38.5!!!

Good evening,

Relax. We’re halfway between October the 28th 2020 and the same October date in 2021. It’s my 38 and a half year birthday. I had candles. The kind that deter mosquitoes. I had cake. A great student kindly gifted me a cupcake. Technically, it was a cake placed into a paper cup. Below the cake was a selection of fruits. Thank you Sofia!

There were horns. It was a video about a foghorn in Cornwall. There was even a card! I had to use my swipe card to print and photocopy. Several students even sang “Happy half birthday to you… ” which was rather creative and humorous.

Well until the 38.75 birthday…tally ho!

The Cafe Book

The Cafe Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment and Instruction, by self titled sisters Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, attracted me in library. Or because of the literacy element. Nor so that of instruction. The word cafe stood out. Its abstraction and my liking of coffee met perfectly.

Hoisting the 204 paved softback down, I noticed the bump in the cover. A CD-ROM. I haven’t used a DVD or CD for so long. The Tungwah Wenze International School staff-issued iMac doesn’t come with a drive. I don’t have one on my personal laptop. The TVs at school, my TV at home and all the smart board systems at school don’t have a place for discs. Printed in 2009, I started to wonder if the contents would have dated as fast as the technology they employed. The longevity of books however remains stalwart.

Seven sturdy chapters opened before me. I skim read the acknowledgements, unable to connect to the names on the page, but fully aware such matters as teaching and writing needs a cast of many. Last Friday, Grade 4 had a COLA (Celebration of Learning Achievement). Mr Jaime, Mr Richard and Miss Aria with support from Miss Keats and Miss Belinda set our class on a good course.

Chapter one asks why and what are assessment systems. It refers heavily back to the authors and their previous book, Daily Five. The general idea being: students read to self, read to someone else, write something, use word work and then listen to reading. In an ideal and disciplined world, it makes a big difference. The appendix of the book I had in my hand though made more sense. I could see how CAFE system could be of use to the busiest of teachers. It is simple.

Notebooks are often overlooked in these times of electronic record keeping. These can be filled by simple strategy forms. Students set their goals and post to a classroom chart. Small group work is encouraged, much like what I’m trying, time and time again. Whole group instructions and flip charts caught my attention. I’ve neglected flip chart paper for far too long.

By the time I’d reached chapter two, the key details that came across were that teachers want to do more; the importance of scaffolding; and teachers take offence to be told to follow a set template. They want to find their own ways to adjust the scaffolding needs of individuals. Can’t say that I disagree.

The evolution of a calendar from post it notes and scribbles on paper has certainly met all the best teachers. Our methods evolve and practices adapt. Reading literacy takes time for monitoring. Tabs, pages and menus of reading form. A bulletin board showing comprehension, fluency, accuracy and expanded vocabulary certainly feels like it should be at home in every classroom. Just like a daily ongoing story book. A chapter and day helps work, rest and play.

To get students to know their target, classes often need exemplars. These set a clear visual goal for their work ahead. The CAFE book covers familiar grounds of observation, encouragement, tracking and how to push interest. It develops wall display ideas and recommends strategies to develop readers. There are bucket loads of suggested reading books, group activities and then reference forms. Before the evening expired, I had read the book cover to cover. Ideas will have sank in. But, first, just one chocolate Hobnob biscuit

The Little Picture Book: Lost & Found

Eck and Timu, otherwise known as Echo and the late Tim Mileson, can be found in a book just shy of sixty glossy pages. The compact pocketbook is presented through poetry and story alike. It is conventional and yet unconventional. Interpretation is a skill you can choose to use, or just float on the muse.

Sandwiched between Tim’s personal writing, Eck explores emotions such as loss, belonging and echoes nature throughout. Cute eye-catching illustrations using a variety of sketching styles follow an imaginative route to deliver a peaceful and loving tribute in the form of a poetic manuscript.

There are lines throughout that transport the reader, catch them, hold them and bring them downward. There are uplifting words, moments of hope and flashes of light. It’s a sweet little book deserving of a wider audience. The book comes in both Chinese and English editions. My grade four students at Tungwah Wenze International School greeted that with joy. Next up they’ll interview the author…

In China? Further afield? Order directly from Eck by scanning the above on WeChat.

TESMC #10: Ben’s feedback.

How do / Hello,

Well below are some comments passed on from Mr Ben. They may include quotes or the like.

Thank you kindly for your time. Take care!


LOVE this rubric. Good work. I agree that it will prove very valuable especially as a repeated tool or maybe a classroom environment resource (on the wall).


Hiraeth [hiːrai̯θ] is real.  I absolutely empathize. Its one of the reason why reading the Hobbit this past year hit me so hard and moved me so deeply. 

Our students undergo a similar experience; imagine hitting your limit for foreign, non-homestyle etiquette or expectations or communication or food or cultural normalities… and you just sink into a state of longing or maybe homesickness; at the very least a sense of bitterness about things here not being the way you know/feel they are back home; this frequently happens multiple times a day in the life of an ELL in the international school. you and i may now have developed and matured enough skillsets for living and maintaining sustained life abroad to only feel this way occasionally and usually only when we confront certain nostalgic memory-inducing reminders. But for the ELL, young, immature, undeveloped, and almost always ill-equipped to deal well with the difficulties that you and I confronted on our first abroad experiences, or maybe in university when we had to get used to the big city or the lack of family, whatever the case may be. It is these difficulties that we strive to remove from their day-to-day academic life; after all, study in our own mother tongue can be strenuous to the max, let alone in another language. This sensitivity, and the toolset to deal with it effectively, makes us English-language-in-addition-to-mainstream-subject teachers.


