Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘language proficiency’

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.


How many “hours” does it take to LEARN English, hocam?

In ELT and ELL, Our Universities on 15/05/2011 at 7:55 am

There is a lot of “talk” around Turkey these days about how many hours are “needed” for students to “learn” or “speak” English. In fact, we have even invented new acronyms to help us do this – classroom contact hours are now frequently referred to as GLHs (or “guided learning hours”).

What a queer turn of phrase – when what we really mean is “bums on seats” and ears “pointed at” the teacher!

These discussions have been aided by wider “understanding” of the CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessmentnow, you know the reason for the abbreviation), and its six levels of proficiency from A1 to C2.

Now, not everyone is a “fan” of the CEFR – mostly because it has been skillfully co-opted by ELT marketeers eager to sell their wares by pasting on a EU logo onto whatever they are flogging! However, the CEFR is refreshing change from the “fuzzy labels” of the past – “intermediate” or “upper-intermediate” or even “pre-faculty” (in academic contexts).

I never did really learn what these terms meant anyways!

Furthermore, the CEFR was originally designed to improve levels of “transparency” – always a “fan” of that (as is Julian)!

Gelelim…fasülyenin faydalarına! 

In a way, it is impossible to accurately calculate the hours needed to learn a language – as it depends on factors such as the learner’s language background, the intensity of study and levels of individual engagement, the learner’s age and motivation (even “gender” – yes, girls do generally kick ass in the right environment), and the amount of study and exposure outside the classroom – in addition to the quality of “teaching” (we always forget this one) and how many iTunes downloads a student clocks up each week!

Many ELT teachers, for example, think it’s a total waste of time to even try and run a “time and motion study” on language learning. Afterall, it’s the “quality” rather than the “quantity” of hours that matter…isn’t it?

That having been said many so-called experts (and publishers) “agree” on the following type of broad recommendations:

A1 – 80-100 GLHs

A2 – 180-200 GLHs

B1 – 350-400 GLHs

B2 – 550-600 GLHs

C1 – 750-800 GLHs

C2 – 1000-1200 GLHs

I really have my doubts about the recommended GLHs for level C2 – most higher-level learners do not get to this level based on “classroom GLHs” alone (“talent” is a key factor, as is “extended contact” with native speaker-like “environments”). Also, the “right kind of environment” is important – my wife has been an ELL for 25 years and I do not think she would mind if I said she would probably struggle in a more “academic” environment – she would, however, wipe the floor with most native speakers on matters of a spiritual nature, reconnective healing, and counselling workaholic educators!

But, that’s for another post…

For many “hazırlık centres” or “prep schools” at university level in Turkey the distinction between B2 and C1 is of more interest. This is because, in terms of the CEFR, most Turkish universities have selected a “hazırlık exit requirement” somewhere between B2 and C1. We see this more clearly when we look at IELTS equivalencies for these CERF levels – somewhere between IELTS band 5.0 and 7.0 for those of you more familiar with IELTS.

Most “hazırlık centres” in Turkey are still to define their programmes and progression systems in terms of CERF and TOEFL scores or IELTS bands are the more common form of “currency” when discussing what it takes to “graduate” from hazırlık into “freshman year”.

Top ranking universities in the UK currently all require an IELTS band of 7.0 and other “respectable” universities ask for an IELTS band of 6.5 (with no less than 6.0 in each module) for international students applying to their undergraduate programmes. These universities will also accept a band 5.5 for entry onto their “foundation programmes” – the equivalent to hazırlık.

If you want to “live” in Australia, you have to make sure you have an IELTS band of 7.0 – remember this!

Boğaziçi requires an IELTS band 7.0 while BilkentKoçÖzyeğin and Sabancı all expect a 6.5 for example. METU and Bahçeşehir require a band 6.0 but on Bahçeşehir’s MYO programmes only a band 5.0 is required (an IELTS band of 7.5 is requested from students wishing to study American Literature and Culture at “lisans” or undergraduate level).

I am told (by sources I cannot name) that many other hazırlık centres have similar exit levels “on paper” – but operate in the “greyer areas” of band 5.0 or 5.5 (in practice). I have, by the way, applied for one of those super-injunctions being given out by UK courts these days and I will always insist that this was written by a “guest-blogger” who asked me to do her a favour!

