Tony Gurr

Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

Is the Global Scale of English (GSE) Really the “Love-Child” of Lucifer and Empusa?

In Assessment, Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning on 23/10/2017 at 6:41 pm

Love Child

Unless you have been living under a rock (in the Nevada desert…close to Area 51) for the last couple of years, you will have noticed a ‘new kid’ playing in the ELT Learning Outcomes (LO) sandbox…


The Global Scale of English (GSE) came into this world, kicking and screaming…with ten fingers and ten toes, in 2014-15. The Pearson GSE Team described the ‘delivery’ as long and painful – but well worth the time, effort and money they had invested (and ask the CEFR Team – that’s just the tip of the iceberg) to co-create the world’s first ‘truly global English language standard’.

The CEFR, which had done much to put learning-driven curricular on the map for us, was essentially an EU initiative – and it was just a matter of time before someone picked up the ball and helped spread the word to our friends across the pond and down-under!

The BLUE Books (both of them) 2

Pearson’s stated ambition was to allow learners to measure their progress accurately and easily (like the CEFR – whose stated goal was to help learners take real ownership of their own learning…hence the whole CAN-DO thingy – this was about what learners CAN DO not what teachers WILL TEACH).

CEFR and GSE Aims


The GSE Team took this a step further and was also seeking a way to help learners answer 3 simple questions:

  • How good is my English?

  • Am I progressing?

  • What do I need to do next?

The questions are simple! The answers…not so much!


Now, I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of the GSE (you can explore this here and the other hotlinks – the red links – below).

GSE LO Booklets 2

Suffice to say…not too shabby – a very useful project (for students)!


Pearson even went so far as to create an on-line GSE Teachers Toolkit to help schools ‘audit’ their curriculum outcomes and syllabi and create their own sets of learning outcomes (LOs)…from a huge array of learning outcomes for YLs, EAP / EGAP students, ESP learners and folk interested in General English (whatever that might be)!

Oh, and did I mention that all this was OPEN-SOURCE and…

Free (hanging labels-red) 2



I have to admit I fell in love with this chubby, little baby as soon as I saw her…and I watched her grow as she began to play with Grammar and Lexical learning outcomes, too.

She’s not quite there with those ones…but she is making rapid progress and Pearson’s better use of research, corpora and technology suggests she’ll get there soon…inşallah!


Now, you might ask ‘why’…why I grabbed her rosy, little cheeks and said I just wanna eat you all up’!

Well, in my work I spend a lot of time working with schools on Curriculum Renewal initiatives. Back in the bad, old days…I would spend months helping teachers learn how to write Learning Outcomes (LOs).

The teachers I was working with would also spend hours sending me ‘hate-mail’…saying things like:

  • I am not qualified to do this…

  • This is killing me…I just can’t cope…

  • All this is wasting my time…I just want to be in the classroom…

I felt many of these ‘pains’, I did!


However, I recognised that many teachers:

  • Had fallen into the ‘trap’ of textbook-driven teaching…

  • Were running lessons that were little more than activity-based or content-driven classroom ‘TO-DO’ checklists…

  • Lacked the curriculum and assessment ‘literacy’ to design the type of lessons that linked clear outcomes to effective learning opportunities…

Yani, many teachers were not doing the type of things they wanted to do (deep down…in their heart of hearts)…they were not using the creativity they had…and were (frequently) getting more and more frustrated (and burned out) by this.



Using the GSE outcomes allowed me to jump-start the Curriculum Renewal process and help teams focus on the high priority areas for their syllabi, help them focus on a Curriculum Planning model that made more sense (than textbook page-turning…like a burger-flipper at McDonalds) and focus on planning better lessons.

In a nutshell, using the GSE helped teachers develop their curriculum and assessment literacy levels – and helped them ‘TAKE a curriculum PERSPECTIVE’ (rather than simply just ‘HAVING a PERSPECTIVE on curriculum’).

That is:

  • Take a clearer position on the power of Learning Outcomes (LOs)


  • ‘Walk-their-talk’ more when planning, designing and reflecting on the lessons they create


Now, maybe I was being a bit naïve…I looked at the GSE as a tool and I used it to help people I work with!

After playing lots of ‘familiarisation games’ with GSE descriptors (often with a bit of mild competition), we’d brainstorm the most effective ways to assess these descriptors and gather evidence that our students CAN, in fact, DO this stuff fluently and automatically. We wrapped up these sessions by planning ‘mini-lessons’ describing how we could help our students get there.

Backwards Lesson Planning 2

It was this last phase, the mini-lesson planning – done collaboratively, that began to put smiles back on teachers faces. As they shared ideas, critiqued the order and sequence of activities and input and double-checked they were ‘hitting’ the correct LOs and eliciting the best evidence they could…they realised they could use all that creativity they have inside!

This is ‘real’ PDTeacher LearningReflective PracticeI remember thunking to meself!


Hey, and did I say…it is OPEN-SOURCE and…

Free (hanging labels)


However, and as usual, there is always a BIG…



Pretty soon, I began to realise all was not well in the state of Denmark and the sandbox our GSE baby was playing in!


I started to see some less than positive reviews of the GSE coming out on social media and blogs – some of them before most people had even had the chance to work out what the GSE was…let alone review the draft LOs that were coming out!

Some of these were linked to the advance of ‘learnification’ in education. To be honest, I still really do not get this (how the bloody hell can more of a focus on learners and learning possibly be ‘a bad thing’…maybe, I’m just really thick)!

LEARNing Quote 01 (Steve)


The name-calling also began early on with GSE being referred to as ‘the Son of CEFR Frankenstein Reanimated’ (my use of Empusa is much smarter!)…and built on the views of some that the CEFR has been indiscriminately exported for use in standards-based education and assessment in non-European contexts (Fulcher, 2010) and has reduced diversity and experimentation in pedagogy and research (Davies, 2008). Geoff Jordon, whose views I usually have a lot of time for, expanded on this and suggested that Pearson’s ‘Grand Vision’ is one of world domination, sorry Geoff, ’standardised everything’.