“For many of us, we may be able to pre-read and digest a news article, magazine piece or a book blurb just from experience. Our pre-formed ideas and exposure to templates could settle our mind on a track to read with ease. The imagination and interpretation of a seasoned-mind will draw out bold titles, enhance key points, find text captions, and articulate the who, when, what, why and how etc.”

You’ve successfully articulated the objectives of the language-in-addition-to-subject teacher’s instructional planning when re consider granting out students access to written/visual texts. With a bit-o-revision you could change this quote into a succinct set of reading objectives that you should now be better equipped than ever to address explicitly as a teacher.


Polias, Nominalisation, meaning making in the written realm by Brian Dare, and How accessible are the texts we use by John Polias made for riveting reading. They kept me up into the wee hours and on my toes. Why? They made me question my teaching and my selection of textbooks. Hugely.” I’ll be sure to pass this on to the two writers of TESMC (now called TEMC) though i’ll be careful to leave out the ‘fellow hair challenged Brian Dare’ bit; in the meantime, remind me to pass on some other works sure to ‘rivet’ and further call into question instructional practices. 

” Our job is much more proactive though. We’re targeting an end product.” Your use of ‘targeting’ here carries such a nuanced depth of meaning, it is hard to ignore or avoid commenting on; everything we do should be focused on how to grant access to the end product on behalf of our students. 

I’ll also admit to opening the test your vocab link you shared….thanks for that time-murdering resource. Appreciate it.


“I never teach my pupils. I can only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

This of all your quotes most closely aligns with my educator sensibilities. And it is upon this mentality that I think the TEMC course is based;  assessment should not be a method  of judging student efforts and progress, but of success of failure of our attempts to create the necessary conditions for learning to occur; teacher who take their responsibility seriously immediately embrace this, while those who’ve been slighted or taken advantage of by schools/districts/governing forces using assessment result as the rationale tend to knee-jerk push back against this, citing student lack of effort. I understand both responses intimately. We must be aware that in practice and in theory it is the student at the forefront of our motives and to forget, when necessary, and to embrace when available, the inclinations and perspectives of administrations be them top-down or adjunctory (there’s wordplay for you).  Teachers must draw a line and say within themselves “if it is in the best interest of my students, I’ll do it without grumbling and even with determination. If I cannot see how it even benefits my students or that it in fact takes away from the learning environment, I reject it, all personal repercussions aside.” Thus you sleep well at night and must choose employers very selectively.

TESMC: The end of the beginning.

Jiǔ (九) is nine in Chinese. It sounds like jiǔ (久) which means long-lasting. Nine is considered a lucky number. So, with the ninth class of Mr Ben’s TESMC course, our journey into the English as a Second Language (ESL) course will hopefully last forever. Failing that, until retirement to the R.Y.P. (Retirement Years Programme) at the nearby care home that is under construction (by the Tungwah Group). With our nine bows we took aim at the challenge of teaching a foreign language in a foreign land.

In some ways the ninth module was like a Best of… TV show. It was a compilation of all that was before it, applied to our very own school situation and discussed in part, to remind us and drill home the finer details. The module title of Programming and whole-school models of support for ESL students summed up the content. That is what chapter titles do after all. It gave an increased awareness of the importance of collaboration throughout the school, with respect to ESL students’ and their delicate needs. It gave us a chance to reflect and evaluate the course before clarifying the next steps (after the course).  It reassessed person programmes and combined them with understanding gained throughout the TESMC course.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” – The Reverend Fred McFeely Rogers, Children’s television presenter, actor, puppeteer.

As we zipped through an overview of the course, Mr Ben outlined how far we had come on the TESMC journey. Whilst much wasn’t too new, much of it was refreshing and cohesive – something to take away and re-digest before using actively. It was the beginning of the end, of the start of something. The sun was on the rise with the sky brightening.

“The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as every child should be given the wish to learn.” The Right Honourable The Lord Avebury John Lubbock, author and X-Club founder.

Possession is nine tenths of the law, apparently. After nine great classes, we’re in control of more than we entered the classroom with. The teachers were the students. We went the whole nine yards to get where we were – and didn’t need the nine circles of Hell. With the conclusion of our class, I should have been on cloud 9. Instead, my head drifted to the question, “So, what now?”

Notes from the final class:

Programming and whole school models of support for ESL students.

What is our the school’s ESL policy? Can we describe our student group? How much time has been allocated to our students? What are the roles of our ESL students, classroom and specialists within our school? What are the anticipated learning outcome throughout an appropriate state of the ESL continuum? What themes, topics and topic objectives are covered by our International Baccalaureate programme? Is there a specific language goal and objective list? Are any grammatical structures focused upon? Will there be a final series of Money Heist (La casa de papel) in 2021/02? What’s our methodological approach? Have we got an appropriate assessment and reporting plan in place? Together with guidelines for programme evaluation and resources available, we looked deeper into how our school functions for the benefit of the ESL students within it.

