flesl.net

a collection of interconnected esl materials

flesl.net announcements, updates, etcetera

October 7, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 7: Basic Training

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 7: Basic Training,” has been uploaded. It is 1069 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 62.3.

This is the sixth segment of the “Chelsea Manning” section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. It is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz and a multiple choice quiz. It is also accompanied, as the previously uploaded segments of the Chelsea Manning section have been, by a references page. This reference page, however, represents a move away from the previous system of having a separate reference page for every segment — a system which has come to be both unwieldy and time-consuming. I have decided to use instead one, general, references page. The current page will be expanded for use with the segments that follow and, when the section is complete, the page will be further expanded to include all the references that have been used in segments 1-6, and of course, the reference numbers in those segments will be changed accordingly.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.



September 5, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 5: Her Early Life, Part Three”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 5: Her Early Life, Part Three,” has been uploaded. It is 956 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 67.

This is the fifth segment of the Chelsea Manning section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. It is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz, a references page, and a multiple choice quiz.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.



September 15, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 6: Her Early Life, Part Four”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 6: Her Early Life, Part Four,” has been uploaded. It is 884 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 69.5.

This is the sixth segment of the Chelsea Manning section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. It is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz, a references page, and a multiple choice quiz.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.



September 5, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 5: Her Early Life, Part Three”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 5: Her Early Life, Part Three,” has been uploaded. It is 956 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 67.

This is the fifth segment of the Chelsea Manning section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. It is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz, a references page, and a multiple choice quiz.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.



August 15, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 4: Her Early Life, Part Two”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 4: Her Early Life, Part Two,” has been uploaded. It is 817 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 66.

This is the fourth segment of the Chelsea Manning section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. Like the previously uploaded segments it is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz, a references page, and, for this segment, a multiple choice quiz has also been uploaded.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.



August 7, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 3: Her Early Life, Part One”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 3: Her Early Life, Part One,” has been uploaded. It is 800 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 60.

This is the third segment of the Chelsea Manning section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. It is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz and a references page.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.

July 24, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 2: Her Gender”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 2: Her Gender,” has been uploaded. It is 609 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 60.2.

This is the second segment of the Chelsea Manning section of the “Digital Leakers” Trio. It is accompanied by a vocabulary quiz and a references page.

For more about the Trios Project see the July 10 entry below.

July 10, 2014

♦ new reading text: “Chelsea Manning 1: Trial & Sentence”

• A new reading text “Chelsea Manning 1: Her Trial and Sentence,” has been uploaded. It is 472 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 53.1.

• This text is the first in a new (proposed) “Paired Stories Plus” category, “Trios.” The idea here is to create over time — as an extension of the “Paired Stories” idea — a series of “trios” of readings on closely related topics. Each of these readings in a trio will be structured as a “set” of shorter texts. The topic of the first trio, of which the present reading will be one part, is “Digital Leakers.” It was suggested to me by my friend and former colleague, Ross McCague, of Seneca College in Toronto. The other two members of the trio will be “Edward Snowden” and “Julian Assange.”

• The present reading is accessible via a link in the new “Trios” section in the right-hand column of the Reading Directory. The titles of the (proposed) second through sixth parts of the Chelsea Manning section are given there, grayed out.

• The idea of having each of the three parts of the “trio” divided into a number of bite-sized segments was not part of the original plan. When I began gathering material, however, I quickly realized that there was a danger of writing much too much and ending up, as has happened before, with something so unwieldy as to be of little practical value. The decision to do each of the three parts of the trio as a series of short segments rather than a single long text was motivated by a determination to avoid making such a mistake again.

• In the hope of making the material more useful overall, I will attempt, when I come to write the other segments, of “Chelsea Manning” to make them as independent of each other as possible. Even if they are all used, however, I hope that the segmentation will make them more inviting to both teachers and students than a longer text would be.

• “Chelsea Manning, Part 1” is accompanied by an interactive vocab quiz and a reference page. A multiple choice quiz will follow and also, perhaps, an “Activities Page” and a print version.


July 2, 2014

♦ the usage survey: reading text usage

• As promised in the June 9 posting below, a detailed report on flesl.net reading text usage — based on a “snapshot” taken on February 14 of this year — has now been uploaded. Another promise made at that time — that “comments” on the “Summary” and the “Grammar Glossary Usage” reports were forthcoming, has not been kept. I am still hoping to post these comments soon — and comments on the results of the survey of reading text usage as well.

Here I will only make a couple of remarks about the formatting of the report on reading text usage.

(1) When I uploaded the Summary and the report on Grammar Glossary Usage I noted that the data had to be regarded as only approximate and mentioned that one reason for this was that the presentation of the data in the “Popular Pages” section of my Statcounter “project” left me wondering whether some hits had been recorded twice. The same question arose even more frequently while I was going through the data for the reading texts. In fact, I encountered so many such cases there that I came to feel that it was more likely than not that hits were not being recorded twice. Still, I decided to indicate my uncertainty by recording any hits that might be “repeats” by separating them from those first reported with a “slash.”

(2) The fifty-one reading texts listed in the report on reading text usage are ranked in terms of the the number of hits to the non-print version of the original text — except in those very few cases where there were no hits to the original text but one or more to the supplementary materials. As the figures in the leftmost “Total” column show, if hits to the supplementary materials had been taken into consideration in the ranking, the results would have been rather different.


June 9, 2014

♦ the usage survey

• On February 14 of this year, I took a “snapshot” of the “Popular Pages” section of the report I receive from the “Statcounter.com” web statistics service. My purpose was to use this information as the basis of a long-overdue, systematic survey of flesl.net usage. This turned out to be a much more time-consuming — and more tedious — project than I imagined. It is only now that I am ready to make a report. And it is not by any means complete; there is still a good deal more work to be done.

• In order to make the results of Usage Survey accessible, some reorganization of the About Section has been necessary. The “about flesl.net” link on the home page now leads to an “About Directory.” There are two main items listed in this directory: the “2009 Overview” (the material that has been in the About Section since the redesigned version of the site appeared in 2009) and the Usage Survey Report. Under this main heading there are two links leading to subsections of the report: “Summary” and “Grammar Glossary Usage

• The “Summary” section of the report, gives the total number of hits in each of ten categories. Five of these categories — Reading, Technical, Vocabulary, Speaking, and Activities — correspond to one or another of the fourteen “Sections” of flesl.net linked on the home page. Three of the categories — Grammar Glossary, Tense Exercises, and Errors — correspond to sub-sections of the Grammar Section. The two remaining categories refer to the number of hits received by the home page and by one or another of the directories.