Illuminati and GSE

Again, a lot of this is pure speculation (by CEFR and GSE ‘outsiders’) fuelled by what can only be described by a conspiracy theory orientation.

Besides, I have always found that it is schools and school administrators that are more obsessed with ‘standardisation’ – falsely assuming that if teachers cover the same pages (at the same time), students will ‘learn’ the same amount! Teachers, for their part, are often terrified of being seen not to follow their ‘pacing guides’ or ‘weekly plans’ (to the letter, page or activity) and come to believe that ‘standardisation’ is the best way to ‘cover-their-own-arse’ – just in case something is on the test!

Nothing could be further from the truth…students do not learn more because we standardise ‘inputs’ and any publisher worth their salt knows they can sell more (or at least curry favour with teachers) by promoting creative use of textbooks and materials and ideas to personalise activities and textbook tasks.


Gunpoint (cat)

The bottom line is that no one can be ‘forced’ to adopt the tools or materials offered by Pearson – free will (and after-sales service) play a much bigger role in the creation of real-world book lists and school adoptions than these commentators know. The truth of the matter is that schools themselves do more of the arm-twisting…and end up harming the morale and motivation of both their teachers and students in the process!

The other criticism that has been raised is that of the ‘granular’ nature of the GSE. This is true but it is this very fact that makes the GSE a more ‘precise scale of proficiency’. A key ‘weakness’ of the CEFR ‘levels’ was that they were not ‘granular’ enough (this is why feedback from teachers…yes, I said teachers…not publishers, led to the addition of the A2+, B1+, B2+ levels).

If students, as the CEFR originally envisioned, are to take more control of their own learning and the very language they are engaging with, they need ‘granular’they need accessiblethey need transparent!

This is what the GSE has done…


Thinkers wanted (blog ver 02 TG)

Unlike many of ELT’s ‘blue bloods’, I read…a great deal! I totally get the criticisms from SLA experts that suggest that:

  • ‘CAN-DO‘ outcomes may not evolve in the way the CEFR and GSE describe them

  • Many current LOs in the CEFR and GSE are not as ‘meaningful’ as they could be

  • We do not have the corpora to link grammar and lexis to the various levels and scales we are using

  • ELT (and educational sciences in general) needs to prioritise evidence-based practice (not Eminence-Based EDUmyths from EDUquacks)

However, teaching is as much an art as it should be a science. Sadly, we are not quite there with the science…


Now, some of you might say, “Tony, you naïve little boy! Wake up, smell the coffee and see that ELT has become an industry dominated by Illuminati-type publishers”!

Blog Post (Curric Pt 02) Image 05 230717

I haven’t got time to worry about imaginary threats of world domination. Like everything on the planet (except God…and my darling wife), nothing is perfect.


Yes, Pearson is a huge company…that wants to make money (nothing wrong with that – I am the same…need to put bread on the table for my family and in my dog’s bowl) – but there are so many challenges we face as teacher educators:

Most of us work in the real world where we face very real problems:

  • Schools and universities operating without a ‘written curriculum’ – and extremely low levels of curriculum and assessment literacy (even among school leaders)

  • Teachers with little real, practical classroom training (even after graduating from an Education Faculty) blindly using textbooks

  • Testing Teams inflicting unfair and unreliable tests on students

  • Students unprepared to take responsibility for their own learning – because schools and teachers do not ‘walk’ their student-centred ‘talk’

I could go on…YOU could add to this, I’m sure!


GSE Tools (more the better)

We need all the help (and tools) we can get our hands on! And, I repeat again, no one is being forced to adopt the GSE (just like no one was forced to adopt the CEFR, the Communicative Approach or Task-Based Learning)!

They are simply ‘tools’tools to be exploited as we see fit or dismissed.


By the way, did I mention that not all of us are as well-paid as our colleagues in Finland and when we are given an open-source ‘gift’…we should:

Blog Post (Curric) Image 02 220717

…and say ‘Thank You’!


Telling the truth (TG ver) 080517

I do not work for Pearson. I have not been paid to produce this post (I earn nothing from any of my bouts of bloggery).

However, I do work with Pearson (as a training and consulting partner) and Pearson do sponsor some of my work with their key clients and, occasionally, I do support those clients with a keynote or seminar at a conference.

In all these duties, I am never required to engage in any form of product placement – I work in the best interests of the schools, teams and teachers that choose to work with Pearson.


LEARNing to Cope with Exams (Guest Post from Laurence Raw)

In Adult Learners, Assessment, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities on 24/07/2013 at 3:04 pm

Assessment (David Boud quote) Ver 02


Many learners from all over Europe will have taken exams this summer; the results might yet not be known.  My fourteen-year-old niece had this experience, and unfortunately she did not do so well.  I realized that the results bore little or no relationship to her intellectual capabilities; she obtained a poor grade on account of what might be termed TESTaphobia.  As I listened to her, I recalled my days at school and university, when I was so scared of exams that I used to imagine myself suffering from chest pains, so that I could go to hospital and obtain some kind of tranquillizers.


I read recently that British Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted that “exams matter because motivation matters … Human beings are hard-wired to seek out challenges … the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning”

But what if the need to jump that hurdle prevents learners from achieving success?  What happens to those whose wires are configured in different ways, and might need to discover alternative means of achieving “further endeavours and deeper LEARNing?”  Many websites offer advice as to how to deal with this condition (by learning from experiences, devising a realistic revision schedule, taking time off or relaxing), but they’re actually missing the point.


