in class or as a
take-home exercise). Peer review is not only motivating for most students,
but also less threatening than if the teacher reads and reacts. Changing
partners regularly exposes students to a variety of views through the term,
and students can simultaneously witness other ways peers are keeping
the RR J.
As discussed earlier, the dichotomy between referential and display
questions is important, and students are encouraged from the start to record
referential questions in the R RJ. To help distinguish between the two,
I present a number of referential and display questions and ask the students
to decide which they find more interesting. Students invariably choose the
referential questions and I tell them that it is these types of questions that
I would like to see in their journals, and which they should be asking each
other during their in-class discussions.

Student perceptions
of reading reaction
journals

table 2
Student responses to:
In what way(s) do you
think that the R RJ is
useful? (n 22)

244

To investigate the effectiveness of RR Js, I surveyed students who used


them during a course of study. The 24 students in this survey (16 female,
8 male) were streamed by the EL P into a high intermediate/advanced group,
with five classes per week in a ten-week term. Students were informed that
their responses might be used as part of my ongoing research, and were
asked to sign a consent form. In total, 22 students participated anonymously
(names and identification numbers were not on the questionnaire).
Students were asked two open-ended questions regarding their use and
perception of the R RJs. (See Tables 2 and 3.)
Function

Number

Example comments

n An aid to comprehension
simple comprehension
organization/structure
writing as comprehension.

It helps us to understand the


articleshelps us think logically.

To make clear the organization


of the writing.

You cannot write if you dont


understand.

n A review tool.

You could reread your way of


reactions toward the issue.

n A prompt for in-class


peer group discussion.

Im not used to discussion in


English, so this kind of
preparation is very helpful.

n An aid for academic writing


(A R P and essay).

A rough A R P.

n Accommodating different
learner styles.

Can visually see the main points.

n Writing skill practice.

Improving summarizing skills.

n An aid to memory.

Also, you remember more


than mere reading.

Simon Evans

table 3
Student responses to
the question: Do you
use your journal when
writing your A R P? Why?
(n 22)

Answer

Number

Yes
Not sure
No

15
5
2

With questionnaires, students may report what they believe the instructor
wants to hear. In addition, responses may have been primed by the
rationale provided in the RR J guidelines given at the start of term. (See
Appendix.) However, before answering the questions, it was stressed that
genuine responses were sought and that these might well influence future
classes. For example, if the responses were overwhelmingly negative
towards R RJs, then I would reconsider using them in future. The range of
the responses goes well beyond the rationale provided in the R RJ guidelines,
suggesting that the guidelines had a limited influence.
Several of the metacognitive strategies assisting comprehension as
identified by Allen (op. cit.) are implicit in the students responses; deciding
important points, summarizing, filling in points not explicitly made, and
making inferences. Students identified a range of functions associated with
their work in their R RJs, and most were able to identify at least two ways in
which the journals were of use, suggesting that these functions were seen
as connected, rather than discrete. That two-thirds of students identified
comprehension as a function of the R RJ may be significant as it appears
to support the notion that deeper cognitive processing of text is important
for comprehension. It is also interesting to note that four students reported
that the RR J helped them with reading-to-write tasks, with comments
such as, A rough A R P.
One of my initial beliefs about the functions of the R RJ is that they would not
only assist comprehension of the set expository texts, but in addition, would
also help students deal with reading-to-write tasks. Thus, question two
aimed to see if students were using the RR Js for such a purpose. (When the
questionnaire was given, students in the study had not started their essays,
and responses refer only to the use of RR Js when writing the A R Ps.)
It may be significant that fifteen students reported that the RR J helped them
with reading-to-write tasks. Typical examples include:
Because in my journal there are many criticisms that can be used to
write discussion part. (of the A R P)
Journal has my comments and main points. So, when I write ARP,
I can develop some of my comments from journal.
Yes, because I write comments in the journal and when I write the A R P,
it reminds me of what I was thinking when I read the section.
Students who responded not sure provided some interesting comments.
One reported that the RR J did not help develop ideas and therefore, they had
to reread the source text. This suggests that perhaps this student was not
making adequate summary notes in the RR J. Similarly, another reported
that s/he seldom used the journal as it was not useful yet. Two students
noted mixed feelings to the RR J because their opinions changed:
Reading reaction journals in EAP courses

245

Yes, but not too much. Because when writing an A R P, I expand my


notes over again so I dont really go back to my journal cos journals are
thoughts at that time, not now.
Partly. Sometimes I come up with a reaction that I didnt write in the
journal while writing ARP.
These responses are particularly revealing as the students are reflecting
upon their initial reactions. Presumably, they are comparing their original
thoughts as recorded in the R RJ with those held at the time of writing the
AR Ps, and finding their reactions have changed. Such appraisal of beliefs
and reactions is crucial to critical inquiry and is to be encouraged and
applauded. Thus, reactions noted in the R RJs should not be viewed by
students as final and should be open to reassessment, a point that needs
to be made clearly in future classes.

Conclusion

EAP students face considerable challenges in reading, and reading-to-write.


RR Js go beyond the conventional read, note, write up the notes, requiring

that students engage with texts at deep cognitive levels, helping them to deal
with some of the problems posed by expository texts. The perceptions
presented here of one group of L2 university students in a content-based
course indicate that R RJs can be used as students activate metacognitive
reading strategies necessary to begin successful reading comprehension,
with particular reference to the structure of a text, and the relationship
between the ideas presented in it. Responses also indicate that the RR J can
help students to cross the reading-to-write interface when assigned texts are
to be used in writing assignments. An important part of this process is the
ability to think critically about the ideas presented (including reactions
and questioning), a skill requiring nurture and practice. The R RJ can help
students to develop this skill in a less structured format than an A R P or
essay, and at the same time, allows them to explore and use other learning
styles, and provides an important basis of peer discussions. The insights
provided by this group of students regarding their perceptions of the
usefulness of RR Js suggests that the RR J can be a valid and useful tool in
EAP programmes.
Final revised version received October 2006
References
Allen, S. 2003. An analytic comparison of three
models of reading strategy instruction. International
Review of Applied Linguistics 41: 31938.
Fearn, F. and K. Bayne. 2003. An introduction to
Academic Reaction Papers. I C U Language Research
Bulletin 18: 1945.
Friend, R. 2001. Teaching summarization as
a content area reading strategy. Journal of Adolescent
and Adult Literacy 44/4: 3209.
Hyona, J., R. F. Lorch, Jr., and J. K. Kaakinen. 2002.
Individual differences in reading to summarize
expository text: evidence from eye fixation patterns.
Journal of Educational Psychology 94/1: 4455.

246

Simon Evans

Merkley, D. M. and D. Jefferies. 2001. Guidelines for


implementing a graphic organiser. The Reading
Teacher 54: 3507.
Oded, B. and J. Walters. 2001. Deeper processing
for better E F L reading comprehension. System 29/3:
35770.
Ruiz-Funes, M. 1999. The process of reading to write
used by a skilled Spanish-as-a-foreign-language
student: a case study. Foreign Language Annals 32/1:
4562.
Slotte, V. and K. Lonka. 1998. Using notes
during essay-writing: is it always
helpful? Educational Psychology 18/4:
44559.

The author
Simon Evans is an instructor at the International
Christian University, Tokyo, teaching academic
reading and writing to first- and second-year
students. His current interests relate to fostering and
framing critical thinking skills in E A P programmes.

Appendix
Reading reaction
journal guidelines

He has also run workshops for MA T E S O L


candidates at Columbia University, Teachers College
(Tokyo) on developing critical reading and writing
skills through reaction papers.
Email: evans@icu.ac.jp

Rationale
n Taking notes is an important skill you will need all through your
university life.
n Notes show that you are talking to the text. Such conversations
should be more meaningful to you, and improve your understanding
of the text.
n Your journal should be a great help and should save you a lot of time when
you write your reaction papers and the essay.
n Your reactions, questions, and notes will form the basis of discussions in
class.
What you should do
n Note the writer, year of publication, and where the text came from
(i.e. bibliographic details).
n Note the structure and basic content of the text. Try using visuals to do
this.
n Each time you read part of a text, or all of a text, write a one sentence
summary.
n Concisely summarize the text.
n Use page numbers.
n Quote important points.
n You dont need to use sentences. Notes and abbreviations are fine.
n Try to make connections between different writers.
n Very important: React to what you read. Do you have any experiences that
relate to the writers idea(s)? Do you agree with the writers ideas or
arguments? Remember to give reasons.
n Raise questions about what you read.

Reading reaction journals in EAP courses

247

Implementing extensive reading


in an EAP programme
John Macalister

For more than twenty years the benefits of extensive reading have been proclaimed
to the E LT community, but the inclusion of extensive reading in E LT programmes is
far from universal. Extensive reading appears to be particularly absent in higher
educational and English for Academic Purposes settings. This paper reports on the
implementation of an extensive reading component in a pre-university study EAP
programme. Learners responded positively to the loss of teacher-centred class time
and a non-EAP focus for part of each lesson. While the implementation of
extensive reading will vary from setting to setting, this action research project
shows that extensive reading can have a place in an E A P programme.

Introduction

Ever since the report of the results of the book flood experiment in Fiji
(Elley and Mangubhai 1983), many E F L and ESL teachers have promoted
extensive reading to their students. As Hafiz and Tudor noted (1989: 5)
teachers find it intuitively plausible that extensive reading will have
a beneficial effect on language proficiency. Intuition has, however, been
backed up by research. Various studies have identified the impact of
extensive reading on different skill areas including listening, reading
comprehension and speed, writing, vocabulary, examination performance,
and attitudes to reading in the target language. (For a summary of twelve
studies, see Day and Bamford 1998.)
Research into vocabulary acquisition (Nagy, Herman, and Anderson 1985)
has also reinforced the belief that extensive reading will have a positive
impact on the rate at which learners acquire the target language. As there
are so many thousands of words a learner needs to know, particularly
if the learner intends to pursue a course of academic study, it is clearly
impossible for every word to be taught in the classroom. Thus, most
practitioners expect that vocabulary will be acquired incidentally during
extensive reading. This is a view neatly captured in the reported comments
of a teacher who asked that her class be included in Mohd Asraf and
Ahmads Guided Extensive Reading programme (2003): At least, she
said, the reading would help them improve their vocabulary, and perhaps,
they may gain other benefits from the program as well.
Despite this background, however, extensive reading as a component of an
English language teaching programme remains the exception rather
than the rule. It tends to be present as a recommended, extra-curricular

248

E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccm021


The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Advance Access publication April 13, 2007

activity. Yet advocates of extensive reading need to be aware of the fact, as


were Mohd Asraf and Ahmad (op. cit.), that without incorporating
extensive reading as part of a class program, the students might not read
English books on their own. Students are likely to use their free time for
activities other than reading. Even teachers recognizing this and wishing to
incorporate extensive reading into the teaching programme may be
constrained by concerns that, for instance, silent reading is not perceived
as teaching or that reading can only have a limited role in an integrated
four-skills class.
The teacher, then, is faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, there is the
research and the intuitive belief that extensive reading will have beneficial
effects on the learning of the language. On the other hand, however, the
demands of the syllabus, the constraints of time, competition from other
activities, whether curricular or extra-curricular, and possible doubts about
the impact of extensive reading in a course of relatively short duration may
convince the teacher that advocating extensive reading is the best that can
be done. There is also, perhaps, the unspoken belief that extensive reading
is most appropriately integrated into the elementary or junior secondary
school teaching programmes. It is certainly the case, as Hermann (2003)
remarks, that [comprehensive reading] agendas seem to be rare in foreignand second-language classrooms in higher education, presumably because
many language teachers at this level feel apprehensive about incorporating
reading time into the course syllabus. The time commitment is also
recognized as one of the limitations on the use of extensive reading in
EAP contexts by Grabe, who suggests that the role of extensive reading
needs to be examined more closely for its potential contributions to student
success in advanced E AP settings (2001: 26).

Introducing
extensive reading
into an EAP
programme

This paper presents a teacher-initiated action research project carried out in


a university in New Zealand. Eighteen students (nine female and nine male)
in a 12-week university preparation E AP class participated in this study. All
except one were in the 1924 year-old age band, and none was over thirty.
Four of the learners came from South Korea, one from Indonesia, and
the remainder from Peoples Republic of China. The class was one of nine,
and students placement in this class was determined by a combination
of vocabulary, dictation, and cloze scores from a university-developed
placement test. This class was ranked as the second-lowest proficiency
class. To give a more internationally recognizable indication of the classs
level, the ten students who had also taken an I E LT S examination had
achieved overall scores ranging from 4.5 to 5.5. Although the course was
designed to prepare students for university study, only twelve were planning
to enter undergraduate or Foundation programmes in New Zealand. Of
the remainder, five were intending to return to their home countries and
one to study in Australia.

The teaching
programme

This E A P programme was a theme-based course of up to 19 contact hours


per week.1 Fourteen of those hours were with the main class teacher, three
with a co-teacher, and two with an elective teacher. Every class shared
common features, including work on study themes, preparation for and
review of a weekly guest lecture, and the development of formal speaking
Implementing extensive reading in an EAP programme

249

skills through seminars. Time was also explicitly dedicated to each of the
four skills, and to vocabulary. Within this framework, the main teachers had
some flexibility in determining the teaching programme for individual
classes, in particular the allocation of time to different areas of skill
development. For this class a considerable emphasis was placed on reading,
with speed, intensive and extensive reading all being scheduled in the
weekly programme. Students read from a range of genres including the
media and theme-related readings. The most unusual aspect of the class
programme was the inclusion of 20 minutes of sustained silent reading
at the end of each morning, with the teacher modelling good reading
behaviour by reading silently during this time. The teacher was not
engaging in other activities, such as marking, or moving around the
room, or in any way overtly monitoring the students.
At the start of the course the principles of and rationale for extensive
reading were introduced, and fitted naturally into the first theme of the
course (Introduction to Learning a Language). Learners were introduced
to the resources of the Language Learning Centre, particularly its library
of graded readers, which had been catalogued into bands of difficulty.
Learners chose their readers from this library and read for pleasure only;
there was no activity related to the reading included in the programme.
Learners were regularly encouraged to read in their own time, and to read
as much as possible but at least two graded readers a week, with reminders
of opportunities to renew books. Most students had no trouble in
remembering to bring their graded reader each day, nor to return and
renew their readers. A set of New Zealand School Journals was kept in the
classroom and a copy given to any student without a book to read, so no one
was ever without reading material.
In the implementation of the extensive reading component of this teaching
programme, therefore, the key features of extensive reading as usefully
set out by Day and Bamford (2002), and listed below, were identifiable.
1 The reading material is easy.
2 A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be

available.
3 Learners choose what they want to read.
4 Learners read as much as possible.
5 The purpose of reading is usually related to pleasure, information,
6
7
8
9
10

and general understanding.


Reading is its own reward.
Reading speed is usually faster rather than slower.
Reading is individual and silent.
Teachers orient and guide their students.
The teacher is a role model of a reader.

The reason why learners were encouraged to read graded readers was also
related to these principles, particularly the first. Results for this class from
the Vocabulary Levels Test (Nation 1990), which was administered at the
start of the course, indicated that two-thirds of the class did not have mastery
of the 2000-word level and therefore reading centred around academic
texts would not have been successful in extensive reading terms. Learners
would have been encountering too many unknown words in such texts,
250

John Macalister

and this in turn would potentially have interfered with the fourth, fifth,
and seventh of Day and Bamfords principles. The use of graded readers
does not, however, signal a focus on reading literature as both fiction and
non-fiction are represented in such schemes, and students were free to
choose their own reading material.2 Further, while students were
encouraged to read graded readers in class, no restrictions were placed on
materials they read in their own time.
As a result of this commitment to extensive reading, the learners spent
around 100 minutes a week reading silently for pleasure in class which
equated to between 16 and 17 hours throughout the course, allowing for
evaluation and assessment days at the beginning and end of the course.
In other words, almost one week of teaching time was dedicated to
extensive reading. Of key interest was whether the students would accept
this dedication of class time to such a non-academic activity as reading
for pleasure.

Students response
to extensive reading
in an E A P class

No overt attempt was made to gather qualitative data relating to students


acceptance of the loss of teacher-centred class time and a non-EAP focus
for part of each lesson, primarily because the students were well aware that
the class teacher was enthusiastic about the benefits of reading, and thus
were likely to answer direct questions with that in mind. However, data
was gathered from a variety of sources.

Pre-course
questionnaire

Initial information about the students, their English language learning


background, and their goals for the course was gathered by a seven-item
questionnaire. One question asked students to indicate the importance of
twelve different course components using a six-point scale. Analysis of the
valid responses suggested that Writing practice was most important to the
largest number, followed by Learning new words. Reading practice
appeared to be the third most important to the largest number, followed
by Listening practice and Speaking practice with identical results. If
nothing else, this question showed that students could be expected to
view reading activities positively.

Interviews

During the course, every student had two one-to-one interviews with the
class teacher. The interviews covered students learning goals, their
progress, and their strategies for independent study. Attention was paid
to the extensive reading programme in these interviews, as a means of
monitoring the reading suitability of readers chosen, and of encouraging
further reading. No direct questions were asked about attitudes to reading,
but sometimes comments were offered. In the initial interview, these
ranged from the positive (I like reading, its my hobby) to the
unenthusiastic (I dont like reading, it makes me sleepy).
The initial interview also produced a slightly different picture from the
pre-course questionnaire of the importance learners attached to different
course components. In the interviews, of twenty-five skill area mentions,
reading was mentioned only three times. Most mentioned were listening
(9) and writing (7), with speaking having one more mention than reading.
This suggested that the learners may not have been as open towards a strong

Implementing extensive reading in an EAP programme

251

emphasis on reading in the teaching programme as the pre-course


questionnaire responses indicated.
Responses during the second interview suggested that learners had not
shifted their perceptions of what was important to them greatly. The main
exception was one student (M2)3 who remarked that he no longer thought
that writing was the most important for him, but that all skill areas were
equally important. On the other hand, it may not have been the case that
what students said necessarily equated with what they did. For example,
there was a clear dissonance between the stated important skill area of
another student (M3) and his actions; while maintaining that listening was
the most important skill for him to improve, he told the interviewer that he
practised writing in his independent study. Students who spoke about
reading sometimes made interesting comments, suggesting a developing
awareness of their individual learning processes. One (M4) said that he had
taken to reading and then rereading his graded readers. Another (M6), who
was reading about one book a week, acknowledged that reading speed was
an issue for him.

Mid-course
questionnaire

Standard practice in the course is the administration of questionnaires to


students at the mid-point and the end. The mid-course questionnaire is
particularly important as it provides a snapshot of students opinions of the
course to date, and allows changes to be made if necessary. One question
listed twelve components of the course and asked students to rank them
for usefulness on a scale of 1 to 5. The daily extensive reading time was
included on this list and emerged with the vocabulary programme as the
second most useful component, on 4.38 out of a possible 5. This suggested
that students regarded the twenty minutes a day of sustained silent
reading positively, and was taken as encouragement to continue with the
practice in the second half of the course. In addition, in another question,
which asked about the skill area of greatest improvement, reading
was most often identified (6 mentions). Comments under this item
included:
Reading. Because we do lots of reading and twice a week speed reading.
Reading, because we read it everyday.
Daily reading and five minute seminars. Because it is very useful to me.
This questionnaire also gave students an opportunity to say what they would
like more, and less, of during the remainder of the course. Four students
said they would like to spend more time on reading, while two said they
would like to spend less. Such a response is, perhaps, not surprising. As
Hitosugi and Day (2004) have observed of an extensive reading project in
Japanese, the project appealed more to some than others.

