A web site for the developing language teacher

December 2002 - issue 12/02


Welcome to the December Newsletter

Lots more subscribers again this month - welcome & hope you find it all useful.

This month we have new articles by Dimitrios Thansoulas, Edna Aphek & Scott Shelton on assessment, ELT history, the new technologies & pronunciation teaching. The book review looks at a language awareness book for teachers 'Alive to English' by V.Arndt, P.Harvey & J.Nuttall. And we also have the usual sections of teaching links, jobs & PS links.

Have you been to the Forums yet? Elizabeth asks: 'I teach beginners and intermediate level English at a couple of universities in Rome and was wondering if anybody would like to do an intercambio between students?' Get along see what else the Forums have to offer. See you there.

We have been nominated 'Site of the Week' by - a big thank you to them - they obviously know a good site when they see one!

Happy teaching!



1. THEME - Assessment: "Weighing the pig doesn't fatten it"

2. THE SITE - lesson plans & articles








10. PS - Internet/computer-related links



1. THEME - Assessment: "Weighing the pig doesn't fatten it" - by
Dimitrios Thansoulas


We have surely heard of the term "assessment"; but what does it boil down to? Why should we assess ourselves and others? What is it that we can assess? What types and functions of assessment are there? How do IQ tests work? Are there any alternative forms of assessment? These are the main topics that the present paper sets out to tackle, with a view to shedding light on the nature of assessment.

Why assess?

Unless teachers assess pupils' attainments in some way, they cannot match learning experiences (i.e., whatever is transpiring in the classroom) with students' needs. In other words, teachers cannot tell whether students have made any progress or whether the former need to adjust what they are teaching or how they are teaching it. Research has shown that learning effectiveness is increased by appropriate and informative feedback to pupils and teachers, and that some form of assessment must be part of an effective learning-teaching cycle (see Long, 2000: 46 for further details). By and large, assessment is still relatively informal, as teachers are aware of children's performance from the work they have done. More information about student progress or specific skills can be gathered from a battery of specific tests and formalised types of assessment. Based on these, teachers can make absolute as well as relative judgements about learners' achievements. Nevertheless, Gipps et al. (1983) found that teachers rarely use formal test results, since they believe that the results are needed by other people. At any rate, testing is certainly dominating what goes on in schools and some teachers would probably agree with what Black and Wiliam (1998) said: 'Weighing the pig doesn't fatten it'.

As Long (2000: 47) notes, '[a]ssessment is...a major part of the educational process, and without it, teaching would be a rather unfocused activity'. The fact remains, however, that a great deal of testing is implemented with only limited justification.

What can we assess?

First and foremost, assessment is concerned with attainment, that is, a student's present level of ability or functioning in a particular area. Such abilities can be assessed through a range of tests covering all the main areas of general academic attainments, as well as specific abilities or skills. Some forms of assessment are premised upon the concept that abilities are related to each other - if people score well on one test, then they are likely to score well on others. What enables them to do so is known as 'general ability' or intelligence, and it is assessed by specialised intelligence tests.

Nonetheless, the main abilities that teachers focus on are related to the curriculum. More specifically, there are three categories of educational targets or goals that students are called on to attain: a) knowledge (factual information); b) skills (how to do things); and c) understanding (the ability to use information). It is important to note that, even though there is general agreement about the need for such goals, research by Fleming and Chambers (1983) found that nearly 80 per cent of all questions in school tests dealt only with factual information. It seems that this penchant for factual information is due to 'the ease of using simple knowledge-based assessments, since tests which incorporate children's use of skills and understanding tend to be time-consuming to design and implement' (Long, 2000: 47).


Declarative knowledge can be thought of as a body of concepts with a structure, which includes the links between concepts (ibid.). Concepts can be physical, or abstract, or can express relationships and connections. They can also be combined to form factual knowledge in the form of propositions such as 'A flower's stigma receives pollen', or 'the word libido was first used by Cicero'. This factual knowledge could be assessed by means of such questions as 'What do we call the part of the flower that receives pollen?' or 'who was the word libido used by?' Modern views of semantic knowledge regard it as a system of connected schemata with variables. Assessment, therefore, focuses on the development of generalised schemata within a subject domain, along with the knowledge of how they function within particular exemplars. For instance, one might be concerned with the development of the concept of a 'chemical element', with generalised notions of the nucleus and electron shell configuration determining specific valence and reactivity. The general concept could then be related to specific exemplars, and tests carried out for knowledge about particular elements showing different bonding properties (ibid.: 48).


A skill relates to the procedural aspects of how to do things. Normally, it refers to a higher-level, complex ability, made up from a number of other abilities that are connected and coordinated. When someone has a skill, they are supposed to be able to function competently with it at a certain level. Skilled performance involves implicit knowledge and is usually generated from the development of, more or less, conscious abilities.
Skills can be assessed by carrying them out, although they are sometimes part of more complex activities. For example, a reading comprehension exercise may involve a range of basic skillsincluding reading the text and answering the questions that follow it.


