April 2005 - issue 4/05
DEVELOPING TEACHERS.COM NEWSLETTER
Welcome to the April Newsletter.
An interesting article about chidlren & synthetic phonics:
War of words
Learning to read happens like apparent magic for a few, needs
effort from most, and is devilishly difficult for the unlucky
minority. Reading schemes come and go but the thick tail of
strugglers keeps wagging. Kids from disadvantaged homes fare
badly and boys fare worst of all. The holy grail of reading would
be to find something that would deal with all those problems and
produce a nation of confident adults rather than one with 6
million functional illiterates.
There are many who will tell you that the grail has been found in Clackmannanshire. Three hundred Scottish children were taught to
read over an intensive 16-week period as soon as they started
school. Three different systems were used. One was a programme
called synthetic phonics, which teaches children letter sounds
and blends of letter sounds quickly so that they can begin to
decode words from very early on.
To read the remainder of the article:
This month three new article contributors join us on the site.
Mark Lowe offers the first of three articles, this one about the
'Shibboleths of TEFL, or Sense and Nonsense in Language
Teaching', Ron Sheen looks at the role of practice & Pierre Pinet
looks at the younger learner & autonomy. Hope you find them all
More free Google GMail accounts to give away - if interested, get
1. THE SITE
3. TEACHING LINKS
4. DAYS OF THE MONTH
5. BOOK REVIEW
6. WEEKLY TEACHING TIPS
7. PS - Internet/computer-related links
8. THE BIT AT THE END
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1. THE SITE - ARTICLES
The Shibboleths of TEFL, or Sense and Nonsense in Language
Teaching by Mark Lowe
A shibboleth is 'an old idea, principle or phrase, that is no
longer accepted by many people as important or appropriate to
modern life'. (Advanced Learners Dictionary). The discourse of
Teaching English as a Foreign Language is riddled with
shibboleths that distort our thinking and disrupt our teaching
methods. The aim of this paper is to expose the shibboleths,
straighten out our thinking, and free our methods from obsolete
and mischievous ideas.
Let us start with quotations from key language thinkers to
provide some theoretical background - and ammunition - for the
Wittgenstein (a key 20th century philosopher, and the pioneer of
a philosophical view of language based on function and use rather
than abstract system. He also pioneered the role of philosophy as
'language therapy', sorting out confusion in our thinking caused
by muddles in language):
The meaning of a word is its use
Language is an instrument.
Speech... is part of the web of human life, interwoven with a
multitude of acts, activities, reactions and responses
If a lion could talk, we would not understand him
Grammar is a free-floating array of rules for the use of
language... It is not answerable to the nature of reality, to the
structure of the mind or the 'laws of thought'. It is autonomous.
Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our
intelligence by means of language
Philosophy is a fight against the fascination which our forms of
expression exert on us. We are struggling with language The aim
of philosophy is to let the fly out of the bottle
Searle (a leading American contemporary philosopher of language,
with special interests in speech acts, the social role of
language, and the neuro-physiological foundations of language):
When we think about language, much of our vocabulary is obsolete
and our assumptions are false.
Many of the currently fashionable views about language and the
mind are inconsistent with what we know about the world.
Mental phenomena are caused by neuro-physiological processes in
In our skulls there is just the brain with all of its intricacy,
and consciousness with all its colour and variety. The brain
produces the conscious states that are occurring in you and me
right now, and it has the capacity to produce many others that
are not now occurring. But that is it. Where the mind is
concerned, that is the end of the story. There are brute, blind
neuro-physiological processes and there is consciousness, but
there is nothing else. If we are looking for phenomena that are
intrinsically intentional but inaccessible in principle to
consciousness, there is nothing there: no rule following, no
mental information processing, no unconscious inferences, no
mental models... no language of thought, no LAD and no innate or
Halliday (leading applied linguist, a pioneer of functional
language theory, and author of An Introduction to Functional
Grammar, Learning How to Mean etc)
Language is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
Language has evolved to satisfy human needs, and the way it is
organized is functional with respect to those needs - it is not
arbitrary. A functional grammar is essentially a natural grammar,
in the sense that everything in it can be expressed ultimately by
reference to how language is used.
The fundamental components of meaning in language are functional.
All language is organized around two main kinds of meaning: (a)
the ideational or reflective, and (b) the interpersonal or
active. The first enables us to understand the environment, and
the second to act on each other.
All the units of language - its clauses, phrases and words etc -
are organic configurations of functions.
A language is interpreted as a system of meanings, accompanied by
forms through which the meanings are realized.
Language is natural. It reflects experience, eg process = verb,
and participant = noun.