The conditions of the International Baccalaureate methods satisfy the below key points:

1. The long-term programme

2. Units of work

3. Daily diary or work program

4. Assessment program.

The course finale gave me chance to think about my own planning and collaboration. I must look at the below more closely:

include / delete / modify / elaborate upon

I’d written ‘involving and working in partnership with families and the community’ and underlined it with two lines. My reasoning being that like the whole course, we must consider ways to set up a successful whole-school framework that is achievable over a manageable time-frame and is completely sustainable. As an early years teacher, I must adhere to four principles: every child is unique; positive relationships are essential; the classroom must have an enabling environment; we’re all here for learning and development. To that end, I wish to thank Mr Ben for enabling us throughout the TESMC class. There’s plenty to take away. Be that practical suggestions and language clubs, or birdwatching groups, or revision centres or cultural exploration… the world of teaching is diverse and open to sharing through collaboration.

So, what now?

Essential TESMC reading titles:

  • “ESL Students:  some factors influencing their school experiences and learning outcomes.”
  • “ESL Students:  changing and re-shaping identities (identities under construction).”
  • “What ESL students may bring to the learning context.”
  • “From speaking to writing in the content classroom”
  • “Using small group work”
  • “Talk about literacy in the content areas”
  • “Supporting ESL students with written and visual texts across the curriculum”
  • “Multiliteracies in literate futures”
  • “Reading for meaning across the text”
  • “Perspectives on vocabulary”
  • “Nominalisation:  meaning making in the written realm”
  • “How accessible are the texts we use?”
  • “Making assessment supportive”
  • “Reviewing ESL provision within a culturally inclusive curriculum”
  • “Models of ESL program organisation”

Back In The Saddle

Good evening from China,

“You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.” – George Lorimer, author and journalist.

It could be afternoon, morning or night where you are, but I’m greeting with my own time-influenced greeting. Why not? I mean, “G’day” is for the Australians, “How do” is rather Lancastrian and “Nihao” is local but not that local. Let’s stay simple. I’m sat watching Irish actor Ciarán Hinds in movie titled The Man in the Hat. It’s a Sunday night movie. Very gentle. A British independent movie, downloaded in China. Musical composer Stephen Warbeck (Billy Elliot, Mrs. Brown & Shakespeare In Love) has moved from scores to directing. It’s a flowing road trip comedy full of charm and great cinematography. It features five bald men in a Citroën Dyane car. Rather Good Films Ltd. have a modest name and now they have a movie befitting their studio title. This is a great movie to escape the news and doom or gloom of these most testing months.

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” – Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian.

This week has seen two visitors join the apartment. First, following Western Wednesday (on a Tuesday), I walked from Mr Ben’s digs outside, with Mr Oliver. Many kittens and cats were by the overflowing rubbish bins. On walking around the bins, in the gloomy post-Chinese New Year smoky air, I spied a white rabbit. Follow the white rabbit? I did. I picked it up. It was chewing plastic. It being around midnight, and following Once Upon A Time In The West, I was shattered. Oliver scooted off. I passed the garden security guard bearing a white bunny. I tried to explain, in my crap Chinese, where I’d found the long-eared lagomorph but didn’t get anywhere. So armed with the calm albino rabbit, I tootled back to my apartment, giving a mixture of dry food and a small bed to the new guest. After almost tripping up over him, I nicknamed him Speed Bump.

“The individual who says it is not possible should move out of the way of those doing it.” – Tricia Cunningham, author.

The previous night has seen me message almost everyone I knew within the gardens of residence that I reside, and the neighbouring phase one complex. Some clues were gained but nothing concrete. Nobody claimed the bunny. So, later that day, hearing that possibly two rabbits were regular lawn guests, I went back. There I found the second rabbit. On asking some kids on the lawn if they knew where the rabbits lived, i got nowhere. I did find a cage and the second rabbit chewing plastic with gusto. So, Second Coming joined Speed Bump. That was last week. It’s Monday now. Many small brownish black balls have been scattered throughout the apartment and promptly cleaned up. I’m starting to see why Elmer J. Fudd had such a problem with Bugs Bunny (originally a hare!). Whilst I don’t class myself as an adversary to my guests, I could do without them jumping on me whilst I’m reading on the sofa, especially whilst watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre late at night.

“When someone tells me ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.” —Karen E. Quinones Miller

The Friday of last week and the Saturday saw our academic team join the varied and diverse departments of Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) return to work. With an International Baccalaureate® (IB) task we made a video showcasing Songshan Lake, created some ideas for the next Unit of Inquiry (American English is acceptable). All in all it was two days after a 13 day break that was quite enjoyable. We finished Saturday with a barbecue (completed by Breakfast Champion’s black pudding) and looked out across our school grounds, over the running track and football field. I looked at the farm at the farthest reaches of our school perimeter. Perhaps the compost machine rabbits will join our school farm soon. Maybe an owner will come forward. We’ll see.

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” – Emile Zola, French novelist, journalist

Until next time, good evening/night/morning/afternoon/day… Have a nice day (if you must)

TESMC: Bell, Bishop…*

*…Walsh, Gündoğan, Sheron, Creaney, Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Fowler, Barton, Geovanni, Pizarro, Nasri… and all those other wonderful Manchester City numbers 8s.