Understanding involves the transfer and use of knowledge in new situations. This is illustrated in the following example, where students have to apply simple mathematical rules: 'If Laura and Fred both need two pencils and each pencil costs 15p, how much money will they need altogether?' (ibid.: 48). As regards higher tests of understanding, these involve holistic, real-life tasks where both knowledge and skills are at work. In creative writing, in particular, students may benefit from the generating of ideas and draw on existing knowledge.


Aptitude assessments engage with the potential for future attainment. The Reading Readiness Profiles (Thackray, 1974), for instance, test a child's visual and auditory discrimination, as the basis for progress with reading. However, according to Long (2000: 49), '[m]any such tests are only weak predictors...unless the ability assessed is a necessary precursor of the target ability'. Conversely, the skills of phonological abilities and the knowledge and use of letter sounds are deemed to be the best predictions of initial reading progress.

To read the rest of the article

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The changing winds and shifting sands of the history of English Language Teaching by Dimitrios Thansoulas.

As the title implies, the English language teaching tradition has been subjected to a tremendous change, especially throughout the twentieth century. Perhaps more than any other discipline, this tradition has been practiced, in various adaptations, in language classrooms all around the world for centuries. While the teaching of Maths or Physics, that is, the methodology of teaching Maths or Physics, has, to a greater or lesser extent, remained the same, this is hardly the case with English or language teaching in general. As will become evident in this short paper, there are some milestones in the development of this tradition, which we will briefly touch upon, in an attempt to reveal the importance of research in the selection and implementation of the optimal methods and techniques for language teaching and learning.'

To read the article


The New Technologies: No Place to Hide? by Prof. Edna Aphek

The paper describes two months work with teachers, reading counselors, in a literacy forum on the internet, as part of their training. The writer examines the possible reasons for the absenteeism of many teachers from the forum and their seemingly lack of interest in it.

To read the article


Making a Case for Beginning with Suprasegmental Features in Pronunciation Teaching by Scott Shelton

'Over the years, phonology has played many different roles in the English language teaching classroom, from a virtually non-existent role in the traditional grammar translation method tobeing the main focus of the audio-lingual method through its emphasis on minimal pairs, phonemes, drills and dialogue work. Until recently, phonology (and other aspects) of language was thought to have been best learned through a building block, "bottom-up approach." '

To read the article

And the accompanying lesson plan

Main aims and objectives
1. To raise awareness of how voice quality and intonation can convey meaning.
Sub aims
1. To provide receptive and productive practice in how prominence affects intonation and helps to convey meaning.
2. To provide practice in working out meaning of words and phrases from context.
3. To provide intensive listening and reading practice.
4. To provide opportunity to develop inferences skills via contextual and aural clues.

Thanks to Dimitrios, Edna & Scott.

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This month there's a review of 'Alive to Language' by V.Arndt, P.Harvey & J.Nuttall (CUP). It's a language awareness book & for any English language teacher it's well worth investigating. You can find the review

Please don't forget to go through the books page when you want to buy from or . The books have links to both .com & .uk & if the books that you want aren't there, do a search with the search boxes at the bottom of the Books page. We get a little bit & you pay the same. Every little helps to keep the newsletters free. Thanks.



A few of the recent posts:

- an offer of groups of Italian students for a writing exchange
- a call for Christmas ideas, activities & links
- looking for ideas for a seminar on exam classes
- links to material on Northern Ireland
- teaching advanced levels - some tips

Get along, sign up & dive in!



Relax & maximise your time by getting started on a quality personalised teacher development course. There are a couple of sample pages to view.



Give a visit!

Time Magazine's Year 2002 inventions.

A few history-related links with lots of material & information for mainstream classroom use, which we can adapt for our purposes: as a resource for teachers and children - It is not often that a free, safe and enjoyable learning resource comes the way of hard-pressed teachers. has been designed to be suitable for classroom use. It offers a wealth of material to enhance teaching plans and increase ICT interaction across the curriculum. Designed as a web resource, offers a massive dynamic database of historical data which is fast loading, accurate and non-political in its presentation. It has simple, straightforward presentation without the presence of distracters such as promotional banners and spurious advertising.

'This site is being developed by R.J. Tarr I am a full-time classroom teacher of history and politics at Wolverhampton Grammar School, England. All of the resources are directly connected to our scheme of work (National Curriculum KS3; GCSE Modern World History from AQA; A-Level Early and Late Modern History from AQA). The most important thing about this website is that it has been produced by a classroom teacher and his students for classroom teachers and their students. All of the activities have been produced with the classroom in mind, and are often amended after being tried out in class. It is a continually evolving resource which fellow teachers and students are very welcome to dip into whenever they find it appropriate.'

The BBC yet again has masses of historical information on offer.
'On this site you'll find in-depth articles, multimedia (like games, virtual tours and animations) as well as bite-size material like timelines and short biographies of historic figures. All is designed for you to get more out of your interest in History.'