Assess Lit 03

The only way to change attitudes towards exams is to change the LEARNing cultures in which they take place.  Learners have to understand that passing exams is not simply about “clearing a hurdle,” but rather providing an opportunity for them to express what they have learned.  Educators should help them to approach an exam in a positive frame of mind; rather like an actor giving a performance in front of the camera, they need to perform to the best of their ability.  And even if they do not do as well as they should, exams are not the be-all and end-all of their educational lives; what matters more is that they should feel they have achieved their own personal goals through the courses that they have taken.


Assidere (original meaning) Ver 02


Perhaps it’s time to go back to first principles; to understand that any program of study is not primarily concerned with the exam but with the experience of LEARNing.  This can only be achieved through negotiation; the working out of a series of mutually shared goals that educators and learners alike feel happy to pursue.  As the course unfolds, so everyone should be encouraged to reflect on its usefulness; this might be achieved through discussion, or by encouraging everyone to keep a journal to record feelings and experiences.  Learners can use this as a means to develop their self-esteem, to discover for themselves what they have LEARNed.

In this type of model, the exam functions as an extension of the journal, enabling learners to expound at greater length what they might have already recorded in their journals, and (in an ideal world) thereby manage to deal successfully with their fears.


However this can only be achieved through educator support.  This is one thing that Gove and his fellow-mandarins in politics will never understand: learners can only develop themselves when they feel that they are part of a community.  A piece in The Guardian written by a practising  educator asks whether there is a line to be drawn between ‘helping’ and ‘hindering’ learners; whether too much support for learners taking exams is not counter-productive: “What do they learn about self-motivation and independence?  If we want them to become lifelong learners, don’t they at some point need to learn how to teach themselves?

I think this is a comment of mind-blowing fatuity, implying that there is some kind of distinction to be drawn between “TEACHing,” and “LEARNing.”

In a LEARNing community in which everyone participates and helps one another, the problem of developing motivation simply doesn’t arise.  Learners might have to take exams, but they can approach them in a positive frame of mind if they are supported by their peers as well as their educators.


Assessment (fattening pigs)

The question here is one of shifting focus, of understanding the psychological reasons why learners fear exams, and restructuring the course of study to help deal with them.  However I fear that no one will be too interested in this solution, especially those politicians who believe that standards can be improved through quick fixes.  At the classroom level, however, I think that improvements can be made, or at least I’d like to think so.


Laurence Raw
(aka @laurenceraw on Twitter)
Baskent University – Ankara, Turkey
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey

What is SUCCESS?

In Assessment, Classroom Teaching, Learning & Parenting, Our Schools, Our Universities on 23/06/2013 at 11:03 am

A few weeks ago I stumbled on a great image:

Success (what it really looks like) TG ver

…quite by coincidence one of my favourite EDUbloggers (@ktvee) created a wonderful poster based on a quote from Will Rogers (yes…the “cowboy”)!


I decided to “bring” them together:

What success looks like (Will Rogers quote) TG ver 02

I thunk this is now called “creative curation“…in the blogosphere these days!


You see…I have been working on an upcoming session…on quality initiatives in EDUcation I wonder where my inspiration used to come frombefore the web (remember, I lived 60% of my life before the internet was even invented)!




Neyse, during my “curation” phase…I found a few guys who just kinda “missed the point“:


Success (Lincoln quote)

Funny…yes! BUT…would you raise your kids to BE like this?


As an EDUcatorwould you want this to be the mantra of your CLASSroom?


That last quote reminded me of something a dear friend had said to me…when I was was thinking of making the move to big, bad İstanbul. I had told him that one of the reasons I had put off coming here was that…the “wicked lady” of the North-West had always “scared” me (yes, I know I grew up on the rough, tough streets of North Manchester…but…İstanbul is way bigger)!

I explained that many people in (not “from”) İstanbul were not really “my Turks”…that they tended to be a bit more forceful…a bit more aggressive …dare I say it, less tolerant and welcoming (than my typical Anatolian brothers and sisters). He agreed and explained why…


He also noted that İstanbullular have also changed over the past few years (during all that time I was “partying” in Dubai)…they have become much more “uyanık“!

Once again, Google Translate…thank you…for nothing!  


Thank God…for the Urban Dictionary…yes, wide boy (or “girl“) is a far better way to translate “uyanık“.


Sadly, there are many parents here (as there are all over the world) that LEARN their kids that it is important to be a Jack-the-Lad (or Jill-the-Lass)…this is how we succeed in a place like big, bad İstanbul…this is how we “play the game“.

The game of “oneupsmanship“…


The game of…

Winning (Charlie Sheen)

And, yes…I do get the “irony” of my recent 500K Competition and Celebration!


But, and hear me out, here…that’s different…and I thunk it goes a bit deeper than the recent trend towards more “uyanıklık”.

Much of it is embedded in culture…in EDUcational culture.

You’ve probably seen me rant about the woes of the EXAMocracy here…in canım Türkiyem:

Canım EXAMocracy (TG ver 03)


…and the ADHOCocrats that run educational policy and many (most) of our schools!


Many of my friends tell me that this is NOTnew“…been coming for decades…even Bill Gates and his GERM-like “reformers” have been jealous of the TESTing climate in canım Türkiyem for years.


This “trend” has been hard-wired into our cultural DNA (yes, I can say this now…”Vatandaşlik Immunity“)! But, I’m still careful what I tweet about…


You see, in canim Turkiyem, we do not “pass” an examwe “WIN” one.

We do not “gain” or “get” a place at University – we “WIN” one.

The way we do both is by … being very street-savvy in our TEST-taking (and, oh boy, we have a TEST for every occasion – from “conception” to “resurrection”…OK, in the afterlife sense).

Hell, we even “cancel” the last three years of High-School…just to make sure our kiddies “win” the university exam…and “win” a place at university!


And, we wonder…why so many of our kids ask that question of questions:

So will this be on the test (Ver 03)

Day IN…Day OUT!


Maybe…just maybeit’s time to LEARN our kids a new question:

Success (TG ver and Kaufman quote)


Maybe it’s time to LEARN our parents…and ourselves!