Language is an evolved system, and not a designed one. There is
congruence between language expressions and the facts in the
world it reflects or relates to.
Linguistics is in the same condition today as Physics was in the
Let us summarise these ideas. The way of thinking about language
that informs this article is based on insights from both
philosophy and linguistics. It incorporates ideas from Searle's
Theory of Mind, Halliday's functional linguistics, and
Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (which takes a
basically functional view of language). It is critical of
Chomskyan psycholinguistics and it follows Wittgenstein's own
rejection of the ideas in his early Tractatus (which interpreted
language as a logical system reflecting the 'logical' structure
of reality). This view of language grounds our thinking in
verified truth rather than in metaphysics, in science and not in
So much for preliminaries. Now for the shibboleth hunt.
1. Acquisition and Learning
No word in our field is more laden with ideological baggage than
acquisition. The definition of the word that has bewitched TEFL
comes from Krashen and Dulay's Language Two, in which acquisition
is sharply differentiated from learning. 'Acquisition' is said to
take place in the intuitive right hemisphere of the brain, while
'learning' is said to take place in the analytic, language-controlling left side of the brain. 'Acquisition' activates the
universal grammar hard-wired into the LAD (Language Acquisition
Device) of the brain, while learning is an entirely separate
process, unrelated to language acquisition. In other words, we
pick up language unconsciously, while we study (or learn)
language consciously. Acquisition is natural, while learning is
All this is myth. There is no universal grammar, no LAD, no
language hard-wired into the brain, no unconscious learning, and
no 'acquisition' in the sense claimed by Krashen and his
followers. Of course, we do pick up languages through use,
through enjoying songs, through conversation, through reading
books etc. However, the true explanation for this process is not
Krashen's acquisition theory, but the normal process of learning
and mastering new things. We learn what we are interested in and
what matters to us, whether languages or music or how to play
games or science or whatever. This 'picking up' is no different
in principle from learning. We explore this idea in more detail
later (see especially the section on Inductive and Deductive
Halliday recommends that we drop the loaded terms 'acquisition'
and 'learning' and adopt the neutral term 'language mastery'
instead. Our profession would do well to follow this excellent
and timely advice. A methodology based on the idea that language
acquisition takes place through letting the intuitive right
hemisphere of the brain do all the work is a mischievous
illusion. 'Acquisition' in this sense is our first shibboleth.
2. Deep and Surface Structures
There are 'hard' and 'soft' versions of this theory. In the hard
Chomskyan version, deep structures are hard-wired into the brain.
They are manifestations of the universal grammar that is thought
to be common to all mankind. They generate surface structures - a
process that can be depicted through tree diagrams. Deep
structures are still language structures - they are part of the
whole system which makes language possible. The soft version, on
the other hand, sees 'deep structures' as part of our general
mental universe (ie including features other than language),
rather like Freudian subconscious drives. For instance, the
surface structure of Hamlet deals with power and jealousy, while
the deep (and hidden) structure is concerned with the Oedipus
complex (in one celebrated reading). The soft version sees so-called deep structure as psychological rather than linguistic.
This is the version that electrified a million cocktail parties a
generation ago. It is an interesting, useful and valid idea.
The thinking behind this paper leads us to the conclusion that
whereas 'soft' deep structures are a valid concept, hard
Chomskyan deep structures are chimeras. They are our second
To view the article
If, after having read the full article, you would like to respond
to Mark's ideas, please post in the forums at this dedicated
The role of practice in foreign and second language learning by
Understanding the form-meaning relationships of a foreign
language is necessary but not sufficient to enable learners to
become both fluent and accurate speakers. This end can best be
achieved by organising class exercises to provide learners with
frequent practice in both understanding and producing the newly-
learned forms. This article proposes a means of doing so.
A major influence in foreign and second language teaching since
the 70s has been communicative language teaching (CLT). There
have been a variety of exponents ranging from what is called
strong CLT (SCLT) which discourages all grammar teaching to an
approach which tries to combine CLT with traditional grammar
instruction (Spada 1987). Nevertheless, the general perception of
CLT in teachers' minds is one of an approach which gives priority
to creating activities which encourage learners to communicate
rather than to activities designed to enable students to produce
language accurately - in other words, various versions of SCLT.
