The Bridge- a warm welcome

So  a Warm Welcome to our Bridge students from Seinan-Jo

The words “warm welcome” might get a little tired over the coming months. It seems we have a number of new groups joining us over the summer.

Today is a special one though as it was the first day of a new course. So we are all doing something new.

The ‘bridge’ course is a flexible experience based learning opportunity that allows Winchester to offer a study of a length that matches academic periods outside the UK. Students work in small groups to research, plan and lead each other through excursions guided and supported, rather than led by and directed by teachers.

Photo: JB

Photo: JB

Today, Pip helped everyone set up their blogs. We talked about the difference between saving work and publishing it. We also talked about Winchester, (and not Winchester) followed by a walking tour of our campus and the town centre.

We explored and bought our own bus passes. We saw the round table, cathedral, weirs walk, city mill, boardwalk, and butter cross. We also managed to do a bit of shopping for a few things we needed.  We might go back tomorrow to get more.

Here’s King Arthur’s round table.

Photo: E Koyanagi

Photo: E Koyanagi

Everyone was delighted to discover the range of food available in Winchester.

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St George

Today is St George’s Day (not st Georges’ day. <<‘St’ is short for saint but in this case both it and ‘day’ are part of the proper noun so need capitalisation, and there is only one saint George to which this day is dedicated.>> Don’t worry this isn’t a Grammar rant.)

You probably all know the story of the knight who goes out and slays a Dragon, well that’s George. Hopefully, this will got at least part way to explaining some of the costumes. (Some people will wear almost anything for almost any reason) If you’re looking for something to do, there’s lots.

St George is the patron saint of England and gives the British flag the upright red cross. He is one of the most martial saints and was perhaps chosen as the patron because of this. He is not uniquely English. He is one of two patron saints of both Venice and Barcelona, and is patron of some 60 odd other things. I wonder if this makes him the busiest saint?

We of course now have a Prince George as well.

What is “good”? What is “good enough”?

This morning I bumped into the University of Winchester Student Union’s incoming International Students Officer. We talked about marks and how grades are measured and perceived differently in different educational contexts. This made me think about a question that comes up time and again; “how do you know when something is good; can you tell if it is good enough?”

The first assignment I got back at my first UK University was a bit of a disappointment, 62% both my prior Universities 60% was a pass. I was happy I didn’t have to resubmit, but I had thought the work was better than only just passing. I was learning a lot from the course and that was my main motivation but I felt I’d applied my learning better than that.

In the UK at undergraduate levels 40% is the standard pass mark. I found this out while about 2 weeks after my first assignment came back. In Canada my average was normally somewhere around (or approaching) 80%, not the highest in most of my classes but respectably good. In the UK 80% is almost unheard of. In four years at The University of Winchester, (working across 2 faculties), I’ve heard of only two or three assignments getting over 80, usually when the student had produced something that completely exceeded the requirements while meeting the specifications exactly. Something that might earn an 83% at Winchester might earn a 98% under the marking guidelines at North American Universities. Exchange students need not worry, (or celebrate) there are recognised equations for working out how marks earned under one system transfer to another.

However, this can still gloss over what constitutes good work. For that you need to go to the grade descriptors and advice for that assignment and follow the style guide set out for your subject. For example, and in very general terms, in the UK, the internet can supplement your research but most of your sources should be published academic sources.

One of the interesting parallels is that in both systems the (overwhelmingly vast majority of) marks fell in a 40% window, (60%-100% in North America and 40%-80% in the UK).

There has been some discussion here about shifting to a banded system. A 1st (currently 70-80% 80%+ being a “higher first”) would be broken into bands perhaps top/middle/lower, meaning that there would be about 15 possible marks for a piece of work (as opposed to 100). It has been suggested that this might speed up marking allowing students to get feedback faster. It also brings in a second system of marking. At British universities the best marks are called “firsts”, then “2.1” (say two-one), “2.2”, “3rd” and of course fail. The argument to use percentages is that they provide more detail. If Paula wants to get a 2.1 in her degree, it might help her to know if her work is almost 2.1, just 2.1 or comfortably 2.1.

In many countries letters are used for marks. A B C (D) (E) and F for failure Sometimes adding I for incomplete, meaning that the student has not submitted enough work to fail. But, as the comic shows the meaning of these grades can be subjective. What is an A? One of my teachers would only give one A on any one assignment, (usually to the same 2-3 people, or so it seemed). What if everybody in the class did brilliantly? I’ve seen other situations where between 1/3 and half the class had an A, as a matter of policy. So the letters are no less arbitrary, probably why D and E had to be in brackets above, the letters are so arbitrary because nobody has really decided how many to use. Some systems use numbers to group grades 1-7 seems common in parts of Europe, but wait is 1 or 7 the top? Does a 2 (or a 6) fail just not as badly?