Mid-course
letters

After the mid-course break, students were required to write a letter to the
main teacher, talking about the independent study they had been doing
in the first half of the course, and what they planned to do in the second
half. There was no directive to discuss reading habits, but the majority of
students included comments on reading. These comments provided an
assurance that reading was taking place outside the classroom.

252

John Macalister

Sometimes I read books that I borrowed from library. I can learn new
words from books, and I can also improve my reading speed. . . . I often
read news on computer, and I find lots of news website on internet, such
as . . . (F6)
In my own time, I always read books and repeat academic words to
remember the vocabulary. (F8)
Everyday I read letter, newspaper and easy book, maybe one hour a day
and I memorize twenty words a day. (M2)
Before sleeping, I always read fiction book which borrow from school.
(M3)
They also provided some evidence that students felt their language
proficiency was improving as a result of the course, although students did
not necessarily make an explicit link to the extensive reading component.
. . . I found that my English skills have improved a lots, especially my
reading speed and vocab. I did remember that I could only read 50 words
per min before, but now I can read much faster. It cause pently [sic] of
benefits in my life. (M6)
Now, I found my English is improve during I study this course. I build
vocabulary and my reading skills are better than before, also my writing is
improve. (F4)
I consider general reading is good for me. I want to keep it. (M7)
. . . my reading skill is improving so fast. (M9)
The letters also gave some indication that students had good intentions to
increase the amount of reading they did during the second part of the
course.
I read and write more English than before in E P P . . . but I dont read book
home, I will do it in the second half of the course. I will read and write
more than the first half of the course. (M4)
I will reading more than first half of the course, improve my reading speed,
and un[der]stand the articles meaning. I will read books, newspaper, and
I also can watch TV, especial cartoon, film. I think this is more interesting,
and I can learn speaking. Also I still will read news on internet. (F6)

End-of-course
questionnaire

This questionnaire provided an evaluation of the course and


recommendations for future courses. No specific questions about course
components were asked, but there was a space for students to make
comments on ways in which the course had made them more independent
learners. A number of students took this as an opportunity to comment on
the Language Learning Centre, but five mentioned reading, with the
following comments.
Help me read more books. Reading. I like reading now.
We have reading time and LLC help us improve.
Teacher teachs [sic] us how to studty [sic] at independent time. What kind
exercise should we do such as reading 2030 mins per day.
Implementing extensive reading in an EAP programme

253

Reading books at home everyday.


To read book and listening.
There was also a question asking students to indicate the effectiveness of the
course in leading to improvement in seven skill areas. The results appeared
to indicate that students perceived least improvement in grammar, and
most in listening and vocabulary. All areas, however, were reported on
positively.

Observation

At the end of the course the co-teacher was asked to provide a written
contribution to the class report. These reports are an administrative
requirement, and at a minimum include the class profile, details about
the programme taught, and an evaluation of the class performance. No
comment on the extensive reading programme was requested from the
co-teacher, but she remarked that The students appeared to enjoy this
part of the morning particularly. By the end of the course most were
engrossed in their books.
The co-teachers comments endorsed the class teachers own observations.
There never appeared to be any reluctance about reading, only occasionally
did a student forget to bring their reader to class, and students actively
exchanged readers when finished.

Conclusion

The inclusion of extensive reading as a component of an E A P programme


was positively received by the learners and at least in some cases created
positive attitudes towards reading. While it is not possible to measure the
direct impact of extensive reading on language proficiency development in
a teaching programme such as this, it was certainly not the case that the
dedication of 1617 hours of class time to extensive reading impacted
negatively on student performance. In light of the research that
demonstrates the benefits of extensive reading, this is a positive
endorsement of making a place for it in the E A P teaching timetable.
Perhaps, indeed, it is sufficient to accept the benefits of extensive reading
that have been shown in controlled experiments, and focus instead on
ensuring the acceptance of extensive reading in higher education and E A P
courses.
One consideration, however, is the nature of the implementation of an
extensive reading programme. Day and Bamford (2002) have proposed ten
extremely sound and well-grounded principles for teaching extensive
reading but there must also be flexibility in approach, as Green (2005) has
also suggested. Interestingly, though, while this action research project
shared some of the same features as the Hong Kong Extensive Reading
Scheme in English that Green criticized, it produced different results. The
main similarities with the Hong Kong scheme were that the extensive
reading component described in this article was not integrated with other
components of the programme, and that the reading was individuallyoriented. There were differences between the Hong Kong scheme and this
programme, however, and these may have contributed to the different
results. The principal differences were in the teachers attitude to, and
possibly modelling of, extensive reading as a classroom activity, and in the
learners responses, which suggested that they regarded the reading as

254

John Macalister

contributing towards their language learning needs. This may be related to


the different teaching contexts. As a result, then, this different experience
with a stand-alone, non-integrationist extensive reading programme
serves to underline one part of Greens argument, and that is the case for
schemes developed by teachers to suit local circumstances (ibid.: 310).
Certainly the practice discussed in this article could be modified in
a number of ways, of which the following are indicative:

n twenty minutes at the end of each class worked well, but could be
extended to 25 or even 30 minutes, adding an extra four or eight hours
respectively to the time dedicated to extensive reading in a 12-week course
n a weekly oral book report could be included in the programme, possibly
replacing the weekly oral media report
n the requirement for a weekly oral book report could also be tied to
more accurate monitoring of the number and level of books being read
by each student
n embed an extensive reading programme using set texts, similar to Lao
and Krashens experiment (2000), in the E A P timetable; this would
appear to defy two of Day and Bamfords principles, but teachers must
decide whether expectations of effectiveness of language learning and
acceptability to both learners and administrators would be enhanced
by formalizing the extensive reading component of the programme. It
is worth noting that such an approach would also encourage better
integration with other components of the language teaching programme.
Different approaches to extensive reading as part of a four-skills class are
certainly possible. However, while the way in which extensive reading is
incorporated in an E A P programme will vary from classroom to classroom,
just as the reading materials will vary depending on the learners proficiency
and interests, this action research project has shown that extensive reading
definitely can have a place in such four-skills teaching programmes.
Final revised version received July 2006
Notes
1 The programme has been slightly modified since
this action research project was carried out.
2 Similarly, the New Zealand School Journal also
includes a range of genres, most obviously
imaginative and informative prose.
3 Questionnaires were completed anonymously.
For responses in interviews and letters, when the
learners identity is known, M/F indicates gender
with the numbers 19 being randomly ascribed.
References
Day, R. and J. Bamford. 1998. Extensive Reading in the
Second Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Day, R. and J. Bamford. 2002. Top ten principles for
teaching extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign
Language 14/2: 13641. http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/
October2002/day/day.html.

Elley, W. B. and F. Mangubhai. 1983. The impact of


reading on second language learning. Reading
Research Quarterly 19: 5367.
Grabe, W. 2001. Linking literacies: perspectives in
L2 reading-writing connections in D. Belcher and A.
Hirvela (eds.). Reading-Writing Relations: Theoretical
Perspectives and Instructional Practices. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press.
Green, C. 2005. Integrating extensive reading in the
task-based curriculum. ELT Journal 59/4: 30611.
Hafiz, F. and I. Tudor. 1989. Extensive reading and
the development of reading skills. English Language
Teaching Journal 43/1: 411.
Hermann, F. 2003. Differential effects of reading
and memorization of paired associates on
vocabulary acquisition in adult learners of English
as a second language. T E S L - E J 7/1: http://
www-writing.berkeley.edu/tesl-ej/ej25/a1.html.

Implementing extensive reading in an EAP programme

255

Hitosugi, C. I. and R. Day. 2004. Extensive reading


in Japanese. Reading in a Foreign Language 16/1:
http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/April2004/hitosugi/
hitosugi.html.
Lao, C. Y. and S. Krashen. 2000. The impact of
popular literature study on literacy development in
EF L: more evidence for the power of reading. System
28: 26170.
Mohd Asraf, R. and I. S. Ahmad. 2003. Promoting
English language development and the reading
habit among students in rural schools through the
Guided Extensive Reading program. Reading in
a Foreign Language 14/2: 13641. http://
nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2003/mohdasraf/
mohdasraf.html.

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John Macalister

Nagy, W., P. Herman, and R. Anderson. 1985.


Learning words from context. Reading Research
Quarterly 20: 23353.
Nation, I. S. P. 1990. Teaching and Learning
Vocabulary. Boston, Mass.: Heinle and Heinle.
The author
John Macalister has worked as a teacher educator
in Vanuatu, Namibia, Thailand, Cambodia, and
New Zealand. His research interests include reading
and writing in a foreign or second language. He is
currently a lecturer at Victoria University of
Wellington, New Zealand.
Email: john.macalister@vuw.ac.nz

Evaluating teaching practice


Shosh Leshem and Rivka Bar-Hama

The evaluation of observed lessons has been the subject of much debate in the field
of teacher training. Teacher trainers have tried to define quality in relation to
teaching and to find ways to measure it in a reliable way. Can we evaluate the
quality of teaching by observable behaviour and measurable components, in
which case, can the lesson be assessed analytically by the use of discrete criteria?
Or, does a lesson constitute an entity, which cannot be broken into discrete
components so that it has to be assessed impressionistically? We believe that in
order to construct a more comprehensive view of the issue, it is pertinent to
collaborate with our trainees and provide some space for their voices. Evidence
from a small-scale practitioner-based research project reveals that trainees need
explicit criteria for effective teaching in order to identify their strengths and
weaknesses and use them as guidelines for improvement.

Introduction

This paper presents a three-year practitioner-based research that emerged


from our reflection in action and on action (Schon 1983) as teacher
trainers and lecturers in EFL pre-service training programmes in a teacher
education college. In the framework of the training programme, one of the
core requirements is the practicum, which is the application of the practical
pedagogical knowledge acquired during the didactic lessons and
workshops.
In the literature, the practicum has been viewed as critical to the
development of trainees. It is their first hands-on experience with their
chosen career. It creates opportunities for trainees to develop their
pedagogical skills and it is the best way to acquire professional knowledge
and competences as a teacher (Hascher, Cocard, and Moser 2004: 626).
During the practicum trainees can put into practice their beliefs based on
language learning theories they acquired in the course of their studies. It
also serves as a protected field for experimentation and socialization
within the profession (Hascher et al. ibid.) and it allows for evaluation of
teachers. Thus it sets the stage for success or failure in student teaching and
a trainees future in education may be determined by what happens during
their training period.
These ideas have been mainly expressed by those who design the
programmes and are in charge of pre-service teacher training. Trainees, as
well, consider the practicum experience as the most significant element in
their teacher training (Zeichner 1990). Quite often trainees claim that they
benefit more from spending time in the field watching others teach, than
E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccm020
The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Advance Access publication April 13, 2007

257

from attending sessions at the university or colleges. This assertion is


supported by Tsui (2003) in her discussion on teachers personal values and
beliefs. She claims that teachers consider classroom experience the most
important source of knowledge about teaching.
We found that there is a plethora of literature dealing with multiple aspects
of the practicum but there is a dearth in the field of practicum assessment.
This could be described as surprising given that assessing trainees
practicum is a complex activity, which entails multiple sources of
assessment. Each one of these sources provides information about
a different aspect of teaching. Furthermore, assessment of the trainees
performances in their practicum has far-reaching implications for their
entry into our profession. In order to achieve a comprehensive profile of
a trainee we, in our programme, use different sources of assessment such
as: reflective journals, portfolios, observation lessons, tests, self-assessment,
peer assessment, cooperating teacher assessment, and pedagogical
counsellor assessment. However, the final grade for the practicum is based
primarily on the grades that trainees receive for their observation lessons.
For the purpose of this study, lesson observation is viewed as a lesson taught
by a trainee and observed by a pedagogical counsellor.
The observation lesson is a critical component of the practicum. How it is
assessed reflects an equally critical issue for both evaluators and evaluees.
This issue is the focus of our paper.

The venue

There are two teacher-training E F L programmes at our college: one is a fouryear programme, which awards the students both a BEd and a teaching
certificate, and the other is a two-year certificate programme for people
holding a BA in English. A significant part of both programmes is the
practicum. The practicum entails weekly observations of trainees in schools
by teacher trainers.
At the beginning of the academic year, a trainee is placed in a host school
with an experienced English teacher, who is appointed as a cooperating
teacher. The main requirement of the trainees in the practicum is to observe
their cooperating teachers teach in their classrooms and gradually to start
teaching on their own. This usually commences after a short period of
getting acquainted with the school. The trainees are assessed informally by
their cooperating teachers who serve more as mentors than as assessors.
The formal assessment is carried out at least twice a semester by
pedagogical counsellors who are usually their methodology teachers.
In our programme, observation has two main purposes: trainees
development and accountability. Here, development means improvement
of trainees performance in class by identifying their strengths and
weaknesses and by raising their awareness through providing feedback and
recommendations. This process can be regarded as formative assessment,
since the focus is more on development and progress than on the final
product itself. The second purpose, which pertains to accountability, is to
determine the trainees suitability for entry to the educational system.
This in itself creates conflicting perspectives concerning observation and
role identity. The message that is conveyed to trainees during the practicum

258

Shosh Leshem and Rivka Bar-Hama

is that it represents a trial and error phase which is integral to their learning
and professional development. This is intended to foster an element of
trust and openness in the traineeobserver relationship. However, this trust
can be impeded by the observer having to act as an inspector and final
assessor. Trainees may put on an act in order to satisfy the observers
expectations and gain a higher grade for their conduct. If this happens,
then they may sacrifice their own development and rapport with their
observer. These contradicting roles of the observer constitute potential
problems not only for the trainee but for the observer as well. The latter may
feel forced into a situation of assessor due to institutional policy or, at
times, national demands, when their preferred tendency is to function as
a coach rather than as an assessor.
Pedagogical counsellors use different observational tools to record data of
the lessons that they observe. The most common tools are:
1
2
3
4

observation forms;
detailed written notes on the lesson;
audio-recordings for reinforcement of written notes; and
video-recordings for use collaboratively by the trainer and the trainee
during the feedback session. They are sometimes used by the trainee at
a later stage for further reflection.

Our main tool of assessment is the observation form that consists of


several components. Examples for each component are provided to show
a model of what the forms entail:
n instructional components: clarity of instructions, sequence of activities,
and classroom management;
n affective components: giving feedback and reinforcement, awareness of
students needs;
n language components: use of L1, oral, and written proficiency;
n cognitive components: lesson planning, stating clear objectives, and
designing activities to achieve lesson objectives; and
n metacognitive components: ability to analyse the lesson and to reflect
upon their professional development.
We are both veteran teacher trainers, department coordinators, and have
been counsellors in a wide range of contexts. From our professional
experience we realized that the observation forms that were used for
assessment were changed from year to year both by us and by our
colleagues. Analysing minutes from three years of departmental meetings,
we noticed that the issue of the assessment forms appeared regularly on the
agenda as a theme requiring modification. Some items were changed due to
different approaches, beliefs, worldviews, or experiences of the teachers
teaching a particular group that year. However, the changes were not
significant and the essence of the evaluation forms has remained the same.
We then analysed our personal diaries where we had recorded comments
from trainees and our own queries and impressions. Common comments
from trainees expressed operational constraints due to a particular school
culture, methodological obligations to the cooperating teachers style of
teaching, and dissatisfaction with grades. This evidence made us ponder
upon the issue with our colleagues. We discovered that they shared our
Evaluating teaching practice

259

discontent about the way that trainees performance was assessed during
the observation lesson. The feeling that prevailed among us was that, as
experienced observers and assessors, we were able to provide an
impressionistic value judgement of the trainees performance. However,
when we assessed the lesson according to the benchmarks on the
assessment form, we realized that quite often there was a gap between the
two results. Three of our colleagues who shared the same professional
experience expressed the gap as follows:
Observer 1
While observing I already formulate a grade in my mind. I know that this
lesson does not deserve more than 80 percent, for example. At the end of the
lesson I go over the assessment form and grade each item according to
the weight allocated. If there are incongruities with my grading, I try
to narrow the gap.
Observer 2
I have enough experience to know immediately after the lesson what the
grade is going to be. I personally dont really need the criteria and would
have preferred to ignore them. However, as I am required to provide
a detailed assessment record, I use it and I often get annoyed with the fact
that I cant find the criteria that I would like to grade the student on, or I find
some of the criteria irrelevant to the context and to my frame of reference.
Observer 3
I have to admit that initially I determine the grade during observation or
immediately after that. When I use the assessment sheet, I find that the
grade is usually higher. I feel that I cannot take off all the points for a certain
criterion and this leads to an accumulated higher grade.
These views reinforced our problem in accepting the reliability of
assessment in the observation lesson. Taking into consideration the critical
role of the observation lesson in the practicum and in students professional
careers, we felt that it was our responsibility to try and assess our trainees in
a way that reflected their performance accurately, reliably, and transparently.
In addition, we realized that the voices of the trainees concerning this issue
were not considered and decisions on assessment were top-down. We
believed that in order to construct a more comprehensive view of the issue, it
was pertinent to collaborate with our trainees and provide some space for
their voices (Nunan and Bailey 1996). Moreover, new trends in current
assessment demand active student participation in their assessment. This is
reinforced by Shohamy (1996) discussing ethical testing and assessment,
who sees a need for students to participate actively in the construction and
use of tests and assessment systems.
Another problem is that despite each assessor having similar criteria against
which to assess the lesson, their interpretation of those criteria is not always
identical. Each lesson is assessed by three people: the cooperating teacher,
the pedagogical counsellor, and the trainees themselves. However, the
weight and the importance allotted by the college to the various assessors are
not evenly distributed. Each of the three assessors makes significant
contributions to the developmental process of the individual teacher.
260

Shosh Leshem and Rivka Bar-Hama

In terms of the teachers assessment for the purpose of accountability, the


pedagogical counsellor undertakes most of the responsibility and has the
final say in grading the trainee while the others can only slightly affect the
grade. The observation lesson is considered a high stake test by the trainees
and at times puts them under the tremendous pressure of a major test. It
also entails conflicting decisions concerning whose theories to implement,
their pedagogical counsellors, their cooperating teachers, or their own.
This led us to investigate the following issues:
1 To what extent are we actually assessing quality of teaching through

observation?
2 What are the perceptions of our trainees regarding the way of

assessment?

Exploring the
literature

While surveying the literature we found unsettled perspectives on issues


that underpin our questions. There is a general consensus about the
importance of observation in the development and assessment of a teacher.
This notion is also supported by OLeary (2004: 14) who claims that
Traditionally, classroom observation has occupied a prominent role in
terms of its use as a tool by which to judge and subsequently promote good
practice. He also advocates a holistic way of assessing. He contends that
although it would be nave to discount classroom observation per se as
a useful learning tool for teacher development . . . the existing assessment
approach contains a number of inadequacies that directly conflict with the
fundamental aims of genuine teacher development. One of his objections
is to the assessment of a teachers ability by using a checklist of subjective
criteria. He supports his contention by claiming that:
1 a lesson is a complete entity and cannot be dissected into separate parts;
2 criteria for effective teaching differ for every instructional situation;
3 checklists measure low inference skills and these are limited because

they tell us very little about teacher behaviour and the learning process
itself;
4 effective teaching manifests itself in high inference skills, which are
fundamentally qualitative;
5 adopting a quantitative approach is discouraging and undermining to
teachers.
Voices contradicting this approach maintain that observations tend to be
subjective, based on the observers own teaching approach. To attain
objectivity it is argued that we have to develop systematic observation tools.
Acheson and Gall (1997) reflect students feeling of being threatened when
they are unaware of the criteria by which they will be judged, thus defined
criteria should be provided to lower the level of anxiety among students.
In the same vein, Brooker, Muller, Mylonas, and Hansford (1998) claim that
an increased demand for quality and accountability in teacher education
programmes requires a criterion-based standard reference framework
for assessment.
Leung and Lewkowicz (2006: 27) highlight the point of subjective
interpretation and contend that due to the fact that teachers can interpret
assessment criteria differently, the idea that teachers should observe what

Evaluating teaching practice

261

learners say and do, interpret their work, and then provide guidance for
improvement is an uncertain business. Moreover, they claim that teachers
judgements are influenced by wider social and community practices and
values and therefore might lead to different perspectives. As we consider
the observation lesson to be a performance test, we found McNamaras
(1995) point relevant to our argument even though he does not refer to
observation lessons. His assertion is that performance tests that strive to be
highly authentic are often extremely complex due to the extraneous social
influences on the grade awarded.
We also realized that there is much concern about the reliability of
examination scores as determinants of teaching qualifications. Alderson
(1991: 12) refers to the fact that we know little about how to measure the
progress of learners . . . and that we lack sensitive measures. Broadfoot
(2005: 127) is even more extreme in his assertion and claims that we use
what are a very blunt set of instruments to intervene in the highly sensitive
and complex business of learning.
As a result of these diverse views, going to the literature was a journey of
mixed blessings. It supported our sense of discomfort and it became
apparent to us that our problem warranted attention.

