I’ve just come back from the Language Testing Forum, held at Reading University. I stayed on the Whiteknights Campus, which has some very attractive water gardens and bird life. The theme this year was Assessing Languages in Higher Education, so it seemed very appropriate to go in my role as language tester at the Centre for Open Learning at the University of Edinburgh. The conference was opened with a discussion on issues related to languages and testing between Professor Barry O’Sullivan, Head of Research and Development at the British Council, and Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor at Reading. There were some excellent presentations including from Chris Smith of Sheffield University who described his reforms to language testing on pre-sessional EAP courses. Other highlights included Liz Hamp-Lyons looking at how language testers and EAP teachers and academics could work more closely together, and John de Jong and Veronica Benigno of Pearson’s examining the CEFR in higher education and their work in developing academic descriptors for the Pearson Global Scale of English.
Claire recently returned from a two-week trip to the Balkans that took her to Skopje in Macedonia, and Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Tuzla in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH). On the first leg of the trip she delivered a four-day ‘Teaching with Technology 2’ course to largely the same group of English teachers from the Macedonian Armed Forces and instructors from the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who had attended part one earlier this year. The main aims of this course were to refresh and update the participants’ knowledge on the websites, tools and apps introduced in the first course plus more, and to create activities to accompany their syllabi for either class or home use. The group were extremely creative and during the four days built up a good-sized repository of tasks that they can now trial with their students.
During the second half of her trip, Claire carried out a situation and needs analysis into English language teaching and learning in the Armed Forces of Bosnia & Herzegovina (AFBiH). The findings from which will feed into the creation of an English Language Learning Strategy 2020. Claire was already familiar with the context having worked on the British Council’s Military English Support Project in BiH between 2003 and 2007. Moreover, last February she returned to gather data for her chapter on the role of English in the AFBiH for the recent publication entitled The Status of English in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, this trip gave her the chance to review more thoroughly the current system for English language teaching and learning and to identify the areas where attention needs to be focused. She would like to take this opportunity to thank the BiH Ministry of Defence, the AFBiH and the international stakeholders for their invaluable support while she was in country. She looks forward to working with them further over the upcoming months to help them develop the strategy.
Rob returned to the western Balkans in September for a visit to Montenegro to work on Integrated Skills lessons with teachers from the Montenegrin Armed Forces. The small team of teachers in Danilovgrad created a set of ten complete integrated skills lessons for use with their students.
Then in October Rob went to Zrenjanin in Serbia to work on developing aspects of placement, progress and achievement tests with teachers from the Serbian Armed forces. During the five-day workshop, the team developed oral interview questions for placement tests as well as speaking and writing tasks for progress tests to use with Headway and Campaign. The teachers also developed the speaking and writing scales to be used with the tests.
Claire has recently returned from a follow-up visit to Bangladesh, where once again she was working on the Cadet College English Improvement Project. In March of this year she had trained two teachers from each of the twelve cadet colleges to become trainers. On this occasion it was the turn of eight of those trainers to run an induction programme for twenty-four recently recruited subject and English teachers from the cadet colleges.
There were three main aims to this six-day event. Firstly, to provide the trainers with practical training experience using British Council materials. Secondly, to provide the new teachers with the essential knowledge, confidence, and practical experience to prepare them for using interactive methods of teaching. Lastly, for the subject teachers there was also a focus on developing their confidence in using English to manage their classrooms as their subjects are taught through this medium of instruction.
The feedback indicated that the course had been well-received, and the trainees identified a multitude of new techniques and activities that they plan to try in their classrooms. Claire would like to thank the trainers for the amount of time and effort that they put into preparing their sessions, and for their eagerness to develop as trainers. She would also like to thank the trainees for their active participation throughout this highly intensive course. We at McIlwraith Education wish them the best with their teaching and hope that they feel inspired by their new found teaching skills.
The value of this two-year project was recognised during the closing ceremony by the attendance of Major General S M Matiur Rahman, afwc, psc Adjutant General, Bangladesh Army, who gave a short speech on the importance of education and the teachers’ role, before presenting the certificates. Also in attendance were Dominic Spencer, Defence Adviser, British High Commission, Jim Scarth OBE, Deputy Director and Gaynor Evans, Head of English, British Council.
There have been a few developments over the last few weeks. We have been working with our colleagues at the Norwich Institute for Education (NILE) to see how we might collaborate more closely on international consultancies. We are confident that we will be able to use our teams’ expertise on a number of different projects over the coming months. We have also been busy with Peacekeeping English consultancies. Claire is getting ready to follow up on the trainer training sessions she delivered at the Cadet College in Sylhet, Bangladesh earlier this year, while Rob has been in Macedonia. Last month, he led training for ten teachers and testers from the Centre for Foreign Languages, the Military Academy and the STANAG Testing Team in Skopje. The topics for the five-day workshop were the testing of Speaking and Writing. The participants drafted, trialled and revised STANAG Speaking and Writing Ratings scales for Levels 1 – 3 [including + levels]. Four candidates were interviewed, videotaped and evaluated in mock examinations. The new Writing Scales were trialled on sets of candidate scripts from STANAG test sessions. The format and contents of the STANAG Speaking and Writing examinations were discussed by the group and suggestions for revisions were made. The group also developed, trialled and revised the Centre’s Speaking and Writing Achievement Test Rating Scales for Levels 1 – 5 as well as evaluating and suggesting improvements to the tests themselves.
