Interactive Peer Group Learning

I’m delighted to put up as this week’s blog a piece by Professor Bob Farmer. (Who is he? See at the end of the blog.)

Professor Eric Mazur is a distinguished Harvard physicist with a deep interest in teaching and learning. In the past, as a traditional university lecturer, he was successful in helping his classes achieve better than average grades and his clear lectures and demonstrations were highly rated by his students. More recently, however, Professor Mazur came to the staggering conclusion that his success as a teacher ‘was a complete illusion, a house of cards’.

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Applied Linguistics and Breakthrough to Learning

In my last blog I showed how Teachers of English as a Foreign Language had abrogated to their profession  the title of Applied Linguistics.

The idea of applying these insights to the language of native speakers of English was squashed for a generation by well-meaning but dogmatic linguists in the sixties, who excoriated Basil Bernstein’s early work which had suggested that the difference between educated and less well- educated pupils in English secondary schools might be a linguistic deficit in the language of working-class children.

Unlike those linguists, I had substantial experience in teaching a mixture of middle and working-class pupils in English secondary schools, and I always thought that it was a shame that Bernstein’s early work was not followed up. Continue reading

Applied Linguistics

One of the most exciting and useful intellectual developments in the twentieth century was the establishment of the study of language as a science. To distinguish it from the abundance of earlier ideas about language, the modern study was called Linguistics. This consisted, first of all, of a scientific description of the language system – mostly, English. A number of models were developed – Chomsky’s Transformational-Generative Grammar, Pike’s Tagmemics and the one which I found most useful for descriptive purposes, Halliday’s Systemics.

The practical application of the new linguistics was eagerly taken up by teachers of English as a Foreign Language under the title of Applied Linguistics. Continue reading


Better for the young people of this country – and the world – than the Queen’s Jubilee is the news that a secondary school in the North of England has taken up Breakthrough to Learning and is preparing to use it throughout the school from September!

My last blog recommended a lecture on the revolution in education by Professor Eric Mazur. It is exactly the same message as the ethos of this school. I quote from a pamphlet handed out to new teachers at the school:

We are about learning. We are unusual in that. So much time and energy in schools is spent on pursuing teaching standards, exam grades, league table positions etc. that, in reality, little time is left for learning. Continue reading