These are the voyages of the starship TESMC. Its nine-module mission: to explore strange new words. To seek out almost new teaching methods and relatively new vocabulary. The bold crew of the giant starship explores the excitement of strange uncharted dictogloss things, and exotic uninhabited refined writing. Imagine it – thousands of noun groups at our fingertips… To boldly go where few teachers have gone before!

“Navigation was always a difficult art,
   Though with only one ship and one bell:
And he feared he must really decline, for his part,
   Undertaking another as well.” – The Hunting Of The Snark, a poem by Lewis Carroll

During TESMC classes we have focused on language in learning across the curriculum. Here’s a recap (to build on the 7th instalment), at the Using English for Academic Purposes website, of nominal groups, structures and examples with exercises. There’s two links here and there for dictogloss activities. Look at this website called The Up-Goer Five Text Editor. It expects you to type a complex idea only using words from a list of 1000 common use words. That’s that, done!

[Now, an important announcement] Lemma: a word family, e.g. running, run, ran; blue, bluer, bluest, blueish, blues, etc. [Announcement ends]

Another vocabulary test website was pointed my way. Cheers ears! You know who you are. VocabularySize.com is a tool to create customized and test vocabulary tests for students. It was created by the University of Wellington, in New Zealand. Their School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies worked with School of Engineering and Computer Science. Language acquisition takes time, patience and exposure. Those students in an international school such as Tungwah Wenzel International School, surrounded by numerous international teachers, are most likely to increase their vocabulary than students in Inner Mongolia without a foreign teacher or access to YouTube. To them English will be as Scottish as a suntan.

Judgement value calls shouldn’t be drawn from memory. Responsive attitudes towards data collection over time carries more merit and significance. By showing a daily goal, we set a part of a bigger picture. The bigger picture should come from steps and aims. Those goals need organising. Rubrics are familiar territory that often get overlooked. I know, from my experience, that I have often favoured an in-head calculation over pencil, pen or paper. That’s not fair. Formative and summative assessments need clarity, not just for the teacher or the parent. The student should have the goalposts set early on. They must know what the task entails and how to achieve maximum marks.

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.” – Robert E. Stake, Professor Emeritus of Education, University of Illinois

Having a summative assessment that resembles activities earlier on is key too. If you use formative pieces that have multiple choice questions and then for the finale you switch to an all-singing, all-dancing 2000-word essay, then that’s totally not playing cricket with your students. English as a Second Language (ESL) students need modelled methods that allow them to switch between multiple forms. To do it without preparation is unfair. Failure or success depends on students and their experience. To think outside of the box without the necessary scaffolding is not easy. One activity that I found useful was to assign half the class the activity of being the teacher. The other half had to follow the instructions given by the teacher. Afterwards peer review of the followers revealed that some students gave clear instructions. Others did not. Some students improvised where instruction was lacking. Many students competed to give the better and clearer instructions. Positive peer pressure gives chance for evaluation and reflection. Using a checklist or rubric over the top of that student’s activity gives a more meaningful insight to the activity and assessment. The teacher can play the role of referee or judge. The peers become the jury. Hopefully no executioner needs assigning. That being said we’ve all had that one student who never does homework… [It’s gallows humour, relax]

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”  – Alfred Mercier

Student age gives us an idea of where to set our expectations. Within an age group, each student’s experience and exposure to English needs to be factored in. Then there’s nationality, multilingualism, academic performance in their native language(s), and so on… or what they ate for breakfast. Classrooms are living breathing jelly-like places that seldom remain constant. One gargantuan factor to take into consideration is that of student behaviour. Special needs and cares need to be taken into account. Not every student has the level of focus that we desire. To give confidence, informal formative assessments and their analysis will benefit the teacher and student. In the long run, reforming practices to unlock their true productive potential using a variety of interactive assessments will become a most valuable teaching tool.

“I never teach my pupils. I can only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

Formative assessments can guide a teacher to how a student is or is not progressing. It can allow the teacher to amend their methods or tailor an individual student’s needs much more fluidly. John Polias, of Lexis Education, describes it as:

  • assessment of learning;
  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning.

I read that in the style of Pep Guardiola as an intense football manager. He, like many great football managers, uses coaching of football in the game, after game analysis and during the game. The game is the test. The game is also a time to test new formations and tactics. The game is something to reflect on and to understand new learnings. This can also be said within our classroom. This should also be applied to our students. Assessment as learning is a real chance give appropriate and frequent feedback – in order to modify learning activities. It’s proactive and not reactive. Assessment of learning, the summative part, is reactive. It’s done, it’s dusted. Game over, almost. Assessment for learning also allows us scope to work away from the traditional unit test and external testing of old. Here in assessment for learning and assessment as learning we allow magic to happen. Students can express themselves. There’s self-assessment, self-monitoring and peer-assessment time. Students can create or make their own checklists or rubrics. With that, they can be employed for the purpose of learning. They allow students incentive, a drive, a spur on to get to a much more useful end. Therefore, Making Assessment Supportive focuses on how we can devote adequate time to making a type of assessment that makes sense for our students – and being able to use it at varied points of instruction. At points along the teaching cycle allows us to make assessment more fruitful. Lorna Earl’s Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximise Student Learning further strengthens this material showing a host of judgements about placement, promotion, credentials, etc to fit with other students. It shows information for teacher instructional decisions to meet external standards and expectations. It shows self-monitoring, self-correction and adjustment to reach personal and external goals.