The study

Data were retrieved from questionnaires, interviews, personal diaries, and


documents that included minutes from meetings and assessment forms.
A questionnaire was designed to explore the preferences that students had
towards how they might be assessed. We drew upon our involvement with
the assessment process to draft a simple survey with two closed questions
and one open-ended question. To aid completion, the choices that were
provided reflected the issues that trainees had mentioned to us regularly.
The three questions were:
1 How would you like your pedagogical counsellor to assess your

observation lesson? By giving you a fail/pass or a numerical grade?


2 If you chose a numerical grade, how would you like to be assessed:

analytically or holistically?
3 Which items on the observation form would you omit and which would

you like to add?


We explained to each group that the term holistically implied assessing
impressionistically by looking at the lesson as a whole, and that analytically
implied using set criteria to assess numerically each aspect of the lesson.
The questionnaire was distributed to trainees of two T E F L courses at
a teacher training college. The timing of this corresponded with the end of
the academic year when trainees had already finished their practice teaching
duties.
The interviews with twenty trainees were conducted after the
questionnaires were read and analysed. We concluded from this analysis
that it was important to gain a wider set of trainee perspectives and achieve
a richer picture of the trainees reasoning. Thus, we discussed the general
responses that had been provided to the questionnaire with twenty
randomly chosen trainees.

262

Shosh Leshem and Rivka Bar-Hama

Population

The study was undertaken with 58 trainees studying on two different


programmes:
1 A four-year Bachelor of Education programme in an English department

of an Academic teacher training college in Israel. The subjects were


trainees from the second and third years. Trainees of this group pursue
a study programme, which certifies them to teach both general subjects
in the trainees mother tongue (Hebrew or Arabic) and English as a
second/foreign language.
2 Second year trainees on a two-year retraining programme. Trainees in
this group hold a BA degree and study for a teaching certificate in English.
These trainees are usually older than those on the BEd programme.
The subjects constituted three groups:
1 second year trainees from group A,
2 third year trainees from group A, and
3 second year trainees from group B.

Findings

In these findings, none of the groups wanted a verbal grade of pass or fail.
All three groups preferred a numerical grade. Two groups (1 and 3) favoured
holistic assessment for different reasons. Group 3 preferred this form of
assessment as they felt they did not need the criteria to analyse the lesson.
They claimed to be competent enough to analyse their lesson and reflect
upon it independently without specific criteria. By that time in their training
they were much more confident in their teaching and assessment.
Group 1 chose the holistic approach for the opposite reasons. They justified
their choice by lack of confidence and fear. They felt intimidated by the use
of clear-cut criteria to analyse their lesson. They actually preferred the
unspecified nature of the holistic approach to a lesson being dissected by
specific teacher behaviours.
Group 2 chose the analytical approach. They explained that they saw the
function of the criteria as guidelines to help them focus and construct better
lessons. They claimed that the criteria helped them identify weaknesses and
strengths and thus contributed to their pedagogical knowledge and their
professional development. In terms of assessment, they felt that this
approach was more reliable since assessing according to set criteria is more
objective.
Evidence from the interview showed how trainees voices reflected their
choices:
In favour of specified criteria on the observation forms
The items on the form helped me remember what was discussed when
I had to write a reflective journal on my lesson. I find them very useful.
They were like post signs for me. The whole form is like an outline for a
lesson plan.
It gives me a clear picture of what was good and what needs to be worked on.
It really gives you a picture where you are and what to focus on next time.
The criteria help you see the process. I can compare the form of my first
observation and the second one and know exactly where I improved.

Evaluating teaching practice

263

It gives you a fairer picture of the evaluation. I do not like vagueness. I have
to see how many points have been taken off or given for each item.
Not in favour of specified criteria on the observation forms
There are too many details to process. I cant focus on all the items. It
confuses me. I would rather focus on one or two features of the lesson.
The criteria should be more general and not so detailed. It is too technical
and robot like. I feel as if my lesson has been put under a microscopic lens
and it does not really depict the dynamics of the lesson.
The following were some of the suggestions from the open-ended question:
1
2
3
4

Insights and
conclusions

Acknowledgement within the items of originality and risk taking.


Credit for preparing extra time activities in their lesson plan.
Evidence of improvement from previous observations.
Awareness of the teachers action zone.

Teaching is a web of interrelated dimensions. Some are clearly observable


and others are not. As a consequence, the assessment of teaching quality
through observation entails an internal paradox. This paradox encapsulates
our initial urge to re-examine our own practice. Our research questions
related to the extent to which quality of teaching is assessed through
criteria-based observation and we found that our students felt that it was
a valid method of assessment.
Although all trainees voted for numerical assessment, there were
differences between trainees in the choice between holistic or analytical
approaches, with the majority choosing the holistic approach. The fact that
none of our subjects chose the fail or pass as evaluation criteria accords
with Kennedys assertion that trainees prefer to receive a numerical
grade for the observed lesson (Kennedy 1993). This may be a result of
conditioning, of trainees upbringing, and the constraints of social demands
and norms. However, a numerical grade on its own did not seem to be
satisfactory, as it did not provide explicit feedback on their performance. The
trainees who were in favour of the holistic approach needed the stated
criteria on the assessment form to aid discussion during feedback sessions
and to provide signposts for further reflection. Yet, they did not want to be
assessed analytically where each criterion was allotted numerical points, in
spite of this approach enhancing reliability and transparency.
Our small-scale investigation demonstrated that trainees at their initial
stages of teaching perceive the lesson as separate parts and not as a whole
entity. The sum of the parts represents quality of teaching. Trainees need
explicit criteria for effective teaching in order to identify the quality of their
teaching. Their preferences for assessment show that they regard the
observation lesson as both a test and a means for reflection and professional
development.
These conclusions are situated in the limited context of just one practicum
experience, thus they cannot have wide implications. However, as teachers
researching our own field of practice, we gained deeper understanding
and insights into a troublesome issue. Our findings represent insights of

264

Shosh Leshem and Rivka Bar-Hama

an exploratory nature and they support the claim that quality and
accountability should be achieved through explicit and objective criteria.
Final version received October 2006
References
Acheson, K. A. and M. D. Gall. 1997. Techniques in
clinical supervision of teacher in E. Pajak.
Approaches to Clinical Supervision: Alternatives for
Improving Instruction. Norwood: ChristopherGordon Publishers, Inc.
Alderson, C. 1991. Language testing in the 1990s:
how far have we come? How much further have we
to go? in S. Anivan (ed.). Current Developments in
Language Testing. Singapore: S EA M E O Regional
Language Center.
Broadfoot, P. 2005. Dark alleys and blind bends:
testing the language of learning. Language Testing
22: 12341.
Brooker, R., R. Muller, A. Mylonas, and B. Hansford.
1998. Improving the assessment of practice
teaching: a criteria and standards framework.
Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 23/1:
525.
Hascher, T., Y. Cocard, and P. Moser. 2004. Forget
about theorypractice is all? Student teachers
learning in practicum. Teachers and Teaching: Theory
and Practice 10/6: 62337.
Kennedy, J. 1993. Meeting the needs of the teacher
trainees on teaching practice. E LT Journal 47/2:
15765.
Leung, C. and J. Lewkowicz. 2006. Expanding
horizons and unresolved conundrums: language
testing and assessment. T ES O L Quarterly 40/1:
21134.
McNamara, T. 1995. Modelling performance:
opening Pandoras box. Applied Linguistics 16/2:
15079.
Nunan, D. and K. M. Bailey (eds.). 1996. Voices from
the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
OLeary, M. 2004. Inspecting the observation
process: classroom observations under the

Evaluating teaching practice

spotlight. IAT E F L Teacher Development SIG 1/4:


1416.
Schon, D. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shohamy, E. 1996. Language testing: matching
assessment procedures with language knowledge
in M. Birenbaum and F. J. R. C. Dopchy (eds.).
Alternatives in Assessment of Achievements, Learning
Processes, and Prior Knowledge. Dordrecht,
Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.
Tsui, B. M. 2003. Understanding Expertise in Teaching:
Case Studies of Second Language Teachers. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Zeichner, K. M. 1990. Changing directions in the
practicum: looking ahead to the 1990s. Journal of
Education for Teaching 16/2: 10532.
The authors
Shosh Leshem is involved in teaching and teacher
education in Israel. Her publications are in the area
of teacher training and language teaching
methodology. She is currently teaching at Haifa
University and Oranim, Academic School of
Education. She is also a visiting lecturer at Anglia
Ruskin University in the UK, focusing on doctoral
processes from an ethnographic perspective.
Email: shosh-l@zahav.net.il
Rivka Bar-Hama is involved in teaching and teacher
education in Israel. Her publications are in the area
of teaching English as a foreign language and
teacher training and focus on testing and
assessment. She taught at Haifa University and is
currently head of the English Department at Gordon
Academic College of Education.
Email: rivkab@macam.ac.il

265

Inter-interviewer variation in oral


interview tests
Fumiyo Nakatsuhara

Over the last two decades, research has suggested that candidates test
performances and scores are collaboratively achieved through interviewing/
scoring processes and there could be unfair situations caused by the interinterviewer variation. To investigate a precise picture of the impact of interinterviewer variation, this research examines the variability of interviewer
behaviour, its influence on a candidates performance and raters consequent
perceptions of the candidates ability on analytical rating scales (for example,
pronunciation, grammar, fluency). The data are collected from two interview
sessions involving the same candidate with two different interviewers, and the
video-taped interviews are rated by 22 raters on five marking categories. The
results show that a significantly different score was awarded to pronunciation and
fluency in the two interviews. The reasons for the differences are discussed based
on conversation analysis findings. This paper concludes with suggestions as to how
the potential unfairness caused by interviewer variability could be solved.

Previous research
into inter-interviewer
variation

Over the last decade or so, there has been a proliferation of studies that
analyse speaking test discourse to validate oral assessments. Accordingly,
more attention has been drawn to interviewer behaviour, and the variability
of interviewers behaviour has been focused on as a potential source of
unfairness.
Firstly, a variety of speech accommodation strategies which interviewers
practise towards interviewees was identified, such as slowing down the
speech, rephrasing questions and simplifying lexis (for example, Lazaraton
1996; Ross and Berwick 1992). Such interviewer accommodation is
regarded as a parallel phenomenon to foreigner talk discourse, where
native speakers accommodate their speech to non-natives to facilitate
mutual understanding. Despite the fact that these practices between
interviewers and interviewees appear to be positive (because they validate
the fact that these interviews could tap natural conversation to some
extent), it has been pointed out that inconsistent accommodation could have
an influence on a candidates performance. For example, Lazaraton (op. cit.)
demonstrated that original complex questions might be re-formulated into
simple yes-no questions or by stating question prompts as statements which
merely require the candidates confirmation. Ross and Berwick (op. cit.)
showed that candidates at a certain level were likely to get overaccommodated. If interviewers use more of such foreigner talk than the

266

E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccm044


The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
Advance Access publication June 4, 2007

candidates deserve based on their wrong assumption of candidates


proficiency, they may fail to push an interviewees performance to its limits,
resulting in possible unfairness that some candidates best performance
may not be elicited or that their lack of proficiency may not be revealed.
Secondly, such interactional features were studied together with their
impact on rating scores. These studies examined the impact on scores
considering the cases where a rater and an interviewer are separately
allocated, as would happen when the second or third raters mark candidates
performance while watching video/audio-tapes. Brown and Hill (1998)
discovered a tendency that some interlocutors are likely to give raters a better
impression of candidates performance than others, and the biggest
difference among a group of raters they examined resulted in a difference of
0.6 of a band on the IELT S speaking scale. Brown (2003) further analysed
the reasons for biased rating and found that while interviewers could make
the candidate appear to be an effective communicator by their scaffolding,
explicit questioning, smoothly extending topics and frequent positive
feedback, they could also make the candidate appear to be a poor
communicator by confusing them with frequent topic shift and using
ambiguous closed questions to elicit extended responses.
As shown above, whilst the unpredictable nature of the test interaction can
contribute to the test validity by eliciting natural conversation, research has
warned of the threat that the very characteristic can also be a source of
unreliability associated with a lack of standardization across interviewers
and potential unfairness to candidates. However, little is known about how
these interviewer differences could be translated into analytical scores such
as for pronunciation, grammar, and fluency. Hence, this study aims at
investigating the precise effect of inter-interviewer variability so that we can
make a useful application of these research findings to actual testing
practices to improve fairness for candidates. Thus, the research questions of
this study are:
1 When the same candidate is interviewed by two different interviewers, are

there any analytical marking categories which are especially affected by


the difference in interviewer?
2 If so, what types of interlocutor behaviour could have influenced the mark
for the analytical components?

The study: method of


data collection and
analyses

Two interview sessions were conducted involving two different


interviewers, A and B with the same candidate, C. Both A and B are
experienced teachers of English as a foreign language as well as experienced
interviewers in speaking tests. Interviewer A has been formally trained
for IE LT S and Trinity College London ESOL test, while B has assessed
a number of in-house speaking tests without formal training. The candidate
C is a Chinese student, having studied English for academic purposes for
two months in the University of Essex when she was interviewed. In order to
focus more specifically on interviewerinterviewee discourse, the speaking
test lasted about 12 minutes and employed only a single picture description
task to stimulate their conversation, as briefly described in Table 1. Since this
study is not investigating how to minimize inter-interviewer variability but
discovering possible sources of unfairness caused by inter-interviewer

Inter-interviewer variation in oral interview tests

267

variability, a precise prescribed interview framework was not given to the


interviewers, although several questions to be asked were provided.
1 Openings (1 minute)
2 Conversation on familiar topics (3 minutes)
The interviewer asks the candidate to talk about him/herself.
3 Picture Description (2 minutes)
The interviewer asks the candidate to describe a photo. Two different pictures
(both taken from C A E practice book Harrison and Kerr 1999) were employed to
avoid a practice effect.
[Picture for As session] A mother trying to cope with her child
[Picture for Bs session] A boy in front of the TV
4 Conversation on topics from the given picture (5 minutes)
The interviewer asks the candidate questions linked to the picture (from general
to extended questions).
table 1
Interview structure

5 Closings (1 minute)

The interviews were video-taped for rating and transcribing purposes. After
an individual short briefing on how to use the rating scale, the video-tape
was shown to 22 independent raters to judge the candidates performance
in the two sessions respectively. To avoid an order effect, half of the raters
saw As interview first and the other half saw Bs interview first. The raters,
DZ, all have rater experience in some speaking tests as well as teaching
experience. Since this study aims at examining how the impact of
interviewer-variability is realized on analytical scales, a criterion-referenced
analytical scale with five marking categories was provided: pronunciation,
grammar, vocabulary resources, fluency, and interactive communication.
Each category contained four levels (rather than five or six), because it
was considered that the criteria should easily be deployed by raters with
limited rater training in this study. In addition to providing scores on each
category, raters were also asked to summarize reasons for awarding those
scores so that the retrospective verbal reports could help to uncover any
relationship between interviewer behaviours, the candidates performance,
and their ratings.
The rating data were firstly quantitatively analysed to see if judges gave
different scores systematically on certain analytical categories in one of
the two sessions (for Research question 1). Inter-rater reliability was .7701
by Cronbach alpha (S P SS 14.0), which seemed acceptable for speaking
tests, although it was not particularly high due to the limited rater training.1
Secondly, the video-taped interview sessions were transcribed, following
conversation analysis (CA) conventions (Atkinson and Heritage 1984).
The CA findings were used to explore the features of interviewer
behaviour which might have caused the different ratings (for Research
question 2).

Results
Results of
quantitative analysis:
effect on rating

As shown in Table 2 and Figure 1, the mean scores of all analytic categories
are higher in Bs interview except vocabulary resources, and the tendency is
more clearly observed in pronunciation and fluency.

268

Fumiyo Nakatsuhara

Analytic categories

Interviewer

Mean

S.D.

Pronunciation

A
B
A
B
A
B
A
B
A
B

1.77
2.00
1.41
1.45
1.73
1.64
1.64
1.91
2.00
2.05

.69
.69
.59
.50
.70
.66
.66
.53
.87
.72

Grammar
Vocabulary resource
Fluency
table 2
Rating result (N 22)

Interactive communication

figure 1
Rating result

Paired sample t-tests indicate that the candidate, when interviewed by


interviewer B, obtained significantly higher scores in pronunciation and
fluency, as shown in Table 3.2

table 3
Paired sample t-tests

Result of qualitative
analysis: interviewer
variability

P R O N_A P R O N_B
GR AM_A GR AM_B
VO CA B_A V O C A B_B
FLU_A FLU- B
INT ER_A IN TE R_B

Mean difference

S.D.

df

Sig (2-tailed)

.2273
.0455
.0909
.2727
.0455

.4289
.3751
.5263
.5505
.7854

2.485
.568
.810
2.324
.271

21
21
21
21
21

.021
.576
.427
.030
.789

Following Brown (op. cit.), the analysis of the nature of interaction is


reported in terms of three phases of interaction: (1) questioning and topic
nomination techniques, (2) topic expansion and management techniques,
and (3) receipt tokens and feedback techniques.3 The interview by
interviewer A is analysed first.

Inter-interviewer variation in oral interview tests

269

Interviewer A

Interviewer A seems to have her own typical approach to questioning,


especially when nominating new topics. The following (1) is an excerpt from
the initial part of her interview.
1 Interviewer A (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
1/ I: And (.) an Why did you choose to come to Essex?
2/
.Why did you want to come to Essex to study?,
3
C: Ah:: Because I:: I will take the Master course eh:: to study, eh my

major will
be (.) eh: (.8) economics or international relation, so I think eh I
choose this
5
university because the ga::ment department and the economics
department is
6
very .hh (.5) eh:: rentaful. So I choose this University?
7/ I: Right, What are you going to do when you finish your studies?
8/
Will you go back to Beijing?
9
C: Yah, of course. (.5) Haha:::
10/ I: N you want to be a manager? Or have your own company?
4

In line 1, she asks a question on Cs reason for choosing Essex University,


and before C responds, she immediately rephrases the initial question in
a latched () and speeded-up (.,) fashion in line 2. After the candidate
answers, A develops the topic by asking another question about her future
plans in line 7, and the question is added to by another easier question which
could project the candidates possible answer. Facilitated by the second
question, C answers Yah, of course. (.5) Haha:::, but fails to deal with the
first question. Consequently, the interviewer returns to the unsuccessful
question not by the same wh-question but by asking for confirmation of two
possible answers in line 10. This approach to questioning is typical of
interviewer A. She frequently rephrases the initial questions in her own
turn.
Once the topic has been introduced, A tends to systematically recycle the
topic to expand the candidates response. In the following examples, she
demands more of Cs opinions (see 2), requests reasons for her previous
answer (see 3), and asks for examples (see 4).
2 Interviewer: A (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
C: Yeh, freedom freedom for child n: (.8) if the child is crying, OK if
crying OK
2
finish (.5) ah will be goo(h)d
3/ I: Right. Do you agree with that? Or do you ( )
1

3 Interviewer: A (I: interviewer, C: candidate)


1
C: but I I think she uh:: doesnt care the ki(h)ds cry(hah)ing
2
(.5)
3/ I: All right. Hah hah ha What makes you say that?

