14th BAAL SIG LLT Conference 2018

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The 14th BAAL SIG Language Learning and Teaching will come together at the University of Southampton, UK from Thursday 12th July to Friday 13th July 2018. This year’s theme will be: “Language teaching and learning in unstable times, and in changing political landscapes”.

The conference will enable participants to discuss the many challenges offered to traditional language education policy and practice by increasing interconnected globalization and changing conceptions of identity, accompanied by a rise in global migratory flows, resurgent nationalism and social inequality. These challenges have both foreseen and unforeseen consequences for the development and implementation of language education policy, and for teaching, learning and assessment practices.

Confirmed plenary speakers:
Professor Fiona Copland, University of Stirling
Professor Tony Liddicoat, University of Warwick
Dr  John Gray, UCL Institute of Education

For further details, please click here. This is what I would like to discuss:

Standards-based EFL Education in Germany: Toward a checklist approach to instruction and learning?

In Germany and in many other countries around the world, proponents of standards-based education have (somehow) managed to elevate competence-based instruction and the demonstration of knowledge and skills in nationwide performance tests to an educational imperative. Opponents caution against placing too many expectations on standards-based reforms, on measurability, testing, and system monitoring, arguing that conceiving of school education in terms of measurable outcome primarily may eventually have some undesirable backwash effects (e.g. teaching to the test). However, up to now, little empirical research has been conducted to figure out how standards-based reforms affect learning and teaching in EFL classrooms. Against this backdrop, I would like to outline and problematize standards-based instruction and learning in Germany, placing special emphasis on the central findings and implications of a recent interview study conducted with 697 EFL teachers in the federal German state of Hesse.


ACTA 2018 International TESOL Conference: English Language Learning in a Mobile World

posted by Juergen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The next ACTA International TESOL Conference will be held in Adelaide, South Australia from 2 – 5 October, 2018. The main conference theme is ‘English Language Learning in a Mobile World’.

Driving attention to the reality of local and global mobility for TESOL learners and educators, the conference will contribute to the ongoing examination of the theories and practices underpinning the TESOL field, and will project into future directions, whether as policy, pedagogy, materials design, assessment or community involvement.

In the context of increasing mobility through digital technology as well as global unrest and greater recognition of the need for improved outcomes for indigenous students, the conference offers an opportunity for a re-examination of the profile of our English language learners and the implications for TESOL practice.

The six sub-themes or strands are:

  1. English language learners in a mobile world
  2. English language learning and teaching for local and global participation
  3. Embracing digital technologies in English language learning and teaching
  4. Assessment from diverse stakeholder perspectives
  5. English as a medium of instruction (EMI)
  6. Professional standards and teacher identities in a mobile world

Through these themes, the breadth of mobility will be explored, ranging from local and global relocations to communication and intercultural negotiation across borders. With this in mind, the conference will be a space to critically examine ethical and practical challenges for TESOL.

I really look forward to attending this conference, not only because of my gowing interest in researching augmented reality for EFL textboook development and use,  but also because of the special atmosphere of the ACTA TESOL conferences in Australia. For further conference details, please click here.


Brian Tomlinson: Materials Development in TESOL – Trends and Issues (TESOLacademic.org)

posted by Juergen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

TESOLacademic.org is a knowledge dissemination site which links the work of TESOL scholars to teachers, teacher-trainers, teacher-trainees, decision-makers and other researchers. Edited by Huw Jarvis, it provides a global forum for people to talk about how their published research, or an aspect of it, impacts on language pedagogy. TESOLacademic.org only posts talks about research which have gone through the peer review process and this ‘guarantees’ the quality of the submissions.

In the following video webcast, Brian Tomlinson gives an interview about current trends and issues in TESOL materials development  (click on image to view):

Compare with my nine-part series of posts on the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom if you like (please use search function in the upper right corner of my blog and type ‘role of the textbook’).