• The Statcounter service provides me with detailed statistics covering the previous 5,500 hits, and so, theoretically the figures given here should refer to the 5,500 hits prior to the moment I took the snapshot, on February 14. However, when I totalled the numbers given in the “Summary,” I found that they added up to only around 5,100. Just what the cause of this discrepancy is, I cannot say. No doubt my own carelessness and inexperience with this sort of work played a part; the sometimes confusing way in which the statistics are presented may also have been a factor. In any case, I don’t feel that going back and recounting at this stage would be a wise expenditure of time. I hope to do another Usage Survey in February 2015, and if I do, I will make every effort to be more organized and careful. Despite this discrepancy, I am confident that, the two pages of the report that I have uploaded give a basically true and useful picture of flesl.net usage. The main reason for my confidence is the fact that the results bear out the impression I have received from casual inspection of the “Popular Pages” page over a long period of time.

Within the next few weeks I hope to upload a detailed report on the usage of the flesl.net reading materials. And within the next week or so, in the right-hand blog space, I will make some comments on the current reports.


May 15, 2014

♦ a reorganization of the reading materials

• flesl.net reading materials are now accessible through three directories, instead of just one. The former “Paired Stories and Other Readings” directory has been divided into two: “Paired Stories +” and “Other Readings.” In addition, some reading material that still requires work is accessible through the “Beta Directory.” (This directory was actually uploaded some time ago, but its appearance was not announced in either the left-hand or right-hand blog space.)

• In the process of making these changes, two long overdue “repairs” have been made: In the former “Paired Stories and Other Readings” directory, there was a section entitled, “Countries Project.” It contained a link entitled, “Peru.” This link was dead. The material that that link was intended to lead to still exists but — with the exception of one reading — it is not in a “finished” form. It can be accessed through the links in the “Peru” section of the Beta Directory.

• The one finished reading, “Al Venter’s War Dog 1,” can now be accessed through the link in the “Mining” section of the “Other Reading Directory.”

• The second repair also involved the removal of dead links. In the former “Paired Stories and Other Reading” directory, there was a subsection entitled “Society.” Its sole subsection was, “Kettling: a controversial police tactic.” Thirteen of the fifteen links there were dead and have been removed. The material that was intended to be accessible through these links — and which still requires a good deal of work — is now accessible through the “Police and Protestors” sub-directory. There is a link to this subdirectory in the Beta directory. The two live links, — “the meaning of ‘kettling,’” and “the Hamburg kettle” — have been placed in the “Social Protest” category of the the new “Other Reading” directory.


January 31, 2014

♦ A reading text, “Pirates,” has been uploaded

• The text, “Pirates,” has been uploaded along with a references page, a print version, and an interactive vocabulary quiz with print version. The text can be accessed from a link in the “Short Stories” section of the Reading Directory.

(This link has existed for approximately one year but, inadvertently, the material itself was not uploaded.)

“Pirates” is 964 words in length and has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 65.7.

The story is about the kidnapping of a Danish family in the Arabian Sea in 2011.


December 4, 2012

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “disjuncts”

• a new entry “disjuncts” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. It is accompanied by a “notes & references” page. (Extra examples of the various types of disjunct are listed in the “further notes” section of the reference page.

• As always criticisms, comments, and suggestions would be much appreciated.


November 18, 2012

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “adjuncts”

• a new entry “adjuncts” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. It is accompanied by a “notes & references” page.

• As always criticisms, comments, and suggestions would be much appreciated.


January 17, 2012

♦ a new reading category, “Blog Stuff,” and a new reading, “UK student fees protest, 2011”

• As I said in the left-hand blog-space posting of August 31, 2010 when I uploaded the newly designed home page, the original idea behind the “Right-hand text box” (I’ve taken since to using the term “blog-space” in place of “text-box”), was “to post material that is not directly related to flesl.net but which is related to ESL instruction or to broader educational issues that seem to be relevant.” I’ve stuck quite closely to that plan although the range of material has perhaps been narrower than I intended: apart from half-a-dozen entries on pedagogical issues, all the postings have concerned what might be loosely described as “political” matters: the ever-growing international “status” of English, the (related) strength of the “ESL industry” and, more generally, educational issues such as student protests against increases in university fees, and the weakening adherence to the ideal of a free education for all.

• I still think the right-hand blog space is a good idea and I intend to continue with it. There is one aspect of this part of flesl.net that has been worrying me however: judging on the basis of what I can learn from examining my “stats,” it seems that the material in the right-hand blog is not much used, and so I sometimes feel that the time spent producing it could have been put to better use. In the hope of improving matters — to justify the expenditure of time spent on the right-hand blog and also to enrich the straightforwardly intstructional core of flesl.net — I have decided that, as well as archiving the right-hand posts, I will also use some of them as the basis for readings, and I am beginning, experimentally with the December 30 post, UK student fee protest, 2011. As well as being linked here, it is accessible via the Reading Directory where it is listed in the new “Blog Stuff” section.

• The reading is accompanied by a print version and by an interactive vocabulary quiz (which also has a print version).

• As usual, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are welcome (and this time, more so than ever because I am trying something new).


December 12, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “count & non-count nouns”

• a new entry “count & non-count nouns” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. It is accompanied by a “notes & references” page.

• As always criticisms, comments, and suggestions would be much appreciated.


November 22, 2011

♦ a new “short story”: Stacey Hessler

• This story, Stacey Hessler, is 650 words long. It is about a 38-year-old married woman who left her four children in the care of her husband and her friends and travelled from Florida to New York to join the Occupy Wall Street camp. It is accompanied by a background page and a print version. Flesch Reading Ease: 61.71.


November 18, 2011

♦ a video-based listening/reading/discussion activity

• This activity is based on the video, Occupy the DOE on the Occupy New York live-streaming site.