270

Fumiyo Nakatsuhara

4 Interviewer: A (I: interviewer, C: candidate)


1 I: So so in your idea or your point of view, what makes a good mother?
2 (.5)
3 C: Em:: (.) manage em something they should manage [and ha huh
4 I:
[Right
5 (.5)
6/ I: For example?

Concerning feedback, she rarely gives comments on the information given


by the candidate. Instead, as in lines 2 and 5 in (5), A tends to replace some
possible verbalized receipt tokens with non-verbal behaviour such as
nodding, eye contact, and a smile during the candidates in-progress story.
5 Interviewer: A (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
1 C: uh:: Maybe This another person? maybe its grandmothe-, grandma?
2/ I: (1.0) ((nodding))
3 C: And:: ah: (.8) but I think the room is a little mess
4
ha[ha (.5) lot of toys lot of books and something:: (.5) a lot of things
5/ I: [((smiling))

Interviewer B

Interviewer B also seems to have his own typical questioning method. He


frequently uses statements as question prompts rather than explicitly
asking the candidate questions. For example, in (6), after Cs answer that
TV is a beneficial source to learn English, B hypothesizes that she may not
care too much about the programme itself, and states it with a falling
intonation (.) in line 3, which is subsequently confirmed and elaborated by
the candidate.
6 Interviewer: B (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
C: Uh: hh but em: for me, I think watching English is good fo(h)r
me(h) huh
2
for my English. Hah ha
3/ I: Oh OK Just for Eng[lish so doesnt matter what programme.
4 C:
[ just learn hahha
5 C: Yah. Do(h)esnt matter what. news, advertisements, and something
else,
6
I watch haha all all can improve my English,
1

A similar technique is also employed to develop topics. To maintain the


topics, rather than asking a related question to expand the given topic, he
often formulates (Heritage 1985) or re-presents what C has said, and waits
for natural development of the interaction as in extract 7 below. In this
excerpt, the candidate is talking about her reaction to the room which she
has just described in a picture.
7 Interviewer: B (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
1
C: No, hahha I dont like this roo(hh)m hah[ha
2
I:
[You dont like i(h)t?
3/
[hu so not your style
4
C: [hahha
Yah hah[ha

Inter-interviewer variation in oral interview tests

271

5
I:
[Right
6/ C: I like more fashion, more eh light room you know I like I like eh
7

some gla:ss,
some something else. That that is not like this room hahha

In an assessment situation, using statements as questions (extract 6) and


formulation (extract 7) are not considered as always desirable, since these
techniques only voluntarily ask the candidate to continue to talk, and
formulation may function as drawing a conclusion for the candidates thus
depriving them of the opportunity to do it by themselves (Lazaraton op. cit.).
However, as formulation tends to be preferable, for instance in a news
interview, to preserve the interviewees prior statement as a topic of further
talk (Heritage op. cit.: 106) and as this candidate successfully interpreted Bs
implicit demand for more information and often elaborated her response as
shown above, these techniques in the given interview functioned rather
effectively. Additionally, as in excerpt 8 below, interviewer B tends to shift
topics when the first questioning seemed unsuccessful in terms of the
possibility of natural expansion of the topic. This can be contrasted with
interviewer A, who returns to the unsuccessful questions as shown in 1 and
systematically recycles the topic in 24 above.
8 Interviewer: B (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
1
I: Do you have favourite artists or
2 C: Em hhahha my my favourite artist also is Chine(h)se. hahha
3 (1.0)
4/ I: Oh, Chinese. What about mu- movies? Which kind of movies do you

like?
As for feedback, B frequently provides comments, particularly giving
positive evaluation as in (9). Giving evaluation is sometimes avoided in
testing, since it may mislead some candidates to believe that they are doing
better than they actually are in the assessment; it also may impact on
outcome ratings (Lazaraton op. cit.: 161). Nevertheless, this type of positive
feedback is regularly observed in the classroom to encourage learners (Ur
1996: 242), and may consequently sound like natural interaction between
such native and non-native conversation as observed here.
9 Interviewer: B (I: interviewer, C: candidate)
1
I: So their [parents should be responsible.
2 C:
[Yah yah yah
Yes.
3/ I: Oh OK Yah very good. yah, very very good. OK

Additionally, B frequently echoes what C has uttered as in extract 8 above


(Oh, Chinese.). This receipt design of his may be a useful display of his
involvement in her response and his effort to establish mutual
understanding.
In sum, while A is explicit in her questioning and systematic topic
development, B does so ambiguously. Moreover, while As talk seems to be
more teacher-like with great supportive behaviours and control of the topic
the candidate needs to deal with, Bs behaviour could be seen as more

272

Fumiyo Nakatsuhara

non-test-like with his lower-level control of the interaction. Whilst A gave


a minimal amount of verbal response tokens, B gave a variety of feedback.

Discussion

Based on the CA findings described above, two possible reasons why


different scores were awarded to the pronunciation and fluency
components will be discussed.4
Firstly, it may be because As interview was more controlled with her
systematic questioning and topic-development than that of Bs. Together
with the great amount of supportive behaviour, her guidance was more
explicit than that of Bs, and topics about which the candidate had to talk
were clearly defined at every stage. Consequently, in order to deal with the
clearly specified topic, the candidate may have been required to utilize
unfamiliar vocabulary whose pronunciation she was not sure of. Some
raters actually awarded a better score for the vocabulary components in As
interview session, probably because A pushed the candidate to her limits of
vocabulary resources. On the other hand, B exercised less control over the
direction of the interviews with implicit questioning, and shifted topics
when the candidate had difficulty in expanding them. Thus, the candidate
may have been able to avoid lexis whose pronunciation she did not fully
know and might have got wrong. Similarly, the candidate might have
spoken more fluently in Bs less directed interview where she could talk
about whatever she wanted to and did not need to talk about any
dispreferred topics in depth. This can be explained as a type of avoidance
strategy, which is motivated by the language users desire to use language
correctly, i.e. to avoid errors, or to use it fluently, i.e. to avoid rules and items
which cannot be easily retrieved and smoothly articulated (Faerch and
Kasper 1984: 48).
Secondly, the difference in types and the amount of feedback may have
affected the perception of raters about the candidates fluency. While B
frequently provided comments as well as usual response tokens such as uh
huh, A gave minimal amount of feedback and replaced possible verbal
receipt tokens by rich non-verbal tokens during the candidates in-progress
utterance. This could be the result of the formal interviewer training that A
has experienced. In particular, giving evaluative comments, as mentioned
earlier, is normally treated cautiously. More importantly, Fulcher (1996: 217)
points out that an interviewer tends to be highly sensitive to the possibility
that the student needs time to plan what is going to be said next, and
therefore the amount of overlapping speech may be much less than in less
formal interaction. Therefore, being sensitive not to interrupt the
candidates production, interviewer A may have failed to fill gaps which are
normally filled in mundane conversation, and this could have increased the
amount of silence and caused the raters to perceive that the candidate was
more hesitant when answering questions in As interview, while she
generally kept flow of conversation going in Bs (Rater M).

Conclusions and
suggestions

This investigation has explored specific aspects of the relationship between


interlocutor behaviour and its impact on candidate performances and
scores. To summarize, the two interviewers examined here possessed their
own ways of questioning, developing topics, and reacting to the candidates
response, and these differences translated into the different pronunciation
Inter-interviewer variation in oral interview tests

273

and fluency scores in ratings. Although the results cannot be generalized


due to the limited data treated here, this study has clearly exemplified
a possible relationship between the characteristics of interviewer behaviour
and particular components of language ability affected. It was particularly
interesting to find interviewer A, who was more trained for standardized
tests like IE LT S and thus followed such guidelines more closely than B, led
the candidate to appear to perform less well. The fact that the I E LT S trained
interviewer did not provide the opportunity for the best performance from
the candidate leads us to rethink what interviewer training should be for.
This is because it seems possible that the training, in the interests of
standardization, systematically prevents interviewers from biasing for best
(Swain 1985: 423) for test-takers.
Lastly, I would like to suggest how the findings of this study and of future
studies along these lines can be useful to ensure that students are treated
equally regardless of the interviewer they are paired with. Firstly,
examination boards can refer to such research results to define what (and to
what extent) interlocutor techniques should/should not be needed in what
circumstances. Accordingly, more emphasis should be given in interviewer
training programmes to highlighting these empirical data so that
interviewers can be made aware of themselves as a possible factor to
influence students scores. Secondly, the existing rating scales can be refined
and the role of the interviewer in test interaction can be taken into
consideration in the rater training procedure (Lazaraton op. cit.). If raters
and interviewers establish mutual understanding on why particular
interviewer behaviour is employed at each moment, interviewer behaviour
will no longer be a source of random fluctuation of scores. Rather, this
understanding will enhance both the validity and the reliability of the oral
interview tests by providing candidates with systematic, consistent
conversation-like interlocutor interaction.
Final revised version received February 2007
Notes
1 According to Lados (1964: 332) classic suggestion
on reliability coefficient, the acceptable reliability
for a speaking test is .70.79, although there is
now a general consensus that it is desirable to aim
for .8 or above.
2 One may think that the obtained mean differences
for Pronunciation and Fluency are rather too
small to be discussed. However, considering that
the rating category consists only of four levels and
5 out of 22 raters and 7 out of 22 raters gave better
scores on Pronunciation and Fluency
respectively in Bs session, it seems plausible to
regard that the raters perceived the better
performance of the candidate in these two
categories in Bs session.
3 For further details of example interactions and
CA, see Nakatsuhara (forthcoming).

274

Fumiyo Nakatsuhara

4 It can be argued that an interviewers gender/age


or different picture prompts might be a factor.
However, since these factors are out of the scope of
this study, the discussion here focuses only on
interactional differences between the two
interviewers.
References
Atkinson, J. M. and J. Heritage. (eds.). 1984.
Structures of Social Action. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Brown, A. 2003. Interviewer variation and the coconstruction of speaking proficiency. Language
Testing 20: 125.
Brown, A. and K. Hill. 1998. Interviewer style and
candidate performance in the I E LT S oral interview
in S. Woods (ed.). Research Reports 1997 Volume 1.
Sydney: E L I C O S, 17391.

Faerch, C. and G. Kasper. 1984. Two ways of defining


communication strategies. Language Learning 34:
4563.
Fulcher, G. 1996. Does thick description lead to
smart test? A data-based approach to rating scale
construction. Language Testing 13: 20838.
Harrison, M. and R. Kerr. 1999. C.A.E. Practice Tests.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heritage, J. 1985. Analyzing news interviews:
aspects of the production of talk for an overhearing
audience in T. A. van Dijk (ed.). Handbook of
Discourse Analysis (vol. 3). London: Academic Press.
Lado, R. 1964. Language Testing. New York: McGrawHill.
Lazaraton, A. 1996. Interlocutor support in oral
proficiency interviews: the case of C A S E. Language
Testing 13: 15172.
Nakatsuhara, F. forthcoming. Impact of interinterviewer variation on analytical rating scores and
discourse in oral interview tests. Newcastle Working
Paper in Linguistics 12.

Ross, S. and R. Berwick. 1992. The discourse of


accommodation in oral proficiency interviews.
Studies in Second Language Acquisition 14: 15976.
Swain, M. 1985. Large-scale communicative
language testing: a case study in Y. P. Lee,
A. C. Y. Y. Fork, R. Lord, and G. Low (eds.). New
Directions in Language Testing. Oxford: Pergamon.
Ur, P. 1996. A Course in Language Teaching.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The author
Fumiyo Nakatsuhara is a PhD student in Language
Testing at the University of Essex. Her research
interests include the nature of co-constructed
interaction in various speaking test formats, such as
interview, paired, and group formats. Her PhD
research focuses on conversational style in group
oral tests, considering the impact of candidate
characteristics, group size, and task types.
Email: fnakat@essex.ac.uk

Inter-interviewer variation in oral interview tests

275

point and counterpoint

Transforming lives: introducing


critical pedagogy into E LT
classrooms
Ramin Akbari

Critical pedagogy (CP) in E LT is an attitude to language teaching which relates the


classroom context to the wider social context and aims at social transformation
through education. In spite of its great potential, however, the practical
implications of CP have not been well appreciated and most of the references to
the term have been limited to its conceptual dimensions. The present paper
highlights the applications of CP for L2 classrooms and provides hints as to how L2
teaching can result in the improvement of the lives of those who are normally not
considered in E LT discussions.

Introduction

The concept of critical pedagogy (CP) has been around in the E LT profession
for almost two decades (Canagarajah 2005), but it has only been relatively
recently that we have seen heightened interest in its principles and practical
implications. Most of the discussion on CP has been limited to its rationale
and not much has been done to bring it down to the actual world of
classroom practice, for which it was originally intended. The present paper
seeks to present a snapshot of CP by delineating its principles and
suggesting some areas of application for L2 practitioners.

What is CP?

Unlike most of the other concepts and ideas one encounters in the literature
on L2 teaching, CP is not a theory, but a way of doing learning and
teaching (Canagarajah op.cit.: 932), or borrowing Pennycooks (2001)
terminology, it is teaching with an attitude. What critical pedagogues are
after is the transformation of society through education, including language
teaching.
CP deals with questions of social justice and social change through
education. Critical pedagogues argue that educational systems are
reflections of the societal systems within which they operate, and since in all
social systems we have discrimination and marginalization in terms of race,
social class, or gender (Giroux 1983), the same biases are reproduced in
educational systems. In other words, the same people who have the power to
make decisions in society at large are the ones who also have the power to
design and implement educational systems, and consequently, their ideas
and values get accepted and promoted while the values and ideas of others

276

E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccn025


The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.

are not given voice. Education, as a result, is a political activity in which the
rights of certain classes are systematically denied.
By viewing education as an intrinsically political, power-related activity
(Freire 1973), supporters of CP seek to expose the discriminatory
foundations of education and take steps towards social change in such a way
that there is more inclusion and representation of groups who are left out.
CP puts the classroom context into the wider social context with the belief
that what happens in the classroom should end up making a difference
outside the classroom (Baynham 2006: 28). In language teaching, critical
practice is about connecting the word with the world. It is about recognizing
language as ideology, not just system. It is about extending the educational
space to the social, cultural, and political dynamics of language use
(Kumaravadivelu 2006: 70).
The political implications of education, in general, and L2 teaching in
particular, might not be completely evident to many professionals; teaching
English, they argue, is teaching a new system of communication and it does
not have much political/critical significance. The problem is, however, that
any language is part of the wider semiotic system within which it was
shaped and is infused with ideological, historical, and political symbols and
relations (Pennycook 2001). The identity of a language is shaped as a result
of what has happened to it, and what it has done to others; if we look back
upon the history of English and its close connection with the spread of
colonialism, we find ourselves pausing, pondering, and admitting that
English is not an innocent language. Exposing some of the values that
underlie the spread and promotion of English, and questioning some of the
assumptions based on which the profession currently operates are at the
heart of CP and discussions dealing with linguistic imperialism (Pennycook
1998).
The discourse of CP, however, is the discourse of liberation and hope; it is
the discourse of liberation since it questions the legitimacy of accepted
power relations and recognizes the necessity of going beyond arbitrary
social constraints; it is also the discourse of hope since it provides the
potential for marginalized groups to explore ways of changing the status
quo and improve their social conditions. In applied linguistics, CP is an
acknowledgement both of the socio-political implications of language
teaching and at the same time the possibility of change for both students
and teachers, two groups of people who are either left out of any serious
treatment of the profession or represented superficially detached from their
real-life experiences. For these people, CP is liberating in the sense that it
legitimizes the voices of practitioners and learners, and gives them scope to
exercise power in their local context. At the same time, it can be viewed as the
discourse of hope, since by taking the classroom as the point of departure, it
helps the marginalized to explore ways of changing society for a better, more
democratic life:
Critical education is not a unitary phenomenon. However, its major
variants in K-12 education in the UScritical literacy, critical pedagogy,
and critical whole language practice . . .are united on at least the
following very general aim: to help students to read with and also to read
against . . . critical literacy is not just about interrogating texts; it is also
Critical pedagogy in ELT

277

about real world realities and the role of language, power and
representation in injustice . . . education for a democracy should not
be about the development of products or even consumers, but about
preparation for public citizenship, for civic agreement.
(Edelsky and Johnson 2004: 121, quoted in Reagan 2006: 4)
The conservative forces that control education and society at large have tried
to keep critical ideas out of school curricula and classrooms. Coursebook
contents and teaching methods have been cautiously selected to make sure
that only socially refined topics are addressed. As a result, E LT has not been
completely responsive to the demands made by a CP, and still language
teaching is viewed mainly as a cognitive activity with few socio-political
implications. Even when the social dimensions of language are
acknowledged, the social reality of language learning and teaching is
represented from a narrow perspective where social context is only treated
as who is talking to whom about what. The complexity of the social
conditions students and teachers find themselves in is not given serious
consideration and some of the grim facts that are part of the human
condition, such as poverty, disease, domestic violence, racial, or ethnic
discrimination, are ignored. If education in general and E LT in particular
are going to make a difference, then the totality of the experiences of learners
needs to be addressed.
Language teachers can play a more active social role by including themes
from the wider society in their classes, and by drawing the attention of their
students to the way marginalized people feel or act, creating the context for
positive action and a heightened awareness of the plight of those who are not
us, but them or others. They can also incorporate themes from students
day-to-day lives to enable them to think about their situation and explore
possibilities for change. The following sections include some suggestions as
to how teachers can transform their classes into more critical settings.

Transforming classes
Base your teaching
on students local
culture

Culture has always been treated as an indispensable part of any language


teaching/learning situation and in fact it has been used as a source of
content for many language teaching coursebooks. Most cultural content,
however, has been from the target language, since the justification has been
that those who want to learn a new language want to communicate with the
users of that language, and successful communication would be impossible
without familiarity with the cultural norms of the society with whose
speakers the learner is trying to forge bonds. This assumption, of course,
holds true for those groups of learners who want to migrate to countries
such as the US or UK for work or study. The reality in which many other
language learners find themselves, nevertheless, is different (McKay 2003).
English has now turned into an international language, and due to the scope
of its application both geographically and communicatively, it has developed
certain features which are not part of any specific national character. In
other words, English has become de-nationalized and re-nationalized as
a result of its spread as the world lingua franca (Sridhar and Sridhar 1994;
Seidlhofer 2001). In this international situation, most of the
communication carried out in English is between people who are
themselves the so-called non-native speakers of English and with a distinct

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Ramin Akbari

cultural identity of their own. There is little need in this context for the
Anglo-American culture since neither party is a native with whom the other
interlocutor is going to identify.
In addition, in most communicative settings, people try to communicate
their own cultural values and conceptualizations, not those of the target
language. Typically, people involved in communication want to express who
they are and what kind of cultural background they represent, and as
a result, an emphasis on target language is misplaced; what is needed more
is for the learners to be able to develop the competence to talk about their
own culture and cultural identity.
From a critical perspective, reliance on ones own local culture has the added
value of enabling learners to think about the different aspects of the culture
in which they live and find ways to bring about changes in the society where
change is needed. If students are going to transform the lives of themselves
and those of others, they cannot do so unless due attention is paid to their
own culture in the curriculum and opportunities are provided for critical
reflection on its features. It is here that both the negative and positive
features of their culture can be addressed and local cultural sore points (such
as the spread of AIDS, honour killings, etc.) brought to the attention of
learners. In addition, reliance on learners culture as the point of departure
for language teaching will make them critically aware and respectful of their
own culture and prevent the development of a sense of inferiority which
might result from a total reliance on the target language culture where only
the praiseworthy features of the culture are presented.

