Six questions for linked language learning

Yes! Time for another guest post, this time from a colleague in Ireland, Patrick Jackson. Patrick is the author of Potato Pals. Here he shares six questions teachers can ask themselves about links, linking up and linked learning. Some good food for reflective thought here.

Think Link! Six questions for Linked (Language) Learning

1. The links between teacher and student.

Do I have mutually respectful relationships with my students and do I devote time and energy to developing these relationships?

2. The links between students.

Are my students communicating without anxiety, working together well and supporting each other? Do students have plenty of opportunity and encouragement to develop these relationships?

3. The links between teachers.

Am I connected to an active community of teachers? Does this community enrich my teaching and support my development? Is it easy for me to seek the help of more experienced teachers? Am I engaged in helping less-experienced teachers than myself?

4. The links to the world outside the classroom.

Are students being given opportunities to use the target language in a real and relevant way, linked to the world beyond the classroom? Is the language being learnt through such links? Am I giving students space and time to use this language in the context of their own lives?

5. The links between the known and the new.

Is new language being introduced in a way that makes connections with language students have already mastered. Am I helping my students to find and use these connections?

6. The ‘M’ link.

Do I use a wide variety of materials, methods and media linked in a way that students will find memorable and motivating? Mmmm.

You can find out more about Patrick’s work at his blog, The Potato Diaries, here. Thank you Patrick, for your six!

Published in: on February 1, 2010 at 8:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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Six Things About Multiple Intelligences That You Might Not Know


I remember being completely blown away the first time I attended a workshop on multiple intelligence theory. It seemed to be the answer to everything, and I enthusiastically set myself the task of incorporating as much of it as I could in my teaching. I never thought to question it, it just seemed the right thing. But since then I’ve had some doubts. I’ve come across certain “Multiple Intelligence activities” that I really think aren’t right for me, or for my classes. But it was colleague, co-author and friend Philip Kerr who really made me think about what I, we, are doing. I’m happy that Philip has agreed to share some of these thoughts here. I pass over to him here to tell you six things you might not know about M-I Theory.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was something that the up-to-date teacher should be experimenting with. References to MI theory in English language teaching are almost uniformly positive and the topic is a more than respectable subject for plenary lectures, teacher training courses and university publishers. Even this year’s IATEFL president is a fan of MI theory. But there are a few things that you might not know …

1          However scientific it might sound, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory is not a theory in the scientific sense of the world. It is not a falsifiable theory: his ideas are not amenable to measurement or verification. The theory is sciency, but not scientific.

2          Gardner identifies eight and possibly nine different human intelligences. These intelligences are metaphorical constucts, not discrete, localizable networks or areas of the brain. They do not actually exist in any measurable way. His list does not include spiritual or olfactory intelligence, although it might be quite fun if it did.

3          Gardner has substantially more supporters in the world of education than in the world of psychology. Whilst some respected psychologists (e.g. Robert Sternberg) mention Gardner’s work, most ignore it as irrelevant to their science. His arguments have been dismissed by George Miller as ‘hunch and opinion’.

4          Gardner is horrified by some of the practical applications of his ideas that he has witnessed in classrooms. ‘I once watched a series of videos about multiple intelligences in the schools,’ he has written. ‘In one video after another I saw youngsters crawling across the floor, with the superimposed legend ‘Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence’. I said, ‘That is not bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, that is kids crawling across the floor. And I feel like crawling up the wall.’

5          If you find yourself in conversation with someone about MI theory, good expressions to look out for in the discussion include ‘psychometric’, ‘g’ (not the spot), ‘fMRI’, ‘outside the box’, ‘Csikszentmihalyi’, ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘Rinvolucri’ and ‘neural oscillations’. If you hear more than one of these, walk away – fast.

6          ‘Multiple Intelligences theory’, ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, ‘brain gym’, ‘shamanism’, ‘psychodrama’ and ‘life coaching’ are not related in any way. Except, perhaps, by association.

If anyone is sufficiently interested, I’ll happily provide logico-spatial-kinaesthetic references.

Philip Kerr is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer based in Brussels. He is the lead author of the course Straightforward and is never one to pull punches when it comes to questioning accepted teacher beliefs.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 10:24 am  Comments (77)  
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Ben Goldstein’s six ways to sell English

In this image-rich post I am joined by none other than Ben Goldstein, an expert on images and language teaching. His book Working with Images (Cambridge) was one of my “books to look out for in 2009” and has duly been nominated for the Ben Warren Prize for this year. Ben has a keen eye for images and how to critically analyse them. He gave a Pecha Kucha called English for Sale at IATEFL and TESOL Spain this year. I asked him to share some of the images he found with us here.

