The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

ELT – Ten Things I Hate About You

Sometimes a title just hits the spot. Today, I woke up, inexplicably, at 02:30. Yesterday it was at 04:30. The day before it was 04:00. I feel like a character in a Stephen King novel – so much so that I daren’t look out of the window. As I type, I can feel my fingers tapping more slowly than usual. My brain is fogged up, as if someone was trying to exterminate the cockroaches that are in there. I put the coffee pot on and when it began to gargle and splutter, I discovered that only a third of the water had come through and what was waiting to be poured out was of the same consistency as the pig’s blood in the bucket that doused Carrie. Today’s offering was never going to be very zen. Talk this week on Twitter was of a Secret DoS book – if only I had the smarts to do that. I could call it ELT – Ten Thousand Things I Hate About You. Come with me as I discover what the first ten might be…

 

1. I hate the fact that you and mainstream education don’t talk to each other.

What is it with that? Did you meet Mainstream Pedagogy at a party and she laughed at your braces? Did she give you that look when you asked her to dance? Did she tell all her friends how you blurted out your secret love for her? 

No, you probably sat on the sidelines and sneered that you were too good for her. Well, let me tell you this: she’s too darned good for you, ELT. The world of education is a rich world of diversity that ELT seems to be oblivious of. And this is despite the fact that the vast majority of our practitioners are swimming in the waters of mainstream education. By this I mean that the vast majority of English language teachers are working within the conventional education system – not in grubby little sweatshops where they eke out enough to drink their troubles away at the weekend. Where the hell are the voices of these teachers within our literature?

It seems to me [i.e. I may very well be wrong here] that the majority of us who write on ELT are working in the private sector or the quasi-private sector. Our training was almost uniquely CELTA/DELTA and we were trained by CELTA/DELTA trainers. They taught us about such things as theories about language acquisition and different types of syllabus. They didn’t teach us very much about classroom management, educational theory, rigorous research, the nature of learning, current educational debates. Why not? Because we teach in such a wide variety of contexts? That doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid. I work in a context that is radically different to most school teachers and yet I find their blogs, their reading lists and their reflections to be just the ticket. 

Where my colleagues are discussing how to make the dreary more palatable, the school teachers that I follow on Twitter are getting into a storm about whether to prioritise skills development over knowledge acquisition; about whether the progressive tradition is up its own arse; about the need to focus on behaviour management above all else; about the developments reaching us from the world of cognitive sciences.

Why aren’t we having these debates more loudly?

2. I hate coursebooks.

This usually has to be written alongside some twee bilge about how no offence is meant to coursebook writers who are all just doing the best and tying darned hard to help. That isn’t my style, I’m sorry to say. Coursebook writers – how could you? Hang your heads in shame. Please don’t come along and say, But there are some really very good coursebooks out there. There are not. There are utterly dreadful coursebooks and there are ones which are just about bearable. In parts. I have met some very pleasant coursebook writers and I really don’t want to offend. This is no more than the bombast of some anonymous no-mark who hasn’t got the creative genius that these writers have. I know that my inability to get along with coursebooks probably says more about me than it does about anything else at all. But I have yet to find a coursebook that inspired either me or the students. And I’ve been in the game for two decades. Can any of you think of one single title that students were desperate to get back to? Anything that broke the mould? Anything that didn’t have pointless comprehension questions following a listening or anything that didn’t have facile gapped sentences following a reading? That didn’t have the ridiculous instructions to Student A to turn to page X and Student B to turn to page Y. That didn’t peddle the lie that is the grammar syllabus? And because our cultural tools shape the way that we think and the way that we think shapes the world in which we live, it follows that the world’s greatest evils are in part due to the design of coursebooks and, it pains me to say it, coursebook writers. 

3. I hate levels.

I see them for what they are – a cheap and lousy way to squeeze more money out of the innocent while making them hate themselves and label themselves as abject failures. In my mind there are three types of language learners: people who are painfully crap at using the language, people who can get by in the language and people whose ability to use the language makes you gasp in wonderment (and secretly hate them for doing what you will never be able to do). If I were to undo my fatwah on coursebooks, book tiltes would reflect my triumverate of levels thus:  Headway: You’re So Bad It Hurts; Headway – I Suppose You’ll Do; Headway: Holy Crap! Where Did You Learn to Speak Like That?!?! 

But no. We have to take the three general areas of Elementary, Intermediate and Proficient and we have to smash them into smaller categories. You can now be a starter who progresses to a beginner who then develops into an elementary before emerging as a pre-intermediate (oh please!!!) prior to returning to the chrysalis and fluttering out later as an intermediate  who then sweats blood to become an upper intermediate then transmogrifies into a pre-advanced and finally reaches the near-Nirvana status of advanced. Each stage will cost you roughly £25 a coursebook and a further £15 for the workbook. It’s evil, I tell ya, pure unadulterated satanism.

