Of apes and men

I’ve been lucky enough to be put in touch with someone embarking on an M.A in Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. She has told me about some of the recent books on her reading list and I look forward to getting up to date with what is happening in some of the research areas of the subject.

I was particularly interested in the work of Michael Tomasello, Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. I hope to get one of his books but meanwhile I have enjoyed a lecture on:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8933367116959974563 Continue reading


In order to test the efficacy of a piece of teaching/learning, the standard practice in Applied Linguistics is to give a pre-test and post-test of the same kind and level of difficulty, trying to isolate the effectiveness of the teaching by keeping everything else the same.

In the Wigan Language Project we hypothesized that the course would show an improvement in the reading and writing of academic/formal English. So we set pre- and post-tests at the beginning and end of Book 2 (Year 8) and Book 3 (Year 9).

Book 2 taught the language of abstract ideas and Book 3 basic discourse structures, but, since no teacher likely to buy the books would have heard of this, we called Book 2 Reading for Learning, and based the exercises on the processing of academic texts (reading). Book 3 we called Writing for Learning and the exercises were based on the composition of academic texts (writing). Continue reading

First reactions to BtL

Last week I had the huge pleasure of meeting the Research Assistants who are administering and monitoring the implementation of Breakthrough to Learning at Matthew Moss High School.

They have set up a blog and made a number of video clips (including two of me made on their visit!). They can be accessed on:


These are some of the comments by Year Seven learners on their first experience of Book 1: Continue reading

Google Scholar

My brother has discovered that, if you call up Google Scholar, and type in “nominalization and abstract language”, two of our old articles come up very near the top:

The Deficit Hypothesis Revisited (1986) and

“Illuminating English”: how explicit language teaching improved public examination results in a comprehensive school (1992)

I was unaware of this and asked for help in understanding how Google Scholar works.

Tom Davis explained: Continue reading