January 2016

WriteLab and Roboreaders

maxresdefaultA few years ago, when I was teaching Freshman English in South Korea, our school purchased several thousand licenses for an automated essay grading system, the darling of a very large educational conglomerate. This system shall go unnamed, but let’s call it SuckTron3000. SuckTron3000’s ostensible goal was to take students’ essays and – beep, bop, boop – return immediate, accurate, and understandable feedback – as well as grades – to students and teachers alike. We tried it ourselves, with sample essays from our coursebooks, from previous students’ work still littering our desks, with any text we could get our hands on. The result? Garbage. Well-formatted, easy to understand, data-heavy garbage. Sure, the SuckTron3000 could mostly wrangle tense problems, identify run-on sentences, flag spelling errors, and the like. But in terms of content, cohesion, thesis statements, relevance, and everything else that delineates a strong essay from a weak one, the SuckTron3000 was just so much garbage.

Of course, we were obligated to use all the licences the school had purchased.

Naturally, I am skeptical of such systems. They will, eventually, play a role in testing regimes around the world, I have no doubt. But so long as artificial neural networks and quantum computing remain costly and rudimentary, they aren’t ready for prime time. Or so I thought. This article on Slate intrigued me. WriteLab doesn’t grade students’ work, for one, which is a point in its favor. Secondly, it uses an interesting, Socratic approach to giving feedback. Third, it does something that is confoundingly vexing: it encourages students to revise their writing.

I haven’t tried it, and the article quotes one of WriteLab’s developers as saying that many students stop using it after a few months (they grow frustrated with the Socratic questioning, preferring that the system just tell them what to do…sigh, millennials.), but it still sounds pretty nifty to me.

Take that, SuckTron300.


Worksheet Wednesday: Stative & Dynamic Verbs

worksheetEvery Wednesday, we share a worksheet with you to use as you see fit. These worksheets are considered Creative Commons licensed; you can modify use them if you want in your classroom. If you redistribute them, though, we would like to be acknowledged, and don’t even think about selling them! It would be awesome of you to let us know if you use any of our worksheets, and if you see any mistakes or have any suggestions, please let me know!

This week, we’re sharing one we used last module in our Intermediate class while studying stative and dynamic verbs. If you aren’t super familiar with this topic, you can learn more about it here and see a list of stative verbs here. Or just, you know, Google it.

Without further ado, stative and dynamic verbs practice. Please note there is an answer key on the last page. Don’t print that when you pass these out to your students!


Blogging Schedule

Nothing tempts the fickle fingers of fate like announcing a schedule for your blog, but we here at the.educationalizer [name pending] are throwing caution into a sack, tying the sack to a brick, and tossing the whole bundle into a fire.

time-fliesFor the foreseeable future, my plan is to post something every weekday. Mondays and Fridays will focus of topics of interest in education and ESL, hump day will be “Worksheet Wednesday”, while the 2 T’s will be quick little snippets, re-blogs, memes, inspirating ephemera, or infographics.

Sounds fun, right?

Let’s Get Rid of Student Evaluations

Student evaluations of instructors, aka ‘how much do you like your teacher?’, are nearly ubiquitous. But should they be? An increasingly large body of evidence says heck no. For one, students are actually poor evaluators of whether their teacher is effective or not.

Secondly, student evals are straight up sexist. In two studies, a ‘natural’ one in France and a blinded study in the US, it found significant differences between the scores given to male instructors and female instructors. The US one is especially damning. It had the same two teaching assistants, one male and one female, leading 4 discussion groups for an online course. In 2 of them, the assistants used their real names; in the other two, they swapped names, so that the woman had the man’s name and the man had the woman’s. Everything that could be controlled was; assignments were returned at the exactly the same time, for example.

Since assignments were returned at exactly the same time in all four sections, the significantly lower rating for female instructors (what equates to about 16 percent of full scale) “seriously impugns the ability of SET to measure even putatively objective characteristics of teaching,” the paper reads.
Again, Stark and his colleagues found that, in contrast to the French data, perceived male instructors were rated significantly more highly not by male students but by female students. Male students rated the perceived male instructor somewhat significantly higher on only one criterion—fairness (p-value 0.09). But female students in the U.S. sample rated the perceived male instructor higher on overall satisfaction (p-value 0.11) and most aspects of teaching. Those include praise (p-value 0.01), enthusiasm (p-value 0.05), and fairness (p-value 0.04).

Let’s stop using these ineffective tools and find better ways to judge teachers’ effectiveness.

TED Tips for Learning Languages

school-1063556_640Culled from translators volunteering their talents to help the TED Open Translate Project, these suggestions could be useful to share with your students…or for your own learning. Maybe you can think of some ways to integrate some of their ideas into your own classrooms.

A sample from the article:

7.  Do not worry about making mistakes. One of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language is the fear of making mistakes. But native speakers are like doting parents: any attempt from you to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They’ll appreciate your effort and even help you. Nervous about holding a conversation with a peer? Try testing your language skills with someone a little younger. “I was stoked when I was chatting with an Italian toddler and realized we had the same level of Italian,” recalls German translator Judith Matz. And be patient. The more you speak, the closer you’ll get to the elusive ideal of “native-like fluency.” And to talking to people your own age.

How to learn a new language: 7 tips from TED Translators

The Singular “They”

Down with the generic ‘he’. Down with ‘he or she’ and ‘s/he’. Long live the singular ‘they’! This change cannot become standard soon enough. I mean, we use the singular ‘you’ for the plural as well, so what’s the issue, eh?

NPR agrees.


Resources for New Bloggers

As part of my presentation for Sehir University’s ELT Day, I am sharing some links to useful sites for new bloggers. Enjoy! If you find some others that you’d like to recommend, please let me know.

The Non-designer’s Guide to WordPress – a great presentation covering a variety of good design practices.

Colourlovers – A great site for finding color palettes and design ideas.

WP Beginner – Full of useful stuff for newbies.

Fabulous Blogging – A veteran blogger shares her knowledge with the masses.

Beginner’s Guide to Social Media: Blogging

Blogging Best Practices

Is your blog built to last?

How to Succeed (or Fail) at Blogging


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