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Kahlil Gibran

So, with all that, I ask you, teacher or not, what does the assessment pyramid look like? Identify how your school, current or old, had their pyramid. Where would you place the below? Top, middle or bottom?

  • assessment of learning;
  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning.

Let’s each analyse samples of assessment tasks being used in our schools. Are they devised to be assessment of, for, or as learning? How can we incorporate a more overlapped approaches to assessments within teaching? What’s the understanding from students within our classes about the kinds of assessments that we do?

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” – B.B. King, musician

Until next time… goodbye for now.

TESMC: Pitt & Freeman vs. Spacey

Good (insert time here) / Hello / How do,

“Ben told the class that nouns are sexy.  I couldn’t agree more.” – Mr Lee, 2020/21 cohort, TESMC, TWIS

Noun groups are everywhere. ESL (English as a Second Language) learners may find ordering tough, whereas a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, may find that their description of the fictional Scottish public and private boarding school of magic for students aged eleven to eighteen child’s play. The British magical community’s Ministry of Magic may not be an ideal place to start an exploration of noun groups, that most specific to English topic, but we can begin here with a dabble into the magical realm of TESMC class with Mr Ben. It’s our seventh class, hence the title.

“Many a man has a treasure in his hoard that he knows not the worth of. (Sellic Spell)” – Beowulf, J.R.R. Tolkien

Perspectives on Vocabulary by John Polias, Nominalisation, meaning making in the written realm by Brian Dare, and How accessible are the texts we use by John Polias made for riveting reading. They kept me up into the wee hours and on my toes. Why? They made me question my teaching and my selection of textbooks. Hugely. I’ve always been a fan of a DK Board game called Very Silly Sentences. This game helps to expand the vocabulary and manipulates verbs, adjectives and nouns. The idea of manipulating the nominal group needs base knowledge. That is to know the density of meaning slapped together inside a written text by giving numbers to nominalization per clause. Heavy stuff. Really heavy packed stuff. As a teacher we want to see the evolution of a student’s writing. It must go from: ‘It is a cat.’ We’re aiming to add weight to the sentence. Students, like adults, should be spouting Shakespearian cat descriptive pieces.

“foul night-waking cat” – The Rape of Lucrece, Sir William Shakespeare

If we sit our student’s first grade work alongside the same student’s work as they enter their early teenage years, you will see progress. The same can be done if we take week two work, week ten and week 17 work. Analysis is easy because it is reactive. Our job is much more proactive though. We’re targeting an end product. The factory assembly line of our classes must be targeted to show our desired outcomes of language learning. The crux of the matter is vocabulary extension: It’s a pretty cat. John Polias makes some strong cases for playing detective and taking visuals aside for as good old interrogation.

Fellow hair-challenged Brian Dare points out the pros and cons of refined writing. The high end of the mode continuum gets a fair treatment. He points out that suddenly students are less likely to be thinking on their toes. Students should be encouraged to both rewrite spoken text and speak in different ways about written text. It has to be bidirectional and the transpositions should become the tools of meaning-making in language. Going back and forwards, inverting, flipping it a bit, and relocating words here and there will provide the necessitous scaffolding. Do you remember the joys of messing with words and creating something clean and trim? The mode continuum gives our students something to blend and bend as a way to develop knowledge about language.

Explain these terms to a student without using the terms: common noun, proper noun, abstract noun, concrete noun, countable noun, uncountable noun, compound noun, collective noun, singular noun and plural noun. Respective examples could include window, Manchester, love, house, bike and bikes, rice, textbook, crowd, monkey, and babies. Easy enough, right? Now explain the function and use of a noun group. A noun group is a group of words relating to, or building on, a noun. There may be a pointer (a, an, this, that, these, those, my, your, his, her, its, our, dad’s, Mr Ben’s), one or more adverbs and adjectives. Before and after the main noun. The pre-modifier and the post-modifier offer ample opportunity for exploration. Referring back and forwards, within a sentence is a highly useful skill and tool for an up-and-coming writer. Adding weight and detail to the noun expands the information about the noun itself. It offers a clearer mental image. With these skills, our students can tell us much more about a cat. It’s a pretty fluffy cat with a wonderful temperament. The students are now armed with magic wands to cast spells on their noun structures. Effective writers need detail. Expanding the nominal group should be a weapon of choice.

Note: Nominal means as planned, or as named, or as written (in the mission plan). It does not mean normal.

Synonyms and antonyms are keys and tools to create colourful and abstract language. They’re also ideal for adding dimension to concrete dialogue and reports. One of my earliest English class memories was at Clayton Brook Primary School in Manchester. I, under ten years of age, and my peers were tasked with finding as many synonym words for the words good and bad. Many students talked about it. Some sought books. The tall loner in the corner dived like goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and grabbed something useful. The dictionary fell into my lap. I was hooked. My personal vocabulary grew from word hunts, games, and reading. Mr Jones, class 5AJ, at Chapel Street Primary School, where I later attended, had me constantly finding words, or even searching for made up words, which made me look up similar words. These strange games certainly gave me reasons to live amongst the pages of discovery.