Got EDUcational Literacy…?

In Assessment, Classroom Teaching, Curriculum, Educational Leadership, ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning on 09/06/2013 at 10:10 am

Got EdL (TG ver)


I’ve just read Scott Thornbury’s latest (and last) post on his wonderful blog – An A-Z of ELT.

I was gob-smacked!

What a way to go out…with a wonderful list of “must-read” posts!


Not to worry…he’ll have a new one  for us after Summer!


Scott’s blog personifies…for me…the thunks that characterise an educator with a high degree of “fluency” in what I have dubbed EDUcational Literacy (esp. for those in the world of ELT) – just take a look at the 30 posts he highlights in that last post of his!

Soooooo much great “bedtime” reading for the Summer!


Yeah…you guessed it! I was in the middle of doing my own “Sunday Post” when Scott’s landed in my in-box! But, I meant what I said…he just gave me a nice “hook”!


“What exactly is EDUcational Literacy”?


Pretty reasonable question, actually!

In a nutshell:



In a way, Educational Literacy (let’s stick with the abbreviation – EdL) is something that should concern everyone on the planet. Any parent wishing to help his or her child make “wise” decisions about schools, colleges or university – needs to have EdL. Any teacher walking into a classroom (for the “first” or the “50,000th” timeneeds to have a lot of EdL, if she wants to be truly effective.


EdL is something parentsstudentsteacherseducational administrators or anyone involved or interested in the world of learning (including, dare I say, media representativespublishers and politicians) – must have!


In the case of teachersEdL is more than the teaching-related knowledge and skills required to manage a classroom, present content and practice teaching points – that is known as Pedagogic Literacy. Nor is also just our knowledge of grammar, structure and vocabulary (major components of Disciplinary Literacyin the world of ELL and ELT).

It touches on a teacher’s beliefs and values, the way she interacts with her learners and the extent to which she reflects on her own practice – to grow professionally and create even “better” LEARNing opportunities for those around her.

As such, EdL is a multi-dimensional construct – a true “multiple literacy”. It is not simply the product of adding to “a stack of facts and figures” or throwing more tools into “a bag o’ tricks” – it is experienced and lived through the synaptic-type interrelationships between a number of literacies (and fluencies)…


EdL is also something that many people (sadly) do not possess – and this is what lies at the heart of many of the challenges we face in education.

For example:

  • Parents that tell teachers that their job is to “create” an engineer or doctor out of “Little Mehmet” – have low levels of EdL…sorry mum (and dad)!
  • Students that “blame” their failure on a given exam or the “academic clubs” that manipulate exam cut-offs – have low levels of EdL…sorry guys, time to take some responsibility (unless, that is, their educators also happen to have low levels of “Assessment Literacy”)!
  • Lecturers and teachers that do not even bother to learn the names of their students or “care” what these students “bring” to the classroom – have low levels of EdL…no apologies required here!
  • Educational Managers (up to and including Principals and Rectors) who value their “seat” more than the LEARNing of their learners and still fail to see the importance of “walking-the-talk” – have low levels of EdL…guys, just move aside (the 21stCentury is here)!
  • Schools that live off the “fat” (or prestige) of the “past” or try to “fake-it-till-they-make-it” – have amazingly low levels of EdL…time to “get real” and evidence what you “say” you “are”!
  • Media representatives that report the “league tables” without helping students and their parents to ask the right questions about how the “rankings” were carried out – have no EdL wotsoever…come on, guys – earn your pay-cheques!
  • Publishers who tell educators/teacher-trainers to put on a “show” and not bother with all that “LEARNing stuff” – fail the “EdL test”…totally…!
  • Politicians…Mmmmm…hey, who the hell said it was possible to “save every soul”!?!?


You get the idea!


EdL is essentially “realized” (and developed or learned) through the application of Critical Literacy to allthingseducation – critical reflection as applied to LEARNing and TEACHing.


However, because of the very nature of both LEARNing and TEACHingEdL has a powerful emotional componentEdL appreciates that EDUcation and LEARNing are fundamentally “emotional experiences” that require Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) is also brought to bear on matters of LEARNing and TEACHing.

EdL (Care and Emotions)


This is why LEARNing and TEACHing professionals need to exhibit high levels of Emotional Literacy:

  • Emotional sensitivity
  • Emotional memory
  • Emotional problem-solving ability
  • Emotional learning ability

and, to borrow from Gardner:

  • “Intrapersonal Intelligence”
  • “Interpersonal Intelligence”


With so many abilities, skills and talents required of TEACHerstell me again:


I must have missed that memo!


EdL thus describes what an individual (especially EDUcators) “thinks” or “knows” about EDUcation, LEARNing and TEACHing, what s/he “does” with what s/he knows and also what s/he does to “improve” what s/he knows, does and feels in regard to allthingsEDUcation.



EdL also respects the role of theprofessional teacher – and what an “effective” teacher can do with what s/he can do with what s/he knows – as such, Pedagogic Literacy is also a focus of its attention, as is Curriculum Literacy and Assessment Literacy.

The problem is, taking Assessment Literacy as an example:


Assessment Literacy is perhaps the best-known of the components that make up EdL – well, in educational reading circles at least. It has been described in the following way:

Assess Lit 01

BUT…I have to admitI prefer this one:

Assess Lit 02


If most of us were really, really honest…we’d recognise that we all need to do a bit of LEARNing in this area – especially, when we remember these two little thunks

Assess Lit 03

And…then…we have the matter of Curriculum Literacy!

from A1 to B2 (in 9 months)


Have YOU…has YOUR school (and its leaders):


Got EdL (TG ver)


Scott does! Thanks for the thunks. brother…


Is it our ‘Curriculum Thunking’ wot is BROKEN?

In Adult Learners, Assessment, Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 09/05/2013 at 2:28 pm

Where were we?