Regard learners L1
as a resource to be
utilized

The common practice in L2 professional literature has been the rejection of


learners L1 as a negative force which will slow down their progress by
interfering with L2 development. Teachers have been advised to conduct
their classes in the target language to minimize this negative effect and give
students ample practice opportunities in gaining mastery over L2 features.
However, from a scientific perspective, there is not much evidence available
in support of the total banishment of learners L1, and in fact there might be
cases to the contrary. In other words, a learners first language can be
regarded as an asset that can facilitate communication in the L2 and as part
of her communicative experience on which to base her L2 learning. For
example, L1 can be successfully used to maintain discipline in the classroom
or to provide instruction for certain activities. It can also be used for
explaining delicate grammar points or abstract vocabulary items (Cook
2001). The rationale for the total exclusion of L1 from classes, therefore,
must be sought mostly in the political/economic dimensions of L2 teaching
and the inability of native English teachers to utilize the mother tongue
potential of their learners.
A note of caution, however. The call for the use of learners L1 in the
classroom does not necessarily mean that it can be used as the language
of instruction. An L2 class is primarily designed to provide a setting for
learners to be exposed to the features of the language they are trying to learn,
and an opportunity to practise the use of those features. The focus of
attention, therefore, must be on the L2, while allowing for a more liberal use
of the L1 to facilitate communication and comprehension.
Critical pedagogy in ELT

279

From a critical perspective, it is undesirable and even impossible to deny


the significance of learners first languages. An individuals L1 is part of
his or her identity and a force which has played a crucial role in the
formation of that identity. If people are supposed to become empowered and
their voices recognized and respected, then the first step needs to be
a respect for who they are and the values they represent. And when it comes
to marginalized groups, language becomes an important refuge, a badge of
honour, a safe haven, or a stable point (Baynham op. cit.: 25) where one
would feel secure in being who he/she is. In addition, true respect for
human rights and the dignity of people should start with one of the most
basic rights they are entitled to, that is, their linguistic human rights
(Skutnabb-Kangas and Phillipson 1995).
By including more of the learners first language in L2 settings, and through
judicious use of the students L1 as a teaching aid, language teachers can
create the context where the first steps towards empowerment and positive
social change can be taken.

Include more of
students real-life
concerns

CP takes the local as its point of departure, and local here includes the
overall actual life experiences and needs of learners. Learners needs in CP
are defined not just linguistically or in terms of tasks, but in terms of the
purposes they serve in the social mobility and activism of students.
CP, in fact, would object to a blanket approach to syllabus design where all
students are assumed to have a common set of communicative goals. In CP
there is no separation between the communicative needs of learners and
who they are socially and politically, which means that what students are
taught will differ widely depending on their locale and linguistic, economic,
ethnic, as well as political affiliations. In other words, in a critically inspired
pedagogy, rural students needs are different from those of urban centres,
minorities have needs which diverge from those of the majority, and haves
and have-nots need different types of instructional material and approaches.
Commercially produced coursebooks, which form the backbone of
instruction in many mainstream language teaching contexts, lack the
required sensitivity to be able to address such concerns.
A problem of commercially produced coursebooks, in other words, is their
disregard for the localness of learning and learning needs. Most such books
make use of a language which is considered to be aspirational (Gray 2001),
where most of the language introduced deals with the needs and concerns
of middle and upper classes; in most of the dialogues of such books the
interlocutors talk about issues which are far removed from the lives of many
learners. While learners might have needs related to finding a part-time job,
extending their visa for another year or term, or negotiating their status as
a refugee (Baynham 2006), participants in coursebook dialogues worry
about where to spend their vacation, how people celebrate Mardi Gras, or
what to wear for a friends party. An example of how local concerns can be
incorporated in a typical English syllabus may clarify the issue further.
In Iran there are still regions that are contaminated by landmines; these
landmines are the leftovers of eight years of war with Iraq. Each year
hundreds of people get killed or are wounded by these landmines, and most
of the victims are children and adolescents. Irans Ministry of Education, in

280

Ramin Akbari

collaboration with the Red Crescent Society, has decided to offer a special
crash course on landmines and safety measures needed in dealing with
them for students living in affected areas. This course is offered as an extra
to the curriculum and is not integrated in any subject area students study in
their regular programmes. From a CP perspective, it would have been
advisable and possible to include the landmine topic in the English lessons
or instruction students receive in their curriculum and in this way come up
with a content that is both relevant and transformative to the immediate
lives of the learners.
As an example, students in this situation can be exposed to a reading
passage which makes them familiar with landmines, places they are
planted, and cautionary measures that must be taken in contaminated
areas. As a follow-up communicative activity, the learners can be divided
into groups of two and, in an information gap exercise using maps, help
their partners get home safely while negotiating their way through farms
dotted with landmines and suspicious objects.

Make your learners


aware of issues faced
by marginalized
groups

The majority of students who come to English classes do so because most of


their basic needs in Maslows hierarchy have been met and they are now
aiming at more social respectability and higher levels of self-actualization.
In other words, they mostly belong to the middle or upper classes of their
society. Such learners, by virtue of their social position, are unaware of the
way the majority of their societys citizens negotiate their day-to-day lives or
even their survival; CP can provide the needed insight for such learners so
that through social activism they can transform the lives of those who are
marginalized and help them attain better economic and social conditions.
The majority of coursebooks used for English instruction have been
anesthetized to make them politically and socially harmless for an
international audience. Most publishers advise coursebook writers to follow
a set of guidelines to make sure that controversial topics are kept out of their
books. One such set of guidelines is summarized as PARS NIP (Gray 2001),
which stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, Isms, and
Pornography. As a result, most coursebooks deal with neutral, apparently
harmless topics such as food, shopping, or travel. However, there are many
groups in any society which are driven to the margins exactly because their
political, behavioural, or belief systems are in conflict with those of the
mainstream groups and they are consequently denied certain rights or
opportunities.
In addition to some guidelines (or maybe we can say redlines) provided by
publishers, some coursebook producers and writers either intentionally or
unintentionally set themselves restrictions in refusing to recognize and
represent certain groups of people who might not fit in exactly with the
expectations of their middle and upper class language learning clients. For
example, poverty in the learners immediate society is not normally treated,
and if poverty is dealt with in a coursebook, it is usually with respect to a far
away country or continent and groups of people with whom the learners
can hardly identify. Missing also in most coursebooks are people who are
invisible due to their psychological or physical abnormalities; one can hardly
find any lessons dealing with the plight of amputees or the disabled, and if
Critical pedagogy in ELT

281

psychological problems are dealt with, only cases with which the public is
fascinated (such as autism or idiot savants) are represented. Old people are
also left out of English coursebook contents, and if old age is mentioned, it is
not normally associated with disabilities, frequent hospital visits, and the
frustrations of losing ones strength.
The transformation of a society will be impossible unless trouble spots are
identified, space is provided for all citizens to make their voices heard, and
all members of the society come to the realization that there are multiple
perspectives on reality; by creating a sense of respect and tolerance the
first steps towards social change can be taken.

Conclusion

CP is about the relationship between the word and the world (Freire 1973), or
how the world of ideas in education relates to the world of reality in society.
In a sense, CP is about the messy, unpleasant aspects of social life and the
people for whom such aspects are part of their day-to-day reality. It is also the
pedagogy of hope and understanding, since without the possibility of
change and a willingness to change criticism does not make much sense.
Among other things, CP is about human dignity and respect. By basing
instruction on learners real-life worlds and identity, it provides a stable
reference point for the marginalized groups to legitimate their own
existence and claim what they are entitled to. It is, in a word, the true spirit of
a real democracy.
Implementation of a critical model in any local E LT context has a number of
requirements, among which decentralization of decision making (in terms
of content, teaching methodology, and testing) is of crucial importance. As
long as course contents and testing methods are decided upon by ministries
in capitals, E LT classes suffer from vague generalities and socio-political
numbness. The great potential CP has in curriculum development and
student empowerment will be actualized only when education, and by
extension E LT, develops the required attitude, starts at the local level, and
acknowledges the significance of learners experiences as legitimate
departure points in any meaningful learning enterprise.
Final revised version received August 2007

References
Baynham, M. 2006. Agency and contingency in the
language learning of refugees and asylum seekers.
Linguistics and Education 17/1: 2439.
Canagarajah, S. 2005. Critical pedagogy in L2
learning and teaching in E. Hinkel (ed.). Handbook
of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Cook, V. 2001. Using the first language in the
classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review 57/3:
40224.
Edelsky, C. and K. Johnson. 2004. Critical whole
language practice in time and place. Critical Inquiry
in Language Studies 1/3: 12141.
Freire, P. 1973. Education: The Practice of Freedom.
London: Writers and Readers.
282

Ramin Akbari

Giroux, H. A. 1983. Theory and Resistance in


Education: A Pedagogy for the Opposition. South
Hadley, MA: Bergin.
Gray, J. 2001. The global coursebook in English
language teaching in D. Block (ed.).
Globalization and Language Teaching. London:
Routledge.
Kumaravadivelu, B. 2006. T E SO L methods:
changing tracks, challenging trends. TE S O L
Quarterly 40/1: 5981.
McKay, S. L. 2003. Toward an appropriate E I L
pedagogy: re-examining common ELT
assumptions. International Journal of Applied
Linguistics 13/1: 122.
Pennycook, A. 1998. English and the Discourse of
Colonialism. London: Routledge.

Pennycook, A. 2001. Critical Applied Linguistics: A


Critical Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.
Reagan, T. 2006. The explanatory power of critical
language studies: linguistics with an attitude.
Critical Inquiry in Language Studies 3/1: 122.
Seidlhofer, B. 2001. Closing a conceptual gap: the
case for a description of English as a lingua franca.
International Journal of Applied Linguistics 11/2:
13358.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. and R. Phillipson. (eds.). 1995.
Linguistic Human Rights: Overcoming Linguistic
Discrimination. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Sridhar, S. N. and K. K. Sridhar. 1994. Indigenized
Englishes as second languages: Toward a functional

Critical pedagogy in ELT

theory of second language acquisition in


multilingual contexts in R. K. Agnihotri and
A. L. Khanna (eds.). Second Language Acquisition:
Socio-cultural and Linguistic Aspects of English in India.
London: Sage.
The author
Ramin Akbari is an Assistant Professor of T EF L at
Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, where he
teaches practicum, language teaching methodology,
and applied linguistics to MA and PhD students. His
research is on teacher education and critical
pedagogy.
Email: akbari_ram@yahoo.com

283

point and counterpoint

Theres more to life than politics


Colin Sowden

In order to broaden the range and increase the significance of their work, some
English language teachers have embraced critical pedagogy, which seeks to effect
political and social change through education. It is not clear, though, certainly in
the previous paper, how such an aim can be achieved, or whether the outcome
would be the one anticipated. There are also contradictions inherent in this
approach: it is often most critical of the anglophone inheritance, which has done
much to foster the right to criticize; it is based on post-modern notions of
knowledge, yet makes universal claims; it speaks a language of care, but adopts
a totalitarian view of society in which all relationships are treated as political, thus
reducing life to politics.
As Ramin Akbari states in his article, the concept of critical pedagogy (CP)
has been around for some time, but has become of more central interest
in recent years. In seeking to empower the marginalized and give a voice
to those who are often excluded by the dominant political and social
discourses, it is an attractive approach to English Language Teaching (E LT),
but its inherent dangers need also to be considered. At the heart of the
matter stands the question of whether ELT is primarily concerned with
skills-training or with education in the wider sense, accepting that no clear
distinction is really possible between these two. As new theories of language
learning have developed, and as professionals in the sector have naturally
sought to enhance the significance and satisfaction of their work, so E LT has
increasingly embraced the second of these purposes, moving into areas
traditionally occupied by other disciplines, such as sociology and
anthropology. As a result, the body of knowledge that practitioners seek to
transmit has come under severe scrutiny and has been increasingly
contested: linguistic norms once accepted as relatively self-evident are now
seen as problematic, not as value-free but as laden with an undesirable past
and an ambivalent present. In trying to overcome this dilemma, some of
these practitioners have turned to the notion of CP to help justify their
continuing involvement in the work. In doing so, they have sought to
politicize teaching in a way that is unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Skills-training or
education?

Firstly, there is the issue of whether language teaching is mainly about


coaching a skill, or whether it should strive after broader objectives. I would
argue that there are many groups around the world (business people,
diplomats, international students, secondary school pupils studying
it as a foreign language), whose main interest in learning English is

284

E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccn026


The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.

instrumental, for whom its cultural baggage and ideological embedding is


largely irrelevant. They are concerned to develop an adequate proficiency
as efficiently as possible, and will look favourably on any activities which
facilitate this. Here, of course, questions of syllabus and materials design
and teaching methodology become important. Akbari is quite right to
lament the anodyne nature of most commercially produced textbooks,
although he acknowledges that this is largely the result of publishing
companies trying to meet very widespread demand without giving offence.
He is equally right to question methods which exclude the learners native
tongue, though he recognizes that outsiders might have problems if they are
not familiar with local languages. One might add too that the emphasis
on communicative methodology is also often misplaced, and that greater
respect needs to be paid to local pedagogical traditions.
So I believe that Akbaris objections on these matters are justified. His
arguments, however, can be applied within the established notions of
learner-centredness and authenticity; they do not need to be subsumed
under the heading of CP. Clearly, if learners are involved in activities and
with topics with which they can identify, they are likely to be more motivated
and the English they acquire is likely to be more obviously relevant. Akbari
does not give many concrete examples of classroom exercises, but such can
be found in articles by Cots (2006) and Morgan (2004). They are well
designed and should prove engaging, so enabling learners to develop their
language skills, though this will occur as a result of good lesson planning
rather than CP per se. In fact, as a distinct approach, CP has little to say about
the process of language learning itself: it does not promise that learners will
increase their mastery of English, only that their learning will somehow be
more socially and politically relevant. As suggested above, that might not be
a priority for some groups. Timmis (2002) too indicates that learners do not
always exhibit the priorities expected of them. They might feel that what
they require from a language teacher is language; they can make the value
judgements for themselves.

Raising awareness
and political change

If, though, we accept the broader educational aims of CP, to encourage


social change by raising critical awareness of social and political contexts, we
still need to ask whether these are valid and feasible. In the kind of setting
that Akbari seems to envisage, in which local teachers are teaching English
as a second or other language to local students, then either party might know
of a particular injustice or feel directly the effects of an oppressive practice,
and wish to make that the subject of classroom study. Whether an English
lesson is the most appropriate vehicle for such activity (as Akbari proposes
regarding landmines in Iran) is questionable, but at least the participants
will probably be well informed on the subject and be able to draw some
worthwhile conclusions. Morgan (ibid.:165) is able to justify his teaching in
this way as based on my long-term work in the community and my
recognition of the legitimacy that [my] approach has with my students. The
same cannot be said with assurance of outsiders, either those coming from
overseas, or those coming from different parts of the same country, perhaps
metropolitans who move to a rural area. They may not fully appreciate what
factors operate in the local situation and, particularly in the former case, may
bring to bear criteria which are not appropriate to the situation. Where the
Theres more to life than politics

285

initiative for such engagement comes from the learners themselves, then
the response advocated by CP may well be right; but where no such demand
apparently exists, it is presumptuous and possibly dangerous to excite one.
Beyond this there is also the matter of knowledge. How qualified are most
English language teachers to pronounce on political or social matters?
Phillipson (1992: 195) is concerned that the drive to export English in the
1970s and 1980s led to a plethora of under-qualified language teachers
wandering the world doing damage in the classroom. How much more
pernicious might be the effect of aspiring sociologists, political scientists,
and cultural experts let loose in similar contexts. The possible problems
arising from such a scenario are illustrated by Alistair Pennycooks account
of his experiences whilst teaching in China (1994: 313). He refers to
a situation in which some of his fellow-teachers were American Christian
missionaries, whose work served as a vehicle to disguise their real purposes.
He felt obliged to give classes in which he drew the students attention to the
fact that these colleagues were fundamentalists and could be said to
support the right-wing policies of the US government. It is clear from the
text that the terms fundamentalist and right-wing have negative
connotations for the writer. However, a fundamentalist is merely someone
of strong beliefs who may wish to persuade others to share them; one could
consider Pennycook a fundamentalist on the question of CP. Such a person
is not necessarily a fanatic or extremist, one who is prepared to force their
opinions on others, even to the extent of persecuting or killing them. The
notions of right-wing and left-wing in politics are misleading and unhelpful;
a better distinction might be drawn between liberal and authoritarian
policies and governments: those that accommodate dissent and those that
dont. Strangely, too, no allowance seems to have been made for how
Chinese Christians might respond to these missionary endeavours. This is
an important omission because the growing Chinese church offers
a powerful alternative discourse to those of the ruling Communist Party and
the new urban rich.
My purpose here is not to attack Pennycook, or to suggest that his decision
was necessarily wrong in the circumstances. Rather it is to highlight how
easily even a well-informed and conscientious teacher can be betrayed by
their own prejudices and scope of experience, and why therefore it is
dangerous for ordinary practitioners to lay claim to too much. But CP does
aspire to this and much more. It is ideologically committed to uncovering
and challenging anglophone hegemony, as displayed directly and indirectly
through conventions of language use, and policies of language planning
and teaching, particularly in places where Britain or the United States have
played a colonial or neo-colonial role. To the extent that the above objective is
a matter of personal discovery and change, then it is probably to be
welcomed; but CP is ostensibly about social and political transformation on
a broader scale, as an ideological enterprise, and it is here that problems
arise. It is not clear (certainly in Akbaris article) how altered consciousness
will lead to political action or how successful this is likely to be. Akbari seems
to be saying (there is some ambiguity here) that most students of English
belong to the middle and upper classes, and that once persuaded of the
need for change, they will lead the way towards a more just society. Such
learners, though, are not actually the marginalized that CP is intended to
286

Colin Sowden

empower; rather they are a privileged group who are being encouraged to
take greater account of those less fortunate than themselves, which they
might not choose to do. The point here is that status in a given context, as
reflected in ease of access to the learning of a prestige language, may not be
readily surrendered. This is the problem which can face N G Os striving to
help the most disadvantaged in grossly unequal societies: they may be
hampered by those who have chosen not to relinquish their (often corrupt)
hold on power.