Here on vocabulary played a part. Even to this day, I enjoy expressions, terminologies, and styles of writing because the words within are shouting at me like conversations and whisperings that I must hear. According to TestYourVocab.com, most adult native test-takers range from 20,000-35,000. The average 8-year-old native speaker already knows about 10,000 words. Foreign test-takers tend to hit 2,500-9,000 words – and even by living overseas that only tends to hit 10,000 words. As I slotted my answers into tick-boxes and scored an estimated 32,700 words for my vocabulary size, I realized how few of the 300,000 entries into the Oxford English Dictionary that I probably know. In reality knowing one word from the 20,000 printed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t all that bad (and in truth, just 35,000 are useful). Are the website’s findings accurate? Well, entering your data is based on honesty and over two million surveys doesn’t accurately reflect a global population of umpteen billion people. Also, who uses the internet?! Their website’s methodology, the nitty-gritty argues that their accuracy is around ±10%, so in my instance, I could be closer to 35,970 or 29,430 words. Either way, it’s a curious little tool of play. I’m not showing off. Not at all. It gives me a good reflection on how many words I have yet to experience or learn. The bad news, however, is that their findings say middle age is where vocabulary retention tends to end. The best reading I found on their website related to reading habits. They found that reading habits directly increases vocabulary growth. It may sound like, as my Dad would put it, “stating the bleeding obvious” but it goes a long way to reinforcing the habit of reading at an early age. This website is part of an independent American-Brazilian research project. The decade-old findings of China show that the average vocabulary size here for English as a Second Language users was 6,636 words. Now, considering the education boom in China, that could be higher now. The website is an indication but not a science. It made me think about how many base words we need to learn a language. But, then how often do we use the words and do we lose the words? Who do we talk with that make us use new words? Are some words specific to some scenarios? Oh, the endless questions! Where on Earth is Anglesey?

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilising or it will die.”- Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, writer (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966)

Textbooks need selection. Most of us read reviews and even more of us get handed a reading list and stack of books tall enough to paralyse a student’s passion for reading. Trying not to overwhelm a young kids with a stack of books is a good start. As John Polias points out we need to support the students. If I throw the Welsh town of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch at you and say read it. With that name of the Welsh village just over the Menai Bridge, you can unlock the language of Welsh, possibly. Possibly not. That’s where teachers must support every textbook handed to a student. A book without support may scare away passion for reading.

“Our song escapes, on little silver discs; Our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits” – Reflektor – Arcade Fire

Too long, didn’t read? Well, that’s half the problem. If reading isn’t for you, how can reading be for someone else? And if reading isn’t a habit, how can writing be a skill? I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Am I a sinner? Maybe. It just never grasped my attention. So, now, I believe that I must read it. I won’t read it alone though. I’ll make it my personal mission to read it with each and every student of my grade four class. Maybe they have read it in Chinese. Maybe in English. But, how did they enjoy it? I’m sure we can enjoy the magical journey as one. If you don’t have one of the Harry Potter books to hand and you want to dig on into the wider world of English, check out the below sites:

The Economist (Johnson blog: named after Samuel Johnson, who made dictionaries. This blog is all about the use and misuse of language, with its ripple effects)

FreeRice.com teaches and tests vocabulary whilst donating 5 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Programme.

Language Log. Simply put, Mark Liberman, at the University of Pennsylvania, is a linguist with love of words. His Language Log website is a ticker-tape of blogs, posts and news all relating to language. Expect popular culture, controversy and history.

Dictogloss: a language learning technique. Used to teach grammatical structures. The teacher prepares text examples that need to be studied. The teacher reads it. The students just listen. No pens allowed. Next the students lift up their pens. Notes must be taken. By forming small groups, students can work together to reconstruct the text example using their knowledge, notes and teamwork. Afterwards reflection comes as students compare their various versions. With respect to my Grade 4 class, they tried this task twice and each time, they sailed the rough seas. Grade 4 are very capable sailors when the going gets tough. For extra experience, add a Powerpoint presentation whereby the words (and phrases) that you feel need noting pop up as you read it. It can reinforce student ability. After students become familiar with the dictogloss methods, take away the option of teamwork. First try paired working and then ask the students to work solo. This can also promote confidence.

“Fate goes ever as fate must.” – Beowulf, Seamus Heaney

As students move through schooling they will encounter different registers with full expectation to engage them accordingly. The use of nominal groups to enhance and even make complex text can be explained and shown to be more than useful. The dictogloss is there to be used as a tool, but not for exactitude. How many things change through new interpretation and retelling? Language and writing, like speaking can all be about exploration. As teachers we are captains of ships and we must wake our hypnopompic students with a sparge of word play. Our fuliginous fluffy funambulist of a feline with a wonderful temperament must exercise its vibrissae to avoid any pother as it balances on the tenebrous tightrope of life. With that, I end my braggadocio writing.

“Fate will unwind as it must!” – Beowulf, Burton Raffel

Goodbye, for now.

TESMC 六: Hexa-Sense

How do!

Writers use language resources as a key to organize texts, very much as I am doing now, albeit very amateurish in style, so that you, like the students as readers have a sense of what shall follow. When reading, a reader must orientate to a subject. For most who have experience reading in their native tongue, experience plays an advantage in determining the subject. For English as a Second Language (ESL) students, that experience may be lacking. For many of us, we may be able to pre-read and digest a news article, magazine piece or a book blurb just from experience. Our pre-formed ideas and exposure to templates could settle our mind on a track to read with ease. The imagination and interpretation of a seasoned-mind will draw out bold titles, enhance key points, find text captions, and articulate the who, when, what, why and how etc.