As with all innovations, SCLT being no exception, they bring with
them assumptions about the nature of language learning. In the
case of SCLT, several of these have sprung from the belief that
there is a strong similarity between the acquisition of one's
first language and the learning of a second language. I consider
this an unsafe assumption to make. Unsafe, because it encourages
teachers to adopt strategies compatible with that assumption but
which have not proven to be the most effective option. In the
70s, for example, it was assumed that learners needed only to be
exposed to vocabulary in context in order to acquire it - just as
first language learners do. However, substantial research in the
80s and 90s demonstrated that this strategy needs to be
complemented by the various traditional options such as paired
word lists and the use of translation equivalents - providing
that learners understand that though the L1 word and the L2 word
may have equivalent meanings, they also have important
Another false assumption of the 70s has continued to be accepted
as valid even today. That is the assumption that teachers do not
need to devote separate sessions to enable learners to practise
using what grammar they have learned (Lightbown 2000). This anti-practice philosophy results largely from negative reaction to the
stultifying rote repetition and memorisation of the audiolingual
period of the 60s which ignored the necessity of understanding
the meaning of what one is practising. However, just as this
audiolingual approach was narrow and unjustifiably restrictive,
the continuing rejection of the necessity for practice, ignores
the fact that the learning of any skill (which is what language
learning is) requires the acquisition of knowledge and practice
in using it. (Ellis 2002)
To view the article
Young Learners : step by step on the road to autonomy Pierre
Foreign language learning has been part of the French primary
syllabus for the last five years. All 8 to 11 year-olds are
concerned, 80% of them choosing English. The Communicative
Approach is adopted with an emphasis on oral skills.
Many teachers feel obliged to "flood" the classroom with speech
and the result is learner confusion: too much can be
counterproductive. A regular "dripping tap" together with a lot
of feedback is more coherent in primary school life (two 45-
minute periods a week): the clearer the signposts guiding the
learner, the quicker he progresses on the road to autonomy.
The teacher needs to think long and hard about the progression of
a lesson so that his learners feel comfortable and step from the
easy to the difficult, from the known to the unknown. Out of
respect for official recommendations, he should also keep in mind
a few principles:
- teach communicative language to be used in a limited number of
daily situations and use target language only in class.
- learning should be student-centred, make sense, lead to active
participation, encourage interaction, develop mutual listening
- activities should be varied and link learning to doing,
language to action.
- to help students learn, teachers should use a multi-sensorial
approach: little by little students are led to recognize,
understand and use target language.
- the teacher should consider himself as a facilitator, a
- to avoid cognitive overload, the contents should be introduced
as gradually as possible with equal attention given to
understanding and producing questions and answers.
To view the article
Thanks to Mark, Ron & Pierre
Workers Told 'No Smoking' lesson plan based on a Guardian article
about a company in the US that has prohibited the employees from
smoking at all times. For intermediate & up.
To view the plan
ARTICLES - If you've given a course or seminar or have a lesson
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TO GET IN TOUCH
To the index
No ordinary Master's: become an action researcher with Aston
University's MSc in TESOL Aston University Language Studies Unit:
A few recent Forum postings:
Hi there. I would love to have some feedback. I am studying for a
BED Adult Ed in New Zealand, and the context is teaching ESOL in
computer mediated /distance learning. There are so many courses
out there. I am needing to find an 'innovative' way of teaching
and want to base it on the need for practice with native
speakers. My market is mainly Asia and so how would I find a way
for students to interact through real tasks e.g. Speak to a
travel agent; bank e.t.c.(Without getting too technical). Thanks
for any ideas. Abi
Hi friends, I have just joined this forum. I am a high school
teacher in India. I teach Biology and English. Any helpful
tips?????? I'm looking for power point presentations to help
teach photosynthesis / respiration and all human systems In India
the concept of teaching with computer aided progs is just
catching up. pl. share ur experiences. Thank You. Renuka Masih
Pakonet is after some opinions:
I created a new page for English learners - Pako's English Page -
Learn English effectively ---http://www.english.hb.pl What do you
think about the site? Are the articles interesting? Do you agree
with my methods? Please let me know. Pawel
Cliff's job offer:
Teaching in A Folksy Town in a Tropical area- MeiNong - location:
MeiNong, Kaohsiung (North-East from Kaohsiung City, 40 mins
drive.) Student age: 7-14, Class size: 8-15 students each class,
Position start from: July 1, Interview time: Sat/Sun PM2:00,
Teaching Hours: Mon~Fri PM2:30~9:30 (7 hours including 1 hour
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Total: 30 hours/wk. Salary: $NT60,000/mth, paid on the 15th every
Michal Garvey sent in the flowing job offer: EF Hangzhou English
Teacher/CLT Instructor (several positions) Qualifications:
CELTA/Trinity TEFL Certificate (or equivalent), Some teaching
experience, University degree. Salary: RMB 5000 (net) per month
in probation period, rising to RMB 6000 (net) per month. PLUS
return flights, very comfortable Western-style fully furnished
apartment (shared), attractive contract completion bonuses,
comprehensive insurance package, new student introduction
commissions, weekly Chinese lessons, Training Programme, 5-day
working weeks (outside peak periods). These positions would suit
those seeking to develop as TEFL teachers. Only those who love
teaching, especially children should apply. Prospective teachers
should be prepared to work hard in a professional teaching
Lots of different Forums to choose from. Post your jobs, your CV,
your questions, finds on the net, ideas, activities, questions,
grumbles, suggestions, your language courses, your training
courses...they are there for you to use.