Ahh, I remember…we were discussing the importance of:

Truth (mini ver 01)

…and Hazırlık (ELL Prep Schools)!


The two conferences I noted in Part 01 of this post were, in fact, a breath of fresh air – we rarely see ELT events with themes that touch on Curriculum or Quality / Standards. Many of our conferences (and we have a LOT of them here in Turkey, we do…ask the publishers who are hassled to foot the various bills) are often little more than PR vehicles for the schools that put them on. Far too many of them operate like a show n’ tell or pot luck gathering – fronted by the same big names, the same faces and the same themes.


Truth (mini ver 02)


Maybe a conference about technology is just ‘sexier‘ than a serious discussion on the challenges we face in the areas of curriculum and assessment…maybe what the conference pundits tell us is right – “all teachers want are practical ideas to take into the classroom on Monday morning…and to be kept amused for a few hours” (I really hate it when people say this – with a passion)!

Maybe, we do not want to take a closer look at how our institutions are doing business, what type of smoke and mirrors really come into play in our curriculum thinking or why our students are so switched off by what we are doing in our classrooms.

I’m not sure either!


OK – coming back to the first of these conferences I mentioned. The idea of a conference centred on ‘a LEARNing Curriculum’ was just up my street – and the fact that the team at Beykent University (in Istanbul) went with this theme just made me feel chuffed to bits…


One of my opening slides was this one:

Uncover the curriculum

Only an idiot would disagree with this!


Luckily, there were none of them around at the Beykent Conference – at least none of them came to my session. It’s funny, isn’t it? How the people who really need to come to conferences are exactly the people who are usually absent!

The slide touched a few hearts (and minds, I hope)…I heard more than few saying how true it is…and a lot more bemoaning the fact that their institutions just did not ‘get’ this type of thunking!


However, I also noted that these statements are a wee bit motherhood’ishthey sound great…but are of little value if we do not take a closer look at ourselves:


I asked the administrators and teachers that came to my session whether they felt that the curriculum framework they had in place at their schools was ‘golden’you know, something they could be proud of!

All but a handful admitted that they did not have a ‘curriculum’  per se (shock-horror) – many used the phrase “contents page of our textbooks” to describe their course outlines, syllabi and pacing documents.

This was not a surprise…of course! We all know this (again, even at some of the so-called ‘top’ schools)…it’s just one of those things we do not talk about very much. I mean, we have far more serious worries. Take, for example, the current pressures to ‘graduate’ all those false beginners that walk through our doors every September – when the conventional ‘wisdom’ (I use this word very loosely) goes something like this:

from A1 to B2 (in 9 months)

Only an idiot would insist that our prep programmes can do this – successfully!

But, we try…boy, do we try!


Sure, everyone is banging on about the importance of the CEFR (‘irresistible force’ that it is) these days…but what happens when it hits an ‘immoveable object’?

CEFR Vs Raymond Murphy

Raymond is still winning…

…and the war on ‘LEARNing-by-gap-fill-exercise’ has definitely taken a ceasefire – across many schools!


But, what happens when we bring these two facts of hazırlık life together – when we look at the consequences of placing unrealistic demands into a curriculum-free zone? I tried to highlight this by asking conference participants if we ELT professionals are guilty of the ‘twins sins’ that more and more of our primary and secondary colleagues are being forced to commit:

Twin Sins

 Guess what they said?


In the absence of an effective curriculum framework (or clear ‘purpose’), we continue to ‘do’ the simple past on Monday…‘do’ the past continuous on Wednesday…and finish the week on Friday by ‘doing’ the present perfect (as well as every single activity in ‘the book’)!

How we ‘do’ even one of these in a week is beyond me – and, what the hell does it mean to ‘do’ a tense anyways???


And, then there’s the assessment…all the exams, tests and pop quizzes we tag onto this type of curriculum practice. Even though…in our hearts of hearts…we know:

Fattening pigs (assessment)

…we weigh, we weigh, we weigh!


It’s almost as if the only ‘strategy‘ we have to maintain our ‘quality standards‘ is the mantra…


…and, when this fails to get our students from to B (actually, A1 to B2in 9 months), the best ‘improvement‘ programme we can come up with is…


But, then…I’m jumping the gun on tomorrow’s post!



Is Hazırlık BROKEN?

In Adult Learners, Assessment, Curriculum, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 08/05/2013 at 7:28 pm

This is a question I have been thunking about a lot recently – and you know what they say about questions, don’t you?

Questions (O'Conner Quote) NEW

…by Hazırlık I am, of course, talking about the university-level ELL or ELT ‘prep programmes’ we offer here in canım Türkiyem…so go to another blog, if you are not that interested in this kinda stuff…

Or not, if you work in the same ‘sector’ in another part of the world (and, there are lots of you – I know)!


Now, don’t get me wrong…I am not asking the question in the title of this post to start another round of ‘finger-pointing’ or to pour petrol onto what is already the raging bonfire of …

Blame Game (TG ver)

…we tend to play when we talk about the ‘quality’ of English language teaching (and LEARNing) that our universities offer. We’ll come back to this little ‘game’ a wee bit later – if the truth was known it is perhaps this aspect of how we ‘do’ business (in our schools of ‘higher LEARNing’) that needs the most ‘fixing‘!


I am asking the question…

Is hazırlık BROKEN

…because at a couple of recent ELT conferences here in Turkey (one on Curriculum and another on Quality and Standards), I have been thunking and talking about George Orwell’s suggestion that…

TELLing the truth

…a ‘revolutionary act’ whose time has come!

Besides, our marathon conference season is wrapping up soon…I have finished me book (plug, plug, plug) and I needed to get back to me blogging!


When we go to a lot of conferences, we do a lot of feel-good ‘sharing’…we network…we pick up a few ‘classroom McNuggets’…and occasionally we stumble across an idea or three that really makes us ‘thunk’ (and we hear a lot of back-door self-promotion…did you know the book is available on Amazon, too – and a lot of very lame jokes we have probably heard before – but that’s for another post).

