H is for Hypotheses


Ken BeattyDr. Ken Beatty

“I’m a researcher! Why has no one ever told me?”

Teachers are inherently researchers, driven by natural curiosity to understand their students’ problems and to consider ways of addressing them. Sometimes they apply old approaches and methods that may have been key to their own first or second language acquisition. Sometimes teachers become creative and innovate new approaches and methods. In doing so, they tend to follow the scientific method:

  • ask a question
  • research the question
  • construct a hypothesis (a guess)
  • test the hypothesis with an experiment
  • analyze the data and draw a conclusion
  • share results

For example, a teacher asks a question: Why are students doing poorly on tests? She is surprised because she thinks they know (or should know) the content on which they’re being tested. Doing some research (starting online), she finds a variety of variables that could be responsible:

  • The tests are held after lunch; maybe students are too sleepy after eating.
  • The tests are one hour long; maybe students need more time to demonstrate what they know.
  • The tests are written; maybe students don’t perform as well when writing because most of the teacher’s evidence of their abilities is based on their spoken output.
  • The tests are too narrow; students have to study one or more chapters of material, but are only assessed on a small portion.

The teacher expands her research to directly ask her students what they think. She decides this last problem, of the tests being too narrow, is the possible pedagogical culprit.

Based on this research and student feedback, the teacher formulates a hypothesis. It’s messy at first because she isn’t exactly sure how to word it to cover all contingencies, but it basically looks like this:

Students asked to demonstrate what they know do better on tests than students who are asked to recall a subset of what the teacher expects them to know.

Hmm. It’s a bit vague, but that’s okay at this point because designing an experiment will help to make it clearer. It can be refined as the teacher goes along. She decides to use the class’s current area of study, the ten most common irregular verbs. This is the content for which the teacher expects her students to demonstrate mastery:

Base form Past tense Past participle
say said said
make made made
go went gone
take took taken
come came come
see saw seen
know knew known
get got got/gotten
give gave given
find found found

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Australia’s Largest Provider of Education and Training
Uses Versant English Placement Test

Navitas is a leading global education provider that offers an extensive range of educational services to students and professionals, including university programs, creative-media education, professional education, English language training, and settlement services. University Programs is the largest division of Navitas; it prepares international and domestic students for tertiary study through pre-university and university pathway programs. The following case study will describe the challenges and solutions for administering English assessments for over 10,000 university students from 80 countries each year.

“Testing More Than 10,000 Students Annually is a Massive Undertaking”

Navitas had been assessing the English language skills of students seeking an education in an English-speaking country for many years using a customized test. Not only was the test laborious to administer and difficult to scale, but it also lacked the credibility of a third party marking, managing and moderating results. Navitas needed an objective test to satisfy both university partners and parents.

Navitas turned to Pearson to help create an online test that would meet the highest level of excellence for English language testing. When Pearson launched the Versant™ English Placement Test (VEPT) with Navitas in 2011, it was the first globally validated test that assessed the four modalities of English: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Continue reading

Did You Miss Our Professional Development Series?

If you missed our two weeks of Professional Development Webinars, no worries. We have recorded every session for your convenience. Just register and login in to watch practical and informative sessions given by experts in the field of English language teaching including Dr. Ken Beatty, Carol Numrich, Christina Cavage, Sarah Lynn, and Tania Pattison just to name a few. Topics ranged from the flipped classroom and teaching with technology to critical thinking and English for academic purposes. Click here to get started!

G is for Games

Ken BeattyDr. Ken Beatty

“Why are they playing games and not learning something?”

Games are among the most misunderstood pedagogical strategies in the teachers’ toolbox. Parents, other teachers, and administrators can misinterpret students’ enjoyment of games as having fun at the expense of more serious and productive learning. But the opposite is often the case; the casual competitive nature of games suppresses students’ self-consciousness and helps them focus and learn more than during other classroom activities.

However, to be fair, sometimes teachers play games in the classroom without a perfect understanding of the benefits that games carry and the ways in which they can be tailored to better address student needs. In such cases, teachers may only use games as filler activities, as a way of keeping more able students busy while others catch up. Alternatively, games might only be used at the end of a class when there is extra time left.


Because games are inherently motivating, they are useful as a reward or a break from other classroom activities. Some games add excitement, such as kinesthetic ones that require students to stand up and participate as a group. An example is Simon Says, in which students have to listen carefully and follow a leader’s directions as long as they are prefaced with the words, “Simon says (touch your nose).” If the words Simon says aren’t said by the leader, students have to remain stationary or find themselves out of the game.

The pedagogical purposes of Simon Saystype games are usually to encourage discrete listening and also to reinforce language students have already learned around actions related to identifying body parts (touch your knees), types of motion (shake your head; close your eyes), and actions (sit down; stand up). As with most games, there are opportunities to tailor the game to the target vocabulary students have recently covered. Reinforcement through a game is important because it stores the information in another part of the brain. Beyond reading, writing, listening, or speaking, the kinesthetic aspect helps make the vocabulary more memorable. Continue reading

Towards the Critique: Teaching EAP Students to Be Critical

Tania Pattison PhotoTania Pattison

For EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teachers, it may not be enough these days to teach standard essays and research skills. In order to prepare students adequately for their future studies, EAP teachers at CEFR levels B2 and above need to go further. Recent corpora-based research has shed new light on the genres of writing that our students should expect to encounter in their future studies; for example, in research carried out in the UK, Nesi and Gardner (2012) identified 13 genres that undergraduates could be expected to write; these include essay, case study, narrative recount, and more. One that is common across the disciplines is the critique.

What is a critique?
As Nesi and Gardner put it, “The central purpose of Critiques is to demonstrate and develop understanding of the object of study and the ability to evaluate and/or assess its significance” (2012, p. 94). This could take several forms; depending on their field of study, students may be asked to review books, articles, films, plays, and works of art; they could be asked to evaluate financial data, legislation, government policy, and business operations, or they could be required to analyze critically the results of an experiment, a process, or a system (Nesi & Gardner, 2012). In other words, understanding is not enough; students need to use their critical thinking skills to respond to something they are studying and to express a judgment about its value or usefulness. In the EAP class, the item being subjected to critical analysis is usually a written text.

Learning to be critical
Most EAP students, I have found, are not really clear about what being critical actually entails; many think it has something to do with being negative, and it comes as a bit of a surprise when I tell them that while the word critical often does suggest a negative reaction, critical analysis does not necessarily involve looking for problems within the text. I like to draw students’ attention to people who work as critics of movies, music, restaurants, and so on; these people write reviews that may be positive, negative, or a little of both.

Another thing worth emphasizing to students is that a critique is not an emotional response. Students may be predisposed to disagree with any text that goes against their own personal beliefs, which may have their basis in religion or politics. It is important to emphasize the need to look objectively at the author’s argument and to come to a reasoned analysis, not an emotional outburst. Continue reading