Brainglass app not even half full

Karaoke4English Reader is a program with a distinct niche:  English language learners who want to improve their English reading skills by studying “historical speeches of US presidents.”

Karaoke4English is from Swedish mobile app developer Brainglass, which touts it as being for “beginning English learners.”

The program combines synchronized text and audio so reader can follow along as the text is read aloud. Users can get instant definitions of English words in Spanish, German, Russian, French, and Italian. They can also make their own study devices, such as flashcards.

Speeches are an unlikely choice for teaching reading skills. Listening to speech is vastly different from reading material designed for silent reading.  Moreover, speeches of US presidents hardly qualify as material for beginning English learners.

I could find no list on the four-page Brainglass website of what speeches are available other than the 1960 inaugural address of John F. Kennedy.

Karaoke4English Reader may have a great future, but for the present, its value to ESL educators is minimal.

[2016-02-03 removed link to the Brainglass website. It appears that only the blog remains on line.]

Best writing test is writing

British Universities are wrestling with a problem of poor writing skills among international students pursuing doctoral degrees. It seems too many students of English as a Second Language who are accepted based on their scores on tests of English turn out to have inadequate skills to complete the writing required for a doctorate.

I don’t know why people are surprised that standardized tests don’t measure writing skill.  Writing involves a broad range of content knowledge and a wide range of skills. However, the elements of writing that are most easy to test are typically the most superficial.

The only reliable test of writing skill is a series of writing samples done under conditions that mimic those in which the individual will need to perform on a regular basis.

In my writing classes, I like to use a three-in-a-row measure to assess writing competence. When students meets my criteria for competence on three consecutive formal assessments in a stipulated time frame, I guarantee they will not earn less than a certain grade even if they do no other work for the rest of the course.  I feel safe in using that policy because skills don’t evaporate.

Once students are competent writers they don’t object to doing more writing. The step from being just a competent writer to being a good writer is a short step. Most students can make that step simply by practicing their writing process a few more times.

[edited 2/26/2014 to remove broken links]

Mentoring for new ESL teachers

A mentoring program from RLI Language Services for anyone diving into a first experience teaching English as a Second Language looks very promising.

The mentoring program is the brainchild of English language teacher Berni Wall,  who is also the brains behind the online language learning tool Gapfillers

Berni was approached by several new teachers asking for support and language input. She put together a program that will help teachers develop their language and teaching skills and have some fun doing it.

Here is some of what’s on tap:

  • Monthly teleseminars/webinars on teaching topics, including skills teaching, using technology, motivation, use of L1 etc.
  • Dedicated sessions for building a professional learning network online using Twitter, Facebook, online conferences, etc.
  • Access to a forum to share ideas and successes, ask for information, discuss ELT topics
  • Email/Skype access for any problems or help
  • Monthly videos on ELT topics
  • Access to the Gapfillers e-learning site
  • 4 half-day online workshops

Teachers can enter the program any time during the year.

Some events  in the UK combine professional development and socializing. If you are teaching in Mobile, Alabama, you might not be able to take advantage of live events on the ground at Fleetham Lodge in Yorkshire, but at the price RLI is charging, the mentoring still looks to me like a bargain. If you live in a major American city, you probably pay as much for a decent cup of coffee as the mentoring will cost a week: the fee is £10 a month ($16 USD) or £100 a year ($164 USD).

The left hand column on the RLI Language Services site has a contact form you can use to get more information. The last update I saw said a half dozen people had already signed up for the mentoring program.

If you are a Twitter user, you can follow Berni @rliberni and pick up regular tips for ESL teaching.