And each stage must have a class. God help the school that says that you are elementary when you were clearly a pre-intermediate in your last place. Because levels are real now. And progress is linear. God help the DOS who has to manage a school where levels are mixed: now you have teachers who “Just Can’t Work With This Chaos!” and students who find it “All Too Easy”. Obviously, they are right because levels are real now, aren’t they? Now teachers can sit around pondering whether little Ahmed should go into Intermediate or stay in Pre-Intermediate. Yo! As you sit around trying to sound professional and analytical, the very nature of your analysis reveals you to be a bucket of witlessness. Pre-Intermediate means Elementary, f’rchrissakes; Upper Intermediate means Intermediate. Deal with it! But the books…FUCK THE BOOKS!

 

4. I hate grammar.

Actually, I don’t hate grammar. I rather love the blessed thing. But I do hate the tireless debate about the role it has in language learning. And I especially hate the role it has in language teaching. My view on grammar is this: when you are at the start of your language learning adventure, you need to be drenched in grammar. You need to learn that there are generative rules that you can learn that will start you rolling down (up???) the hill of language usage. You can meticulously put together a sentence that allows you to get an approximation of your intent out into the world of Other People: Je voudrais un chat, s’il vous plait. In my world, you would be well drilled in the past tenses, the present tenses and the verb forms for the future. You would be drilled relentlessly in the modals and ways of expressing hypotheses. Yep: lots of verbs. I would focus on form and function. I might be tempted to dive into article usage. 

Then I’d switch focus. From Intermediate level upwards (and there is only one more level after intermediate), I would abandon grammar teaching and focus upon language usage. I might employ grammar to explain why something was wrong or as a trivial little heuristic to enrich students’ ways of processing new language, but that would be it. And I’d give it a lot of thought before I started down that path. There would be a focus on accuracy, but without a need to use grammar as the sole arbiter of accurate language: 

Why do we write I have eaten there before?

Let’s see…can we get some more examples that look like this? 

  • I have seen this film already!
  • We have studied this before.
  • I haven’t met him yet.

Good. Can you see what these have in common? Can you use this language to tell me something about you and your life?

Instead, if someone asks the question, Why do we write I have eaten there before?, before I can even open my mouth, there will be a student who says, Is it because it is an action which took place at some unknown point in the past and which is in some way relevant to the present situation in whcih the speaker and/or writer finds him or her self? Way to go, ELT!

The world in which I live has students who bark on about the need for difficult grammar or who want to go to a higher level (bleurgh) because they have already studied this. And cheek by jowl with these irritating little irritants are the teachers who tell me that they would like the cover teacher to continue to focus on the usage of the future past perfect continuous in the passive because, well, the students don’t quite seem to have got it yet. If you work for me (and you might, you know), please be assured that I hear this and inwardly roll my eyes and wish that this country had the same lack of labour laws that they do in North Korea.

5. I hate the fact that ELT is probably the most destructive force for language learning that language learners will ever be exposed to.

Yep. I do. There’s a very nice young Irish man over at http://www.fluentin3months.com who is enjoying the trappings of illusory fame these days. He is peddling the idea that with hard work, anyone can become a proficient language learner and he has written a book to help people do just this. By all accounts…well, strictly speaking, by his account…it is a message that people want to hear. Leaving aside the fact that I think that his message is akin to saying to the morbidly obese, Look – if you just work really hard at it, you will be able to beat Usain Bolt in a run around the block- some of his writing captured in words what I have long thought but not known I was thinking it. One thing that really rang bells for me was his view that language schools militate against successful language acquisition because they encourage the view that Well, all I have to do is go there for X hours a week and wait for the words to start tripping out of me. Sez Benny, you need to start living the fecking language 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And Benny is spot on. 

ELT with its poxy academies staffed by under-qualified teachers using hideous coursebooks to progress through fraudulent levels is creating a view of language learning that is  so far divorced from reality that somebody should arm the ombudsman and gather together a posse. With the commodification of English, never before has it been said more truly that people learn English in spite of studying the damn thing.

6. I hate the polarised arguments.

  • Grammar V Not Grammar
  • Coursebooks V Not Coursebooks
  • Technology V Not Technology
  • Dogme V Not Dogme

Who really gives a damn? No one has been able to prove that one is better than the other and we all end up pontificating solemnly about something that is no more than our opinion. I say “we” because I am just as bad. It seems that people can learn English very impressively using pretty much all of the approaches that have ever been approached. Some people see this as evidence of the need to adopt a policy of…ahem…principled eclecticism. Arse! I see it as proof positive that whatever we do doesn’t really matter. As I’ve said before, it’s more important how you do it. You don’t have to be eclectic. Do what you want, but do it convincingly. 