Great stuff (except those last two)! But, we do not often hear people…

Truth (mini ver 01)


…the REAL truth, that is!


This is what I challenged myself to do in the last couple of sessions I have done at conferences. I wasn’t quite sure what type of response I would get…

In both events, I shared this image

John Rogers QUOTE

John said this at around about the time I started teaching – yes, I am that old! The funny thing was that nearly everybody (in both conference rooms) agreed that it was STILL true TODAY…in canım Türkiye (and probably in many other countries around the globe)!


Despite this fact, there were a few people that the question made a wee bit ‘uncomfortable’. Many of them jumped in to defend themselves by saying it was not their ‘fault’ (ahh, the power of ‘the blame game’) – they reminded us about ‘educational culture’ we have to live with and highlighted the change has (sadly) taken hold of Turkey over the last decade or so…


…I know many a US ‘educational reformer’ that would love to have the network of exams and tests Turkey has been able (so effectively) to put in place all the way from primary to post-university…and even ‘job selection’.

The Higher Education Council (YÖK) has even managed to put systems in place that…

YÖK and mct hiring

8I find it’s best, with allthingsYÖK at least…to remember the ‘serenity prayer’:

Serenity Prayer

…but I’m getting off the point!


If we take the time to look (really ‘look’) at the challenges our hazırlık schools face (the ones that are more in our ‘circle of influence’), there are many things that need more than a bit of attention.

Take, for instance, the ‘feelings’ that many teachers have about the way they have to ‘do business’ in many of our schools (even the so-called ‘top schools’)…

Teacher (hands tied)

How many of you know a teacher that feels like this from time to timemost of the time…and has to ‘break-the-rules’ (quietly…when no one is looking…to get some real language LEARNing done)? In the two sessions I did recently, almost 100% of participants did…and many said they felt like this themselves most of the time!


I also asked if people had come across a phrase that many hazırlık students are using to describe their current pre-freshman ELL / ELT experiences:

Lise 5

…a ‘sweet’ turn-of-phrase but one that captures how many hazırlık LEARNers feel about how and what they are being taught, the way hazırlik schools treat them as ‘customers’ and how similar it all is to high school.

The bottom line is, of course, if our two key groups of stakeholders (teachers and LEARNers) are feeling, shall we say, less than satisfied with their experiences…we have to listen…heck, we have to do more than listen!

Teachers, especially those with families to provide for, might not be able to ‘vote with their feet’…but many hazırlık schools (especially those of the ‘vakıf’ or ‘foundation/private’ variety) are getting more than a bit worried about the recent upsurge of footsteps on the LEARNer side of things.


Of course, I am not suggesting that every teacher and every student feels this way. We have some really good people in some really good schools that are doing some great things (many of them have been doing these things for years – and some of them have been connecting the dots between institutions more and more recently). I am taking about a general ‘state-of-the-nation’ challenge across the ‘sector’ – about the way we ‘do the business of ELL’ across the country in general. And, I’m guessing that many of these core challenges will resonate with my fellow bloggers in other countries.


There are other areas – and I want to take a look at a few of them over the next few posts. BUT, I’m gonna need some help!


What do you thunk? Is hazırlık ‘broken’? Where? In what ways? …and, how do ‘we’ fix it?

More of the same (my dogs)

Should we be TELLing or ASKing LEARNers…about “their” LEARNing? (Pt 01)

In Assessment, Classroom Teaching, Curriculum, Teacher Learning on 10/12/2012 at 1:04 pm

This one is for Gökhan

What were we thinking (TG ver)

…and any other TEACHer that wants to make a real difference to the lives of their LEARNersrather than just be a TESTUcator!


A while back I did a mini-series about how best we can help TEACHers LEARN more about how they are “doing business” in the classroom…when we do classroom observation.

There were 3 parts to the series…

…but there could have been 30!

And, “yes” Adam…still flogging the blog!


In a nutshell, this series highlighted the fact that if we want more TEACHer LEARNing…we need more ASKing from those whose job it is to “observe” (always hated that word) the classes of others.

And…a lot more LISTENing!


Isn’t this the same with LEARNers?

John Holt Quote

You’d THUNKwould you not?


Miracle (Einstein quote)


Sadly, most of us are so busyCOVERing the CURRICULUM” (and TELLing)…that we (sometimes) forget to ASK…and LISTEN…and DO “something” with what we HEAR.


OK heres the thing


Let’s try a really “wacky” idea!

Just for TODAYforget the CURRICULUM…and…throw those wonderful LESSON PLANS in the bin!


YES…I’m saying… “join” the…

Children Of The Revolution

…and ASK your “kids” a few “questions”!


Try this one first:

Gokhan 03

…turn it into an “activity” poster creation, mini-presentations, class debate – anything that gets them “off” their seats!

USE what you “HEAR”…tomorrow!


What about this:

Gokhan 05

You will be amazed what they come up with!

USE what you “HEAR”…tomorrow!


Now, “personalise” it…with questions like this:

Gokhan 02

Get them to tell “their stories”…hammer home the importance of that third question (and ASK them why THEY thunk you are ASKıng this one)!

USE what you “HEAR”…tomorrow!


Go on…now really push that envelope! ASK:

Gokhan 04

…by getting them “together” to record what they share (yes, I am saying iPhones are “good”)

USE what you “HEAR” (and “SEE”)…tomorrow!


Wrap it up with this one:

Gokhan 01

…and get them to “own” their promises to YOU and EACHOTHER!





You have too much to “do”…you have to “COVER” that curriculum of yours…you have “the test” at the end of the week?

The CLASSROOM - weapons of mass instruction



The EXPERIENCE eye (TG ver 4 blog)

THEIR future!


TOMORROW, tomorrow…I love ‘ya tomorrow
You’re ONLY a day away!