To the index
SiteSkimmer.com is the website that helps you enjoy your internet
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All you need to do is sign up & wait for the next issue of the
SiteSkimmer Linkletter to enjoy the net. To sign up for the free
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3. TEACHING LINKS
'The Call Cookbook - We have heard the CALLing! Our mission is to
provide instructors and students interested in computer-assisted
language learning (CALL) with inspirational examples ('recipes')
of working, web-based activities we created to add flavor to the
regular meat-and-potatoes classroom study of a foreign language.
In addition, we have provided links to other sites, reviews of
currently available CALL software and information helpful in
creating a course both encompassing and employing computer-based
ESL & Canada. Lots of resources.
Antagonym - 'This is a word I made up to describe a single word
that has meanings that contradict each other. My derivation of
the word antagonyms is described below. Example of an Antagonym:
A current example would be "BAD". There is the normal meaning and
the slang meaning of "good" (sometimes pronounced baad for
emphasis). Although I prefer words in which the antithetical
definitions are listed in common dictionaries, I will accept
well-known slang examples.'
The Elements of Style - William Strunk, Jr. (1918) 'Asserting
that one must first know the rules to break them, this classic
reference book is a must-have for any student and conscientious
writer. Intended for use in which the practice of composition is
combined with the study of literature, it gives in brief space
the principal requirements of plain English style and
concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of
composition most commonly violated.'
The Collective Nouns - collection
Students create their own wacky tales.
'In this etymology game you'll be presented with 10 randomly
selected etymology (word origin) or word definition puzzles to
solve; in each case the word or phrase is highlighted in bold,
and a number of possible answers will be presented. You need to
choose the correct answer to score a point for that question.
Beware! The false answers will often also seem quite plausible,
and some of the true answers are hard to believe, but we have
documentation! Oh, and in case you're wondering, the word
etymology comes from the Greek word 'etymos', which means real,
or true, and the -ology ending indicates that it's the study of,
or science of. Put them together and you get the study or science
of the real or true. Impressive, eh?'
Stories for youngsters.
To the index
4. DAYS OF THE MONTH
Some days to plan your lessons around in April:
1st - April Fool's Day -
2nd - International Children's Book Day
7th - World Health Day
14th - Anniversary of Titanic sinking
International Moment of Laughter Day
18th - Crossword Puzzle Day
22nd - Earth Day
23rd - St. George's Day - England
To see the list of Days
Some holiday origins.
To the index
5. BOOK REVIEW
If you are teaching teenagers, you must check out the excellent
'Language Activities for Teenagers' by Seth Lindstromberg (CUP).
To read the review
To buy this from Amazon.com:
To buy this from Amazon.co.uk:
To see the recommended book index
If you're going to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk then please go
through our Books page. You will pay the same & we will receive a
few pennies to keep the site & newsletters free. Thanks.
To the index
6. WEEKLY TEACHING TIPS
Free weekly practical teaching tips by e-mail.
Recent Tips have included:
- Pairs - ideas for dealing with adjacency pairs
- Pigs can fly - April Fool's Day stuff & cloze testing.
- The lesson - essential ingredients in the effective lesson
- Independent approaches - an overview to ways of developing autonomy
To see the Past Tips
To sign up to receive them
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CAMBRIDGE ESOL TEACHER TRAINING COURSES
Train in Spain - Courses running in the near future at the
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Reasonably priced accommodation can be arranged for the duration
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7. PS - Internet/computer-related links from SiteSkimmer.com
A few computer use rules of thumb:
- make copies of all-important files
- run scan disk & then defragment the hard drive
- use firewall software
- use a virus scan & update the files every week
- install security patches that software providers offer
- update your DirectX files regularly
- don't open attachments without scanning for viruses first
- don't respond to spam - just delete & forget
- don't send personal or bank information by email
- turn off your computer at night
The following links are taken from the Site Skimmer.com
Linkletters. Sent out free every fortnight, fifteen links every
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Check out who's more popular.
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8. THE BIT AT THE END
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