• At the moment there are ten interconnected pages for this activity. They are listed in a, new, “Listening / Reading / Discussion” category on the Activities Directory. On one of these pages, “The Activity,” there is a suggested “lesson plan.” My main purpose in writing this page, and posting it, was to convince myself, and others, that there is some practical value in these materials. However, needless to say, teachers who try the activity will find their own ways of using the material — of ordering, contracting it, expanding it etc.

• One limitation on practicality may be the fact that the exercise is centered on a video. This means that it will be of little use to students who do not have access to the internet with a computer that is fast enough to handle the video. Moreover, students doing this activity, will have to have individual access to internet-connected computers. This is because to exploit the language learning potential of the video, students will have to be able to stop and start, “rewind,” and “fast forward” as they wish. It seems to follow that to get optimal value, the activity — or at least the part that involves actually watching the video — would have to be done either in a language lab or at home or in a library. To someone who feels as I do about the ambience of traditional language labs the first of these possibilities is unattractive, and the second depends on a high, perhaps unattainable, level of student self-discipline and enthusiasm. The most promising scenario for this kind of activity would, I think, be a classroom that was at the same time both very “human” and very hi-tech — say, a spacious, well-lit space with wi-fi laptops built into easily movable individual desks. But I’m not sure that that sort of space exists, and I know that if it does, it is very unusual.

• I have gone ahead with this activity despite my concern about its practicality for two reasons: [1] I feel that the enormous amount of video — “English-speaking video ” — now available on the web is a rich (and as far as I know quite unexploited) source of ESL material and that sooner or later technology and teaching techniques will be developed that make it easily and effectively usable. [2] I feel that the economic and political dissatisfactions motivating the Occupy movement are important and that they have worldwide significance.


November 9, 2011

♦ a vocabulary consolidation exercise for “Darlene Wagner”

[1] • This exercise is a review of eight of the words that appear in the “Darlene Wagner” vocabulary quiz. It is a cloze-type exercise consisting of eight passages quoted from various sources; each passage contains a blank into which one of the words being reviewed is to be placed. This exercise can be accessed through the “Darlene Wagner” extras directory and there is also a link to it in the “Activities from the Extras” section of the vocabulary directory.

[2] • Two small but important corrections have been made: (a) in the eighth question in the multiple choice quiz for “Fauja Singh,” the second choice has been changed from “helps babies who are born too early” to “helps babies who are born too late”; (b) in the screen and print versions of “Oseola McCarty,” in the last sentence of the second paragraph, “had being leading” has been changed to “had been leading.” (Both these errors were pointed out by students.)


November 1, 2011

♦ Two new Error Sheets.

Error Sheet #7 and Error Sheet #8 have been uploaded and are accessible from the Error Sheet section of the Grammar Directory.

• Like the other error sheets each one is accompanied by a print version, a key, and a “print out” which allows students working online to enter their corrections on the screen version and transfer them to a printable page which could be submitted to a teacher or used for offline study.

• The errors used in these sheets were taken from student summaries of the story “Darlene Wagner.”


October 31, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “structure of finite verb phrases”

• a new entry, “structure of finite verb phrases,” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. This entry deals with the internal structure of finite verb phrases — those which contain a simple present or simple past form. The related distinction between finite and non-finite clauses is discussed in the entry, “finite and non-finite clauses.” (The details of the structure of non-finite verb phrases will be discussed in a future entry.) Also relevant are the entries, “verb (word class)”and “verb element (of clause).”

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


October 12, 2011

♦ Kettling 2, the Hamburg kettle

• A second reading on kettling. “Kettling 2, the Hamburg kettle” has been uploaded. A link has been placed in the “Society” section of the Reading Directory.

• The first item in this series, “Kettling 1, what the word means and a little history,” was centered on a general description of the police tactic of controlling street demonstrators by surrounding them with a cordon of officers; it included a brief history of kettling and some remarks on the origins of the word itself. “Kettling 2” deals with the first well-known use of the technique against political protesters — in Hamburg, Germany in 1986.

• “Kettling 2” is 1600 words in length. It has a Gunning Fog index of 13.09, an Flesch Kincaid Grade Level of 11.53, and a Flesch Reading Ease Score of 50.20.

• Like “Kettling 1,” “Kettling 2” is accompanied by a reference page and a glossary. Both the reading and the glossary have print versions as well as screen versions. The screen version of the glossary appears in a scroll box to the right of the reading itself; the print version of the glossary appears on a series of separate pages. Links to both the print version of the reading and the print version of the glossary are found in the links bar of the screen version. The screen version of the text has two pages and the screen version of the glossary has four pages.

• The glossary for “Kettling 2” has 91 entries and contains 3800 words; it is more than twice as long as the reading itself, and the print version requires seven pages. Its length may seem excessive, even absurd, but it is, I believe, defensible on at least two grounds. (1) It seems to me an important principle of the production of good ESL reading materials that they be supplemented in a way that encourages teachers and students to exploit fully the language-learning opportunities they offer. (2) It is also important to keep in mind, it seems, that to broaden vocabulary and maintain interest, materials should be as rich in content and varied in subject matter as is practical even though following this rule is bound, occasionally at least, to lead to materials that present real difficulties to both students and teachers. Both of these ideas seem to suggest that a good glossary is a useful supplement to a demanding text.


August 24, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “articles”

• a new entry, “articles,” has been added to the Grammar Glossary.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


August 6, 2011

♦ a new reading category, “Society” and a new reading, “Kettling 1: what the word means and a little history”

• a new category of readings, “Society” has been created; the idea is to place in this section readings, and sets of readings, that concern various aspects of contemporary society. The first item in the category is Kettling 1: what the word means and a little history.” (Kettling is the controversial police tactic of immobilizing street protesters by surrounding them.)

• A link to the reading has been placed in the Reading Directory under the “Society” heading.

• The reading is accompanied by a references page and a glossary. Both the reading and the glossary have print versions as well as screen versions. The screen version of the glossary appears in a scroll box to the right of the reading itself; the print version of the glossary appears on separate pages. Links to both the print version of the reading and the print version of the glossary are found in the links bar of the screen version. The screen version of the text has two pages and the screen version of the glossary has four pages.

• The reading is about 1050 words in length. It has a Gunning Fog index of 15.87, an Flesch Kincaid Grade Level of 14.16, and a Flesch Reading Ease Score of 45.06. (The comparable figures for “Abdul Shanwaz,” the first story in the first series of paired stories, are 7.97, 6.99, and 67.93; for “Katharine Gun, ” the last story in the second series, they are, 11.64, 9.66. and 55.42).

