Dr Robin Leslie Usher PhD has been a teacher of English language and literature since 1994 in Hungary, Poland, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, Libya, China, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Azerbaijan. Apart from contributing to HLT since June 2008’s ‘Bitchin’ English’, Robin was the author of `Learning To Study` for the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research`s (HIER’s) Educatio, Winter-Spring, 1995; ‘Serious In Syria’ (115) and ‘Positions Hollywood’ (120) for Poland’s The Teacher, 2014. Member of the International Freelance Photographers Organization (IFPO). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
What English language teachers (ELT`s) are expected to make of the current fad for distinguishing between the four skills, is largely situational, but the recent activity among course book providers, such as Q: Skills, affords some clue to the thinking of employers with regard to English teaching providers. Leaving aside the role of the English language teaching provider in terms of their role as an employer of English language teachers, the international employers` relationship with the publishers of English language teaching course books, which includes government institutions, and their military, is evident from the combining of the reading and writing skills in Sarah Lynn`s Q: Skills Special Edition: Reading and Writing (2013), and Q: Skills Special Edition: Listening and Speaking (2013) course books (with iQ online), which are similarly indicative of the developing relationship between employers and publishers to the exclusion of ELT providers as employers of English language teaching professionals.
Although most ELT`s qualify with a certificate from a recognized awarding body, such as the Cambridge CELTA, or Trinity College London`s TESOL Cert., many are much more highly qualified with an M.A. in Applied Linguistics, etc., although the teaching certificate remains a basic standard by which all are examined as to their aptitude for the task. Recent developments in team-teaching are such that a non-Moslem, with an M.A. in Applied Linguistics, or less, can be asked to team-teach with a fellow professional operating at a professional level of English language teaching much lower than the westerner, so that the workload upon the westerner is increased, while the non-native speaking Moslem, or other national, jollies things along with students closer to their own cultural background, but has little impact on the English language learning program.
What the western English language teaching professional discovers, especially in the Middle East, is that they`re asked to double their workload, instead of halving it, when asked to double up with non-native speakers and team-teach from books like Q: Skills Special Edition: Reading and Writing and Q: Skills Special Edition: Listening and Speaking, because the teacher responsible for the other skill is inadequate to the task. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the `Saudization program` placed the burden on companies to participate in an orange, green, and red selection program, whereby non-Moslem native speakers of English were required to make themselves indispensable as greens, or be red in the face as they experienced employment termination for being inadequate, because Moslem teachers were more favored; irrespective of their ability to teach English language.
What tends to occur is that English language teaching expertise is measured in terms of an individual`s ability in one or more of the four skills, that is, English language teachers are selected on the basis of their being able to team-teach in order to surreptitiously provide training for the non-native speaker they`re teamed with in the English language teaching classroom. The non-native speaker is then congratulated by the local administration for having trained a native speaker; not least in the acceptance of local tradition and culture; for example, that of the Moslem in Islam. Native speakers aren`t any longer asked to provide English language teaching, but rather one or more of the four skills in tandem with a trainee, who for the local administration is the trainer.
Teaching from December 2016 at the local Fish Market College in Khamis Mushait, a town close by the city of Abha University in Saudi Arabia, new teachers were perforce required to submit a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation for the salutary guidance of their fellow professionals, that is, a slideshow seminar on some subject relevant to the practical teaching of English language in order to edify and, perhaps, galvanize into enthusiastic action, those already employed in the activity of teaching English at the college. `Motivation` was the theme selected by this teacher, and a 40 minute movie with sound effects, music, pictures, and text (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR5hbEzTwpI&t=306s), was duly compiled for the edification of those gathered to glean some benefit from the presentation. Switching it on, those gathered were somewhat bemused by the lack of animation from the compiler, who simply sat with the others while the film ran, and fielded any questions that arose, before the show was peremptorily shut down due to a lack of running time affordable.
With proven expertise in the field of MS PPt Presentation, this teacher was subsequently invited to work from September 2017 at the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the team-teaching of Q: Skills Special Edition: Listening and Speaking required a teacher to monitor the students` speaking skills through MS PPt presentations based on the requirements of the Speaking component of the Q: Skills Special Edition: Listening and Speaking course book, which required discussions of the theme of each of the eight units before a PPt Presentation on the topic, for example, Unit 5 `Psychology`, which features `Sports In Our Lives`, required the students to undertake some `pair work` and `role play` an interview situation using a MS PPt slideshow as the medium for their interacting in front of the class. The aim was for the students, who were there to learn presentation skills, to demonstrate that they could answer questions, should such an eventuality arise, and for `peer evaluation` and collective improvement through the teacher`s insightful constructive criticism.
Each student was required to create a PPt Presentation with some text inserted into the slideshow to keep the audience`s attention, and speak for a few minutes on the subject of the unit in order for the teacher to assess and evaluate the student`s performance in English language speaking; Pronunciation (20%), Grammar (20%), Accuracy (10%), Speed (10%), Vocabulary (20%), and Content (20%). After eight weeks, the first term concluded, and Level 1 was overcome. Continuously assessing the students` performances, this teacher was able to provide the IPA with something approaching an accurate evaluation of their level and ability, which was the task allotted to the ELT professional.