Morality, freedom,
and cultural norms

Underlying CP is the belief that all groups have a right to an equal voice, on
the post-modern assumption that all beliefs and practices are of equal worth,
and that those values associated with the Anglo-sphere (or the West in
general, though the two are often incorrectly conflated) are no better and
probably worse than those of locals who are subject to its domination.
During the eighteenth century the British East India Company chose not to
interfere in local custom, but to keep relations with their trading partners on
a strictly business footing, which position also provided ground for some
degree of mutual respect and learning. In the nineteenth century, when the
company exercised an administrative rather than a commercial role, this
policy was reversed. Against this background it was decided to put a stop to
the practice of sati, whereby a dead mans widow was expected to throw
herself on her late husbands funeral pyre. This was banned and declined as
a result. Similar action was taken in parallel circumstances over
cannibalism among the Maoris of New Zealand and, eventually, over slavery
among certain peoples of Africa. Of importance here, in what are admittedly
selective and extreme cases, is that local customs are not always to be
preferred or to be given an equal voice, although how they are confronted is
a legitimate matter for debate. In other words, the right kind of hegemony
can be a good thing.
On a more contemporary note, it is worth considering the statistics recently
released by World Wide Governance Indicators (Time, 17 September 2007).
These represent the amount of freedom citizens [in different countries]
have to voice opinions and select a government. Among those scoring well
on the Voice and Accountability Index are the anglophone nations,
including India and South Africa, although top marks go to Scandinavia. Of
course, one might question the validity of such an evaluation, or the criteria
used; and these results should not be taken as a measure of the quality of
life, which in some respects may be higher where freedom is curtailed.
Nevertheless, the statistics are not greatly misleading and should give pause
for thought to all who propose a critical approach to education, which rather
presupposes, except in very confrontational situations, that the teacher is
operating in an environment where criticism is indeed permitted. If one
then uses that freedom to subvert a culture which strongly guarantees the
right to differ from and oppose established orthodoxies, one is placed in an
ambiguous position. The reply will naturally come that such licence has not
existed for those who have been the subjects rather than the perpetrators of
anglophone domination. However, in many cases the alternative to western
colonization was not necessarily self-determination but domination by
another local or foreign power. It is sometimes appropriate to ask, therefore,

Theres more to life than politics

287

not only how blameworthy the respective colonial power was, but whether
others would have behaved better and with better results.
That anglophone hegemony has been oppressive in various ways is well
documented, but the discourses formulated by its opponents often owe
much to its traditions. Edward Said, for example, a well-known critic of
imperialism, was a Protestant Christian, whose father was American and
who was educated in British and American institutions; Mahatma Ghandi
was immersed in English common law and practised as a barrister before
becoming involved in politics; Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Congress
Party and first prime minister of independent India, had his education at
Harrow, a prestigious public school in England. CP itself is a product of
European rationalism, long associated with the notion of equal rights, and
of the Judeo-Christian tradition, self-reflective and concerned with the
welfare of the individual. These priorities were absorbed by those subject
to this hegemony, then applied in return to the rulers themselves. As
Canagarajah (1999: 58) says, English education . . . created a breed of
natives influenced by enlightened liberal democratic discourses, who
demanded such values from colonial rulers. It could be argued, indeed, that
opposition to continued colonial rule was in part fired by resentment that
the West had failed to live up to its own ideals rather than by a rejection
of those standards in themselves.

The English language


and power

Of course it is right to see English as playing an integral role in the colonial


and neo-colonial enterprise. In this sense, as Akbari says, . . . it is not
innocent, although it is difficult to see how else events could have turned
out. When the European nations began to exercise territorial power rather
than merely conduct trade overseas, it became necessary to communicate
and establish concepts which often had no obvious equivalent in the
languages of the local people, which too were often not written down. (This
gulf can be illustrated by present-day bilingual loudspeaker announcements
on railway stations in Wales: the English words gap and platform can be
heard in both versions, presumably because no easy alternatives for these
words exist in Welsh.) The decision then to enforce use of the colonists
language was a natural step given nineteenth-century views on education.
Compulsory elementary education became the norm in Europe in the latter
part of the century (the Education Acts to this end in Britain were passed in
1870 and 1880), with the aim of creating a literate population able to deal
with the challenges of the new industrial age. As any perusal of Victorian
literature will reveal, the methods used in these new schools were often
crude, and the policy itself was often resented by working-class
communities, whom it was avowedly designed to benefit. They lost the
valuable income of children who had previously worked and were now
confined to the classroom, and found their own traditions of self-education
usurped by intruders espousing different, ostensibly superior, values
(Steinbach 2004: 1767). Many of those who would have felt these changes
most severely were without a vote, since most unskilled working men and,
of course, all women from that class, were excluded from the franchise until
1918. So it is important to recognize that colonial policies were not always
peculiar products of their context but reflected more broadly based beliefs
which operated in the home countries too, particularly in the field of
education.

288

Colin Sowden

As far as English itself is concerned, it is inevitable that as new societies have


emerged from the colonial structure by which they were shaped, and from
those of the immediate post-colonial period, which often imitated what
went before, so there has been a natural pressure on the language to reflect
this change. Gradually different groups, either those who set local standards
in education or those subject to them, are asserting ownership of the
English on their own terms, moulding it in accordance with their own needs
and in symbiosis with their own languages. As Canagarajah (ibid.: 142) says,
The negotiation of codes in periphery classrooms . . . helps in the
appropriation of alien languages by local communities. These are healthy
developments that counteract the colonial and alien associations English
holds in many periphery communities. This process will probably result in
the consolidation of different varieties of English, though their degree of
divergence from what is referred to as Standard English will tend to
depend on the priorities of the elites in the given societies, at all levels.
Local native-speakers (strangely, in ELT literature this term is usually
reserved for those from Anglo-Saxon countries; see, for example Holliday
2006: 385) will here play a key role in determining this path of linguistic
development, and there is likely to be continuing debate regarding
international standards and norms as different regions vie for influence
or strive to establish their autonomy.
These developments, reflecting in part the natural processes of language
change, will take place despite, not because of CP. With the politics of
education being complex, having to take into account the needs of all
sections of society, both the elites and the people at large, it is doubtful
whether what happens in individual classrooms will make a great deal of
difference at the level of language policy. Indeed, educators who adopt CP
might well achieve different results from what they intend. Occupying
a dominant part of the power structure themselves, they may in practice
confirm rather than subvert stereotypes which reinforce unjust situations:
in presenting themselves as liberating oppressed students through the
transmission of power . . . to their up-until-then disempowered students,
they are in fact retaining not transferring initiative, a point which Starfield
(2004: 140) highlights but then maintains can be avoided. Furthermore,
students independence might be compromised not strengthened if
subsumed within an analytic construct (Widdowson 2000: 23) generated
by a teacher who is not prepared to tolerate diversity, who is determined to
challenge . . . those aspects of the [students] voice which negate [the
teachers] educational/political vision (Simon 1987: 378), an approach
which undervalues the capacity of learners to determine their own lives on
their own terms without any such intervention. As Ellsworth (1989: 309)
recognizes, it is . . . the students own daily life experiences . . . [that] chart
her/his path toward self-definition and agency, not the directing hand of the
teacher. Of course, educators and academics in the field of ELT are keen to
maintain their authoritative status, especially at a time when there is
a persistent and pervasive uncertainty (Widdowson ibid.: 3) about the
validity and role of applied linguistics as a separate discipline. Perhaps this is
what explains the attraction of CP: whilst apparently striving to empower
the marginalized, it actually enhances the authority of its proponents.

Theres more to life than politics

289

Professional
priorities

CP itself rests on the assumption that truth is relative: that no one


interpretation or understanding of the world constitutes reality. As
Pennycook (op.cit.: 125) says, I am more interested in the truth effects of the
discourses of linguistics than the truth itself (whatever that may mean).
Kubota (2006: 220) echoes this sentiment: . . . there is no transcendent
truth outside of discourses and power relations. This charge is particularly
designed to undermine the modernist Western claim to hold the key to all
knowledge. In one sense, such a position is valid: we cannot claim to have
a final version of how things are because new insights are always occurring
to change our view of life, and different perspectives continue to offer
various kinds of partial understanding. Yet, in another sense, such
relativism is self-contradictory and, so, ultimately self-serving. If reality
consists only in the particular discourses which people construct for
themselves, or have constructed for them, why should we be so concerned
about one another? Why should we pursue the truth about our own or
anothers situation? Why should we try to get outside ourselves or beside
ourselves, as Luke (2004: 26) demands that we should? Why bother with
CP at all? The answer must be either that it is in our interest to do so, or that
we are responding to a moral sense which is indeed transcendent. If the
relativist response that this sense of right and wrong is culturally
determined, then it must also be accepted that CP is one product of such
conditioning. When it makes universal truth claims, CP is in fact
undermined by its own relativism.
It is right, of course, that pedagogy in all academic subjects should aim to
make possible the realization of a variety of differential human capacities
(Simon 1987: 372), and that language teaching in particular should
encourage students to explore and construct different possible voices, to
establish new linguistic and cultural identities (Sole 2005: 6), both those
sanctioned by society and those which struggle to be heard or recognized
(Simon ibid.: 375). This process, however, is essentially a personal or
communal project for the students involved, and takes place in the
classroom, which has its own distinct reality, and which should provide the
safe space (Ellsworth ibid.: 316), where students feel able to express
themselves. There may, but need not, be an explicitly political dimension to
this activity, though it should certainly have a moral dynamic: serving the
proper interests of the class. In this context it is incumbent on the teacher to
show integrity and flexibility, to be true to their own best values, while
recognizing the worth of alternatives on offer. This is a skilled, ethical
enterprise, which is really what Akbari is saying; it is about service guided
by experience and learning: a matter of vocation and professionalism, not
politics and ideology.

References
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Cots, J. M. 2006. Teaching with an attitude:
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Ellsworth, E. 1989. Why doesnt this feel
empowering? Working through the repressive

290

Colin Sowden

myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational


Review 59/3: 297324.
Holliday, A. 2006. Native-speakerism. English
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Kubota, R. 2006. Critical approaches to culture in
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and K. Toohey (eds.). Critical Pedagogies and Language
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sovereignty in B. Norton and K. Toohey (eds.).
Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pennycook, A. 1994. The Cultural Politics of English as
an International Language. Harlow: Pearson
Educational.
Phillipson, R. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Simon, R. 1987. Empowerment as a pedagogy of
possibility. Language Arts 64/4: 37082.
Sole, R. I. 2005. Second language learners
identities: A personal view. Abstracts from BA LEA P
Professional Issues Meeting on Intercultural
Communication: Bristol University of the West of
England.
Starfield, S. 2004. Why does this feel empowering?
Thesis writing, concordancing and the corporatizing

university in B. Norton and K. Toohey (eds.). Critical


Pedagogies and Language Learning. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Steinbach, S. 2004. Women in England 17601914:
A Social History. London: Phoenix.
Time Magazine. 17 September 2007. How free is
your country?: 14.
Timmis, I. 2002. Native-speaker norms and
international English. English Language Teaching
Journal 56/3: 2409.
Widdowson, H. G. 2000. On the limitations of
linguistics applied. Applied Linguistics 21/1: 325.
The author
Colin Sowden lectures in Modern History and
English at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff,
where he was previously Director of the
International Foundation Course. His interests
include intercultural communication and
nineteenth-century politics and literature.
Email: casowden@uwic.ac.uk

Theres more to life than politics

291

point and counterpoint

Education is filled with politics


Ramin Akbari

In Platos Apology of Socrates, the point of the trial, as many people have come
to believe, is not freedom of expression, or the right to speak your mind. The
basic question for which Socrates is taken to court is: Who has the right to
educate, or teach the young? In fact, the conflict one reads about in the
Apology deals with different views of education: the traditional view of the
time, which emphasized values embodied in Homeric poems, such as
bravery, honour, and patriotism, and the alternative, questioning view that
was proposed by Socrates. For Socrates, this was the most basic political
question of his day, since the structure of society depended on what the
young knew and what kinds of questions, or doubts, they would raise.
Socrates, in a sense, can be viewed as the first critical pedagogue in history.
To think of education (and I do not hesitate to regard E LT as an educational
entity) as an apolitical activity is the attitude critical pedagogy (CP) is
rebelling against, since CP regards the question of values at the core of any
educational practice. Whose values must be assigned priority, and why? Do
the values included belong to the people Colin Sowden refers to, business
people, diplomats, and international students? Or are the values those of the
minorities, the misfits, the poor and marginalized? There is no doubt the
people Sowden has in mind never object to education as it is now, since they
are sure that their lifestyles and preferences are incorporated by their peers
who are in charge of educational establishments and printing houses.
This disregard for the political, value-based aspects of education has proved
costly, as a quick look back at the twentieth century shows. Educational
failures (in the form of indoctrinations, indifference, prejudice) have been
at the heart of such tragedies as the genocide in Rwanda, hunger in Africa,
holocaust in Europe, and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. What
happened during these events surpasses human imagination, making
philosopher Theodore Adorno pose the question of what education will be
like after such senseless instances of human suffering. When human
misery is a daily routine for many people of the world (definitely not the ones
Sowden has in mind), how can education regard its mission as a simple
transfer of knowledge and mastery of skills?
A non-critical, non-questioning view of education will result in what
Gardner calls furor to teach (1997: 3). Britzman (2000: 203) summarizes
the concept as follows:

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E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008; doi:10.1093/elt/ccn027


The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.

By this, [Gardner] means forgetting the students or teaching in spite of


them, maybe even to spite them. He also means that whereas we must
believe in the knowledge we offer students, there is a centripetal tendency
to freeze knowledge by undervaluing the question and forgetting the
importance of doubting the very knowledge on offer. The furor to teach
defends against this capacity to doubt and the interest in using knowledge
as a means for world-making and self-making.
The capacity for world-making and self-making were the values Socrates
and his contemporaries were conscious of, and if ELT has just recently
realized the political potential of its practice, it is a belated discovery. As
a member of the education family, ELT needs to embrace the value of doubts
and questions, risk posing novel ideas, and make social transformation one
of its priorities, if it is to make its proper contribution to the creation of
a better society for all.
References
Britzman, D. P. 2000. Teacher education in the
confusion of our times. Journal of Teacher Education
51: 2005.

Education is filled with politics

Gardner, M. R. 1997. On Trying to Teach: The Mind in


Correspondence. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.

293

Reviews

How to Teach English (Second Edition)


J. Harmer
Pearson Education Limited 2007, 288 pp., 23.00
I S B N 978 1 405 85309 5

Today, while the unprecedented spread of English as


a world language (Crystal 1997; Graddol 1997;
Graddol 2006) has spawned controversial debates
over Which English? Whose English (Kachru 1986,
2005), and Why English? (Phillipson 1992;
Pennycook 1994), at the end of the day, the English
teacher, imbued with the responsibility of facilitating
the enhancement of his/her learners English
proficiency, will be concerned with how to teach
English well or betterthe kind of English that
matches the expectations of the educational
institution in which the teacher works. Especially for
teachers newly initiated into the profession, an
excellent book for this purpose is Harmers How to
Teach English.
A new edition, this book departs from the 1998
version in the following aspects: . . . a change of
chapter order . . . a new chapter [on] testing . . . new
materials and techniques [to supplement the old
ones that] have stood the test of time . . . more up-todate . . . references . . . and a glossary to help new
teachers through parts of the mighty jargon swamp
that our profession generates just like any other
(pp. 1112). Each chapter is well laid out for an easy
skim of the important ideas in bold fonts, beginning
with a list of the main headings just below the chapter
title and ending with a summary of salient points.
Although the book uses E LT jargonmarked out
in bold fontsthe reader can take comfort in
knowing that ample explanation, or even crossreferencing of ideas, is readily available in its welldesigned glossary.
The 14 chapters may be categorized into three major
areas. The first five of these describe the key elements
in the ELT classroom: the lead role, the learners
(Chapter 1), the supportive role, the teachers
(Chapter 2), both roles managed in the classroom

(Chapter 3), where learning and teaching (Chapter 4),


of the English language (Chapter 5) takes place. In
presenting the profile of the learner, the book
explores why students want to learn English, where
they are learning it, how different learners are from
each other, how motivation affects learning, and what
it means to be an autonomous learner. The teachers
concern, thus, is how to teach effectively and
consequently help provoke success (p. 23). One
of the striking points Harmer makes has to do with
what constitutes an effective teaching personality:
We need to ask ourselves what kind of personality
we want our students to encounter, and the decisions
we take before and during lessons should help
demonstrate that personality (p. 24). It is a way
of saying that what effective teaching begins with
is a good teachers decision and not something
that happens by chance (either you have it or you
dont!).
Classroom management, also a big factor in ELT, is
dealt with in Chapter 3 which describes practical
strategies including teacher deportment, presence,
using voice effectively, giving instructions clearly;
addressing the balance between student and teacher
talk; and addressing the issue of when to use and not
to use the L1. In very strict English L2 classroom
settings, handling the latter can be traumatic for
teacher and students if the teacher insists that the
students use English even if the classroom
conditions have not been properly set. Such a teacher
can learn from Harmers constructive attitude
towards the use of L1: . . . where the teacher and
students share the same L1 it would be foolish to
deny its existence and potential value (p. 39). This
idea translates into the following suggestion, for
example: When we have complicated instructions to
explain, we may want to do this in the L1, and where
students need individual help or encouragement, the
use of the L1 may have very beneficial effects (p. 39).
Harmer, of course, also stresses that the teacher build
a strong English environment in the classroom where
he/she should spend more time talking in English
than in the L1. This chapter, in addition, gives
practical tips on creating lesson stages, using

E LT Journal Volume 62/3 July 2008


The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.

313

different types of seating arrangements, and


grouping students.
Chapter 4 describes learning and teaching against the
backdrop of ideas related to how children learn
languages and the distinction between language
acquisition and learning. It also briefly summarizes
the development of teaching methods from
grammar-translation to task-based language
teaching and discusses the relationships between
Presentation-Practice-Production (P P P ),
Communicative Language Teaching (C LT ), and Taskbased Language Teaching (T BLT ). Crucial to this
chapter is a description of three elements for
successful language learning: engage, study, activate
(ESA )in a sense, a good digest of the key ideas in
P P P , CLT, and TB LT. The chapter illustrates, via
practical examples, how these elements work or do
not necessarily work in a straightforward fashion. By
articulating the possible problems of implementing
this method and offering ways of avoiding such
problems, Harmer, the experienced teacher,
demonstrates his sensitivity to novice teachers
concerns.
Chapter 5 describes the English language. Teachers
who are tired of the often mechanical way of
describing English as restricted to figures of speech
and formal grammatical structures will find this
chapter a refreshingly appropriate alternative. Here,
language utterance is treated within a meaningful
communication context and the relationship between
vocabulary and grammar considered in longer texts.
Figures of speech are described more simply and
clearly with examples that show appropriate use.
While some jargon is used it does not clutter the
reader-teachers mind but, instead, shows how
knowledge of form and function relates to language
use. For example in describing the verb phrase,
Harmer says:
In any discussion of verbs we need to bear in mind
two main parameters, tense and aspect. A verb
tense is the form of the verb we choose when we
want to say what time (past, present, future, etc.)
the verb is referring to. However, this is
complicated by the fact that we can use the same
tense (or form) to talk about more than one time,
as we saw on page 63. The form of the verb also
depends on whether we want to say the action is
ongoing or whether it is complete. The aspect
(continuous, simple, perfect, etc.) which we
choose for the verb describes this. (p. 68)
This chapter also recognizes the emerging varieties of
English and gives examples of the differences that
exist in English use among some of these varieties. It