Achieving a proper semantic level via syntax isn’t a bad starting point. How many of us can clearly and quickly distinguish a cohesive conjunction from a rhetorical conjunction? How do we view phrases rather than look at individual words? Do we see the Lego castle or the loose blocks? Do those phrases serve as roles in conjunctions? Students face multiple texts, in differing formats, in varied lengths across countless textbooks, journals, magazines, booklets, instruction books, and so on. Students must use a range of complex resources and processes to make sense of the materials.

foreground/ˈfɔːɡraʊnd/ verbgerund or present participle: foregrounding

  1. make (something) the most prominent or important feature.

Knowing that a strap-line sits over or under a title, elaborating briefly on a subject is useful. The headline or title will grab the attention of a reader. There may be a byline with a writer and their expertise. So, before, even reading a sentence or paragraph, the reader could be parachuted into the story beyond, just by a few simple well-positioned words. From the introduction, a piece of writing will be elaborated on. There will be interpretation within the text and then quotes. Just to make things interesting, some publications make their ordering flexible, bullet-pointed, short and sharp, whereas others pad the hell out of the article. Rather like the teaching cycle, a reader must learn that things can be flexible. This learning cycle is subject to change, like all else in life. Orders change.

Some aspects can be skipped if students demonstrate they can satisfy the earlier stage of the cycle. It is advisable to set a clear context, to create a model, deconstruct it all, make a joint construction and then set independent construction.

Teachers must be sensitive when we go through books or texts. We read for meaning across the text. We read for context. The use of five different skills to comprehend the meaning will be decisive in thorough interpretation of text.

  • Pronouns refer back (and sometimes forwards) to content within the text.
  • Vocabulary is part of grammatical English. Grammar teaching requires cohesive conjunctions. Words like when, while, although, in other words, in the case of this, and so on are often new to students. Creating a list or glossary to assist will be useful.
  • Rhetorical conjunctions
  • Foregrounding at the whole text level.

By unravelling these pieces, peace in reading should follow. The purpose, schematic structures and language choice are all connected. Foregrounding is essential when it comes to almost all forms of texts. If a student is expected to look at and understand an article, then giving them the bigger picture and idea about reading the whole article is a must. Students from ESL backgrounds may be unfamiliar with conjunction forms and how linking words are used to tie together unknown vocabularies into their related sentences. Conjunctions should be provided to students, whether by heading, indexing or other means. Examples must be given for each and every one whether provided steadily or as a block. Familiarity takes time, and with gentle nurturing a student can be supported in focusing on reading text to know exactly which keywords of an introduction paragraph to look for. How do those words lead into the following paragraph and so on…

Cohesive conjunctions:

Conjunctions and connectives are cohesive devices that work to improve the flow of the writing.

Conjunctions operate within sentences and connectives relate to meaning between sentences.

Different types of conjunctions are used to express different types of relationships between ideas.

Ta’ra!

TESMC ה: Hiraeth Strikes Back

It has started. We are too close to the door to close it now. The wind is too strong now to wind the sail. Anthony Horowitz gave empowerment to five. Enid Blyton made the number famous. Swordsman Miyamoto Musashi wrote a book about five rings. The Olympic games use five rings representing inhabited continents. Five-a-side football isn’t a bad game. In rugby a try gets you five points. “Give me five”, praises someone as you high five. Quintessence is essential to water, earth, fire and air. The five-second rule used to be applicable but then COVID-19 came along. UK pop band 5ive are best forgotten, just like the notes taken from the fifth TESMC module.

Words like dynamic and dynasty be so mellifluous. Pleasing to the ears. They make me all aquiver when tied to descriptive texts, like the bombinating of a bumblebee briskly buzzing by. Sometimes the words themselves are so ineffable that no words do them justice. These moments can appear ethereal like the petrichor (the sometimes pleasant fragrance of earth that follows rain). Try laying supine, facing the sky, closing your eyes and listening to the things around you. What sounds pleased? Which make a horrendous hum? Yesterday was the memorial day of the Nanjing massacre in China and at some stage a sonorous sound shrieked out from a siren. On the quieter side, there has been bird song and on opening my eyes, spheres danced in my vision, the phosphenes from the rubbing of my eyes.

Hiraeth [hiːrai̯θ] is here. A longing for home. The home of yesterday has changed. The world has changed. I cannot go back as easily as before. It’s a Welsh word. Pure beauty in meaning, a pining for nostalgia. A desire for home and an epoch gone by. I find myself as a somnambulist. I miss second-hand bookshops too. The kind of bookshop which is so full that it had to refuse more refuse. That vellichor. The fragrance and strangeness of so many gathered histories. The insurance has long been invalid for the invalid books.

A teacher must know words. Words are friends. Words need sharing. Words need to be entrusted and explained. How can we intimate this to our most intimate student friends? Students from ESL (English as a Second Language) backgrounds need new words. New words can help develop a love for language. Without these tiptoe steps into a world thesaurus and dictionary, what will a student learn? Are we sometimes guilty of assuming students can’t pick up new words? What are the ramifications of low expectations? Surely, if a student has been set low standards or an activity without a challenge then they will wither and fade like an autumn flower as winter arrives. Speaking of word play, congratulations to my mate Gerry on his third marathon finish. If he was a drummer, he could paint a bass fish on the head of the bass drum. Wordplay.