7. I hate the gurus.

I’m not going to name names here. But there are many. Some are deserving and come across as properly humble. I don’t hate them. But some revel in their status as names in our fishtank. They peddle the same tired old nonsense that they always have and they are as vapid and as vacuous as any other type of person who fits the “job” title celebrity. I have sat through some of their presentations and come away thinking, I have listened to you for an hour and you have told me nothing. You employed the same time-wasting manoeuvres that I do with students when I haven’t prepared sufficiently and your whole talk was no more than smoke and mirrors. William Baldwin was on to these people when he wrote, “As empty vessels make the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers.”

8. I hate the exploitation.

I work with people who have degrees, postgraduate degrees and years of experience in many different contexts. Some of them have families and mortgages. Some of them are employed on zero hours contracts – which means we pay them for the hours we get them to teach, but there our relationship ends. We have no commitment to them, we pay them a starting salary that is marginally higher than what an unqualified school teacher earns in the UK and we never increase this. We are not the most exploitative company that exists. 

I am expected to demand high from these teachers, but understand the truth that there is to be found in the maxim about paying peanuts and getting monkeys. Truth be told, I manage a team of very committed monkeys for the most part, but this is a tribute to them because they are committed, once again, in spite of the context in which they work. 

Oh, for someone to put a stranglehold on the throat of the cash cow and choke it to within an inch of its life! 

9. I hate the academic arms race.

Why on earth do you need to have a postgraduate degree and published research to get a job teaching English at some universities? Why should EAP be reserved, under the aegis of the Accreditation UK handbook, for those with a diploma? Wherefrom the upscaling to where a doctorate is the only degree worth getting? And with so much upscaling, why is the theoretical (and practical) knowledge of ELT so lacking? See next point.

10. I hate the lack of academic rigour.

Because, I’m sorry to say, most things that I read which are written about teaching English are not really written about teaching English. A lot of the blogs, and the webpages and the professional sites and the publications tend to be about how to disguise the teaching of English. You can click on a blog and find activities to use when watching a film, listening to a song, exploring  website, reading a book, whatever. And it’s the same old stuff: gap fills, reordering, talk with a friend, find more out about…, summarise, listen and understand [great instructions!]. But there’s little discussion about what it means to teach reading or to teach listening or to teach speaking. Just activities. No discussion about their design; no discussion about the theoretical assumptions that they are based upon; no explanation for how filling in the gaps can help improve listening. It’s just mindless pap. Inspired by coursebooks…

And what passes for educational research isn’t much better: my MA was woeful. The quality of research was dreadful, but I got the certificate (now lost). Just this morning, I was reading something that purported to be a piece of research into an aspect of ELT. it had been submitted for a DELTA assignment and it was no more than fanboy drivel. It was biased from the outset and…surprise surprise…the findings were pretty much in line with what the author had always believed anyway. What world is this? What kingdom? This kind of stuff is not rare in ELT, and the fact that it gets published or gets the award suggests that the standards are low. Of course, I may be suffering from what Daniel Kahnemann called the What You See Is All There Is bias. Because of the internet, the standards have dropped – anyone can publish any old crap (look at me!). I chose to do my MA at a reasonably-priced institution – it doesn’t follow that I would have got an MA from some of our more august institutes of higher education. But this is a polemic, and there’s little to be gained from being magnanimous and trying to see all sides of the issue. 

And now that I have put this hate-filled nonsense out there, it is time to go and engage with the beast. I hate everything about it, but I’m in it for life. 

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26 Mar 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized

50 Comments »

  1. Excellent

    Comment by Ebefl | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

    • I know you are; you said you are; but what am I?

      Comment by thesecretdos | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

      • This is one of your best id say. Each one of these would make for an interesting discussion on their own…there’s a lot to agree with but also a lot to get into. Send it to eltchat. there’s a years worth of stuff to chew over here.

        Comment by Ebefl | 13 Apr 2014

  2. Certainly got my attention, what with the hyperbolic nature of the hate lead-ins. Mission accomplished!

    There’s not much to disagree with. In one form or another, a lot of us have talked about each of these points somewhere and for good reason. I’d probably suggest my particular pet peeves align mostly with 2, 3 (as a teacher and coordinator who, like most, has been wrangled into fabricated yet snazzy labels by those on the business side), 8 (as, well, all of us) and 10 (as experience grows).

    It’s up to us, the individuals, to take these peeves and do something about them, not all at once, but as we can. It’s easiest to say our hands are tied and just complain, but they really aren’t. Hopefully posts like this will inspire action, however small, and not simply a platform to nod in full agreement.

    Comment by Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

    • You say “hyperbole”. I say, “litote”.