I WANT to talk about LEARNing…

In Adult Learners, Assessment, Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 10/12/2012 at 8:37 am

This will be one of my shortest postsever!

So, I’ll let “Uncle Carl” speak…

Rogers Quote Pt 01

Rogers Quote Pt 02

Rogers Quote Pt 03


Time…me thunks…to ask some questions:


Q3 (typo corrected)



On Moms, Pops and “the Examocracy”…a student’s eye view!

In Assessment, Learning & Parenting, Our Universities on 08/12/2012 at 9:12 pm

expletive bubble

Yes, I did get into some “hot water” for using the “F- word” in my last post


…but they wereSir” Phil’s wordsnot mine! 

Besides…since when was “poetry” NOT an important part of EDUcation and LEARNing?


The point of my last post was not Larkin’s opening line – it was about a challenge that many ELL and ELT professionals and their students face on a day-to-day basis (and not just in Turkey – all over the globe). It was a “personal” view based on a “story” that involved “real people” that I care about.


But as I reflected on my experience as “Uncle Tony” I thought I might dig a little deeper…with one of the expert LEARNers (students) that I know.

Afterall –  tis “student voices” that should carry more weight than our own.


If anyone in EDUcation does not like that little comment:



Those of you that know the blog…might remember Emre Gökhan Şahin

Gökhan is in his final year at Özyeğin University in İstanbul and he did one of my first “guest” posts (in fact, my very first student guest post) – entitled “Need a BUDDY, buddy?”

He has “grown up” since then – and has been “promoted” to the rank of TEACHing Assistant – Yes, a TA…and he ain’t even graduated, yet!


He is a real LEARNer!

…and it just goes to show what expert TEACHers can do when we get together with expert LEARNers.

mentor student

What really impressed me about Gökhan was that he actually “acted” on what he saw in himself (as a novice LEARNer) and what he LEARNed  – “with” and “for” some of his friends who were also struggling with their own ELL.

He built a student-centred Buddy System…and he still helps out with students that need help with their ELL!

What’s even better…he’s actually seriously thunking about becoming a TEACHer himself when he graduates. OK, it’s in “accounting” –  but we can’t have everything!


So…after that last postI tweeted Gökhan!

I asked him for a student’s eye view on what I was “ranting” about…

Hazırlık 01

Mmmm, not as good a start as I was hoping…he wasn’t even reading my latest post!



He just needed a bit of time…

Hazırlık 02

I had to ask the obvious question:

Hazırlık 03

Gökhan is clearly a “good son”!

Many other kids see a lot more pressure from their parentals (esp. if they are at a private or “vakıf” university)…often the subtle type that goes on for years...and “eats” away at us slowly.

I’m sure if we asked most parents what they expect from their children in Hazırlık, the answer would be “PASS” – not “LEARN how to effectively interact with speakers of English and their texts”!


However, because I knew about Gökhan’s “Buddy System” I had to ask:

Hazırlık 04

Read what he said again…go on!

“Success” is the result of enjoyment and self-confidence!

Do I really need to say any more?


OK – let’s come back to my twitter-enabled LEARNing Conversation with Gökhan.

He had said something I almost missed:

Hazırlık 05

“I don’t like being restricted”

…if we went to most Hazırlık students right now, I bet most of them would use the term “restricted” (or something like that) when they discuss their experience of  Lise 5 …sorry, their ELL Hazırlık experience!

OK, but “watch” what Gökhan “does” next:

Hazırlık 06

This young TA recognises he does not have enough “data” to inform his own decision-making.

HE decides to “listen” to students…WTF (sorry)!

HE suggests a doing a “study”.

HE proposes doing it in “groups”.

HE chooses who he wants to help him…HE selects his own “TEACHer”…WTF (OK…maybe not so sorry for that)!

I…just see an “opportunity” for a new blog post!


HE starts to “plan”:

Hazırlık 07

HE is in charge…because HE wants to LEARN something!

And…HE gives ME permission to do this post!


I can’t help wondering why more colleges and universities have not caught on to the type of Collaborative LEARNing that Gökhan and I did – over twitter, not in a classroom!

However, I’m more impressed that Gökhan “gets it”!


HE “gets” that the two questions below are very different:

Hazırlık FQs

…he just knows that there are only TWO “real” answers for both these questions:

Hazırlık IMP FQ (answers)


…and, he also knows which one is more important!


I had one final thing I wanted to say to Gökhan:

Hazırlık FINAL

…we do, afterall, have to keep these good ones from going over to the Dark Side!

TESTing Assessment in HigherEd…

In Assessment, Our Universities on 03/03/2012 at 9:08 am


In an earlier post, I discussed the idea of how students are often treated as “outsiders” in allthingsassessment……especially in higher education.

If we look at what students “want” from assessment (and “need”), they do ask much of us. Seriously…they do not really care that much about reliabilityvalidity and fitness-for-purpose (they are things we have to worry about…and worry about them we should)!


if we take a quick look at the research, and contrary to all the “folk wisdom” that students just want “easy exams”, all they really want is:

  • Unambiguous expectations…because they value, and expect, transparency in the way they will be assessed
  • Authentic tasks…because they value assessment that they perceive as “real”
  • Choice and flexibility…because they value the opportunity to showcase their particular talents in the best light

Don’t YOU feel the same way? I know I do…


So, here’s the first “test” for your institution:

  • Do you give every student a detailed “coversheet” at the beginning of each year / semester explaining how they will be assessed, the different types of assessment activities you will use, the “weights” of those different assessment events, any specific performance criteria that you will use to “grade” or “mark” student work – and also details of how (and when) you will provide them with feedback on their growth and development? 
  • Do you take the time to go over the “coversheet” outlining its key elements on Day ONE and provide students with the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any issues? 
  • Do you and your institution see this documentation and wider process as a hard and fast “contract” between you and your learners – a promise of the service you will provide to them?