Two students fell below the benchmark standard otherwise set and completed by the rest of the learners. In accordance with the instructions given to the teachers at the IPA, PPt Presentations that referred to cultural and/or religious taboos, that is, sex, religion or politics, were to be ruled out of order. Consequently, students who, respectively, introduced rape as a joke within a PPt Presentation, and prostitution, had to be required to scrap their PPt Presentations and do them anew. The result was a fall in marking terms from 90% to 80% because of constraints imposed upon the teacher by another culture`s taboos, which have nothing to do with the English language teaching process. In other words, ELT teaching in some countries has nothing to do with learning English language, for example, in Moslem nations, where Islam is the dominant religious tradition, the Koran (610-30 C.E.) is cited as the yardstick by which everyone is beaten until they submit.
`Islam` in fact means `accept`, while `Moslem` means `acceptance`, and it`s tacit acceptance of Moslem Islam that the English language teaching professional is beaten with; unless they fully accept and convert to Islam. Consequently, the students` failure is accountable as a success in Islamic terms, because the teacher has understood. In other words, the students have proven themselves men of Islam in breaking their own cultural taboo to get the teacher to take cognizance of the fact that it`s religiously unacceptable, and now the ELT professional is paradoxically perceived as being on their way to converting to Islam: a triumph for the students, institution administration, culture, and religious tradition of the Moslem believer.
Teachers at the IPA were required to submit their mid-term and term examinations for review to a panel of grammar experts, who`d then decide whether or not the questions were in accordance with the requirements of the educational aspirations of students and the employers, companies and government bodies, etc., who`d sent them there to learn English. Of course, with administration there are always some bizarre occurrences, and the IPA wasn`t any exception. A question in the term exam related to this statement from a reading comprehension, `The Sateré-Mawé are a group of people in the Brazilian Amazon jungle, which is in South America.` Question number 20 for the Level 1 students required them to decide from a list of three in the multiple-choice format favored by institutions in countries where little or nothing is expected of the examined:
What is the Amazon?
- rain forest
The adminstrative judiciary panel of experts suggested that there be a modification so that the choice read b) Amazon jungle . Presumably because e-bay and Amazon are rivals in the online retail trade. Joking apart, administrators aren`t generally in a position to tell the teacher what should be in an exam from the perspective of the students` learning program, which is more or less entirely defined by the set book, and if it isn`t then there`s something wrong with the learning program`s establishing.
Teachers responsible for Reading were asked by the IPA administration to provide alternative single word answers to those given in the term exam text, so that it might be possible in the future for compilers of similar examinations, after the completion of the Saudization program, to make tests based on questions similar to those devised by teachers, because they had alternative answers. This required teachers to sit in front of their desktop computers for hours studying spreadsheets and trying to decide which alternative words could be correctly inserted into the examination paper answer sheet, before inserting four more, so that some future compiler of a term exam could look at what had been compiled by a professional native English speaker and devise questions similar so that the alternative answers could be utilized without further participation in the examination compiling procedure by a native speaker.
The mid-term examination consisted of 40 questions, and 40 marks, which together with 10% for classroom participation, and 10% for homework meant that the mid-term exam counted for 80% of the mid-term final grade, but the administration decided that the exam should conform to their latest standardization program, which meant that the teachers had to rewrite an already given and written mid-term exam to please admin`s desire for a 30 question mid-term exam, with 18 easy, 6 medium, and 6 hard questions denoted on the spreadsheet by 1, 2, and 3, together with a marking system that required fractional allocations in accordance with the assertion that these questions were easy, these medium, and these hard.
As 10 of the questions were vocabulary, allocation of a single mark for each would seem logical, but not to the administrators, who arbitrarily decided that, for an exam already delivered and marked, some of the vocab questions should be weighted easy, some medium in terms of difficulty, and some hard, or near impossible. From the remaining Reading exam comprehension questions, divided into two sets of 10 for two different topics, that is, `Information` and `Differences Between Adults and Children`, from 20 questions 30 marks were to be allocated, after the set number of easy, medium, and hard questions were determined, and a value allocated to them that accorded with the teachers` mission of giving marks amounting to a possible 80%, that is, 30 questions amounting to 40 marks, `If there are sixteen elephants in the garage, how many does Shirley have in her hand?` Of course, after having been made to rewrite the already given mid-term exam, the term exam was easy, medium, or hard.
Except for the decision to use Scantron sheets, which required the teacher to rewrite their already written term exam in order that it fit the Scantron sheet formula, which insisted that vocabulary questions requiring the students to choose from ten options, couldn`t possibly be, because the Scantron sheet only permitted of a possible five multiple-choices for any single question, and explaining to the students that, if the question required a True (T) or False (F) answer, T was `A`, and F was `B` on the Scantron sheet that offered A, B, C, D, or E as possible choice indicators, was about as far as the teacher dared go with a student body likely to contemplate murdering their tormentor.
After the exam, the teachers had to feed the sheets into a `Scantron machine`. Although it responded by giving the number of correct answers, the individual teacher still had to find the correct value for the students` efforts. The division of the questions into easy, medium, and hard meant that the number of correct answers was largely irrelevant. The relevant issue was the value ascribed to the correct answer by the exigencies of the term exam having to comply with the requirement of the administration that there be different values ascribed to easy, medium and hard questions. Then the student`s 30 questions could be evaluated in terms of the 40 marks available which, doubled, then approximated to 80% of the 100% achievable when classroom participation, 10%, and homework, 10%, were added to the equation in amounts correctly evaluated by the maddened.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Practical uses of Technology in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English Course for Teachers and School Staff at Pilgrims website.
Meeting the Needs for Computer-based Testing at University Level
Carmen Argondizzo, Italy;Jean M. Jimenez, Italy;Ian Michael Robinson, Italy
Robin Usher, Saudi Arabia