      You are right, of course. And what stopped me from writing a counterbalancing 10 things I love about ELT, was the idea that I really do hate these things about ELT! And the list could have gone on. Vying for a place in the top ten should have been the need to carve English into EAP, ESP, General English, English for Business etc. I should’ve gone up to eleven, like the guys in Spinal Tap.

      One thing we can all do, I would suggest is to at least ponder how much of these ten things are worth getting your knickers in a twist about and how many do we need to accept. Sometimes, the only option might be to reframe our perceptions and -for example- understand that labels are just a steaming pile of crap that serve very little functional purpose.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

      • I’d say label in fact work in service of functional purpose. Thing is understanding why “these” labels are dominant instead of other possible labels (which are in the end ways of categorising what we see and the sense we make of the world) — the labels operate in what and how we can and cannot speak. There’s no humanity without labels – it just so happens that ELT labels suck, true. Time to overthrow some.

        Comment by Willy Cardoso | 26 Mar 2014

      • Thanks for your comments, Willy. I don’t know if the labels do work though. I think they may very well work against effective language learning, although they work very well to stretch out the language learning process and make more money for some.
        I have a constant stream of people coming through my office telling me that the class is too easy or too difficult for them and that they need to move up or move down. And then I think of my time in another country where I knew virtually nothing of the language and yet I lived with monolingual native speakers. Sure, it was uncomfortable, but it was helpful for learning.
        Labels don’t just help us make sense of the world – they make the world. Everyone is familiar with the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies, but I think it’s more widespread than that: because we are used to levels, we expect certain things from schools, from teachers, from students, from materials. The labels are affecting pretty much everything. They are very long tentacled things.

        If I could get away with it, I would put people in classes based on when they arrived.

        Comment by thesecretdos | 27 Mar 2014

      • Really enjoyed the post, but it was the use of “litote” that really made my evening.

        Comment by Chris Ożóg | 07 Apr 2014

      • Which, ironically, is hyperbole! Thanks for the kind comments.

        Comment by thesecretdos | 07 Apr 2014

  3. So, your secretness. ELT is Heath Ledger and you are Julia Stiles. You will remember, of course, that she concludes….

    But most of all I hate the fact that I don’t hate you.
    Not even a little bit.
    Not even at all.

    Re No 7: Being told how to teach by somebody who hasn’t actually taught (in the gear-crunchingly dispiriting real world) for years. The gurus have ascended to a higher plane (or stage of CPD) and have managed what most teachers seem to want to do: get out of teaching.

    Comment by Jessica Mackay | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

    • How great! I do pop references without even realising! Thanks for illuminating me. Julia Stiles, eh?
      I like the idea of the gurus ascending…I thought that they’d ascended pretty far up…well…that they’d disappeared.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

  4. Oh God, I LOVE this. There isn’t a thing you hate that I don’t hate equally – but mostly the bloody gurus……way to go Secret DoS!

    Comment by Candy van Olst | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

  5. this post has nothing which you think ELT should have (e.g. rigour, scholarship, etc), and yet, it’s the best blog post I’ve read in months. I agree with most of what you say. I’ve just finished my bloody MA and in the concluding chapters of my dissertation (which probably only my supervisor will read) I cry for ELT to overcome its atheoretical nature and engage in interdisciplinary theory development…and be more serious about the knowledge it produces. …
    uff… don’t know what to do….

    Comment by Willy Cardoso | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

    • Congrats on finishing, Willy. I have 5 months of grueling research and writing to go–a task that definite seems designed to benefit me alone, if at all. Hopefully at all.

      Comment by Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) | 26 Mar 2014 | Reply

      • It will almost definitely benefit you. My fraud of an MA was written in the space of a week (after years of prevarication). The benefits started happening pretty much right after I had sent it off. Without the pressure of having to write, I became interested in a whole range of corollaries – the scientific method, getting to grips with what it means to know something, looking to research to lead practice, becoming more critical of what I was reading…and my hope is that these benefits are being put to good use now and slowly realigning the perceptions of others. Which is a grand hope and possibly a false one. But it means that I get on the train every morning instead of throwing myself under it.
        Hang in there, Tyson!

        Comment by thesecretdos | 27 Mar 2014

    • Perhaps this post has captured a pre-existing state of mind within the world of ELT…we have to hope! But if there is a demand for more rigour (both in our field and in the broader field of education) and scientific understanding is increasingly growing, perhaps…perhaps…there is hope?!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 27 Mar 2014 | Reply

  6. A marvellously-crafted piece of polemic has, not surprisingly, provoked some excellent responses already. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “I hate…” and I’m really enjoying the responses. Interesting that the gurus are getting most of the heat (quite right too, says I) and that there’s a faint voice whispering the value of doing an MA. I work on an MA in applied linguistics programme and can quite appreciate the criticisms voiced here. In reply, I’d say that an MA programme is as good as the student chooses to make it. I love Tyson’s comment “it means that I get on the train every morning instead of throwing myself under it”. That really rings some bells with me and the way I often felt in the nineties travelling towards my first class as the sun set behind the hills in Barcelona. Doing an MA helped a lot in getting my teaching mojo back.