• In both its subject matter and its manner of treatment, this text represents something of an extension of the aspirations of flesl.net reading material. The subject of kettling is controversial — as is the more general subject of police response to street demonstrations. Kettling has been used, it seems, mainly in northern Europe and in Canada and it is in those places where questions of its morality and its justice have been most fiercely debated in the courts and in the media. And it is there too where a connection has become most clear between the general political stance of those opposed to kettling — typically on the “left” — and the political stance of its proponents — typically on the “right.” But, kettling is only one way — and not by any means the toughest way — in which the police act to control dissent. In the past year, it seems that governments in every part of the world have called on their police forces to control, in one way or another, public expressions of opposition to their policies.

• By publishing reading material on a current and worldwide political issue, and one with profound implications, flesl.net enters the arena of political journalism and takes on all the attendant risks. I have tried in writing “Kettling 1” to take an objective tone and to select material in a careful and even-handed way. And I have also made a point of backing up with references any statements that go beyond what can reasonably be considered “general knowledge.” Still, merely to raise a fundamental political issue is to be political to some extent.

• Generally speaking political subjects are not thought to be appropriate for an ESL classroom, and certainly there are many good reasons for introducing them there — if at all — only with caution. So it seems likely that many teachers glancing at “Kettling 1” would feel that it is “too political” even if, in other ways, it would be appropriate for their students. On the other hand, it seems just possible — especially considering the fact that flesl.net has a worldwide audience — that there are other teachers who would find in such unusual content a welcome change from the anodyne texts typical of most ESL instructional materials.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


June 13, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “finite and non-finite clauses”

• a new entry, “finite & and non-finite clauses” has been added to the Grammar Glossary.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


June 5, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “copular verbs”

• a new entry, “copular verbs” has been added to the Grammar Glossary.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


May 24, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “about the glossary”

• a new, and long overdue entry, “about the Grammar Glossary” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. A link appears at the top of the “index” on the Grammar Directory page.

• In this entry I point out that because user response to the original version of the Grammar Glossary came not from users of other flesl.net material but directly from search engine users, I decided (approximately two years ago) that if the glossary were going to have real value, it would have to become a serious reference tool. What I didn’t point out there, because of a lack of space, is this: since I am not by any means a professional grammarian, I am not the ideal person to undertake this task. Despite that, I intend to continue for the following reasons: 1. a good deal of time has already been invested in the project; 2. it is clear from the response to the entries that have been uploaded so far that there is a need for an online reference tool of this kind; and 3. as far as I know, no professional grammarian is attempting to do anything similar. I am saying all this here, not merely because I didn’t have enough space in the entry itself, but also a way of making more emphatically the request I always make when announcing the uploading of a new grammar glossary entry: critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated. Without “critical support” of one kind or another the glossary will never be as accurate or as useful as it could be.


May 13, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “active and passive voice”

• a new entry, “active and passive voice” has been added to the Grammar Glossary.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


May 5, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “complements”

• a new entry, “complements” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. This is the fifth and last in a series of five entries on the major clause elements. The other entries in the series are: subjects, verb (elements), objects, and adverbials.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


April 29, 2011

♦ archive for Left and Right Box postings

• The long-delayed task of archiving the material in text boxes on this page has finally been completed. All the postings in both boxes made prior to April 1, 2011 have been transferred to an “archive.” All the material in the archive is accessible through a new “Archive Directory” — to which one of the “link boxes” on the upper part of this page has been devoted.


April 28, 2011

♦ a new Short Story,”—“His Wife’s E-mail”

• a new short reading — “His Wife’s E-mail” has been uploaded and is accessible through the “Short Stories” section of the Reading Directory.
• The reading is 448 words long and is accompanied by vocabulary notes and a conversation activity.


• The vocabulary notes are “open purpose.” In other words, the intention behind them is simply to provide information that might be useful, in one way or another, either to teachers or to independent students. One way in which they could certainly be useful would be by drawing a teacher’s attention, while preparing a lesson, to vocabulary items likely to be puzzling to some students and, at the same time, by offering suggestions as to what might be said by way of explaining these items. (It can be difficult, even for an experienced native-speaker, to come up with clear and accurate definitions on the spur of the moment.)

• The conversation activity “handout ” is in the same “plain” format as is used for similar handouts offered as “extras” to the paired stories. The reason for this is just that it is a handout — not meant for reading on a computer screen but for copying and distribution to individual students in a computer-free classroom.

• As always, suggestions as to how these new materials might be improved would be much appreciated.


April 26, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “objects”

• a new entry, “objects” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. This is the third in a series of five entries on the major clause elements.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


April 13, 2011

♦ new Grammar Glossary entry: “subjects”

• a new entry, “subjects” has been added to the Grammar Glossary. This is the second in a series of five entries on the major clause elements.

• As always, critical comments and suggestions would be much appreciated.


esl instruction and related educational issues

October 1, 2014

♦ Tenth Anniversary Statement

• This is the tenth, “official” anniversary of flesl.net. It has been my (vague) idea, during the past few months and weeks, to “celebrate” it with a review of flesl.net’s past and some conjectures about what its future might be. But now the date has arrived and nothing has been written — and very little even thought. So I will have to content myself with something much more modest.

• The bit of thinking I have done in the past while, about flesl.net, about ESL instruction, and about the whole human institution of education, has led me to feel that it would be useful to have a set of “philosophical” guidelines as a sort of foundation for the material on the site. So here I am going to celebrate by offering a draft of Guideline #1.


flesl.net Guideline #1 (draft):
• It is legitimate to regard ESL reading texts — such as the flesl.net “stories” — as having an educational value that goes beyond their usefulness as language instruction tools.

• There is much that could be said in explanation why this guideline might be important. But I will content myself here with making one brief comment: operating on this basic principle would be one way of providing a sort of justification for creating ESL texts which do not adhere to the generally accepted “ban” on all but the most anodyne subject matter. Such a ban may be argued for plausibly (although not, perhaps, conclusively) if the only acceptable goal of ESL instruction is taken to be English language competence. Such an argument could be made on the grounds that disturbing and controversial content is bound to make it difficult to maintain the sort of calm, harmonious ambience that is essential in an effective ESL classroom. Once general educational progress is accepted as an ancilliary goal of ESL instruction, however, the risk of inducing anxiety will no longer be a decisive objection to the use of possibly controversial material.


