Monday, 2 April 2012

Time counting

One of the things I have learned from teaching so many business people is the importance of prioritising.

A dispersed focus is no focus at all.

With that in mind, I have recently embarked upon a training course that I intend to devote my free time to, and, as such, I think it is unwise to continue writing this blog at the same time.

However, I will hopefully return to it in the autumn.

In the mean time, thank you for reading, and writing comments and emails, and I hope you have a good summer.


Monday, 26 March 2012

IATEFL Glasgow Online

I am devoting this week's post to the excellent IATEFL Glasgow Online site.

As well as keeping us all up to date on everything happening at the conference, it has special forums devoted to the SIGs where the debates can rumble on long after the face-to-face conference has finished.

This year Merecedes Viola and Claire Hart are doing an excellent job co-moderating the BESIG forum.

I had the honour of doing this myself last year with the inestimable Candy van Olst and it proved to be most inspiring.

If you missed the conference, or if you missed the forum because you were at the conference, it's well worth a look.

Monday, 19 March 2012

All presentation and incorrect

Presentations - have they ever been more popular?

There are more and more online tools for making and delivering presentations, adding to the arsenal of offline standards.

And I notice that teachers and trainers seem to use them in ever greater numbers for reasons as varied as the introduction of grammar points and professional development.

The presentation, it seems, is here to stay, and its role in the Big Six is seemingly assured.

But why?

What function does it fulfil?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Enclothed cognition

The effects of the environment on test-takers appear to be manifold.

I have written before about the difference the colour red can make to a learner's levels of accuracy.

It now appears that not only is colour important to levels of success, along with room size, but also the type of clothing a test-taker wears.

Welcome to the world of  'enclothed cognition' as described by Hajo Adam and Adam D Galinsky in a recent paper of the same name.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Automatic i+1

Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

Good advice for snipers and now teachers too, apparently.

Daniel Kahneman recalls in Thinking, Fast and Slow how he began his career in the fledgling discipline of cognitive pupillometry.

He and his colleague discovered that the pupil expands and contracts in response to mental cognition.

The harder the task, the more the pupil expands, at least up to a point.

That point is reached when the average person is asked to add 3 to every digit in a four-digit number.

If people are asked to do anything more complex than that, it is deemed too hard and the pupils contract back to normal.

Equally, tasks which require little mental effort, such as small talk, reveal only tiny enlargements of the pupil.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Lethe and lesson management

You are what you remember, not what you experience.

At least according to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate and author of last year's outstanding book - Thinking, Fast and Slow.

This partly came to light when he conducted a study on people undergoing colonoscopies.

The first group underwent shorter procedures, and the second group longer ones.

When asked to rate the total amount of pain they had experienced (this was before colonoscopies were routinely accompanied by anaesthetics), surprisingly the first group recorded a worse experience.

How could this be if they experienced significantly less time under procedural duress?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Desire paths

"All buildings are predictions.  All predictions are wrong."

So says Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn.

I feel the same about metaphors - they are all wrong.

They change how we think about the things they describe, and thus the things themselves.

I understand, however, that not only do we need them, but that we cannot function without them.

 Therefore we need to question the assumptions upon which they are based, the connotations they foster, and they effects they produce.

In that spirit, and the one described by Brand, I wonder if we in ELT might get rid of fossilization.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The past perfect

Which of the verb forms is the least useful?

This may sound like a strange question, but there is a sense with ESP generally, and BE specifically, that language must submit to calculations of utility and expediency.

If you teach IELTS, for example, reported speech is a luxury item but the passive is essential.

Thought of in these terms, the past perfect seems a candidate ripe for omission in a crowded, time-conscious schedule.

 In his seminal book The English Verb, Michael Lewis restricts his discussion of it to little more than a sentence.

It is less useful, it seems, even than the future perfect, and that's pretty low down the useful list already.

In the context of the grammar-lite BELF discourse we are moving towards, the past perfect is a clumsy, wind-up gramophone  in a world of sleek iPods.

Partly, this could be because we generally use it to avoid ambiguity, but that ambiguity only arises if we are sloppy to begin with.

Instead of stating they had eaten when I arrived, it can be simply said that they ate before I arrived.

The correct adverbial cuts out the confusion and dispenses with any need for the past perfect at all.

So, it's a sentence-bloating, learner-messing waste of time.

Or is it?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Winter break

'O the weather outside is frightful....'

Or so said lyricist Sammy Cahn, but I'm inclined not to agree.

Here, you only need four sets of thermals, a couple of hats, some gloves, a padded coat, and some thick felt boots, and the winter weather suddenly seems perfect.

With that in mind I think I am due once again to spend some time in the fresh air.

As a result, this blog will take a short break and head for the slopes, returning in the middle of February.

I look forward to seeing you all then, and wish you and yours a very happy festive season.


(Image: Ronald_H)

Monday, 28 November 2011


Stephen Fry once outlined one of the golden rules of newspaper column writing.

He averred that you are allowed to write about writing your column, but only once.

More than once was tantamount to self-indulgence.

I'm sure this is good advice for columnists, and it may even be so for bloggers too.

This, then, is my 'once' - at least for this year.