    And yes indeed: FUCK THE BOOKS!!!

    Comment by geoffjordan | 27 Mar 2014 | Reply

    • Sorry; just realised that the Secret DOS made the get on, not throw oneself under, the train remark.

      Comment by geoffjordan | 27 Mar 2014 | Reply

  7. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

    Comment by teachingbattleground | 28 Mar 2014 | Reply

  8. […] thesecretdos ELT – Ten Things I Hate About You. Sometimes a title just ….. And what stopped me from […]

    Pingback by Random Things › ELT – <b>Ten Things</b> I Hate About You « The Secret DOS | 30 Mar 2014 | Reply

  9. […] To quote a favourite blogger of mine, The Secret DoS: […]

    Pingback by Forget about the price tag! | Lauraahaha | 01 Apr 2014 | Reply

  10. Wonderful. You had me at fuck the books

    Comment by smittenness | 03 Apr 2014 | Reply

  11. […] learning has been on my mind lately. After reading a post by the Secret DOS a few weeks ago, I began writing a response in support of coursebooks, at least to some degree. […]

    Pingback by AnthonyTeacher.com » Puppysteps to Dogme | 11 Apr 2014 | Reply

  12. Had a bad day, secretdos ?
    Try thinking about the poor bastards doing the teaching and having to put up with an unqualified DoS. Unqualified in the English language, unqualified in teaching the English language and unqualified as a DoS. They also like to bullshit the students into thinking they can pass FCE after 70 hours of lessons, even though the student is only at Elementary level.

    It’s all about making money and keeping people in jobs.

    Comment by CJ | 13 Apr 2014 | Reply

    • Believe me, I do think of the teachers – although I’m sure that they’d say it’s not always obvious. I am going to raise an eyebrow though at the idea of teachers having to put up with a struggling DOS. To be fair, I don’t think you need any of the qualifications you mention to be a good DOS: you need to be able to manage people (and part of that, as you point out, is that you need to be able to empathise with them). It’s never all about making money…or at least it should never be all about that.

      What I think is sometimes overlooked is that it is the teachers’ role to support and work with the DOS, just as much as it is the DOS’s job to support and work with the teachers. My next post is going to touch on this. In the end, no matter what happens, it is a team effort. And if the DOS is failing to hit the score, I’m sorry to say that I think that it is up to the teachers to work that bit extra to carry the project off. This may not be particularly fair and I would hope that a sympathetic senior management team (hehehehehehehe) would see what was going on and would intervene. The DOS is a more highly paid team member (usually) because s/he is ultimately responsible for making the team work. If it is failing to achieve its goals, the DOS is the first person who needs to be held accountable.

      I feel like I have just knotted my own noose…

      Comment by thesecretdos | 14 Apr 2014 | Reply

  13. Just one thing, it’s not course book writer’s fault. Publishing houses just won’t use anything that’s not written in the mould. They’ll directly tell you not to bother pitching book ideas, or they invite you to for show, then hire someone else who’ll write the same old thing for them.So you hope to get commissioned to write the same old thing too, while biding your time and working out how to take the whole thing over.
    Great post, natch; I’m halfway through writing something about language schools which now will seem more tame but then, of course, all the braver for being attached to my actual name:-)

    Comment by Nicola | 13 Apr 2014 | Reply

    • I agree – but only because I don’t see the point in ascribing fault to it all. The writers do have some responsibility, however. That’s not meant to be judgmental, just a statement of fact. Personally, I’d rather go unpublished than be involved in the murky world of coursebook writing, but this is very much my own decision and not meant to reflect on anyone else. These days with the growth of self-publishing, I would like to see writers (or possibly just teachers writing their own materials and sharing them. It would be great if all of the frustrated writers started putting out materials as they thought they should be. Under pen names if necessary!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 14 Apr 2014 | Reply

      • But hardly anyone would buy them. There needs to be a platform assuring quality first and then a way of getting schools to buy from there rather than the publishers. Materials in a piecemeal, lesson plan type way that is not going to be useful or cost effective.

        Comment by Nicola | 14 Apr 2014

      • I don’t disagree – but lots of good ideas fail to materialise because someone is pointing out how they wouldn’t work. In my head, I see the materials as starting out small scale (perhaps only with your classes/in your institution) and then getting developed over time. The point being that they will [probably] be successful if they are seen to work and there are enough “names” out there with “innovative” approaches to language teaching to guarantee a frisson of interest. How good would it be to see Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley put out a book that was purely lexical? I’d buy it!

