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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.



CAES International Conference: Faces of English Theory, Practice and Pedagogy

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

The Centre for Applied English Studies at Hong Kong University will be hosting an international conference titled “Faces of English: Theory, Practice and Pedagogy” in Hong Kong on 11-13 June 2015. According to the organisers, the conference aims to bring together academics, researchers, practitioners and research students from around the world to discuss the interdependence between theory and practice, with papers which focus on the analysis, description and teaching of English in order to better understand the ways in which theory, research and pedagogy interact and inform each other. It also welcomes participants to share practical ideas and teaching materials related to the use of English in a variety of social, professional, educational and virtual contexts.The keynote speakers and post-conference workshop facilitators are:

Rod Ellis, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Keynote: Teacher as input; Workshop: Consciousness-raising tasks for grammar teaching

Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia, Canada
Keynote: Digital ways, unequal worlds: Identity, investment, and English language learners in changing times;  Workshop: Critical practices in the assessment of writing

David Nunan, The University of Hong Kong
Keynote: Language learning beyond the classroom;  Workshop: Designing projects for out-of-class learning

Wen Qiufang, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China
Keynote: Production-oriented approach to teaching adult English learners in Mainland China;  Workshop: How to implement POA in English teaching

Ken Hyland, The University of Hong Kong
Keynote: Anecdote, attitude and evidence. Does English disadvantage EAL authors in international publishing? Workshop: Writing for international publication in Applied Linguistics and EFL journals

I have been invited to give a talk on ‘Standards-based instruction in EFL classrooms in Germany: Creaticide by design?’. This is my abstract:

Looking at recent education reforms in the U.S., the American education psychologist David Berliner (2012) cautions against placing too many expectations on standards-based reforms, on thinning down school curricula, and ultimately, on conceptualizing education in terms of testing and measurable outcome primarily. In his view, reducing education to competency-based instruction and the demonstration of knowledge and skills in centralized performance tests may eventually have some undesirable backwash effects. Sooner or later, frontline practitioners might adopt a ‘teaching to the test-mentality’ which in turn could contribute to a classroom learning atmosphere overshadowed by fear of failure. In this context, Berliner (2012) warns against ‘creaticide by design’ in the classroom.

In my talk, I would like to briefly outline and problematize the state-of-the-art of competency-, standards- and test-oriented theorizing in Germany, placing special emphasis on the (largely neglected) role of creativity and improvisation in learning English as a foreign language. Based on qualitative-empirical case research carried out in a number of EFL classrooms in Germany over the past 20 years, I would also like to illustrate how teachers can foster creativity and improvisation in meaningful, task-driven, partly scripted and unscripted classroom settings.

Berliner, D. (2012) ‘Narrowing Curriculum, Assessments, and Conceptions of What It Means to Be Smart in the US Schools: Creaticide by Design’, in Ambrose D. and Sternberg, R.J. (eds), How Dogmatic Beliefs Harm Creativity and Higher-Level Thinking. New York: Routledge, 79-93.

FFF Conference 2014 on Early Foreign Language Learning

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany

The 4th German FFF Conference 2014 (FFF = Fortschritte im Frühen  Fremdsprachenlernen; Advances in Early Foreign Language Learning) will be held October 2-4, 2014 at Leipzig University, Germany. The conference will serve as a meeting place for everyone professionally interested and involved in the theory and/or practice of foreign language education in elementary schools and at kindergarten level. This year, it will focus in particular (not exclusively) on language learning research conducted in the pre-school sector, addressing fundamental questions related to adequate and efficient instruction and the transition from pre-school to elementary school. The conference will take place over three days, featuring one plenary lecture, a total of 40 presentations, and five themed workshops. For more detailed information (in German), please click here.



Inaugural CEFR Web Conference (28-29 March 2014)

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

The Inaugural Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) Web Conference was broadcast live on the web about two weeks ago. The two-day conference aimed to create a platform for policy-makers, test organisations, teachers and learners across and beyond Europe, in order to promote an exchange of ideas on this influential document, published more than a decade ago. For a comprehensive summary, including an impressive collection of video recordings (keynotes, workshops, panel discussions), click here.