314

Reviews

further reveals Harmers balanced position on how to


deal with this phenomenon in the language
classroom: Students should be aware of the
difference in language varieties and should be given
opportunities to experience different Englishes,
though not in such a way as to make things
incomprehensible to them (p. 80).
Having dealt with preliminary ELT issues in the first
five chapters, the book now proceeds with discussing
the procedural details of teaching English in the next
five chapters, forming the core of the bookthe
language system (Chapter 6) and the four macroskills: reading (Chapter 7), writing (Chapter 8),
speaking (Chapter 9), and listening (Chapter 10).
Chapter 6 addresses strategies of explaining meaning
and language construction and gives a detailed
lesson sequence for teaching grammar,
pronunciation, vocabulary, and language functions.
The chapter ends with a description of students
language learning errors and the different ways of
correcting them. Chapters 7 and 10 discuss the
importance of reading and listening in English. They
describe the levels in each skill and the principles
involved in teaching these. Chapters 8 and 9 begin
with giving reasons for the teaching of writing and
speaking and discuss practical strategies in dealing
with students output effectively. The valuable
segments of each of these four chapters are the
extensive discussion of lesson sequences (tagged
according to appropriate learner level) that illustrate
ways of implementing teaching procedures step by
step for each of the skills. The materials used in these
lesson sequences include authentic texts taken from
newspapers, the Internet, pre-recorded interviews,
etc. that are suited to the interests of young and
teenage learners. Equally useful are the additional
reading, writing, speaking, and listening suggestions
that end the chapters. These suggestions include the
use of technology (e.g. email interviews), literature
(e.g. poetry reading, storytelling) that enhances
creative thinking, and audio-visual aids (audio and
video tapes listening/viewing).
Finally, the last four chapters discuss issues that
impact on classroom teaching and learning:
coursebooks (Chapter 11), lesson planning
(Chapter 12), language testing (Chapter 13), and
critical classroom situations (Chapter 14). The
guidelines in Chapter 11 on using coursebooks are
helpful in determining what to do when adding,
adapting, and replacing material in it. A particularly
useful instrument is the coursebook analysis
checklist which is recommended for teachers use
when deciding which coursebook to use. The idea
of the teacher choosing a book, no matter how

appealing, however, may not go very far in


educational systems where decision-making on
textbooks rests with policy-makers rather than
teachers. Chapter 12 discusses the essential
ingredient of lesson planning: the good blend
between coherence and variety. With detailed
examples, it describes different lesson type formats
and how lesson sequences are planned to make
students engage in the activities, study the language
in focus, and activate their practical application of
language use. This chapter also reminds teachers
about what they often overlookthat while a lesson
plan is essential, it is only a proposal for action and
not a rigid set of instructions to follow. Thus, the need
for the teacher to be receptive in order to deal with
emergent matters more flexibly. Chapter 13 is all
about language testing: reasons for testing and the
characteristics of good tests; different test types;
marking tests (with sample instruments); and
designing tests. Chapter 14, entitled What if,
describes common scenarios of critical situations in
the classroom (e.g. big classes, uncooperative
students, students not doing their homework, etc.)
and provides a few suggestions on how to deal with
these.
Harmers book is also accompanied with a DV D that
provides real-life illustrations of a number of key
teaching activities and techniques through extracts
from classes and interviews with teachers (p. 245).
The D VD has ten sections: student levels, the teacher
in the classroom, giving instructions, organizing
student groupings, different seating arrangements,
teaching vocabulary, a reading sequence, speaking
tasks, beginning the lesson, and games. Each
segment begins with a short film on a lesson related
to the topic with extracts taken from actual classes. It
is followed by a discussion of the films topic between
Harmer and a teacher or two who appeared in the
film. In this discussion, Harmer sometimes asks the
teacher to explain why he/she did what she/he did in
the film or poses a question that brings out the
teachers beliefs about some E LT issues. The
segments graphically illustrate how principles are
translated into practice by teachers of different
abilities, experiences, and teaching personalities.
They make the principles discussed in the book come
alive. A truly valuable resource.
Another useful feature of the book is the task file
sections that follow the last chapter. The first set
contains exercises corresponding to each chapter;
the other set accompanies each D VD segment.
These tasks, asking for either factual answers or the
readers opinions, aim to deepen the readers/
viewers understanding of the topics discussed. For

Reviews

each chapters task, the book provides an answer key


to the definite answers and possible answers to the
opinion type questions. The D V D task files answer
key, on the other hand, has all definite answers. All the
task files are photocopiableanother bonus feature
of the book.
In overall terms, Harmers How to Teach English is
a goldmine for novice teachers. While experienced
teachers may not find any new ideas in this book, it is,
nevertheless, a valuable referencea good reminder
of practical ideas that can, otherwise, be taken for
granted in the daily grind of mindless teaching
routine. Far from simply informing the reader about
influential ideas, Harmer also, more importantly,
brings up implications of such ideas for the teachers
job of learning to teach English effectively. The book
and the D V D would also be useful to teacher trainers,
educators, and supervisors who are charged with the
responsibility of helping novice teachers develop
teaching competence.
One final and remarkable feature of How to Teach
English is Harmers writing style: relaxed and casual,
friendly and congenial making the book enjoyable
reading on topics that can otherwise be boring and
dry. He uses you when addressing the reader, or we
when describing an experience that people in the E LT
world share, thus closing the formal gap between
author and reader and building the readers trust in
the authors ideas. One feels as if Harmer, the wise
teacher (the teachers mentor), were just beside the
reader walking him/her gently through the ideas in
the book, punctuating the discussion once in a while
with an appropriate anecdote, for example, his
recorded interviews with teachers and students on
What makes a good teacher? (p. 24), or letting the
reader (perhaps, more precisely, a non-native speaker
of English reader) in on a linguistic secret that puts
him/her at ease because it articulates what the reader
might have known for a long time but has been
hesitant to express, for example, in talking about rules
of use of the definite article, . . . just to confuse
things, we do sometimes make general statements
with the definite article and a singular noun, . . .
(p. 67), or verbalizing a teaching-learning issue that
resonates with the experience of the reader-teacher
but who might have difficulty openly acknowledging it
lest it would cause loss of face, for example, One of
the recurring nightmares for teachers of adolescents,
in particular, is that we might lose control of the class
(p. 15).
Harmers book is not just a useful tool for English
language teaching but also a delightful (and a must)
read!

315

References
Crystal, D. 1997. English as a Global Language.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Graddol, D. 1997. The Future of English? London:
British Council.
Graddol, D. 2006. English Next. London: British
Council.
Kachru, B. 1986. The Alchemy of English: The Spread,
Function, and Models of Non-Native Englishes. Oxford:
Pergamon Press.
Kachru, B. 2005. Asian Englishes: Beyond the Canon.
Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Pennycook, A. 1994. The Cultural Politics of
English as a Foreign Language. Harlow, UK:
Longman.
Phillipson, R. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
The reviewer
Mara Luz C. Vilches holds a PhD in Applied
Linguistics from Lancaster University. An Associate
Professor of English language and literature at
Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, she has
been Chair of the English Department and is currently
Dean for the School of Humanities. She has wide
experience in English language teaching and teacher
development workthe latter with the British
Council for South East Asian projects and with the
Department of Education and the Commission for
Higher Education for local projects. Her research
interests include teacher development, E LT
management, and the language-literature interface in
classroom teaching.
Email: mvilches@ateneo.edu
doi:10.1093/elt/ccn029

316

Reviews

language development needs of migrants into the UK


are met.
E SO L is of course not just a UK phenomenon: in any
country there are language classes encompassing
such a range of age, country of origin, background
(migrant worker, refugee, asylum seeker . . .) needs,
and profile of skills ability that it can present
a challenging prospect to both the new and
experienced teacher. As one of the first handbooks
covering ESOL as a whole in the UK, will The Oxford
E SO L Handbook be a welcome addition to the
existing body of research and publications? These are
from national bodies such as N R DC (National
Research and Development Centre for adult literacy
and numeracy; details of their publications are
available at www.nrdc.org.uk) and NI ACE (National
Institute of Adult Continuing Education; details of
their publications are available at www.niace.org.uk/
publications/Default.htm). The challenge of such
a book is how to encompass a field where obviously
the complexity can be bewildering (Introduction: xi)
and to offer insights for UK-based teachers and those
working in other countries.

The common theme in ESOL , however, is the


learners desire to learn the language and the aims in
the Introduction reflect this: start from the learners
and explore what they do with the language,
considering why that might be and what teachers can
do to promote their learners language development
through observation and language analysis. Thinking
about learning, being a reflective teacher, is the
objective that underpins the book and Schellekens
makes clear from the start that teaching is a constant
cycle of observation and problem-solving
(Introduction: xi).

The Oxford E S O L Handbook


P. Schellekens
Oxford University Press 2007, 236 pp., 17.00
IS BN 978 0 19 442281 9

ESOL , teaching English to Speakers of Other


Languages, has undergone massive change in the UK
since the introduction of the Skills for Life strategy in
2001. The development of the National Literacy
Standards and the Adult E S OL Core Curriculum with
specific initial, diagnostic assessment materials,
specialist qualifications for teachers, and a specific
suite of examinations have revolutionized how the

316

Reviews

Given that the book is for teachers in the classroom as


well as trainee teachers or those who wish to move
over to ESOL from E FL or first language literacy
teaching, different sections are likely to appeal to
different types of teachers (Introduction: xii). The
reader is guided from the start and encouraged to
pick and choose from eight chapters covering the
concepts, definition, and terminology of E S OL ; the
learners and their backgrounds, range of skills, and
the psychological aspects of culture shock, racism,
and diversity in the classroom; the context of E SO L
teaching, spiky skills profiles, and the difference
between E S OL and literacy teaching; language
analysis and language teaching covering grammar,
word order, and vocabulary; the four skills and how
they relate to the needs of E SO L learners;
managing learning, from assessment to individual
learning plans and external qualifications; advice on
language support; and reflective practice. It is the

chapters on language analysis and the four skills that


the author recommends as being of interest to all
teachers.

can be hidden in passive constructions in officialese,


which again ties the classroom to the learners needs
(p. 36).

This approach echoes some of the insights from the


NRDC ESO L Effective Teaching and Learning
research project which suggests that the most
successful E S OL teachers are bricoleurs eclectic in
using and designing materials and activities to be
highly learner responsive, and this eclecticism is
underpinned by their clear professional vision
(Baynham et al. 2007: 9). Recognizing that there is no
magic bullet for effective E SO L practice, it
highlights that the professionalism and expertise of
the E S OL teacher makes the difference, drawing on
both subject knowledge and subject-specific
pedagogy and C P D [Continuing Professional
Development] that encourages an interpretive
and reflective stance on teaching and learning
(ibid.: 9).

A detailed section on vocabulary, which goes into


some detail about how collocation and word strings
can be taught effectively, even at the lowest levels, is
also of great value and acts as a bridge to discussion
of the functions in which they are used and practical
examples of how learners at all levels need to work on
choosing the right words for the right situation.

The central chapters of the book, Chapters 4 and 5,


focus on this knowledge and pedagogy and offer
a wide ranging discussion of language analysis and
the four skills. The difference in focus between E FL
and ESO L is taken as a starting point: ESO L needs to
go beyond the everyday concern with vocabulary and
grammar teaching and bring in functions and
pragmatics as these are especially significant to the
migrants experience.
Apparent from the start is the professionally
supportive tone: case studies, tasks that are
immediately followed by a relevant commentary, and
suggested activities raise points in a practical way
and underline the aims stated in the Introduction.
The case studies in the grammar section, for
example, situate the authors points in the real
world and encourage readers to reflect on similar
situations from their own experience. Reiterating that
classroom observation has to drive classroom
grammar focus, it is particularly useful to see learning
presented as a process that takes place over time and
leads one to reconsider how to build this into the
institutional demands of schemes of work. The
case study on the present perfect and past tense
(pp. 325), where learners link grammar to real
communication, to pragmatics, is a gentle reminder
to the reader that a timely intervention by the teacher
can build on learners insights into language use in
their own experience. The language learners
experience outside the classroom is not, of course,
strictly controlled according to the order of the ESO L
core curriculum and the advice that learners
may need to recognize certain structures before
needing to produce them is key to teachers
awareness. The example here is the instructions that
Reviews

In Chapter 5, aspects of all four skills are usefully


discussed, and I would recommend the entire
chapter to any English language teacher working
with low-level skills development, as it covers very
helpful techniques and signposts useful texts for
further reading. It is particularly insightful with regard
to the importance of bottom-up processing in
listening skills and the significance of word stress,
weak forms, and awareness of linking consonants
and vowels to do this. Schellekens recommends
dictation as a diagnostic and developmental tool
and offers a number of useful dictation activities, with
obvious additional relevance to writing. Her
discussion of teacher language, the main source
of input for many learners, reminds us that as E S OL
teachers we need to enable our learners to
develop the skills to understand natural spoken
English and also to be understood. The teaching
of intonation is also raised, specifically in questions
and lists, again to sensitize the teacher to the
learners real world.
The reality of managing E S OL learning, how
teachers might deal with a much longer learning
trajectory that they might have imagined (p. 152),
and work with individual learning plans and mixed
ability classes, is handled in some detail in Chapter 6,
as is how to manage formative feedback to learners.
Here the authors tone of professional critical
friendliness plays an interesting role as it can both
provoke and reassure, especially in the discussion
of individual learning plans, which are now
fundamental to E S OL teaching and lesson plans. It
is here that using, creating, and adapting materials is
also briefly considered (pp. 15964): given the range
of topics covered in the chapter this section is
concise, but the inappropriate nature of most EF L
materials for ESO L learners is stressed and the
relevance of basing teaching on authentic materials is
clear. The list of references is comprehensive and it is
true that most providers have a bank of resources that
work. Chapter 7 is devoted to language support,
working with E S OL learners on mainstream
vocational courses to support their language
development, and offers a methodology for those
317

new to this area and valuable advice for those already


engaged in it.
The book is inevitably rooted in the UK experience in
these chapters, as well as in the earlier discussion of
the context of E S OL teaching, but the underlying
focus on the learner throughout that develops from
the in-depth discussion of E SO L learners needs in
Chapter 2, does allow it to achieve the universality it
aims for. Starting from contexts that are specific to the
UK will be of interest to colleagues internationally and
allow them to reflect on similarities and differences
with their own teaching situation. In her concluding
chapter on reflective practice, Schellekens also
suggests any teacher look at how E S OL is taught in
other countries with interesting references to the
situation in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (p.
201) that give an insight into how to balance support
for the learner with stretching them enough to fulfil
their potential. Her discussion of the strengths and
weaknesses of teachers from a variety of language
backgrounds (pp. 2023) is really refreshing, as is her
reminder to us to consider the real-world language
needs of the learner.
Through an approach that encourages reflection, the
book offers extremely useful professional advice for
the E S OL teacher in the UK and elsewhere. Where it
cannot offer more than a brief overview, for example
in working with low-level learners who are not literate
in their own language (pp. 1012), it signposts more
detailed and current texts. Despite occasional
proofreading lapses (readers will encounter several
references to p00) and a reasonably brief Index, it is
possible to dip in and out of following the detailed
advice and information in the Introduction and
Contents pages, and can be effectively read in any
order. It will be interesting to see how subsequent
editions may take into account the effect of migration
from Eastern Europe on the characteristics of ESO L
classes in this country and what further changes the
Skills for Life agenda may bring.
References
Baynham, M., C. Roberts, M. Cooke, J. Simpson
K. Ananiandou, J. Callaghan, J. McGoldrick,
and C. Wallace. 2007. Effective Teaching and Learning
ESOL Summary Report. London: N RD C .
The reviewer
Bev Davies, having taught E S OL since 2002 (and
EFL before that), recently took a year out to complete
her MA in English Language Teaching and Materials
Development and is currently based at Salford
Museum and Art Gallery running a project to engage

318

Reviews

E SO L learners through culture and heritage. Her

research interests are the effects of informal learning


outside the classroom on intercultural and language
skills development, particularly involvement with
museums and galleries. She has recently become
coordinator for IAT EF L s ES(O)L S I G committee.
Email: beverley.davies@salford.gov.uk
doi:10.1093/elt/ccn030

The CE LTA Course


S. Thornbury and P. Watkins
Trainers Manual, Cambridge University Press 2007,
184 pp., 20
ISBN 978 0 521 69207 6

Trainee Book, Cambridge University Press 2007,


216 pp., 15.95
ISBN 978 0 521 69206 9

The Certificate in English Language Teaching to


Adults (C ELTA ) qualification from Cambridge ESOL
has long been the gateway for many thousands of
people into the rapidly expanding world of ELT.
Around 10,000 candidates successfully complete the
course each year, some choosing the more leisurely
part-time option spread over several months but
the majority preferring the full-time, intensive 4- or
5-week course.
Candidates come from very different backgrounds
and with quite different motivations, some fresh out
of university, eager to see the world and finance their
travels as they go, while others are thinking about
early retirement in milder climates or may simply be
disillusioned with their present life and ready for
something really different. While there is also
a smaller number of already experienced teachers
who require some sort of recognized qualification
in order to get promotion or more permanent
employment, the majority of candidates have little
if any previous teaching experience.
Whatever their background or motivation, few of
them appreciate just how much of a challenge the
course will be. Fortunately, in addition to the excellent
training and support candidates will receive on the
course from their dedicated C ELTA tutors, there is
a wealth of material available in the form of easy-touse introductions and manuals. These provide
comprehensive guidance pre-course and useful
advice as the course progresses, but until now there
has not been any preparatory course endorsed by

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Reviews

Cambridge E S OL . The C E LTA Course by Scott


Thornbury and Peter Watkins fills this niche perfectly.
Both authors have already written extensively on how
to teach English and both are highly experienced
teacher-trainers. Their knowledge and experience
have been combined here to produce this innovative
approach to CE LTA .
The C E LTA Course approaches the course from two
separate perspectives and offers full coverage of the
C ELTA syllabus in a ready-to-use format organized
over two parallel volumes: a Trainee Book containing
40 units of user-friendly easy-to-tailor input session
materials and a Trainers Manual mirroring these
same units and suggesting ways of setting up the
various activities and generally getting the most out
of them. There are four main topic areas addressed:
Learners and their contexts, Classroom teaching,
Language analysis and awareness, and Professional
development, and the timetable adopted is, we are
told, a reflection of timetables used by centres from
all over the world. The units are sensitively and
logically ordered so that fundamental topics like
Classroom management, Presenting new language,
Error correction, and Developing receptive skills
come fairly early. Areas such as Teaching literacy or
Exam classes and Professional development are left
for the final week of the course. It is anticipated that
each unit should take between 45 and 90 minutes
which is certainly more than would be available on
any intensive course.
Flexibility is clearly needed here and trainers are
neither required to use everything nor necessarily to
follow the sequence of sessions as presented. Such
a generous bank of materials, however, must give
trainers scope to pick and choose as well as providing
trainees with additional material to reflect on.
In addition to the input sessions, the Trainee Book
contains a glossary of essential E FL terminology and
sections with useful advice on how to prepare for
tutorials and get the best out of teaching practice and
written assignments. Trainees can focus on a broad
range of reflection and observation tasks from
evaluating board work and error correction to
calculating teacher talking time. Extra goodies
included are suggestions for warmers and fillers
and a short, trainee-friendly section on the English
verb.
One of the things I like most about this course is
that from my own experience as a C E LTA trainer, it
does feel comfortingly familiar. The tone and the
language are accessible. True, there are a number
of new sessions which have never made our own
timetable, partly because of the restrictions of

Reviews

time, as well as many other interesting and


thought-provoking angles, but overall it fits very nicely
with my perceptions of what the course should
embrace and how it should feel. I suspect this is
due to the fact that the course remains consistently
true to the core principles of C ELTA . In the
Introduction, the authors themselves insist upon the
importance of combining these principles to design
a course which will be practical, integrated,
experiential, cooperative, and reflective, and they
have done exactly that.
The course is undeniably practical in its approach.
Each unit starts with a warmer, where trainees are
invited to discuss their own learning-based
experience and is designed around classroom
practice. Where appropriate a later section on
classroom application, often involving micro- or
peer-teaching, offers trainees the opportunity to try
out what they have just learnt themselves. This ties
in very closely with the experiential nature of the
course. Teachers know that students learn best by
being actively involved in the learning process and
from the start trainees are encouraged to produce
lessons that are student-centred rather than teacherled, to demonstrate rather than explain. How
frustrating and confusing then if their own training
sessions, as can sometimes happen, fail to follow the
same pattern. All units conclude with a reflection
task. This may comprise a summary table, a quiz, or
a game to help the trainees review the main concepts
of the session and reach their own conclusions. The
sessions in the Trainee Book could not be more
trainee-focused. Trainees are actively encouraged to
express their own ideas, work together on a wide
range of task types, and to share their observations
and conclusions. It is important that what they
experience themselves as learners should reflect what
they are attempting to do in the teaching practice (TP)
classroom. This is true also of grouping. Many of the
activities trainees set up in TP in the classroom will
involve pair or small group work. In the same way, pair
and group work will be pivotal to their own training
and will cultivate that spirit of respect and
cooperation that is so central to C E LTA .
The designing of the TP timetable in the latter stages
of the course will also require close liaising and
mutual support. Working together so closely in the
training room and sharing so much common
experience creates a strong bond between trainees
and also a special relationship between trainees and
tutors. Many of the activities in the coursebook will
assist tutors in creating an appropriate and
conducive environment.