Claire is delighted to announce the publication of ‘The Status of English in Bosnia and Herzegovina‘ in which she has a chapter entitled ‘Military English Matters’. The book explores the widespread adoption of English and its effects on a nation recovering from war from a number of perspectives, such as policy, teacher training, assessment, textbook publishing, interpreting and translating. Claire’s chapter is a consideration of the importance of English from a military perspective. She examines NATO’s influence on the growth of English in Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and describes the current system for delivering English language training to military personnel and for testing their levels of proficiency. The chapter also provides an account from the students’ perspective as to how they perceive the role of English in relation to their work.
Rob and his colleague Emma Valahu have recently published a book on English language teaching methodology. The idea for ‘Teaching English: Being the Best’ came from three observations. The first was that busy teachers don’t have time to read methodology books, the second was that teaching is a complex business with a lot of things to think about or remember, and the third was that so-called best practice is often not very ‘best’. The book that eventually appeared in its final form was shaped by these thoughts. It’s a book with a lot of topics – over two hundred are dealt with, and could have had more but they said that they had to draw the line somewhere. It’s a book which can be used in different ways – you could read it from cover the cover, but you can also use it as a reference book or dip into it. Most topics are dealt with in a one page thought-provoking essay. Most teachers have time to read a page from time to time. The longest section is five pages on Communicative Language Teaching, but 90% of the book is made up of one page essays. Some pages are bullet point lists of things to remember, or ideas, for pre-listening tasks, for example. So if you are looking for ideas for pre-, during, and post-listening or reading tasks there are lists to help you. These all fit in under the best practice label. But, as Rob and Emma say, best practice is sometimes lacking the best part there are essays which discuss how you can move beyond best practice. There are two new ways to approach reading, for example: the Deep Text and Dual Text Approaches. They make a case for the principled use of L1 in the class (something Rob has been arguing for since the mid 90s); they tell the reader how use reading aloud well and argue throughout the book for more teaching (and learning) and less testing. Rob and Emma take a learning-centred approach. They look at PPP, ESA, TTT, ARC, TBL, data-driven learning, Dogme and Demand High and have advice on creating your own materials and using technology and blended learning. There are handy tables on exam comparisons, on the CEFR and course books, and on the number of headwords in different reader series. They also discuss things rarely, if ever, found in other methodology books: like opportunity cost, time management, being professional and what to do when you are ill. And throughout the book they include inspiring and thought provoking quotations from people like Scott Thornbury, J.R. Firth and David Wilkins, but also Winston Churchill, Bruce Lee and Yoda. The book is a bit quirky and idiosyncratic, but we like that, and we hope you will too.
Claire has recently returned from Tashkent, where she carried out an evaluation to determine where support is needed for English language teaching in the higher military educational establishments of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Thirteen years ago Claire worked with the Armed Forces of the Republic of Uzbekistan as a trainer on the British Council’s Peacekeeping English Project, so it was a marvellous opportunity for her to see how the English programmes had developed since then. She was delighted to see a number of really positive developments in the quality of the teaching and in the facilities. She also appreciated the chance to be able to work with former colleagues again, and hopes that the outcome of the evaluation will provide them with the necessary support to further enhance their English programmes.
The international nature of the annual IATEFL conference means that it offers a chance to catch up with friends and former colleagues from around the world. This year Claire was delighted to have caught up with Erkin Mukhammedov, who she worked with 13 years ago on the Peacekeeping English Project in Uzbekistan. During that time Erkin was a teacher at the PfP Centre, which was based in the Military Academy in Tashkent, where Claire worked as a trainer. She remembers his enthusiasm for teaching and his keen interest in professional development, and was very pleased to hear that he’s currently doing an MA in ELT with a focus on assessment and testing at Warwick University. He is now also a trainer himself. It is a real privilege to have played a part in Erkin’s professional development and we wish him all the best with his studies. Also in the photo are Nargiza Kuchkarova from the Inha University, Tashkent, and Guzal Utemuratova, who is studying for a degree in TESOL at the University College London.
In 2015 I led a British Council Regional Hornby School in Abuja for teacher trainers and academics from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Some were from UNICEF and others were supported by DFID’s Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN) and the Teacher Development Programme (TDP), which is a UKaid programme managed by a consortium led by Mott Macdonald that involves the Nigerian government and six State governments in the north. Over the past year or so I have been guiding the participants’ research and editing their papers, which have just been published. Many thanks to the British Council’s Yetunde Oluwatosin for all her help and advice.