        Comment by thesecretdos | 17 Apr 2014

      • Well then this is happening anyway. Check out English 360 for material you can subscribe too. And If hugh et al self published books they would be doing it on The Round – I believe there are methodology books there already. I wonder how their sales are going compared with via publishers. Also this means only Big Names would gain much success that way which is the same old Catch 22 as ever, so it would still mean cutting your teeth with the publishers. I can’t see another way for myself … but I reckon Russ Mayne might be able to , if anyone can, skip the jump and end up writing a pretty incredible book that people would buy. debunking and then providing evidence for methods that work.

        Comment by Nicola | 17 Apr 2014

      • Indeed – I’d buy that myself. There is definitely a tension between what sells and what works. And I get that for an author, what sells is always going to be a key indicator of how successful a book is. As I say, I don’t want to ascribe fault and blame; but there is a responsibility there.

        Comment by thesecretdos | 17 Apr 2014

  14. I work in public education and I have to say my hate for the ten things is as great as yours. Although my #1 hate is still reports.
    Because in my world: reports = effective teaching, reports = you have mastered this super-new thing the Ministry has decided you should do, reports = you are working like we pay you to!

    Comment by Lea | 13 Apr 2014 | Reply

    • I have absolutely no idea how reports slipped off my radar! That said, I remember reading Inside the Black Box some years ago and being impressed by Black and Wiliam’s argument that well-written reports would be better than quantitative scores or grades.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 14 Apr 2014 | Reply

      • Believe me, with the negative feelings us poor peons in public education have about reports, might as well call them Mother-Golden-Goose-Infinite-Beer-Machine and we’d revolt at the thought of them 🙂
        We had that for the first three years of schooling, by the way, reports instead of grades. didn’t work out all that well, mainly because parents weren’t really sure what the teacher was saying.

        Comment by Lea | 14 Apr 2014

      • A good point. Personally, I can’t understand the reports my kids bring home from school. They are performing at 5b and are expected to reach 6c??? It means nothing to me. I err on the side of caution and just tell the kids that they need to work harder 😉

        Comment by thesecretdos | 17 Apr 2014

  15. Yep. Come and let’s discuss it some more over beers / wine. x

    Comment by macappella | 13 Apr 2014 | Reply

    • That does sound tempting…

      Comment by thesecretdos | 14 Apr 2014 | Reply

      • What we need is a Tefl revolution!

        Comment by stephen | 15 Apr 2014

  16. […] vacation. But The Secret Dos always has things to say that are worth discussing, and this post “ELT-Ten Things I Hate About You” is no […]

    Pingback by Visualising Ideas - A comment on: ELT-Ten Things I Hate About You | 13 Apr 2014 | Reply

  17. I have a theory….I might have borrowed the principle from Ken Robinson’s talk…

    but…

    What if….back in the day that CELTA came into fruition….there was an actual need for English teachers who were in some way qualified. What if, there was a need (stemming from the rise of “communicative” methodologies of the day) for teachers who could actually help students to use the language, rather than “know about” the language…

    What if that context gave rise to both the CELTA course, and an exploding industry of EFL teachers?

    What if that context was no longer relevant. Where, back then, a CELTA meant you would be distinguished from other teaching candidates…but now, CELTA basically means you (at some point in your past) had enough money to pay the course fees and turn up to TP fully clothed…

    What if, the market (or process of commoditisation) was now saturdated….

    What would happen to the ELT industry if, suddenly, major schools (thinking of places like BC and IH) were to say…no…to work for us you now need to hold a mainstream education qualification, or degree in TESOL.

    What would happen to our world?

    Comment by James Pengelley (@HairyChef) | 14 Apr 2014 | Reply

  18. Reblogged this on and commented:
    If you don’t read it all, at least read this:

    I hate the fact that you and mainstream education don’t talk to each other.

    What is it with that? Did you meet Mainstream Pedagogy at a party and she laughed at your braces? Did she give you that look when you asked her to dance? Did she tell all her friends how you blurted out your secret love for her?

    No, you probably sat on the sidelines and sneered that you were too good for her. Well, let me tell you this: she’s too darned good for you, ELT. The world of education is a rich world of diversity that ELT seems to be oblivious of. And this is despite the fact that the vast majority of our practitioners are swimming in the waters of mainstream education. By this I mean that the vast majority of English language teachers are working within the conventional education system – not in grubby little sweatshops where they eke out enough to drink their troubles away at the weekend. Where the hell are the voices of these teachers within our literature?

    It seems to me [i.e. I may very well be wrong here] that the majority of us who write on ELT are working in the private sector or the quasi-private sector. Our training was almost uniquely CELTA/DELTA and we were trained by CELTA/DELTA trainers. They taught us about such things as theories about language acquisition and different types of syllabus. They didn’t teach us very much about classroom management, educational theory, rigorous research, the nature of learning, current educational debates. Why not? Because we teach in such a wide variety of contexts? That doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid. I work in a context that is radically different to most school teachers and yet I find their blogs, their reading lists and their reflections to be just the ticket.