It ain’t rocket-science…and it’s how we would expect to be treated ourselves.

As teachers or lecturers we often “joke” about how many of us have been asked the “mother” of all assessment questions from students:

“Um, do we have to know this? Will it be on the test?”

Wouldn’t it be great if we simply removed the “need” for this question to ever be asked – again…ever? The bottom line is that most students ask this question because our behaviours and actions have ensured they are “assessment outsiders”. Even worse, their experiences with us over the years have learned them that there will always be a “test”…


When will we learn…and help learn our students…that:

Assessment is something that teachers

DO WITH students BEFORE, DURING and AFTER learning

NOT, just:

Assessment is something that teachers

DO TO students AFTER learning

OK, while we are on this point – let’s try a second “test”:

  • Does your institution have a written statement of what it values in assessment, a set of principles that informs the development of assessment matrices, events and tasks and also guidelines that help teachers be as effective as they can be when they assess students?
  • Do all your teachers own these values and principles – know them (or at least are able to locate them), “live” them as part of the way they interact with students and contribute to upgrading or improving them over time?
  • Do students know them and can they make connections between the way their teachers do the business of assessment – and the way students are expected to do the business of learning?

As far as students are concerned, there is nothing more central to the learning experience than assessment…and they know that assessment can affect their whole future lives and careers.

Surely, we owe it to them to have all of these things in place…or, at least, have a thunk about them!


If, as we noted earlier, assessment is the “engine”:

The real problem here is, of course, that many institutions and educators still view assessment as “weighing and measuring”. Yes, it is a fact of life that some form of measurement needs to take place…how else would we know who to “graduate”?

But, assessment is not just about the “assessment-of-learning” (if we assume that learning can, in fact, be measured at all – indeed, it might be said that teachers can never truly understand what has been learned – only the students know this)! Assessment is also an integral component of LEARNing – and learning-orientated assessment processes can not only help us engage students in rich, authentic tasks, but also contribute (in an on-going manner) to the growth and development of all our learners.

I am, of course, talking about “assessment-for-learning” (the term coined by Caroline Gipps in 1994) and “assessment-as-learning” – the innovative approach adopted and developed by the faculty at Alverno College from 1973 onwards.

As Boud (1995) noted, “all assessments lead to some kind of student learning” – however, approaches that emphasise the “for” and “as” varieties of assessment connect the assessment of student learning to programme and institutional outcomes.

These approaches to assessing student learning do not only rely on testing a student’s “possession of knowledge” – they focus on the “use of knowledge” (in action) and what students can “do” with what they know and learn.

As Englemann (2007)a member of the Alverno philosophy faculty, notes:

As an Alverno faculty member, it is no longer possible to imagine teaching without assessing, because for us to teach is to assess, continuously, what our students are learning, and what they can do with what they know. We assess in order to improve the learning process, to give each student, and groups of students, guidance for their learning. At this point in the life of our curriculum and our academic culture, if our accrediting body were to say: “You no longer have to go to the trouble of assessing student learning,” we would still do it anyway.


This not “new” – as the original definition of assessment illustrates:

However, these models of “assessment-as-learning” and “assessment-for-learning” rely  heavily on student self-assessment and teaching students how to observe, analyse, and judge their own performance (on the basis of explicit and published criteria) – not just delivering “content” in pre-packed and off-the-shelf “course units” or using a textbook  (but actively developing meta-cognition in all students).

These approaches, it could be argued, require a fundamental “belief” that all students are capable of becoming adaptableflexible, and independent in their learning and decision-making…they are BTW!

Gulp – values, beliefs and principles again!

Double gulp – new roles, new skills and new abilities for educators!

One of the most important of these is the provision of quality diagnostic feedback from teachers (remember the “lubricant”) – feedback that allows students to further reflect and then determine how they can act to improve their own performance levels.

Not just a “grade”…

We all know:

Anyways, for many institutions and educators, this involves a serious re-thunk of what assessment means to those involved in the process, in addition to the teacher-student relationship in that process.

This was noted by teachers and researchers working on the REAP Project (in Scotland) – and involves the re-conceptualisation of assessment as a collaborative process where students are viewed as “partners in assessment” – they realised that we cannot continue to keep students on the “outside” anymore!

Like Alverno, the guys on the REAP Project have realised that taking this kind of LEARNing and ASSESSMENT PERSPECTIVE results in:




OK – ready for the penultimate “test”? Go on – be a devil!

  • Does your assessment of students begin with educational values, reflect an understanding of learning as multi-dimensional and also respect the diverse talents and ways of learning of your students?
  • Do the assessment tasks and events you currently use communicate high expectations to your students, encourage contact between teachers and learners and develop reciprocity and collaboration between groups of students?
  • Do your assessment events emphasise “time-on-task” and going that “extra mile”, give credit for using both active learning techniques and creativity – and also support this with timely, on-going expert feedback?

A couple more – come on, you can do it;

  • Do your assessment tasks include an element of self- and peer-assessment and offer possibilities for students to explore a wider range of “knowledge”: procedural (“knowing how”), schematic (“knowing why”), and strategic (“knowing when certain knowledge applies, where it applies, and how it applies”)?
  • Do you support this type of self-assessment by “teaching” students to understand and interpret the criteria by which they are assessed – and assess themselves?

If you got through those last ones without feeling the need to grab the closest bottle of aspirin (or Prozac)you are probably ready for the next “big” question (inspired by Race, 2002):

  • What is “broken” with assessment at your institution? How do you know? What are YOU going to do about it?

But, remember – first have a thunk about:

  • What do you want to keep that you already have or do in allthingsassessment?
  • What do you want that you don’t already have or do in allthingsassessment?
  • What do you have or do now that you don’t want to keep in allthingsassessment?
  • What don’t you have or do that you don’t want in allthingsassessment?

YOUR students deserve nothing less…as “assessment insiders”!