August 20, 2014

♦ comments on the usage survey, Part One

Part One: the summary

• A summary of the results of the usage survey was uploaded to the “About flesl.net” section in June. What follows is the first part of a commentary on these results. (See also the June 9 entry in the left-hand blog space.)

1) The preponderance of the Grammar Glossary:
• The most striking fact revealed by the summary is the preponderance of hits to the Grammar Glossary: approximately 52% all hits, by contrast with approximately 11% for the reading texts, and approximately 11% for all the other categories of ESL material combined.)

• If, as seems reasonable for the purposes of extracting the most important information from the results, the Directories category, the Technical category, and the Home Page category are not considered, then the preponderance of hits to the Grammar Glossary becomes even more striking: 64% for the Grammar Glossary and 15% for the reading texts and 15% for all the other ESL categories.

2) The “irrelevance” of the Grammar Glossary traffic:
• The main idea behind the Usage Survey was to gather information that could be used in an overall evaluation of flesl.net. From that point of view, the preponderance of the Grammar Glossary is of doubtful significance. The Grammar Glossary materials were not written, as were the other grammar materials, for use in an e ESL classroom. They came into existence as a supplement to the reading texts — a tool to help teachers who were using those materials. Their current form is a consequence of the fact that it came to seem that the glossary materials were being used, not by teachers preparing, for class but by TESL students, and perhaps linguistics students taking advanced grammar courses. Assuming that is so, the “popularity ” of these materials is not really any more relevant to an evaluation of flesl.net’s effectiveness as a source of ESL classroom materials than is the popularity of the Home page, the Directories page or the Technical Directory.

3) The other grammar materials: tenses and errors
• one inevitable consequence of the preponderance of the Grammar Glossary is that other grammatical materials have relatively few hits. The interactive tense exercises received forty-five hits; the error sheets received nine. The apparent “neglect” of these grammar materials should not be misinterpreted: if, as seems reasonable in light of what is said in section (2) above, the Grammar Glossary ought not, strictly speaking, to be regarded as ESL material and should therefore be eliminated from the calculation, then these two groups taken together account for just over forty-five percent of the total traffic — perhaps just about what would be expected when so much emphasis in terms of volume, and in other ways too, has been placed on the reading texts.

4) The other ESL sections: vocabulary, activities, speaking,
• The only one of these sections with a significant number of hits is Vocabulary. (8% of the grand total, 16% of the language materials, and about 45% of the strictly ESL materials.) The popularity of this section is almost entirely due to the popularity of two lists that are linked from the Vocubulary Directory: The List of Basic Content Words and the List of Basic Function Words. The success of these lists, both of which were developed quite casually, using the vocabulary that happened to appear in the reading texts, and which are not really integrated with any of the materials, would seem to indicate a need for straightforward reference materials despite the fact that there are already so many of these on the internet.

The hits to the “Speaking” section are all to the chart on IPA consonants or to the comments on that chart. A few years ago, this chart was, for quite a lengthy period, one of the most popular pages on the site.

The hits to the “Activities” section were entirely to one or another of the links to the “Two Teachers” activity. (Apart from two “split dictations” that is the only thing listed in the Activities Directory; the many activities suggested in the “extras” to the paired stories should be listed there but are not.)

4)The “technical section ”
• All the hits to the “Technical Section” are to one or another version of the sample code for a multiple choice quiz, to the page showing the quiz itself, or a short text, “about writing quiz code in php.”

• This material was written in 2009 as a sort of aide memoire. Having learned enough php to produce the interactive vocabulary quizzes and multiple choice quizzes, I realized that I would not likely need to do any further php coding for some time and that a clear record of what I had done would be useful for my own purposes at least. I didn’t expect that the sample code would attract much traffic but, from the time they were uploaded, these pages have been among the most popular on the site.

5) The missing sections
• Two ESL “sections” — Listening and Writing have not been mentioned because they received no traffic during the period of the “snapshot.” This is, at least in part, attributable to the fact that there is very little material in these sections.

The Teaching Section is not mentioned because, once again, it received no hits during the period covered by the snapshot. (There is a good deal of material in this section; its purpose is to give suggestions and advice to teachers as to how the classroom material can be used.)


January 29, 2014

♦ a change of course

Below are a few paragraphs which were written almost one year ago and intended for posting here. They weren’t posted because I wanted to add a few comments on what I felt I had learned from the session, but I procrastinated and never got back to it. (The materials mentioned still exist but they have been removed from the site because they have been superseded by later work on the same topic.)

Despite the length of time that has passed, I still feel that what I wrote last February is worth posting. In the first place, it is a report on one of the very few chances I have had to use flesl.net materials in a classroom, and so it seems worth preserving a record — particularly so since this session was more successful than I expected it to be.

And there is another reason: Although the class went well, I was not satisfied with the reading text I prepared. I felt that it didn’t contain enough detail about what was supposed to be the main subject, a violent clash between “campesinos” and the Peruvian army in the Andean city of Celendín. The reason for this is that in preparing the text I hadn’t been able to find any details that went beyond those in the original news story that had drawn my attention to the event. In the days that followed, I continued my “research” in the hopes of finding what was missing. The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. I never did find exactly what I was looking for, but along the way I found a lot of interesting information — about the environmental and political consequences of open-pit mining in northern Peru. I also learned a good deal about the larger political and economic context in which the mining activity was taking place.

But that was far from being the end of it: A major concern of the opponents of the mines is pollution, and as a result of learning something about that, I was led into reading about mining-related pollution in other parts of the world. In the course of that reading I become interested the story of the notorious mining promoter, Robert Friedland. I followed his trail until I lost it in Sierra Leone and then, while trying to pick it up again, I become interested in the civil war in that country and the political and economic situation that surrounded it. .

As I was doing all this I continued writing, managing to convince myself that the texts I was producing were potentially suitable for ESL classrooms. Although the project is still not complete, the accumulated texts are now well over 50,000 words in length. The texts are divided into various sections, some quite short, but there is not a single one that, in its present state, is appropriate for use in a normal ESL class. Within the last couple of weeks I have belatedly realized I got carried away by the fascinations of the subject matter and allowed myself to forget that I was supposed to be producing practical ESL readings.