    Where my colleagues are discussing how to make the dreary more palatable, the school teachers that I follow on Twitter are getting into a storm about whether to prioritise skills development over knowledge acquisition; about whether the progressive tradition is up its own arse; about the need to focus on behaviour management above all else; about the developments reaching us from the world of cognitive sciences.

    Why aren’t we having these debates more loudly?

    —-

    I hate the lack of academic rigour.

    Because, I’m sorry to say, most things that I read which are written about teaching English are not really written about teaching English. A lot of the blogs, and the webpages and the professional sites and the publications tend to be about how to disguise the teaching of English. You can click on a blog and find activities to use when watching a film, listening to a song, exploring website, reading a book, whatever. And it’s the same old stuff: gap fills, reordering, talk with a friend, find more out about…, summarise, listen and understand [great instructions!]. But there’s little discussion about what it means to teach reading or to teach listening or to teach speaking. Just activities. No discussion about their design; no discussion about the theoretical assumptions that they are based upon; no explanation for how filling in the gaps can help improve listening. It’s just mindless pap. Inspired by coursebooks…

    And what passes for educational research isn’t much better: my MA was woeful. The quality of research was dreadful, but I got the certificate (now lost). Just this morning, I was reading something that purported to be a piece of research into an aspect of ELT. it had been submitted for a DELTA assignment and it was no more than fanboy drivel. It was biased from the outset and…surprise surprise…the findings were pretty much in line with what the author had always believed anyway. What world is this? What kingdom? This kind of stuff is not rare in ELT, and the fact that it gets published or gets the award suggests that the standards are low. Of course, I may be suffering from what Daniel Kahnemann called the What You See Is All There Is bias. Because of the internet, the standards have dropped – anyone can publish any old crap (look at me!). I chose to do my MA at a reasonably-priced institution – it doesn’t follow that I would have got an MA from some of our more august institutes of higher education. But this is a polemic, and there’s little to be gained from being magnanimous and trying to see all sides of the issue.

    ***

    This is glorious. I’ve been trying all week to put together my frustration regarding those issues in a blog post, but never really managed to express myself correctly. Until I came across this. This and Russel Mayne’s talk in the IATEFL conference. (If you haven’t seen it yet (seriously?), please do.)

    Comment by acclopes84 | 14 Apr 2014 | Reply

  19. I’ve been thinking about the academic rigour thing, and it’s really made me wonder. It seems that one of the things that has been reiterated a lot since IATEFL is the idea that we need to be more critical about what we’re doing in the classroom and really KNOW why. I’d be interested in whether you think there are blogs/writers/books out there who are doing that, especially since I know I’m guilty of the ‘here are some ideas’ type of blogging. I’d like to add more justification/academic rigour to it, but I don’t really know where to start.
    Many of the other points chime as well, but that’s the one that I’ve been particularly coming back to.
    Sandy

    Comment by Sandy Millin | 15 Apr 2014 | Reply

    • I don’t think you should feel guilty for sharing ideas with your colleagues. My vitriol is directed more at the idea that activities are good because they are fun; the gold standard should be that they lead to understanding.

      In my woefully unhumble opinion, the blog par excellence that sought to deliver on understanding was Scott Thornbury’s A-Z (and many of his books). There are many other books out there, but they are often more obviously theoretical and it is up to the individual to shape the theory to their practice. As I type that, Zoltan Dornyei’s books strike me as relevant as well.

      Far be it from me to tell you how to go about anything, but the way I do it is to read books about how the brain works or how listening skills can be taught and then design activities around whatever I understand. Recently I have been reading a lot about the brain, about memory, about biases, etc. Consequently, there are a lot of memorisation tasks that I set for students in the class. I don’t blog about them because they are remarkably urbane and not much fun! Flashing up a paragraph on the IWB for a couple of minutes and getting students to rebuild it – it doesn’t have much to commend in the way of originality or being engaging. But it is built around the ideas that students can be shown the value of chunking, that the brain can assimilate longer stretches of language that it has understood in context and which it has made an effort to store in its memory banks. I give students mini-lectures on embodied cognition and the importance of gesture and the surrounding environment when they are learning. I am a complete bore.

      Similarly, I read Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C and started thinking about what it might mean to my students. Since then, I have focused on rhetorical style when teaching about putting together a presentation or when writing an essay. I have gone off and read up on rhetoric and am toying with the ideas of structuring a syllabus around cultural knowledge (my students had never even heard of The Beatles, let alone Yellow Submarine!).

      This isn’t academically very rigorous. I don’t know *if* these activities work; but I can provide a detailed rationale for including them…and, indeed, I think that the rationale is a vital part of the activity: otherwise people might just do it without understanding why they are doing it.