I have spent some time researching into how language schools, publishers and multinationals (Berlitz, Inlingua) promote the English language. What images of English are presented, what messages are transmitted and how is the language marketed as a commodity?

1) English as owned by native speaker. Many adverts clearly show the uneven power relationship between the native and non-native speaker which is still present in many campaigns.However, other ads seem to make fun of native speaker supremacy as in this Inlingua ad:

B english mother tongue

2) English and its cultural icons.  Telephone boxes and Big Ben still dominate as icons particularly in the marketing of language schools, regardless of English’s status as a lingua franca. Here is a particularly extreme example!

C live it

3) English and its stereotypes. Surprisingly, many campaigns actually emphasize negative stereotypes, in particular about the British. This gives the impression to learners that they better get on and study the language, whether they like or not. Be it a weak, sickly youth or a hooligan, these are not exactly attractive role models:

D enough of weak english

E hooligans

4) English providing the promise of a better future. Much in the same way as other products, English is conventionally sold as a passport to a better life and the chance to achieve an elevated social status. Here is an example from a Filipino website, interesting in that it is celebrating bilingualism in a country where English is losing its elitist role:

F english is cool website

5) Inability to speak English. Negative images of learners being humiliated or and ‘getting it wrong’ are frequently used as a way to get the customer to identify and hence buy into a course. Language schools use this technique more than other, it seems, because it makes the customer feel guilty that his/her English is not up to scratch.

G inlinguaAntenna

6) English and other languages. Finally, some campaigns which attempt to do something different, placing English alongside other languages. Here’s one celebrating cultural diversity and code-switching. The ad cleverly shows three ways of saying yes in English, French and Hebrew and it also reads ‘Yes, we can” – at last a truly positive message for the learner!

J berlitzyes

Ben Goldstein is a teacher, author and presenter based in Barcelona. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 7:12 am  Comments (2)  
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Six books that could revolutionize how you think about ELT

Roll on the guest posts! This time we are joined by Sara Hannam. Sara is an articulate, passionate and perceptive colleague whom I met via Twitter and on various blogs. She always brings a critical eye to things and has recently started her own blog Critical Mass ELT. Sara and I have “crossed swords” on issues before, and I am really pleased she agreed to contribute a list for me. Here then, are six books or articles that could forever change the way you think about the profession/business/industry/racket of English language teaching!

Thanks Lindsay for asking me to choose six books that influenced me as a teacher. A very tall order for me, as there are so many great books out there, so I would like to apologize to all those writers who I have missed! Those I list below have helped me see the bigger teaching picture, which as I have gained more experience as a teacher, has become more important.  They answer questions like what is my role as an EL teacher both within and outside the classroom, how should I relate to my students as real people and what is the impact of the development of English as a global language? The insights they have given me have changed my teaching practice and me as a person, and have been a wonderful addition to the reading I did in the earlier part of my career which focused more on refining teaching skills (don’t get me started on that, as I could do you another six if you want for part II – pretty please?!).

*Extracts available at Google books from the following publications

1. Changing Teachers, Changing Times – Andy Hargreaves, 2000*

Why are teachers asked to produce better and better results with fewer and fewer resources, and how does this influence our individual performance in the classroom?  This book answers key questions about how teaching in the new millennium is a very different ball game – many changes for the better such as increased sensitivity to individual learners, but some for the worse, such as the constant measurement of “success” rather than emphasis on building relationships, communication and shared questioning of the world.  It also addresses the concept of teacher guilt, or the fact that for all the amazing pleasure that teaching brings, it can seem difficult to clock off at the end of the day due to extra-curricular responsibilities such as a concern for student welfare.

2. English and the Discourses of Colonialism – Alistair Pennycook, 1998*

If I hadn’t read this book, I don’t think I would really know very much about the development of ELT/Linguistics as a discipline or how so much contemporary practice has its roots in the colonial legacy. With meticulously compiled historiographies from India, China and Hong Kong, this book provides an antidote to the much circulated accounts of our profession which tend to gloss over the ways in which the English language was initially spread and learned alongside the violent expansion of the British Empire.  It confirms the importance, in this post-colonial era, of teachers (particularly NESTs) understanding how they are implicated in this legacy and encourages the exploration of the roots of many taken for granted assumptions in the field today – not least of all the myth of the superiority of the ‘native speaker’.