That brings me to the “bell-curve” model of marking. This comes out of the observation that statistically grades, along with almost everything else follow a fairly standard distribution. This by itself is fine, but when the best 5% of a class get an A even if the work is only OK and the worst 5% fail even if the work is OK. This I feel is taking the science of statistics too far. A practice that is closely related to this is to place students and work within centile bands. This makes a certain sense when trying to compare performance against national standards based tests. However, within classes or even schools this practice can obscure what is important.

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

Is it good?

and

Is it good enough?

Every year a few students have to rewrite one of their assignments for me, sometimes it is technical things that stop them from passing; sometimes they are bad; and sometimes its good work but not answering the question as set. (My first year at Winchester I got a really good poetry paper, well it was a really good paper and it was analysing the poetic elements of the set text, the problem is I teach linguistics.) Every year somebody tries to fix one or two little things and resubmit the essentially flawed piece of work again, to fail again. The issue is they have stopped trying for “good” and are only trying for “good enough”. This is an issue across many education systems. As the gate keepers to “good” jobs, universities are seen more as a thing to get past and less as an opportunity to learn.

If you try for “good” you will almost certainly go past “good enough”. If however you aim for “good enough” you need to remember that marks are arbitrary, the whole system is. You need to be careful, and understand the marking process and assignment requirements very well, or you might find trying for “good enough” is not “good enough”. If you submit the best work you can produce, you are living up to your potential; if you submit something just to get past the course you are treating University like the passport queue at the airport.

An A-Z connected with spring & flowers.

A: ‘April showers bring May flowers’ is part of an old rhyme for teaching children the order of the months.

B: ‘Blossom’ this is another word for flower really, blossom is especially well associated with fruiting trees, such as apple, cherry and orange trees.

‘Bluebell’ these flowers tend to grow in deciduous woodland, coming out before the leaf cover is too dense for much sunlight to filter to the forest floor.

‘Bouquet’ this can refer to the scent of a flower or to a bunch of them.

C: ‘Cherry Blossom’ traditionally a sign of spring in Haiku and Japanese culture.

‘Crocuses’ often one of the first flowers and ranging in colour from deep purple to white and lavender to (occasionally) yellow.

crocuses

D: ‘Daffodils’ these yellow trumpet-shaped flowers are often among the first, this year seeks to be especially good for them.

E: ‘Edelweiss’ this white alpine flower grows only at high altitudes.

F: ‘Flower’ what this whole post is about, but it can also be used allegorically. At Agincourt ‘the flower’ of the French knighthood fell to the English longbows, this means the majority or even the best part of them.

G: ‘Goldenrod’ a bright yellow flowers, a meadow plant, some people sneeze a lot around these flowers.

H: ‘Hellebore’, these flowers have unusual colours, sometimes being the same green as their leaves, other colours range from deep dark purple to pale lavender.

Hellebore

‘Hawthorn’ was blooming all the way from York to Winchester on the train this week. It always makes me think of David Hockney.

I: ‘Indigo’ a vibrant blue flower often used as a pigment or dye, hence the colour name as well.

J: ‘Judas Tree’ these rich pink blossoms come out well before the leaves on the same tree, hence the name.

K: ‘Good King Henry’ a mild tasting British herb, often used in soups but not particularly common, or well-known any more.

L: ‘Lavender’ ranges in colour from a light lavender to a purple hue, these shrubs are strongly scented and lavender is often used for the smell.

M: ‘Magnolia’, another flowering tree, ranging from white to pale pink, often used as a paint colour.

N: ‘Narcissi’ is the Latin name for daffodils.

O: ‘Orange Blossom’ often used as a scented water, these white flowers, come before the fruit of the same name.

Orange Blossom

P: ‘Pollen’, the dust from flowers, sometimes causing hay fever and sneezing, other times staining or even used as a dye, and occasionally even used as flavouring.

‘Petal’ the individual pieces of the flower the petals are often the brightest, these thin sheets of colourful material typically surround the centre of the flower.

Q: ‘Quince’ this flowering shrub can be eaten, in the UK traditionally appearing as a jelly on summer cheese boards.

R: ‘Rose’ Shakespeare said ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ Romeo and Juliet.

S: ‘Saffron’ a floral flavour, worth more than its weight in gold, it also dyes food yellow.

‘Snowdrops’ a small white flower typically one of the first to come out , often while there is still snow on the ground.

T: ‘Tomatoes’ we normally think of the red (or yellow, green, orange) fruit of these plants but as with most plants the flowers come first, typically white or yellow in colour.

U: ‘Umbrella Magnolia’ is a type of magnolia, yes I’m cheating just a little, but I’ve doubled up above.

V: ‘Violet’ another plant used as a dye that lends its name to the lighter shades of purple that its flowers share.

W: ‘Weeds’ are only ‘Wildflowers’ growing in the wrong place.

