Students are Over-Tested, Teachers and Institutions are Under-Tested
We are forever developing more and more sophisticated tests to evaluate students’ English ability. Guess what? Learners are in English class because they don’t speak or write English. They will graduate unable to speak or write English and they are likely to be stuck in English class for many more years not becoming fluent in English. The likelihood of learners becoming fluent in English in English class is close to zero. It has been this way for hundreds of years. Learners don’t need any more testing but teachers and institutions do.
If you are an English teacher of long standing or a decision maker in an English teaching institution stop reading now unless you have a very thick skin. It’s not about you, it’s about our gross collective failure to teach English effectively. In spite of teachers and schools this is being changed by the internet – but that is another article.
Although teaching to the test is common worldwide, I suspect it is the worst in China. It’s where students memorize grammar and spelling in order to past tests and graduate with no authentic ability in the new language. One author doesn’t pull any punches in Teaching English in China is a Waste of Time. It’s not clear if it is students’ time or teachers’ that is wasted but I’m leaning towards both. Teach to the test is an earmark of mass miseducation that serves teachers and institutions but not students. Oh wait, that is worldwide too. Our poor results have nothing to do with students but are due to our having no idea of how to teach language and refusing to learn to do better. Before we check out the gloomy fate of traditional English programs let’s look at how wide and deep the English teaching/learning chasm has become.
Out of the mouths of babes, here is an article from the Japan Times you are going to hate. Junior high students rip elementary English as ‘useless’. In a left handed way it implies that Senior high students are happier with their English school but the opposite is true, they are less satisfied than the Juniors.
From India here is a short slide presentation you are also going to hate. How did Englishmen Cheat Indians on English Education. The author is correct in laying much of the blame for the state of English teaching at the feet of Oxford and Cambridge (not to discount the negative contribution of the entire ESL publishing industry). In collusion with badly educated teachers education systems have intellectually brutalized learners then turned around and blamed the victims (students) for the poor results for generations. Is it possible the problem isn’t the students at all?
Unfortunately, in the Englishmen Cheat Indians PowerPoint the presentation devolves into a lame pitch for the author’s English program by the seventh slide. The author shoots himself in the foot at the end of his exposé by using the recently maligned Oxford as a reference lol. If his program is as bad as his English it should be avoided but he does get in some very valid points about the carnage that is the English teaching culture in India.
India clearly is being cheated by the English as the presentation suggests but this swindle has gone on for over 250 years! How has the worldwide travesty of just plain bad teaching sustained itself for centuries? The answer is in the question. ‘Sustained itself’.
The education industry with salaried, pensioned, teacher-minions sustains itself successfully by avoiding unbiased, third party tests. Institutions, teacher training, conferences, forums… are all parts of a self aggrandizing and self perpetuating culture. There is absolutely no accountability to parents, taxpayers, students… with the sleezy exception of the industry’s own self validating propaganda. Our failure to teach English effectively has continued unchecked for hundreds of years because there is no testing of teachers or schools.
I’m on a bit of a rant here so you can skip over the next few paragraphs unless you have also noticed the same things.
I was looking at the keynote speakers on the agenda at a recent national TESL Conference (TESOL, IATEFL… are in the same sinking boat). I couldn’t find a speaker without Linguistic, Research. PhD or Theory in their bio. Many had all four. Why?
- Linguistics and Grammar are the undisputed roots of student failure.
- The purpose of Research is to control and predict. We failed to produce results and don’t need any more research to predict the end of language education as we were taught it – we are living it.
- PhD – please. We all drank the ‘higher education’ Kool-Aid. Hiring speakers who drank gallons more than we did is a last ditch attempt to legitimize the whole education culture we were born into that isn’t working. More of the wrong kind of education is not where the solution lies.
- Theory is wordy, techno and distancing and looks like this: intercultural communicative competence, explore indigenization, futurology, English in multilingualism, comprehensive examination, adjunct professor… Is it useful in the classroom to learners? No.
The saving grace here is attendance at these professional conferences has dropped from thousands to hundreds. No kidding. Teachers looking for real solutions for teaching English effectively have learned they are are not going to find them at expensive, cushy, country-club, conferences. They are going to find solutions where students are finding them – on the internet.
The current English teaching paradigms are falling apart faster than gasoline evaporates. The internet is providing more effective, economical alternatives. Learners must beware of the online programs that simply digitize IPA and other bad approaches, but good systems are out there and students are finding them quickly because they are motivated.
Teacher training and administrations are like barges in a port; they can’t maneuver quickly enough to catch up to their competition. Their fate is sealed. I can’t think of a quicker way to sink traditional teaching than with programs like the Canadian Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) that continues to over test learners and over tax teachers. Traditional English education is killing itself in front of our eyes. It’s too late for teacher or institution testing now, there is nothing anyone can do to save traditional ESL. Don’t despair. It’s not the end of the world it’s just change. In the field of teaching English, change is good. The real test of education is in learners’ ability to function confidently and successfully outside of the classroom.
Yours in ESL,
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