Ongoing and meaningful preparations are a must. You can’t make Christmas cards easily without card, colouring pencils or pens, and materials to stick onto the card. You may have the words to write ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ but they’re null and void without a place to affix them. Now, you have prepared well, and now it is time for explicit and timely support – by teachers and their assistants. These key tools of learning are essential to educating ESL students. Think omnipresence. Even at a later stage a teacher should be guiding through support and reassurance, or corrective guidance, when and where appropriate. Give an ESL student supportive confidence and they’ll fly. No more wilting flowers.

Practice alone won’t hone writing as a skill. It needs companionship. Reading, a variety of examples, experimentation and bravery aren’t bad starting points. Encouragement and explicit guidance by all teachers will go far. Repetition may help an ESL student with handwriting or to spell a few words but it won’t do much more without a careful eye and a hand on the shoulder. Teachers are the Jedi masters of the classroom. They must be open-minded, flexible and experimental in teaching strategies to encourage students to adopt the same mindset. Practice is important, however, to get better a structured and reflective approach, of a clear nature is of greater benefit. What a teacher wants from a class should be discussed and explained clearly. The teacher has the task of progressively conveying their expectations in ways that don’t confuse or blur the outcome. Every opportunity for a student to write should be a chance to seek clarification and guidance. Perhaps like now, it is Christmas and the task is to write Christmas cards. Careful wording helps build a basic familiarity. If not worded correctly your Christmas card workshop class could easily become a paper aeroplane and origami showroom. In my classroom, anything is possible. Perhaps, they’d create a Picasso-style masterpiece then rip it up. Upon seeing the tears in their painting I would shed a tear or two.

Writing processes must be clear, with the genre of the task apparent from the off. The specificities of the genre will make the register of the writing task transparent and relevant. Joint construction, modelling, then independent construction each have different demands on both the student and the teacher. Here the right language choices can be made. They offer the chance to have a running dialogue between the teacher and the student. The activity of writing is integral to learning in many educational contexts. It is not simply to show what has been learned. Far from it! One piece of text could be construed by one reader as a different thing to another reader. The writer interacts with their audience via the text. Various semiotic systems make this possible. They could be multimodal, interactive and often they have meanings or interpretations that change over time or from culture to culture or from prior knowledge or even contextual factors. Society and culture changes. Technology changes. Word meanings evolve or fade away. Who knows what literacy skills we’ll need for the next century?!

Pariseetomol sounds like paracetamol. Whilst one is headache-reducing, the former could be headache inducing. Part of the text is below. Is it a hybrid of Dr Seuss or Roald Dahl, or JRR Tolkien or Lewis Caroll? Perhaps Shakespeare has made a comeback tour like all good big-haired 80s artists do (1580s, obviously). Anyway for more on the below, look at it first and then I’ll share something just after the below text:

“Pariseetomol ossildates the senses, demanding to be looged, hoshed, plessed, misted and spolt. From plooking along the Seine to scarbarsters on merse-sized canvases to the pick-an-ism dupers in cafes parlandering on the mis of garlic or the perster kolecks of Jerry Lewis, Pariseetomol is the embiffers of all things French. Morzel simplurously at its brousal boulevards, pressim monuments, highstopper works of art and larly lippers. Savour its gourmet stoop of premble, jasmerse, dorsims and marebits. Feel the rosset in your doppel as you glerglack through Bastille, or a wergle of frompt and plossule atop the Eiffel Toppletipper.– Is this gibberish? See below.

Google and other search engines can ruin a mystery, as can Ben Greuter, ace TESMC instructor. Without giving anything away, here’s a link to explain the above Lonely Planet piece. In the classroom we were asked to answer some questions. Again, see below.

1. What does Pariseetomol do to the senses?

2. How is one advised to morzel?

3. When are you likely to feel the rosset in your doppel?

4. Why might you have felt a wergle of frompt and plossule atop the Eiffel Toppletipper?

5. What is the writer’s view of Pariseetomol?

Now, where and how do you begin to answer that. The bandage was wound around the wound. That’s where I’d begin. Much of what we read in English is about context and prior knowledge. Many authors can skip the obvious in a series of novels, but pick up the latest Jack Reacher novel and you may need a few back-publications to fully follow the brutal ex-military officer created by Lee Child. His mind was used to produce produce. He polished his character with the odd Polish trip. I’m sure one novel has the main character deciding to desert his dessert in the desert. And, Jack Reacher definitely took aim at a dove which dove into the bushes, which he could lead others to do if he would get the lead out.

On returning from lunch I see there is no time like the present. Someone thought it was time to present the Christmas present. I do not object to this secret object. Now, who sent it? I shall subject the mysterious subject to a series of tests. I have a package with neat folds, level taping and handwriting that appears feminine. The colour scheme is light and cheery. After, “Hey John” there is “~” which is quite common to signify affection or warmth. The contents will remain secret until Friday when I open it at the staff gathering. I guess from the feel that it is a pin badge, a keyring or earrings. I shall pontificate in my best Sherlock Holmes fashion without sweat. Maybe i could watch a documentary about an Australian marsupial, let’s say the wombat. It eats roots, shoots, and leaves. I’ll get my coat…

WOFORO DUA PA A – “When you climb a good tree” – support, cooperation [from Adinkra, the language of west Africa]