3. English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity – Jennifer Jenkins, 2007

A fascinating insight into how identity is crucial in shaping feelings about language use, and, more importantly how this informs individual tolerance/intolerance of other people’s English, often at an unconscious level. Jenkins’ research is truly groundbreaking for ELT, and provides a perfect combination of rigorous investigation into the views English users have about their performance, and further explanations as to why the belief that sounding ‘native’ is best continues to be so prevalent in teaching methodologies and materials.  When teaching practice ceases to be determined by mainstream Second Language Acquisition theory, with its emphasis on standard varieties of ‘native speaker’ English as a goal, a different sort of classroom emerges which is led by the celebration of meaning, diversity and the new and exciting forms of English currently being documented by ELF researchers, including Jennifer Jenkins.

4. The Politics of English  – Marnie Holborow, 1999

Many a teacher may think that teaching English has nothing to do with politics – this book goes a long way to questioning whether that is really the case.  Marnie Holborow reveals the less attractive side of the billion dollar industry that is English Language Teaching, and how this is led by a money-driven global economy at almost all levels.  Holborow shows how as EL teachers we are in a position to really notice and question the way access to opportunity is being structured around us, as English is increasingly being used as a gate keeping device through language testing and policy development.  Holborow also argues that there is nothing inherently different about men’s and women’s language use and that perception of male/female-specific language is more a reflection of gender inequality in society than gender-based language forms or styles. This sets her apart from many socio-linguists, who argue the opposite in relation to politeness or assertiveness – Holborow locates the source of the inequality in society rather than in the individual or group. Finally someone who celebrates our similarities rather than focusing on our differences!

5. Values in English Language Teaching – Bill Johnston, 2003*

My second to last choice provides a more practical emphasis on putting some of those ideas in the previous selections above into practice.  It examines a range of situations where EL teachers’ individual values and morals will dictate how they respond.  Johnston explores typical scenarios which may cause teachers to react in a diverse number of ways, such as testing and assessment or managing diversity and conflict in the classroom, and looks at possible outcomes, as well as exploring how to work towards becoming a more ethical practitioner in behaviour towards colleagues, students and self.  All this is done through personal stories and experiences which really illustrate the kinds of dilemmas teachers face every day.

6. ‘Teaching Peace through English: Utopia or Reality?’. Radmila Popović (Paper presented at the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language Annual Conference: Exeter 2008 available in the proceedings).

My last choice is an article, rather than a book.  Radmila’s talk at IATEFL conference looked at how she dealt with carrying on her teaching during the NATO bombardment of Serbia.  It really moved me, particularly because so much of my own field work and research is based in Serbia and the Balkans.  This paper explores what it means to teach ‘peace’ from the perspective of a teacher trying to make sense of war with her students, and demonstrates how teachers and students can discuss and understand difficult subject matter in genuine partnership and trust. The reason I chose this paper to finish off my selection, is because it demonstrates how a teacher who uses critical theory to inform practice, can produce really remarkable results – Radmila’s balancing of the two in her teaching of peace under the most difficult circumstances is as poetic as her rich and interactive plenary talk that involved the audience in activities alongside the theoretical discussion.  As an English teacher, I also think we require theory with practice, and practice with theory, and neither one is more important than the other – they are both essential.


Sara Hannam is the Director of the English Unit at City College, Thessaloniki, Greece. Sara was the Associates’ Representative for IATEFL from 2006-9, and Vice-President of TESOL Northern Greece from 2003-5.  Sara has a BA (Hons), MEd ELT, CTEFLA, DELTA and is currently completing her PhD with the School of Education, University of Sheffield, UK.  Sara is also involved in EL teacher development at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. In her spare time, Sara likes to blog (her blog is called Critical Mass ELT twitter, listen to music, dance, spend time with family and friends and is the co-founder of the Campaign for Birth Choices in Greece

Twitter: @sjhannam  Email:

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (15)  
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Jeremy Harmer’s Six Questions for Pundits and Salespeople

Well, I really can’t ask for more of a special guest to launch the second “season” of Six Things after an extended summer break. I’m happy to present a six things list from none other than Jeremy Harmer, author of numerous books for teachers and learners of English and one of the most influential people in ELT today (according to my poll, the results of which will be released soon :-)!) Jeremy responded to my request with six questions of his own…

How should we react when someone comes to us offering a new piece of technology (such as an interactive whiteboard), a new coursebook (you can make your own list), a new pedagogy or approach (such as Dogme or Pechua Kucha) or a new activity (such as using playing cards to teach, or plundering the resources of YouTube)? I think there are six basic questions we need to consider:

Question 1: What is the pedigree?