      The academic rigour would come in gathering data and trying to see if the activities worked. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not there yet!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 17 Apr 2014 | Reply

      • Thanks for such a detailed reply.
        I agree that Scott’s posts were very well-referenced and clear. I feel like what you said in your third paragraph is what I’m aiming for now post-Delta, and I feel I can justify what I’m doing a lot more. It’s just a shame that it took me five years of teaching to get to that stage – it should be something we’re introduced to as part of our initial training, and take with us throughout our teaching.
        Looking forward to seeing what happens if and when you manage to start gathering data!

        Comment by Sandy Millin | 17 Apr 2014

      • How true, Sandy! But if it is any consolation, it probably took m some fifteen years before I saw the light!

        Comment by thesecretdos | 18 Apr 2014

  20. I’d be really interested to see a class of yours that had mixed levels of learners who arrived on the same day. One or two who can’t say hi, how are you, another few who are intermediate and a few who were advanced. A two hour class perhaps. How would that be for the beginners who were listening to the others? How would you begin?

    Comment by JD | 28 Apr 2014 | Reply

    • Hi Jayne
      We actually had this class last year. Seven new students turned up about a week before we had a Secret Shuffle and moved all of the students into new “levels”. Rather than place the new students only to re-place them at the end of the week, we had an Induction class for a week. The students came in for four hours a day. Admittedly, all of the students were able to say, “Hi. How are you?” In my experience, there are few people on the planet who are not capable of this.

      The lessons followed a hastily put together syllabus that introduced students to each other, to the centre, to the city and to the country. We began by getting the students to talk about themselves and each other. We supported the weaker students by modifying the materials that they were given – I’m quite lazy, so the ONLY materials that I used were at this level; the slightly stronger students and the much stronger students were given nothing in class and expected to write down anything that they wanted. They were given texts etc to take away and read.

      At times in the class, the weakest students were given fairly low level things to do – punctuate a text, mark stresses, copy down sentences, circle verbs etc. While they were doing this, the stronger students were set different tasks using the same texts – identify clauses, replace words, underline chunks, etc.

      The students seemed very happy together. There was a real sense of (comm)unity to the class and -tellingly- it was a class that the teachers enjoyed teaching. And why not? Who says that things are better when the level of difficulty is carefully scaled to the perceived ability of The Group? Perhaps it is the difficulty that pushes learning on, not the adjustment to “level’? This would certainly seem to be in keeping with findings from educational psychology.

      My kids are bilingual and study the language that they are bilingual in at school. You can probably imagine how low the level of the class is. The rest of the students are just beginning to learn the language; my 11 year old has just done his GCSE in the language and is expected to get an A* (heaven help him if he doesn’t…). A nightmare situation for many teachers; and you’d imagine that it is a bit of a nightmare for my kids as well? No – they help the other kids, they work on improving their spelling, they get a little bored from time to time, they thrive on the games and the community of the class. It’s weird.

      I think the challenge facing EFLers is to reprogram their minds and the minds of students. It’s a perception thing. Once you accept that levels are not strictly necessary (and may actually impede progress), they become so and you find solutions to the challenge. It’s a big re-frame, but -like everything else- it is possible!

      Comment by thesecretdos | 20 May 2014 | Reply

  21. […] I work with people who have degrees, postgraduate degrees and years of experience in many different contexts. Some of them have families and mortgages. Some of them are employed on zero hours contracts – which means we pay them for the hours we get them to teach, but there our relationship ends. We have no commitment to them, we pay them a starting salary that is marginally higher than what an unqualified school teacher earns in the UK and we never increase this. We are not the most exploitative company that exists. The Secret DOS […]

    Pingback by Who’s the Wolf in ELT? | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis | 01 May 2014 | Reply

  22. Glorious post – hopefully it will rock the Dickensian house of TEFL, and give its Miss Havishams and Mr. GuruGrinds pause for thought.

    Sandy Millin mentioned the word ‘critical’ which is exactly the word missing from mainstream ELT – and this is why blog posts like this are so refreshing compared to the bland pap we’re drowning in.

    The word ‘critical’ is also sadly lacking, IMO, from the mainstream institutions of TEFL, who are far too connected to circuits of coursebooks and capitalism to examine their own activities and their contribution to precarization and deskilling. Every time you try to criticise one of these institutions they claim ‘But we’re just doing good work!’ – although the truth is they are legally bound to do charitable work by law, otherwise they would not be allowed to exist as institutions.

    And I’m not talking about critical thinking as ‘automatic gainsaying’ but more the classical function of critical thought – as questioning assumptions – and also Passmore’s idea of critico-creative thinking (Passmore 1967).

    Great post!

    Comment by paulwalsh | 24 Mar 2016 | Reply


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