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Another invaluable service to tutors that The CE LTA


Course provides is the integration of the different
components of the course. Thornbury and Watkins
not only strike the right balance between theory and
practice but also constantly encourage connections
to be made between elements of the course like input
sessions and TP, written assignments, and
observation tasks with suggestions as to how to
recycle and review earlier concepts and topics. There
is always the danger on C ELTA courses that trainees
can feel so bombarded by new input and new ideas
that they fail to see any connection, or underlying
pattern. In this respect, the course should prove as
useful to the trainer as to the trainee since the
Trainers Manual is crammed full of helpful advice
and suggestions. Each unit opens with a shaded box
setting out the main focus, learning outcomes, and
key concepts for that session and closely follows the
layout of the Trainee Book. Trainers are given useful
back-up with extensive guidelines as to how to
conduct the class as well as suggested solutions to
the comprehensive range of tasks. Although a certain
amount of toing and froing between the two books is
inevitable, the Manual is easy to use and more than
generous in its support. As in the Trainee Book, there
is an additional bank of advice for TP, feedback, and
observation, together with some supplementary
materials including a light-hearted introductory quiz
and a Snakes and Ladders input session review. Taken
together, the two volumes can be seen to offer
a veritable treasure chest of ideas, materials,
methodology, and advice. So who will buy The C ELTA
Course?
Most established C ELTA centres will have their own
time-proven courses modified and polished over the
years and which they may feel justly proud of. These
centres will certainly find food for thought in the
pages of The C ELTA Course and may want to adapt,
possibly adopt or at least experiment with many of
the ideas and materials contained in it. While the idea
of a CE LTA coursebook may be appealing to many
overstretched trainers as they battle with the
photocopier and struggle under mountains of
worksheets, most centres are unlikely to adopt it
wholesale and, certainly, it would be a pity to stifle the
originality and different angles that individual tutors
bring with them. New or relatively new centres would
need years to develop a course such as this and may
well jump in and adopt the course as it stands.
Naturally, this would save hours of course and
session design and provide them with a wellbalanced, ready-to-roll course which is, at the same
time, trainee- and trainer-friendly. This certainly could
be seen as a result but, personally, I feel that it can
only be a short-term solution. From the point of view
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Reviews

of the trainers own development, designing the


sessions and the courses themselves will teach them
more than simply adopting these pages, excellent as
they are.
The reviewer
Linda Scott is the Director of Teacher Training at
Studio Cambridge. She is a C E LTA trainer and
a course designer for overseas teachers courses.
In 1999 she visited Argentina where she gave a series
of talks and informal workshops, and has also
organized a number of training courses in Italy.
Email: linda.scott@studiocambridge.co.uk
doi:10.1093/elt/ccn031

500 Activities for the Primary Classroom


C. Read
Macmillan Education 2007, 320 pp., 16.95
ISBN 978 1 4050 9907 3

A week or so before the 2007 Annual I ATE F L


Conference in Aberdeen, I received the Spring issue of
the IAT EFL Young Learners Special Interest Group
publication, C ATs, and on the back cover I saw
a bright red advert for a new book by Carol Read. My
next trip to the UK was to Aberdeen and sure enough,
the book was given a high profile: difficult to miss,
with a bright red cover featuring an inset photo of
multi-coloured balloons, it caught everyones
attention. I spent most of my flight back home and
subsequent days reading what I now fondly call the
red book. I read it from cover to cover and thoroughly
enjoyed it.
Publications related to the teaching of young
learners have been trickling in since the
millennium: Cameron (2001), Brewster, Ellis, and
Girard (2002), Linse (2005), and Pinter (2006). All
these titles cover the how of teaching young
learners; all refer to an age from 5 to 1114 years old; all
take a theoretical approach that is related to and
supported by descriptions of practice to one degree
or another.
Reads book belongs, without a doubt, alongside
these titles, but it differs quite substantially. It is
a book about how to teach young learners; it is for
teachers who work with children from 412 years old;
it covers theory, but the main difference is that it is
essentially a book that shares practice.
In her introduction, Read writes: The main approach
of the book is to provide immediate, workable ideas
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Reviews

and solutions to the perennial question of what on


earth am I going to do with my class tomorrow? (p. 5)
But that is not all, and thank goodness, for a book
which just gives us ideas for Monday morning would
be a waste. Read describes a second approach, one
that runs parallel, one that emphasizes developing
an awareness of the complex factors involved in
working effectively with classes of children and laying
a solid foundation in primary language teaching
skills (p. 5).
The book is divided into two parts: the General
introduction and sections. The former includes
the practical side to using the book, and about
eight pages of theory called Working with children
(pp. 716). When I first flicked through this part I
was disappointed, immediately recognizing rewrites
of articles and presentations. But after reading it all,
I was glad she had brought all her thoughts
together: Read has written very beautifully about
working with children and it is all here in one safe
place. My all time favourite is her C Wheel, which
I quote regularly, and it can be easily found now on
pages 711.
The latter sections are hailed as reflecting 10 key
areas in primary language teaching (p. 5). Listening
and speaking, Reading and writing, Vocabulary and
grammar, Storytelling and drama, Games,
Rhymes, chants and songs, Art and craft, Contentbased learning, ICT and multi-media, and Learning
to learn. The last three are welcome additions to the
usual areas. Read has written an introduction to each
section, which not only enables us to understand
a little better the why and how but also encourages
us to reflect, analyse, and evaluate the teaching and
learning that takes place while using the described
activities. Its these so called Reflect times, which I
think make this title so very special. By asking the
reader simple questions, Read successfully makes us
think about our practice. In Section 1, Listening and
speaking, she asks questions pertaining to
motivation, purpose, preparation, learning support,
personalization, and timing. Each and every question
jabbed me, making me rethink how I had planned and
given my recent lessons with listening and speaking
in mind. I have lots of teaching experience and it was
a really useful activity!
What I particularly like about these Reflect time
sections is that each one has different reflection
prompts. In Section 2, Reading and writing, Reads
prompts include reflection on meaning, modelling
strategies, and feedback and correction. In Section 3,
Vocabulary and grammar, they include reflections
on noticing/awareness raising and thinking skills.
Section 4, Storytelling and drama, includes
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reflections on creative thinking, kinaesthetic learning,


and collaboration. Section 5, Games, includes
reflections on competition versus cooperation and
classroom management. A pattern is forming and
one which makes absolute sense. Each and every
section focuses on different areas of the childrens
learning and our teaching, and Read successfully
teases these out by using just the right questions.
I am not sure all teachers will notice the Reflect
time, but it is one of the most useful inclusions in
the book.
The title, 500 Activities, could in fact be a little
misleading, for though there are descriptions of 500
activities, Read has given us far more than 500.
She has skillfully given us an insight into the very best
kind of teaching practice. We are led carefully through
the why and how before being exposed to the
activities. But is it possible to provide us with 500 new
activities? Activities usually come in the form of
resource books or copy collections, for example, the
Resource Books for Teachers series (OUP) or the
Cambridge Copy Collection (CUP), and tend to focus
on particular areas like storytelling (Wright 2001),
assessment (Iannou-Georgiou and Pavlou 2003),
writing (Reilly and Reilly 2005), or reading (Nixon and
Tomlinson 2005). These types of books come with
short theoretical introductions and about 100
activities, some with photocopy support, some not.
Reads book aims at covering an average of 50
activities per area.
There are not in fact 50 named activities per section,
but many activities have variations and so these add
up too! Each activity is described clearly marking
level, age, and how to organize the children, whether
it is group, whole class, or individual. The levels are
given in relation to the Council of Europes Common
European Framework bands, A, B, and C. Naturally, as
we are dealing with young learners, most activities fall
into the A band, A1/A2, though there is the occasional
B1/B2 activity.
The information continues clearly with a description
of language focus, materials, and a step-by-step
procedure. This is followed by a comments and
suggestions section, which explains a little about the
reasons for doing this particular activity and/or
variations and extension activities.
I particularly like the comments, which are userfriendly and jog our memories or help us see the
importance of certain strategies for young
learners. An example is Activity 10.5: Label the
picture (p. 293). An activity we all do with our
young learners. But how many of us get the children
to compare their pictures and labels and test each

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other? Reads comment for this activity is By


drawing, colouring and labeling pictures at the end
of units of work children build up a personalized
visual record of their vocabulary learning (p. 293).
This is common sense, but it is worth reminding us
all of the reason, it is not just because children
enjoy colouring and labelling! Read goes on to
encourage us to put these pictures into a my picture
dictionary and alerts us to the restraints of the
younger age group. This is not rocket science, but it
appears in Section 10, Learning to learn. It is indeed
a self-assessment activity, and many of us need
reminding of this.
There are some lacunae; nothing is perfect. I was
disappointed not to find a chapter on assessment.
There are activities describing self-assessment, but it
is not enough. Sections on special needs and even
parental involvement could have been
includedthey are all areas which are rapidly
becoming part of the E FL world.
It is however a great book. A little family anecdote is
worth sharing here. On returning from Aberdeen, I
shared my enjoyment of the red book with my
husband, a Portuguese primary school teacher. A
couple of days later I couldnt find it and asked my
husband if hed seen it. Why yes, he replied, its
upstairs by my bed. Sure enough, it had become his
bedside reading, and to my surprise hed filled it with
little pink markers. E um grande livro (Its a great
book), he said, I like the section on listening and
speaking. Hes gone on to use several activities in
Portuguese with his children, and though he has not
bothered about the Reflect time I like so much, he
says theyve worked!
Reads dedication reads, For every teacher who tries
to bring out the best in every child (p. 3). I think the
red book is truly a book for every teacher, the new and
the old, the specialist and the generalist, and the
trained and the in-training. We are very lucky that
Read has put all her experience into one book and
shared it with us. I urge you all to make sure it is on
your bookshelf.
References
Brewster, J., G. Ellis, and D. Girard. 2002. The Primary
English Teachers Guide Second Edition. Harlow, UK:
Longman Second Edition.
Cameron, L. 2001. Teaching Languages to Young
Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Iannou-Georgiou, S. and P. Pavlou. 2003. Assessing
Young Learners. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Linse, C. 2005. Young Learners. New York: McGraw
Hill.

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Reviews

Nixon, C. and M. Tomlinson. 2005. Primary


Reading Box: Reading Activities and Puzzles for
Younger Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.
Pinter, A. 2006. Teaching Young Language Learners.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Reilly, J. and V. Reilly. 2005. Writing with Children.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wright, A. 2001. Storytelling with Children. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
The reviewer
Sandie Mourao is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer,
and author based in Portugal. She has been working
with young learners for the past 15 years and is
especially interested in storytelling, assessment, and
very young learners. Sandie is the I AT EF L Special
Interest Group representative, http://www.iatefl.org
and is the coordinator of the Portuguese English
Teachers Association Pre-school and Primary
Interest Group, A P P I nep http://appinep.appi.pt/
Email: nettlehouse@mail.telepac.pt
doi:10.1093/elt/ccn032

Teacher Language Awareness


S. Andrews
Cambridge University Press 2007, 232 pp., 18.55
ISBN 978 0 521 53019 4

As the language teaching industry becomes


increasingly professionalized, it is expected that the
language teacher will have a holistic understanding of
the language being taught in terms of its
components, cultural nuances, and general use.
However, whether or not this is usually the case is
a relevant topic of further investigation, and Stephen
Andrews in Teacher Language Awareness (hereafter
T LA ) provides the reader with a strong start in this
direction. As Andrews explores the importance of
what it means for a teacher to be aware of language,
he draws upon a working definition of TLA as the
knowledge that teachers have of the underlying
systems of the language that enables them to teach
effectively (p. ix). Based on 30 years of experience,
and on research conducted in secondary school
teaching contexts in Hong Kong, Andrews asserts
that the possession of an adequate level of T LA is an
essential attribute of any competent L2 teacher (p.
ix), with this awareness positively impacting upon
student learning as well as teacher competence. A

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text intended for teachers in training, practising


teachers, and language teacher educators, with
discussion questions after each chapter for further
reflection, this book explores what it takes for
a teacher to know about language and what criteria
measure the scope of the language awareness of the
teacher.
The books Prologue and first three chapters,
Language awareness, knowledge about language
and T LA, TLA and the teaching of language, and
TLA and the grammar debate, orient the reader as
to the background and key constructs that have
implications for teachers and their awareness of
language, setting the tone of the book. It begins with
a pair of vivid snapshots of two teachers confronting
grammar points that arose in their classrooms with
varying degrees of success. From these examples,
Andrews is able to clearly signpost his thesis that
teachers ability to provide learners with appropriately
personalized explanations of language points using
a level of terms and concepts intelligible for them is
a key tenet of T LA . In the first chapter, Andrews
contends that there exist a variety of perspectives on
the relation between explicit (learnt or declarative)
knowledge and implicit (acquired or procedural)
knowledge of language. He also states the need for
the L2 teacher to possess a high level of explicit
knowledge about grammar, whether or not that
teacher believes in the value of learners developing of
such knowledge (p. 16). Chapter 2 proceeds to
display Andrews vision of T LA , which is mediated
through the teachers pedagogical content
knowledge, in which knowledge of institutional and
contextual factors is involved. In order for successful
TLA to manifest itself in the classroom, a strong
sense of communicative language ability will enable
the teacher to be an effective communicator to the
student. Andrews reinforces this idea with his
comment that anything teachers say about grammar
will not only draw on their subject-matter knowledge,
but will also be mediated through their language
proficiency, assuming the medium of instruction is
the L2 (p. 27). By claiming in Chapter 3 that there is
still a place for form-focused instruction and practice
of grammar features which the learners have
demonstrably failed to master (p. 52), Andrews
seems to imply a strictly grammar-focused account of
what constitutes T LA . This may cause the reader to
wonder since the principle definition of TL A offered in
this book involves teacher knowledge of the
underlying systems of language, which in my mind
transcends just grammar. Andrews does admit,
however, that language teachers need to keep reevaluating their conceptualizations of language
beyond grammar to include lexis and discourse.
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The next two chapters relate closely to the


pedagogical practice and cognition of the teacher and
how it influences T LA . Chapter 4, T LA and teachers
subject-matter cognitions, explores the nature of
teacher thinking and T LA , proposing that T LA
interacts with other knowledge bases of the teacher.
By measuring the beliefs and attitudes of 17 teachers
through multiple-choice item language awareness
tests and evaluating their feelings about grammar
(which were predominantly negative), Andrews
determines that attitude towards grammar may vary
in terms of the scope of the role of explicit knowledge
of grammar and how this affects instruction. Chapter
5, T LA and pedagogical practice, examines the
complex way in which teacher engagement with T LA
and subject-matter content unfolds. By offering
possible teacher profiles with variable levels of
engagement with content, Andrews explores the
tricky distinction between awareness and knowledge,
with these two constructs not being entirely
synonymous. As he rightfully states, there are
teachers who have a degree of awareness, but who
lack knowledge (p. 99). His case study of Maggie,
a secondary school teacher from Hong Kong, reveals
how the quality of engagement with language content
can be undermined by teacher limitations in TL A .
However, this example exposes how critical the role of
a teachers pragmalinguistic awareness of language
(an understanding of how grammar forms relate to
context and language use) is, as shown through
Maggies difficulties in explaining active and passive
forms accurately. This suggests that T LA consists of
more than just knowledge of grammar.
The rest of the book covers critical areas of T LA and
how it relates to teaching experience (Chapter 6, The
T LA of expert and novice teachers), nationality and
identity (Chapter 7, TLA and the native-speaker and
non-native-speaker debate), and learning (Chapters
8 and 9, T LA and student learning and TLA and
teacher learning). In Chapter 6, Andrews employs
Berliners five-stage model of expertise and alerts the
reader to the difficulty in offering a clear distinction
between expert and novice teachers. His discussion
in this chapter leads the reader to the claim that
novices may be overly concerned at the early stages of
their careers with classroom management rather
than content management, as is clearly shown by his
Hong Kong secondary school examples. In Chapter 7,
he proves to be diplomatic and reasoned in his
analysis of the NS-NNS dichotomyan unfortunate
one, in his viewas he states the necessity of T LA
being fully developed, no matter what the identity of
the teacher is. Even if NS teachers may offer oral
fluency as an advantage, it is N NS teachers who may
display a sound consciousness of where learners find
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difficulties, and a stronger ability to abstract. Chapter


8 claims there are links between effective TL A and
student learning not resolved through the literature.
With respect to teacher learning in Chapter 9, there
are conflicting needs that the trainee faces in his or
her fledgling career, such as classroom management
issues as mentioned before, as well as the need to be
aware of the complexity and diversity of language
while developing the ability to question how it is used.
The Epilogue closes with a call for more contextspecific analyses of TLA - related competences
focusing on the balance between declarative and
procedural knowledge. However, it does not suggest
more system-specific analyses of T LA outside of
grammar, which may possibly be conducted by
centring on teacher awareness of the metacognitive
and metapragmatic aspects of reading, writing, and
listening skills.
Andrews forewarns the reader and specifies that the
discussion of TL A in this book will be explicitly
focused on grammar. Despite this, I could not help
but wonder why the L2 teacher should not possess an
explicit knowledge of language, as the combined
systems of prosody, kinesics, proxemics, and
pragmatics, not to forget sociocultural
considerations, combine with grammar to create
meaning. Additionally, the Language Awareness
Appendix found at the end of the book consists of
sample test items which focus solely on grammar.
Andrews overall vision of a teacher who is able to
articulate specific language points and effectively
mediate these points through appropriate classroom
materials constitutes a model paradigm of languageaware teacher. However, this book essentializes
language awareness as primarily grammar
awareness, which is perhaps too narrow
a conceptualization. My experiential dealings with
novice teachers (who happen to be native-speakers)
have put me into contact with those who lack
a sufficient declarative, but holistic, awareness of not

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only grammar but also the pragmatic and prosodic


intricacies that influence the successful
implementation of a conversation in a socioculturally
appropriate manner. Having trained novice NS
teachers who struggled to understand, or failed to
notice, how turn-taking, reactive tokens, mitigation,
and hedging work in conversation, much less being
able to explain them, I view the TLA construct as
inclusive of language awareness in a communicative
sense. In other words, a teachers knowledge of
language should not only comprise sentential,
syntactic awareness but also pragmalinguistic
sensibilities.
Hopefully, Andrews book will open the door for
future research about TLA which will cover a variety of
teacher perspectives and reflections on all systems of
language. But, in any event, TLA is an area that has
received scant attention, and such attention is long
overdue in terms of closer analysis and investigation.
Andrews has successfully begun to engage readers
more closely in the topic, and this volume should
spawn other works, studies, and experiments in the
same area so that there can eventually exist a broader
spectrum of thought on what it takes for a teacher to
be fully aware of language.
The reviewer
Gregory P. Glasgow has completed his MA in TE SOL
at Teachers College, Columbia University, Japan
Campus. He currently teaches EFL oral, reading, and
writing classes at Kanto International Senior High
School in Tokyo. His teaching and research interests
include pragmatics, with a special focus on the
metapragmatic awareness of the L2 teacher, and the
implementation of English language education
policy in Japan.
Email: ggenterprise68@hotmail.com
doi:10.1093/elt/ccn033