Just so you know… 

The CEFR B2/C1 distinction (as is the IELTS distinction between a band 5.0 and 7.0) is the most important “watershed” for academic study (and, incidentally, the one where most learners hit the wall of linguistic “fossilisation”). The difference between CEFR levels B2 and C1 is significant because it reflects the ability to “cope” with more complex learning and material in an academic context – or not!

Also, the “space” between B2 and C1 is the reason why so many lecturers claim students cannot “speak English” (B2 interactional and transactional abilities are still “limited” – as is the ability to interact with more complex written texts). Freshman lecturers “hear” what their students can produce on “Day One” and are quick to criticise hazırlık “graduates” (and their teachers) – without really understanding the complexities of “speaking”, let alone language learning.

Speaking, as has been the case for years, remains the most “visible” skill and “real” measure of language learning for many – but it is also the one area most hazırlık centres pay least attention to – it’s a sad fact that many a student (and teachers, too) still think that speaking is a “product” of language learning, when in fact it is one of the best “means” of language learning.

Many hazırlık teams are starting to see this “challenge” or rather are being “forced” to deal with it as they begin to feel the impact of the decision to change how the Anadolu High Schools “do business” in 2005-06 (even some of our “top schools”).

Recognition of the importance of such “numbers” is also leading many hazırlık centres to “bump up” the number of contact hours in a given week, create a 3rd “summer break semester” (or 5th “summer school module”) – or even “drop their standards” (in the words of my sources who are also protected by the super-injunction) to allow more students to get a “free pass” into freshman without fully evidencing the levels of language proficiency we know are required on English-medium academic programmes…

We really have to ask ourselves if we are doing these learners any “real favours” by doing thisor whether we are setting them up for “failure” (or at the very least – lower levels of future learning).

Many employers are saying we have been doing this for years…and they have been more than willing to “go on the record” of late!

I actually think (and this is my personal view – backed up by nothing but “experience”) that 900-1000 GLHs is probably the more realistic range required to get to a B2+ level (yani – a 40-week “learning year” at 25-hrs per week within a “hazırlık context”). But, then again – there remains the issue of “quality instruction”…

In fact, this more realistic estimate is the real reason why it is so difficult to get “total or false beginners” through hazırlık in a single year – so few hazırlık centres (esp. at many state universities) have programmes of this intensity in place at present.

BUT…language educators with higher levels of educational and assessment literacy (yani, those who “really” know a fair bit about learning, teaching and assessment in language learning) know that TEACHing does NOT equal LEARNing (esp. in language learning).

They also know that hazırlık is more than just language learning – learners also need to put a great deal more emphasis on personal development, self-study, self-assessment and “personal accountability and discipline” (in addition to classroom-based GLHs) to realise “effective language LEARNing“.

This is especially the case if the “purpose” behind language learning is to follow-up with English-medium undergraduate study.

The real problem is that 25 hours a week of being “trapped in a hazırlık classroom” for so many months is just “too much”  (many teachers would agree with this) – sorry, is not an “effective way” to conduct the business of language LEARNing.

This is especially the case if most of these recommended GLHs are given over to “grammar rules and transformation exercises” or are grounded on teachers “spoon-feeding” students discrete skills worksheetsrather than expert instruction in skills development from teachers, meaningful reflection and self-assessment on the part of learners and timely and focussed feedback from teachers.

Hey, and we haven’t even got to the issue of “section or class size” – come on, can we really create  an effective language learning environment for groups of 25+?

If the opposite was the case, there would be no need for hazırlık centres or prep schools – at all!

The bottom line is we will not get the results we want or those our students really need (we know this from “experience” with many learners in the Turkish education system today), if our “solutions” are drawn from a world view of education driven by an obsession with “teaching”, GLHs and 19th Century assumptions about the “nature of learning”.

If this is how we plan to “fix” language learning in Turkey – our students do not stand a chance, not a chance!

Time to not just “get out of the box” – we need to tear the boxes of many intitutions up and start again!