We need to know where a new idea or piece of equipment comes from. Do its originators have a (decent) track record in the field? A good rule of thumb is always to be suspicious, for example, of websites where you cannot find out who is responsible for them.

Not all new ideas have to come from tried and trusted pundits, designers or publishers. On the contrary, ‘new’ people can offer fresh, original and exciting possibilities. But we still need to know who makes or promotes this thing, and what their motives are. This is partly because of question 2.

Question 2: Who gains?

If we adopt this new methodological procedure or buy this new piece of hardware or software, who will be the beneficiary of our purchase? If we can be sure that students will benefit, then it may be worth investing time and money in the project. The same would be true if we could say with certainty that teachers would really benefit by having their workload reduced, for example, or because their professional quality of life would somehow be enhanced.

Of course the person who is trying to get us to buy their new ‘thing’ or buy into their new idea will also gain money (or prestige), and there is no reason why this should not be so. But unless we can be sure that students and/or teachers gain, then that person’s gain will be our loss.

Question 3: Why is this the best way to do this?

It may well be that the new software (or hardware) that we are being encouraged to buy offers us exciting possibilities. But we need to ask for more than that. We need to be able to say that it will be the best way we can find to do what we want to do. If someone is offering us a new method or a new set of techniques, we need to be sure that they will be better for our students and for us that what we did before. Newness is not enough, in other words and although, personally, I am usually a fan of ‘the new’, it is important to remember this key question: is the new ‘thing’ the best thing or way to do what we want to do. Because sometimes the ‘old’ is just as good even though it is not so shiny!

Question 4: Does it pass the TEA test?

If teachers are expected to adopt a new procedure or use a new piece of technology, it needs to pass the ‘TEA’ test. T stands for training. Unless teachers and students are helped to understand the new thing or procedure, and then given training opportunities to try it out, it will usually fail. E stands for the whole area of equipment. We need to be sure that the new procedure or hardware, for example, is properly supported technologically. This may sound like an obvious point, but with major government-selected systems in various areas of life (health, education) sometimes failing even after huge financial investment, we should not underestimate the absolute need for teachers to be sure that the equipment is appropriate, is in place, and is properly supported by qualified professionals.

Finally, A stands for access. If the new technology, set of flashcards or collection of supplementary books is locked away in a cupboard for safety, it becomes inaccessible. If we have to take students down a long corridor to a computer room that has to be booked three weeks in advance, then the whole idea becomes significantly less attractive.

Question 5: What future possibilities does it open up?

When we adopt a new methodological procedure or piece of classroom equipment (or software), it is important for us to believe that it has a future. Many people are uneasy about one-size-fits-all methodologies, partly because they are closed to innovation and infiltration from the outside. A good rule of thumb is to be suspicious of anything that tells us what NOT to do or which does not allow cross-platform migration (in both literal and figurative terms). Whatever we buy or buy into has to have potential for future growth, and possibilities for future expansion.

Question 6:How can I make it work?

After reading questions 1–5 above, it may seem as if I am suggesting that teachers should be extremely sceptical about new ideas and technologies, and that, in general, we should reject the new in favour of the old. However, this is far from the truth – as I have said, I am dangerously attracted to ‘the new’!; where instant acceptance can be careless and ultimately dangerous, instant rejection can be deadening and stultifying. Before rejecting any new idea or equipment, therefore, we should ask ourselves how we can make it work for us and for our students. We need to look at the ‘best-case scenario’ and use that to evaluate what we are being offered, not only in a cynical mood of defeatism, but rather with a view to possibility and excitement.  We should never, in other words, reject something unless we have thought carefully about how we might get it work for us. If, however, after such careful consideration we conclude that the new ‘thing’ has failed questions 1 – 5 then (and only then) we have a justifiable reason to reject it.

(adapted from The Practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Education 2007)

You can find out more about Jeremy Harmer at his personal webpage.

Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 7:27 pm  Comments (7)  
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