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: New Companion Volume

posted by Juergen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), published almost 20 years ago, is currently under revision. In the context of the 38th Annual German Spring Conference for Research on Foreign and Second Language Learning and Teaching, held again at Castle Rauischholzhausen (February 15-17), Giessen University’s most beautiful venue for conferencing, roundabout 20 EFL/GFL/GSL professors from all over Germany will discuss the new CEFR companion volume with new descriptors and its implications for learning and teaching foreign and second language education in Germany and in Europe in more detail (a preliminary version of the companion volume is available here).

However, the major focus of this year’s Spring Conference will be on foreign and second language teacher education. In this particular context, the revision of the CEFR is just one of many other developments and aspects that need to be taken into consideration (e.g. the theory-practice divide, the interdisciplinary character of foreign and/or second language teacher education, the role of teacher identity and ethos, the functions of physical learning place and digital learning space, the question of teaching expertise, the significance of teachers’ language proficiency and skill, etc.).

“I Accuse…!”

posted by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

Why do so many asylum seekers fail the official German courses, among them even highly qualified, highly motivated and hard-working migrants who are keen on starting a new life in Germany?

I accuse…
all those who have been teaching German as a foreign language according to a monolingual German-only approach, to the detriment of their clients. These are notably teachers and teacher trainers

  • of the Goethe-Institute
  • of universities and academic language centres
  • of various language schools offering official German courses

I also accuse various publishers of textbooks and the BAMF (Federal German Agency for Migration and Refugees). Because they all should have known better and reacted more appropriately to a difficult situation.

I claim:
The German-only approach  (or, for that matter, the English-only policies worldwide) is self-crippling. In our digital age it is a patent absurdity and a cause of unnecessary misery especially for speakers of ‘remote’ languages. Many refugees fail the monolingual German courses. Clearly defined and brain compatible bilingual teaching techniques in conjunction with monolingual activities empower the students and enrich the teachers’ repertoire.

I propose:
– Textbook publishers offer bilingual word lists of words and phrases in many languages. The lists should be arranged in three columns and ordered according to lessons – this is standard practice in German coursebooks of English. These lists can be printed separately or downloaded freely from the internet. Bilingual classroom phrases for beginners should also be available.
– Teachers allow a ‘time-out’ to help learners who speak the same language clarify comprehension problems among themselves. Learners use dictionaries and smartphones and share the information gained.
– Teachers select and present Youtube videos on special German grammar topics to groups of students who share the same language. As they watch and learn, the teacher continues working with the rest of the class. German grammar videos are provided free of charge by bilingual native speakers and have often been clicked more than a million times (see, for instance, Deiaa Abdullah for Arabic and Almani be Farsi. For students who come equipped with a good knowledge of English smarterGerman.com is a great help.)
– Teachers ask former students who have become proficient bilinguals to provide them with parallel translations of selected texts which they will use time and again with new students.
– Contrary to what the BAMF recommends, homogeneous classes where all students share a language will be formed wherever possible. For them special textbooks such as Hossein Tavakkoly’s “Deutsch für Perser” could be used alongside traditional German-only textbooks. These textbooks are written in the learners’ own language, and it is possible for them, wherever necessary, to provide word-for-word translations of unfamiliar and ‘bizarre’ German constructions. Here are four examples illustrating this technique, also called mother-tongue mirroring, for English speakers: In many languages the phrase “Do you have a passport?” is rendered literally “Is to-you passport?”. In Twi, comparisons such “Kofi is bigger than me” are expressed  by means of a verb: “Kofi big exceed me”. In Mandarin, the plural of nouns is not marked by an ending, but by inserting a special measure word: “two books” is literally “two volume book”, “two knives” is “two grip knife”, somewhat similar to ”two pieces of soap” or ” two bars of chocolate”, etc. In the Ponca-language “I have a sister” is something like “I am sistered”. – In this way, languages can become transparent for one another.
– In the long run, teachers could make themselves familiar with salient grammatical peculiarities of their students‘ languages. They may record files of recurring errors from speakers of these languages and develop strategies to deal with them. Even a little knowledge of students’ languages will go a long way.
Textbook lessons for advanced students usually deal with certain topics such as ‘trade unions’. Teachers should point out to their students that there could be Wikipedia articles on the same topic in their own languages. Reading them will certainly help them to understand the foreign language text better. Comprehension is the key to language.
– Since students come from varying school cultures, they should be taught effective learning techniques such as the read-and-look-up method.