I have now begun to act on this realization. I am determined to get flesl.net back on track as quickly as possible.

In the days and weeks to come I intend to post a series of statements, here in the “right-hand blog space” about how I intend to do this and what progress is being made.


And here is the never-posted post from last February:

February 22, 2013, ( but posted on January 29, 2014)

♦ report from the classroom

• On February 13, I had a rare, and welcome, opportunity to try out some flesl.net materials in an ESL classroom. I spent a couple of hours in the class of a friend who is a long-time ESL teacher. There were seventeen students in her class. Most were young adults in their late teens or early twenties but several were thirty or more. They were native speakers of a diversity of languages, and there was, I believe, also a good deal of diversity in the number of years they had spent in formal education systems.

• The materials I used were:

- an excerpt from a reading text I have been working on; it concerns a particular episode in the long-standing struggle between farmers and foreign miners in the highlands of northern Peru.);

- an “extras” page with suggestions for writing and discussion activities, and with links to a video and still photos. (The video showed the arrest and roughing-up of the activist, Marco Arana, in the main square of the city of Cajamarca. The still photos showed the typical pristine landscape of the region and also some of the damage that has been done to it by open-pit mines.)

- a set of vocabulary notes for the reading text

• a summary of the “lesson”

- we began by showing the students the video without any introduction except to say that it was short (less than two minutes) that it was silent (we muted the voice-over commentary) and that after watching it twice, they would be asked to write a brief description of what they had seen. We then played the video twice, the first time straight through, the second time pausing it briefly as often as possible. Then the students were given a bit more than five minutes to write a paragraph describing what they had seen.

• Next, the students were given the 640-word reading text. They were allowed about twenty minutes to read it. When they had finished, they were invited to ask questions and then there was a teacher-led discussion of the vocabulary (using the prepare-prepared notes as a guide.)

• Then the students worked in groups of four responding to the discussion question: Would it be acceptable for mining companies to condone the killing of protesters who are blocking access to their mines?



December 30, 2011

♦ Student protests in the UK

• The four items linked below, two newspaper articles and a police document concern student protests in London, England, part of an ongoing campaign there whose high point, so far at least, occurred in the autumn of 2010. (See the February 17, entry, “Students protest against fee increases.)”

• On November 7, thousands of students marched through the streets of London, England, protesting against fee increases at British universities. (Until the year 2000 post-secondary education was free in the UK. Now it can cost as much as £9000 ($US14,200) per year.)

• The number or students who participated is not certain, but it seems clear that it was well below 10,000 — which was what the organizers were hoping for. (According to the report in “The Guardian,” there were fewer than 3000 marchers being controlled by about 4000 police officers.)

• The march began in the West End of London, passed by Trafalgar Square in the center, and ended up in the financial district, “the City,” in the East End. When marchers arrived at Trafalgar Square a few of them tried to pitch tents there, but the police prevented them from doing so. As they approached the City, they wanted to march around St Paul’s Cathedral, the location of the Occupy London camp, but the police blocked their way. In the City itself, at the end of the march, about 800 people were kettled by the police; however, those who wished were allowed to leave through a “filtered cordon.”

• There reports of some of the marchers throwing sticks and bottles at the police, but there was no serious violence. During the day there were about forty arrests. They were mostly for breaches of the peace and similar offences, but one protester was arrested for “possessing an offensive weapon” and one for wearing a mask.

• The organizers of the march were disappointed by the low turnout. They attributed it to police intimidation. In the days before the march, the police had announced that they were ready to use rubber bullets against marchers if they acted violently. (Rubber bullets have never been used against demonstrators in the UK.) The police also had sent letters to 450 people who had been arrested in fees protests in the last year — including many who were released without being charged. The letters warned against getting involved in “any criminal or anti-social behaviour” during the protest and stated that anyone who did so would be arrested “at the earliest opportunity.” It went on to say: “A criminal conviction could impact on employment and educational opportunities, your ability to travel abroad and applications for insurance cover.” The recipients of the letter were also told that if they noticed any violence at the march they should not stand and watch it, but should move away instead.

• At the march itself, police helicopters hovered overhead and police officers gave out leaflets warning protesters that they’d be arrested if they didn’t keep to the agreed route. Police also walked at the front of the march to control its speed and occasionally brought it to a complete stop.

Links to the summarized materials:

Show of force quells repeat of violence (Independent)

Student fees protest passes off peacefully (Guardian)

Police criticized for letter to protesters (Independent)

Police letter to former protesters (Metropolitan Police)


September 5, 2011

♦ Student protests in Chile

• The twenty-one items linked below all concern a long “war” between students and the state in the South American country, Chile. Most are news stories about the latest battles in that war, which began in 2006 and has been going on, sporadically, ever since. In May of this year, it flared up dramatically and, at the time of writing, late August, it has become extremely serious: during the latest demonstrations a high school student was shot dead — apparently by a police bullet — and another young protester was in hospital after being shot in the eye; on July 20, thirty-one students went on hunger strike and in mid-August they were joined by four more who went on a liquidless hunger strike; there were also rumours that the Chilean government — which has so far used only a paramilitary police force, the carabineros, to supress the revolt — was considering calling in the army.

• What follows here is not a summary of all, or any, of the linked items. It is merely a series of comments made after reading them and doing so in light, first, of the recent student protests in the UK; and, second, in light of a long-standing interest in the idea of a human right to a free education. (See the February 17 entry, “Students protest against fee increases in British universities,” the June 23 entry below, and also the comments about free education, made in 2008, on “The purpose of flesl.net” page. )

• The issue at the center of the fight is the accessibility of education. The protesting students claim that only wealthy Chileans are able to get a good education while the poor — and a high percentage of Chileans are poor — are excluded. They see this as an injustice which must be corrected.

• The Chilean protests have a lot in common with the recent student protests in the UK, but there are many significant differences between the two situations:

1. There has been much more violence in Chile than in the UK. There, the protesters have been guilty at most of minor property damage while the police, although they have been accused of rough and even cruel treatment of protesters, have avoided outright violence and have never been armed with anything more than shields and batons. In Chile, by contrast, the students have used rocks, firebombs, and slingshots against the police and have burned down a large department store. The police have attacked the students with water cannons, gas, and plastic ammunition and — as was mentioned above — have begun shooting them with real bullets. In early August, the government banned marches in the central part of Santiago and when students defied the ban, the police attacked immediately.