The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (9)

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

A new scholarly publication on textbook analysis, development, and use in the EFL/ESL classroom is out now. Edited by Nigel Harwood, it focuses on what I have referred to as the three pillars of textbook resesarch (see Kurtz 2010, 2011), i.e. on a) textbook content analysis, b) textbook development and production, and c) textbook use or ‘consumption’:

English Language Teaching Textbooks

Harwood, Nigel (ed.) (2013). English Language Teaching Textbooks: Content, Consumption, Production. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

I have read the book with great interest and wish to recommend it to anyone interested in textbook critique, development, and use. However, while going through this valuable collection of papers, written by an international cast of teachers and textbook writers, I noticed that references to research conducted in Germany over the last 125 years are (largely) missing. This is irritating, since the book addresses an international readership.

Furthermore, local EFL textbooks and accompanying teaching and learning aids produced in Germany (such as, for instance, Camden Town, Green Line or English G Access) are not taken into account at all. Why not? Is this, perhaps, because these textbooks are mainly produced by German publishers for EFL instruction in Germany? In view of the continuing international debate on the strenghts and weaknesses of global and local textbooks, I think textbook research needs to adopt a wider perspective.

In order to encourage  and support research in this direction, I would like to add the following bibliography to this post. Compiled by Carolin Borchardt at JLU Giessen last year, it comprises a considerable number of thematic articles which appeared in some of the most important TEFL journals in Germany, including DNS (Die Neueren Sprachen, first published in 1894). If this is of interest to you, please click here: JLU Giessen_EFL Textbook Research in Germany.


Kurtz, Jürgen (2010). Zum Umgang mit dem Lehrwerk im Englischunterricht. [Using a Textbook in the EFL Classroom]. In: Fuchs, Eckhardt; Kahlert, Joachim & Sandfuchs, Uwe (Hrsg.) (2010). Schulbuch konkret. Kontexte, Produktion, Unterricht. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt, 149-163.

Kurtz, Jürgen (Koord.) (2011). Lehrwerkkritik, Lehrwerkverwendung, Lehrwerkentwicklung. [Textbook Analysis, Textbook Use, and Textbook Development]. Tübingen: Narr. [Claus Gnutzmann, Lutz Küster & Frank G. Königs (Hg.) (2011). Fremdsprachen Lehren und Lernen, 40, Band 2].


Let there be light

The Steve Brown Blog

[This article was first published in English Teaching Professional, Issue 85, March 2013. A number of the issues addressed in this article have come up again in other posts and comments on my blog, so I thought I should post it here as well. ]

In Issue 82 of ETp, Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley put forward the suggestion that we, as English language teachers, are perhaps not placing enough importance on the ‘dark matter’ of teaching, that is to say the unpredictability of the classroom situation. In practice, lesson plans tend to act merely as a starting point, and the ‘real’ teaching exists in the teacher’s ability to improvise. Most experienced teachers will be familiar with scenarios where unplanned lesson segments become critical in terms of maximising learning.

Real learner engagement

The idea that teachers need to consider, value and respond to student contributions has been widely…

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InTASK Model Core Teaching Standards

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

During my stay at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada this summer, I stumbled upon an interesting paper on teacher education issued by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC. The title of the publication is: “InTASK: Model Core Teaching Standards: A Resource for State Dialogues”. From my German and European perspectice, the paper outlines some very general standards of teaching that are conceived of as being important to lead to improved student achievement. I agree with the overall goals and objectices of education in schools, but in its decontextualized nature, the paper has very little to say about the many different contexts in which education in schools, including second/foreign language education is taking place these days. Opportunity-to-learn standards and teacher qualifications? Since all this has become an issue of world-wide interest, I am interested in hearing your personal views on this.