Our digital age provides many opportunities to tailor the teaching and learning of foreign languages to the individual needs of the learners. (See  also chapter 13: “Ideas for multilingual classes“ in Butzkamm & Caldwell, 2009, pp.229ff.)

The situation is complex, and the bilingual approach is no cure-all against failures. Teaching migrants remains a difficult job. Students differ significantly according to their origins, cultures, languages, ages, talents, motivation, and previous knowledge.

Developing Video Game Literacy in the EFL Classroom: A Qualitative Analysis of 10th Grade Classroom Game Discourse

posted by Roger Dale Jones, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany

The following presents a brief summary of my dissertation project (Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany) which focuses on the intersection of popular video games and the EFL classroom. Popular video games, the communities of gamers and even their forms of online communication (like fan-fiction, Let’s Play videos, game maps, etc.) present sources of English contact, as well as digital multi-literacies, for many young learners of English in Germany. Connecting to this contact and informal learning in the classroom can show the relevance of the EFL classroom to the everyday lives of young learners, provide them with skills and strategies for further English learning in digital gaming contexts, and introduce multiliteracies relevant for learning and communication in the 21st century. In order to support this connection, my study first defines video game literacy for connecting games and game-learning into the EFL classroom. Next, the project collects and analyzes empirical data on three 10th grade English classes in which game-topics, experiences and media were introduced to examine the affordances and problems of video game literacy in the EFL classroom. Finally, the study presents suggestions for educators, teaching materials designers, and future researchers.

Research Interest
This qualitative-exploratory research project aims at developing a model of video game literacy (VGL) to support learner participation in the English language cultural discourse on digital games. This approach recognizes digital games as a substantial source of English language contact and that digital games, as highly complex, interactive ‘texts,’ not only embed, but also are embedded in a complex network of cultural discourses. Until recently, the acceptance of other media, like literature and film, into EFL classrooms has been slow; nevertheless, initial attempts to define respective literacy models have already been undertaken. Digital games appear to have been ignored, as no model of VGL currently exists for the EFL classroom. This study addresses this gap by proposing a discourse model of VGL and by exploring the potentials and problems of EFL classroom game discourse.

Central Research Questions
The research questions address both the theoretical development of a discourse model and the empirical description of classroom game discourse. The first question addresses the theoretical, conceptual and empirical modeling of VGL including defining features and categories (and their interrelationships) of cultural game discourse. The second question explores EFL classroom game discourse to identify challenges and opportunities and investigates the potential of the cultural discourse model of VGL developed in the theoretical section as an analytical tool for understanding (and supporting) classroom game discourse.

Data Collection
Data collection focused on three EFL classroom case studies from various schools and school forms. Over a period of two weeks per case study, data was collected via videography, non-participatory observation, classroom documents and, when necessary, photographic documentation. In-class data collection preceded retrospective, semi-structured teacher and student (group) interviews. Multiple data collection tools and methods were utilized to enable data triangulation in the analysis phase.

Data Analysis
The first step of data analysis included identifying critical incidents in classroom game discourse based on observer field notes and videography, then identifying and reviewing further related data. Relevant videography and classroom products were transcribed, analyzed and coded using thematic and qualitative content analysis á Mayring that involved both a top-down process (applying the discourse model of VGL as an analytical tool) and bottom-up processes (inductive analysis of unforeseen events and patterns.) The analysis of individual data sources then underwent a process of triangulation in order to establish causal relations and increase intersubjective validation of results and findings.

The central results of the study can be summarized in the following points:

Discourse Model of Game Literacy: The discourse model of VGL can serve as an analytical and categorical tool to identify and address the challenges and opportunities of classroom game discourse. Furthermore, it can also illuminate the complexity of classroom game discourse. The following points reflect the findings of this study and are organized according to the discourse model of VGL.