2. Whereas the British students have, it seems, been content to restrict their protests to street demonstrations, the students in Chile have used other tactics as well — and ones that have given their campaign an ongoing impact that has been missing in the UK. In 2006, and during the current uprising, there have been many long occupations of schools and universities. In Santiago alone there have been as many as fifty high schools occupied at once. Students — presumably with the support of their teachers — barricade the doors of their schools and take over. Sometimes they are evicted by the police and then return when the police have left. Inside the occupied schools, some level of political activity is maintained; there is discussion and debate and huge banners stating the students’ demands are hung on the front walls of the buildings. In addition to the occupations, the hunger strikes, mentioned above, seem certain to be an effective way of keeping public attention focussed on the students’ campaign.

3. Another difference between the British and the Chilean student movements is that the Chileans are much more specific, far-reaching, and radical in their demands than are the British. The protesting students in the UK seem to be motivated entirely by anger about recent rises in university fees; apart from that, they do not seem to have a well-thought-out and well-articulated position. On the other hand, the Chilean students have obviously done a lot of thinking and have learnt how to express themselves effectively. They insist not just that public-supported education should be less expensive but that it should be free, and that it should be directly under the control of the Chilean state. They also demand that for-profit educational institutions should be declared illegal. As well as agreeing with the university students that all public education should be free and administered by the state, the high-school students have specific demands of their own: They want schools to operate 365 days a year, free transportation to and from school, and a reduction in the fees charged for university entrance tests.

4. In the UK although the opposition Labor party opposes the university fee increases, they have not been openly involved in the organization of the protest or even given them open verbal support. In Chile, by contrast, the student movement has been actively supported by the Chilean Communist Party. The leader of the university students, Camila Vallejo, is a member of the Party. (The Communist Party of Chile is legal and has in the past had some candidates elected to the legislature. In recent elections it has apparently been getting the support of about 5% of voters.)

5. Although a large percentage of the British public (over 70% according to a report in The Guardian) disapproves of the recent increases in university fees and therefore sympathizes with the student campaign against them, the response to the few quite minor incidents that have occurred — from the public and the media — has made it look as if, were the students to resort to violence, they would quickly lose all public support. By contrast, although the students in Chile have been becoming more and more violent in recent months, the Chilean public seems not have wavered in its support. (It is also worth noting that what might be called the “near violence” of the occupations and the hunger strikes could scarcely have proceeded without large amounts of public approval.)

Some final comments: quite apart from any specific comparisons with their UK counterparts, the Chilean students have distinguished themselves by their awareness of fundamental socio-economic issues. For example: one prominent issue has been the way banks have been allowed to profit from student loans. (The loans are arranged by the government but the money comes from the banks and they collect the interest.). And beyond that specific issue, the students are outspokenly opposed to any sort of profiteering by educators. (There is at least one spectacular example of a Chilean educator profiteering: the former Minister of Education, Joaquin Lavin, who was forced to resign as a result of the recent protests, made his fortune as owner of Desarollo University.) More generally, the students, and their supporters, emphasize the fact that, although Chile has a better educational system then most Latin American countries, the discrepancy between the educational opportunities of the rich and those of the poor is greater there than it is in other countries of the region.

• What is most significant about the turmoil in Chile, however, is the simple fact that we are witnessing there a social upheaval which has, for the moment at least, education as its central issue. This is a situation which, as far as I know, is unprecedented — and one that may turn out to have large implications for the future.


♦ links to the articles:

1. 2011 student protests in Chile (Wikipedia)
2. The dam breaks (Economist)
3. Chile (New York Times backgrounder on Chile)
4. 120,000 students march in Chile (World Socialist)
5. Chileans protest for education reforms (Bloomberg)
6. Chilean protests point to deep discontent (BBC)
7. 1 dead, score hurt in Chile protests (Fox News Latino)
8. Chile president berates students (al jazeera)
9. Chilean students (NPR) (audio + transcript)
10. Chile’s Commander Camila (Guardian)
11. Chilean police detain over 100 students (EduFactory)
12. Demands for free education (Honduras Weekly)
13. Chile shaken by student revolt (Green Left)
14. Chilean students storm ministry (Edmonton Journal)
15. Hunger strikers hold Piñera responsible (The Nation)
16. In Chile, a new form of protest (GlobalPost)
17. Protesters challenge Piñera (GlobalPost)
18. 874 arrested in student protest (World War 4 Report)
19. Protests demand deeper reforms Inter Press Service
20. Camila Vallejo’s blog (in Spanish)
21. Student protests in Chile: 38 photos (The Atlantic)


• all items accessed September 5, 2011. (The Economist article may require registration but this is a free and simple process which gives access to ten articles per week. The backgrounder from the New York Times may require registration, but this is another simple and free process which gives access to twenty articles per month.)


June 23, 2011

♦ Student fees in high schools in Ontario, Canada.

• The six media articles linked below and the three documents that are linked and summarized all concern student fees in Ontario high schools. Most students in public high schools in that province must pay for such things as registration, course materials, athletic programs, school trips and “extra-curricular activities.”

• A large amount of money is raised by these fees — Cdn$26 million for “activity fees” alone in 2010-11 — and some critics of the practice say there is a danger of the Ontario education system becoming dependent on “funding” of this kind.

• Although the information in these articles and documents concerns only one part of one country, it is symptomatic of a widespread phenomenon. In the first place, there is little doubt that similar fees are being quietly charged in many other places even where the practice contradicts a general presumption that public education is entirely free. Secondly, the increasing prevalence of high school fees is a reflection of a worldwide trend toward the commercialization of education — toward making it into a business, in other words.

• The six media articles linked below were all written in response to a report by People for Education, which describes itself as “an independent parent-led organization, working to improve public education in Ontario’s English, Catholic and French schools.” The first five contain information about the report; the sixth concerns the “guidelines” published by the Government of Ontario in response to the report’s criticisms.