With lots of links to other areas of history.

'I am a Secondary School History teacher from Cambridgeshire, England. I am the curriculum ICT coordinator, and History teacher at Neale-Wade Community College in March. I completed my PGCE in History and English in 1998, following my BA in History at Durham University. I created this site to provide a safe and convenient place for history teachers and pupils to find information, download worksheets and basically have some fun using ICT! The Internet has much to offer and there are many amazing sites relevant and useful for history but it is very difficult to quickly select the beneficial places to visit. Since first creating the site in June 2000 I am delighted to see how it has grown. The site now receives an average of over 2,000 visitors a day, with a record - near GCSE exam time - of nearly
5,000 visitors.'

Google History start page.

Have you got any favourite teaching links? Send them in or post them in the PS section at the Forums.

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Disclaimer - as with any job check it out carefully. We don't endorse the schools that advertise below. The ads are sent in & we mention them here & put them up on the site.

A note for advertisers - please post your advert in the Forum - see the link from the Front Page - then we'll put it on the recruitment page & mention it in this newsletter.

Vilnius, Lithuania
Soros International House Vilnius is currently looking for an enthusiastic, professional teacher to work full-time, beginning January 6, 2003. The contract would initially last until the end of June, with possible extensions and summer work (most likely English language camps for children in Lithuania, Slovakia and Finland) available, if both parties are interested. Accommodation and reasonable wages, as well as negotiated travel costs.
If interested, please contact: Vitas Gricius, for more information about the school, please visit our webpage at:

Moscow Region, Russian Federation
Teacher required: $500 living allowance monthly, visa support, flight re-imbursed at end of contract, apartment provided. David L.D McPherson

A recent CV on the site: - a page is waiting for your CV. Please also post your CV in the Jobs Forum.

Teachers can post CVs on the site & employers can post job adverts - both are free services at the moment.

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Monster vocabulary - helping younger learners with vocab
Buy Nothing Day 2002 - ideas on using their material in class
Runningtexttogether - activities
Stop cards - an idea for cutting down on L1
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Train in Spain - Courses running in the near future at the British Language Centre in Madrid:

CAMBRIDGE CERTIFICATE IN ELT - CELTA Full-time four-week courses,
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10. PS - Internet/computer-related links

British book-sniffing enthusiast's homepage - 'Welcome fellow book- sniffers my name is Benny, founder of this site. We are an up and coming (fringe) group who find pleasure only by inhaling books. My habit first started when I was ten I think, sniffing Rupert annuals, newspapers, horse and hound magazines and religious pamphlets. However, I had soon moved on to more harder books, finding satisfactory aromas could only truly be found in crusty books from many centuries ago.'

I could never get far with Rubik's cube so you can imagine my surprise when one of my sons presented me with a perfectly sorted cube one day. Astounding! A genius is born! Until I spotted the tell-tale signs of the peeling stickers. Lots of points for initiative though. Here's a Flash version (that takes a while to load - ho, hum) that you can't take the colours off!

Not for the easily offended - a different kind of horoscope from Pessmystic Meg. Days to really look forward to.

The New York Public Library's Digital Library Collection. 'NYPL will launch a searchable database of visual materials documenting culture studies and social history internationally from the ancient world to the present. A phased rollout through 2004 will eventually total 600,000 images selected from collection strengths in the arts, humanities, performing arts and sciences, including artwork, maps, photographs, prints, manuscripts, illustrated books, and printed ephemera.'

A very neat clock to play with.

Take a break & knock down Teddy.

Identifont - 'the unique font identifier that enables you to identify a font from a sample by answering a series of simple questions. It is ideal if you want to match an existing typeface, or identify a typeface you have seen in a publication. '

'ieSpell is a free Internet Explorer browser extension that spell checks text input boxes on a webpage. It should come in particularly handy for users who do a lot of web-based text entry (e.g. web mails, forums, blogs, diaries).'

This to That - tells you what glue to use. Now this is what's good about the net! - a community devoted to computer-related things, most notably Microsoft things & XP things.

Looking for sounds, this is the place.

'BuzzPhraser - A TechnoLatin phrase generator by Doc Searls. BuzzPhrases are built with TechnoLatin, a non-language that eplaces plain English nouns with vague but precise-sounding substitutes. In TechnoLatin, a disk drive is a "data management solution." A phone is a "telecommunications device." '

A browser add-on to access sites recommended by surfers with the same interests as you.

A two minute Wallace and Gromit film.

'The Gallery is a result of your journey into the deepest recesses of Delphion Research. When you come across a strange or intriguing patent, share it with others.' will find out what thinks of you, your friends or anything! Search for your name here or for a good laugh check out some of the popular Googlisms.

'Looking for opinions or points of view on the topics you care about? Want an opinion on the best restaurants in Rome, or where to get travel insurance in New York? Ask your Question and Abuzz will send it to the members most likely to have the answer.'

Can't really remember when I last did something as pointless as this.

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