The Game: Game complexity and stark differences in background knowledge of students and teachers pose serious challenges for classroom game discourse. These challenges emerge in student difficulties conceptualizing and articulating game experiences and relating them to others, and in teacher difficulties developing suitable tasks and materials and in evaluating student contributions. The fictional world of games offers points of connecting classroom game analysis to existing teacher competences and classroom processes, while systemic aspects of games are largely ignored.

The Player: The topic of games is personal for both students and teachers. Video games play a substantial role in the identities of students, as digital gaming is bound up in their lives (present and past) and is a significant part of their social and familial networks (and memories). Though teachers are interested in the lives and gameplay experiences of their students, they are also concerned about the dangers of games and wish to initiate critical reflection. Questions concerning cultural, social and cognitive functions of digital games and play are largely ignored.

The World: Students and teachers have limited access to game discourse. This is in part due to the complexity of games and game experiences, to difficulties articulating game knowledge and experiences (especially on an abstract level), to differing background experiences, and possibly to the questioned value of games in a school context. As a practical application of real-life game discourse, gamification offers access to game discourse and initiates reflection on games and real-life institutions. The impact of gaming on the constitution of cultural worldviews is largely ignored.

Classroom Game Discourse: Teachers and students have discourse goals which only partially overlap. This is in part due to differing beliefs, values and intentions. Both teachers and students are interested in learning more about games and each other, but teachers are more interested in initiating reflection and articulation – focusing on negative topics of games – while students are interested in sharing their knowledge about and experiences with games. ‘Switching’ roles – or students taking on ‘teaching’ functions and vice versa – presents opportunities but also serious challenges.

Conclusion and Outlook
The discourse model of VGL reveals interrelated dimensions inextricably tied up in cultural experience, communication and discourse.  Empirical classroom research reveals complex interactions that constitute classroom game discourse and the differing goals, intentions and perspectives of teachers and students and, additionally, it reveals the challenges and opportunities facing the development of VGL in the EFL classroom. Perhaps equally important, however, this study identifies areas of further research and development. 1) Future research should focus on the model, its conceptual development and its operationalization into teaching methods and learning materials. 2) Future research should focus on teacher training, determining what skills teachers require to support VGL in the classroom. 3) Future research should focus on learners to uncover more about their (vastly heterogeneous) game experiences, articulation abilities and contact to the English language. 4) Finally, future research should focus more on the curricular integration of VGL to deal with the multiliteracies complexity of digital games and their embeddedness in superordinate networks of cultural discourse.


Creativity for Change in Language Education: The C Group

posted by Juergen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

This is just to let you know about the C Group, an independent and informal grouping of EFL professionals from around the world. The group aims collaboratively to share information, promote reflection and inquiry, and enrourage action through more creative and open teaching practices.

I joined the C Group two years ago, because I share the group’s conviction that creativity needs to be reinforced in ELT, especially in the age of standards-based instruction and assessment. To find out more, please click here.

My personal creativity focus is on improvisation in structured EFL learning environments, as documented on this blog. In these three publications I explain in more detail how creativity and improvisation (performative creativity) can contribute to promoting learners’ oral proficiency in EFL classrooms:

Kurtz, Jürgen (2011): “Breaking through the Communicative Cocoon: Improvisation in Secondary School EFL Classrooms”. In: Sawyer, R. Keith (ed.) (2011): Structure and Improvisation in Creative Teaching. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 131-160. For a preview of the book, click here.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2014): “Promoting oral proficiency in the foreign language class: Improvisation in structured learning environments.” In: Chenoll, Antonio, Sieberg, Bernd, Franco, Mario & Lindemann, Verena (eds.) (2015): Falar: A Competência Oral no Ensino de uma Língua Estrangeira; Speaking: Teaching Oral Communication Skills in Foreign Languages. Lisboa: Centro de Estudos de Comunicação e Cultura, 18-53.” For the online version, click here.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2015): “Fostering and Building upon Oral Creativity in the EFL Classroom.” In: Maley, Alan & Peachey, Nik (eds.). Creativity in the English Language Classroom. London: British Council, 73-83. A free online version is avaliable here.