X: I could put in several plants here but I’d have to use the Latin names to include any UK natives that I can think of, again I’ve got two or more entries under several letters above.

Y: ‘Ylang Ylang’ a yellow flower found on the tree/shrub of the same name, popularised in the west for its alternative medicinal properties and in aromatherapy.

Ylang Ylang

Z: ‘Zinnia’ flowering in late summer zinnias range from yellow orange to reds.

All images sourced from Wikimedia.

The final entry, IATEFL 2014

 

The following was written on a cross country train from York to Winchester, yesterday. I’ve been slow posting it…. sorry things have been busy.

As I write this, IATEFL is still going on as I write, but my time there is over. I’m headed back to Winchester for an MA day tomorrow; in fact I’ll probably post this from there this evening. So in honor of my last day at IATEFL (Thursday) I’ll work in reverse order.

The end of my IATEFL had a distinctly Cambridge feel, all the last 3 speakers were sponsored by Cambridge English.

 

Akile Nazim presented on “Preparing Students for and Academic Presentation” action research conducted at the University of New South Wales.

Things that will stick with me from this:

Summative (marked) feedback often goes unheeded.

Formative feedback needs to be as immediate as possible so learners can feed-forward as opposed to looking back.

Short/intensive courses need a higher degree of assessment focus.

Reflection works best when done both regularly and frequently.

 

Annette Capel spoke on helping students move from B2 to C1 and some of the specific structures and phrases that these, (and other) levels evidence.

Lots to take away here:

Affixation can multiply vocabulary size.

Between C1 and B2 learner’s motivations tend to become more focused and vital.

Be descriptive when thinking about language, not prescriptive. (AKA what is said not what would I say.)

Good work often goes a little beyond or at least too the upper limit. (not just barely to the lower limit).

Language acquisition, especially grammar, is a slow process.

The top 2000 or so words make up 80% of most texts, but phrasal combinations can confuse the ‘simple’ meanings of these words.

 

Mike Macarthy’s talk focused on collocation and the learner.

Interestingly the idea of collocation came out of Soviet Russia, despite it’s undeniable utility in describing the English language.

But, even at very high levels there are some odd collocation slips in non-native discourse.

Delexical verbs, perhaps because the verb has lost much of it’s meaning, are often used in unusual ways. Why do we ‘make a mistake’ as opposed to *’do a mistake’ or *’give a mistake’?

Binomial word order, particularly irreversible binomials are another area. We tend to say ‘knife and fork’, ‘horse and cart’ and ‘black and white’ and not *’fork and knife’, *’cart and horse’ and *’white and black’.

Lastly the habit, produced from corpora, of redundant glossing of near synonyms. *’business company’ *’stench smell’ *’railway train’ etc.

 

Moving out of my Cambridge phase now.

 

Olwyn Alexander spoke on the need to re-conceptualize plagiarism.

She observed that plagiarism is not always well defined and understood, needs to be viewed as contextual, and can be an opportunity for learning.

Scholarship, (as an opposite of plagiarism) involves taking a stance while being aware of (and perhaps acknowledging) other views. It reflects your own voice and demonstrates your academic integrity, knowledge and reading.

A community of practice model, where the expectations of novices may not meet or align with that of the community, but those novices are supported with their engagement of appropriate scholarship is more positive, and perhaps effective, than teaching the negative “plagiarism as theft” model.

 

Suzanne Vetter-M’caw spoke on ‘Testing Nativeness’ There are a number of controversial issues at work here and the phrase ‘native’ is often hotly debated in language teaching and testing circles.

One idea coming out here was whether or not nativeness needs a new descriptor in the CFER model, C3 or D1 perhaps.

Again it was underlined that ‘native’ speakers (who or whatever they may be) do not speak grammatically perfectly, nor can they comfortably and without hesitation speak about specialized fields and subjects with which they are not familiar.

All highly proficient speakers can: rapidly adapt and adopt new terminology when glossed; use a variety or appropriate repair strategies to enhance communication; can comfortably and fluently speak about a wide range of topics… etc.

 

Moving further back into the morning I now have a number of talks supported by the British Council.

 

Paul Woods’s talk on tele-presence in Uruguayan schools reported on the progress of a fascinating project, the massive remote learning model via video link supported by Uruguay. While not directly connected to our context at Winchester there were two things that apply wholly.

You can learn with other learners, co-constructing knowledge is just as effective (in some cases perhaps more) as engaging with an expert.

Evaluate what you are doing, stage by stage. Regular reflection of this sort allows you to refocus your learning.

 

Adam Knightly, (British Council); Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (Coventry University) spoke about their survey of academic writing, across levels, disciplines and institutions.

They found 13 broad genres and 5 main reasons for writing.

When researching engagement they found it necessary to ‘meet students where they are’.

There is frequently a gap, both temporal and cognitive between the materials used to teach academic writing and the most current cutting edge ideas.

For those of us working in a support context we need to provide value for every item to the students using them. This, while phrased rather differently, supports my own research findings in working on the content and in the context that concerns the individual being supported.

 

This ends my IATEFL blog, at least for 2014. It as always has been a fantastic learning experience and an opportunity to meet and discuss with others working in the field that is invaluable to any profession.

 

Blogging IATEFL day one.

The plenary was delivered by David Gradol, personally something of a mystery man as his introduction included a birthday harvested from Wikipedia.

The two things that will stick with me here are:

That jobs are now requiring lots of people with fairly low levels of English and a few with very high levels. It seems to be increasingly unlikely that you’ll find many jobs advertised demanding intermediate levels of English.

Increasingly the demand for ever more English teachers will, in-fact already is in decline. Based purely on numbers this isn’t good news for my friends who are teacher trainers. But, when combined with the increasingly professionalised market place, with more teachers having relevant degrees like English Language etc. This will mean teachers stay in the market longer, further reducing the demand for new teachers.

 

The first talk I went to was Rachel Appleby’s ‘Adult learners helping them clear the hurdle.

Lots of good solid reminders here about what good language teaching involves. Some of the ones that jump out are:

Students need safe and free practice, so when you practice your English make sure you do so somewhere and with someone who you feel safe. Even if this means spending sometime in your second language with a fellow native of your first language. (Yes this feels weird, but only at first.)

Language is (or at least can be) fun, try to have fun with it, play games with and in language.

When students ‘plateau‘ they need a push and focus to break through this stage. So if you find you are not getting better, think about why, analyse it, and give yourself a push… or get someone to push you. As a teacher this is helpful to remember, we want our students to feel safe (see above) but we occasionally need to give them a push.

 

Next was my own talk on our EAP support at Winchester.

Followed by Elidih Singh’s presentation of support at the University of British Columbia

 

Shaun Wilden’s session on using tablets was refreshing, the key things that stick in my mind are:

It’s still teaching. If you can’t manage a class with tablets… they you probably couldn’t manage them without.

Spend time and evaluate the apps you are using, or might be using, do this one app at a time. (I think this one might be about tablets in general not just in the classroom.)

 

 

My next session was Jill Hadfield’s workshop based on her research into the principals that inform materials writers.

Similar to many things the principals that underpin an exercise, or even a whole series of books may not be overt, this does not mean that they are not there.

Materials writers often get very restrictive briefs from publishers, these may frame, constrain or even negate some of the writer’s principals.

A person may do something intuitively, and need to reflect before they can identify/explain the principals that lie behind that action/choice/piece of work.

Most published (and perhaps even finished) material is underpinned by many sets of principals, they may overlap nicely in many cases but omission from one set of principals does not necessarily mean negation of that idea in another set of principals.

 

My last session from yesterday was Damian Williams Don’t Believe in Fairy Tales: critical thinking in teacher development.

Some great things here, but the two that really jump out (and apply to everyone) are:

Be aware! – of language, its meaning, usage (including formality) form, and pronunciation (if spoken).

Be curious! – question everything, take nothing as given.

 

Then in the evening we went to the Harrogate Spa to relax and unwind.

Blogging IATEFL

This week James is off in Yorkshire, attending a conference. Here’s the first of his updates.

Yesterday, inauspiciously, was the pre-conference event day for IATEFL.

This year we’re in the spa town of Harrogate.

This year I attended the ESP SIG. No, I’m not psychic and I didn’t start today thinking I was. “ESP” stands for English for Specific Purposes,  and includes English for Academic Purposes. “SIG” means special interest group. This is a group of people coming from at least four continents (and that’s just the subset I spoke to) who work with English but with a specific target in mind, be in preparation for a University degree, working as a doctor or a dentist, or any other specialized sub-set of the English language.

This meant spending a long day in the cellar of the HIC (Harrogate International Centre), a pity considering the weather.

There are a couple of things that will stick with me from the sessions.

One the incredible diversity and range of contexts that ESP covers. At it’s most literal this is everything you decide/choose to learn how to do in English. In practice, we don’t spend much time teaching people to juggle in ESP sessions. (I’d be hopeless as all I managed to do while trying to juggle was hit myself under the chin with a skittle.) We’ve heard from people focused: on distance education, (traditional, web-based and TV); media studies projects; a self confessed dictionary geek; and this is obscuring the fact that this was a room of experts, so many people had their own views and ideas.

The second is the demands of teaching in these contexts. Normally, the person teaching pilots English won’t be a pilot. But, this is, at least for me part of the attraction of this kind of activity the range of fields we, as teachers, get to experience through the expertise of our students. This is both humbling and incredibly motivating. The sentence that came up again and again seemed to be we learn from our students.