• overview of linked articles:

• articles in the media:

• report by People for Education:

• guidelines from the Government of Ontario:

• response from Annie Kidder of People for Education :


• summaries of documents:

A: “The High Cost of High School”
In “The High Cost of High School,” People for Education describes the various types of fee that students in Ontario high schools may be asked to pay. Four categories are discussed:

• Registration fees are charged at the beginning of the school year. Students must pay them before they can receive their “timetables” telling them where and when their classes happen. Library fees would also have to be paid at the beginning of the year.

• Course fees are fees charged in connection with a particular “course” (for example, mathematics or science). According to the report, course fees have risen sharply in recent years. Often these course fees are for “outdoor education” or to cover the cost of special (and unnecessary) materials in woodworking or art courses. Sometimes however they are “flat” fees which students must pay simply to be allowed to take a particular course. According to the report, 17% of Ontario high schools charge fees for second language courses, 14% charge fees for science classes and 6% of schools charge for English courses. All three types of course are mandatory; that is to say, students who do not take them cannot graduate. Apparently, for many years these fees were declining but, the report says, they have recently begun to rise again. In 2010/11 the average fee for a single course was just under $25. (The report does not give much detail about exactly what the fees are for; it does mention two examples, however: French workbooks and science laboratory materials.)

• Student activity fees cover “extra-curricular” activities — such as dances and clubs and are also used to pay for the production of student “yearbooks.” The amount charged varies greatly from one school to another; in some schools it is as little as $5 but in others it is as much as $100. “The High Cost of High School” emphasizes that like course fees, activity fees have been rising in recent years: according to the report in 2001, the province’s schools raised approximately $15 million from activity fees and in 2010/11 they raised approximately $26 million.

• Athletic fees are an extra expense for students who want to play after-school sports against other schools. They can be as low as $10 but have also been rising quickly. In 2010-11 the top athletic fee was $1800 — more than twenty times the top fee ten years earlier.

• The question of legality: The report deals briefly with the question of the legality of school fees. It refers to a Ministry of Education document that clearly states that library fees and textbook fees are not legal but it does not explicitly say the schools that charge such fees are breaking the law. Instead it refers to “grey areas.” — in other words to practices that are between the “black” of illegality and the “white” of legality. The implication seems to be that although the schools are not perhaps doing anything that could lead to their being convicted in court, they are not acting in accordance with the real purpose of the law which is to provide a free and equitable education to the young people of Ontario.

• Other points made in the report:


B: “Fees for learning materials and activities guideline”

• The Government of Ontario report begins with a strong statement of a basic principle:

“Every student has the right to attend a school...without the payment of a fee.”

Then, as if to make it clear exactly what this principle entails, the report states:

“The costs of materials and activities for elementary and secondary education are provided to schools by the Ministry of Education and should be reflected in school board operating budgets.”

This principle — and the implication that has been drawn from it — are, however, immediately qualified in the following way:

“When the school boards choose with the support of the school community to offer enhanced or optional programming, parents may be asked to contribute resources in the way of time, money or materials to support these programs or activities.”

• The main body of the report is divided into four sections:

i) guiding principles;
ii) fee charges;
iii) best practices;
iv) accountability to school community

i) guiding principles: the main purpose of this section seems to be to emphasize that although school and school boards are “allowed to offer programming and materials beyond what is necessary to meet the learning expectations of a particular grade or course,” they must do so in a way that respects the right of all students in the system to a completely free education. The report does not explicitly state that such a right exists, but it definitely implies that. It says, for example, that even when fees are used to pay for supplements, “each student should have an equal opportunity to benefit from the education system without being required to pay a fee.” The authors of the report also acknowledge (once again without putting it “in so many words”) that there is a danger of a conflict between the government’s insistence on the right to a free education and its acceptance of the practice of charging fees. They say: “Students must be able to participate in school activities and access regardless of economic circumstances.” and to this they add a strong statement about the importance of protecting the dignity of the students who cannot afford to pay and have therefore to ask for exemption from the fees.

ii) fee charges:This section provides information as to what sorts of activities and materials fees can apply. (There is no information about how students who wished to participate in these activities but whose parents could not afford the fees could apply for subsidies.)

• The guideline states that it is permissible to charge fees for voluntary activities, materials, and programs which are “not required for graduation.” It also states that, if a student does not participate in a program or activity because he or she has not paid the fee, an “alternative” must be provided.

Some of the things for which, according to the guideline, fees cannot be charged: registration; textbooks; learning materials such as workbooks, musical instruments, and science supplies; fees for guest speakers or field trips “where the material being presented is “ a mandatory element of the subject or course.”

Some of the things for which according to the report, fees can be charged: extracurricular trips and activities not required for graduation such as dances, clubs and student council activities; extended unnecessary trips; optional student trips; student agendas and yearbooks.

iii) Best practices: This section contains a list of things school boards “may consider” when developing their policy on fees: a limit on student activity fees; a limit on all fees payable by families with more than two children in school; making sure that when fees are charged for materials they reflect the real cost of those materials; and “implementing a confidential process to support full participation of students regardless of economic circumstances.” This section of the report also contains some suggestions specifically directed toward school principals: they are urged to keep fees as low as possible, to make sure that, if students do not participate in some activity because of the cost, they are given an “alternative assignment” and also, to make “every effort to ensure that all students can participate in student activities regardless of ability to pay.”

iv) Accountability to the school community: the guideline says that “fee schedules” should be “included in fall school newsletters, posted on student websites and referenced in student agendas,” and it also states that the fee schedules should contain information about the purpose of the fees and about financial help for parents who cannot afford to pay them.


C: “New fee guidelines welcomed but grey areas remain”

• Immediately after the government’s guidelines were published, Annie Kidder of People for Education issued a brief reply. She begins by saying that she likes what the government guidelines say — in the final section — about the need for schools to be open and accountable about their fees. And she also praises the guidelines for clarifying the things for which “fees must absolutely not be charged” However, the detailed criticism criticisms which follow show that in her opinion the guidelines do not indicate that the government intends to take seriously her group’s main objections to high school fees.

Her remarks are divided into two sections: “What’s problematic?” in which she responds to several particular points in the Guidelines and “What are the overall problems?” in which she makes some general comments on the whole practice of high school fees.

i) What’s problematic? /br (a) The presence of “grey areas” is mentioned. And as an example, Annie Kidder points out that the guidelines say that it is permissible to charge fees for “enhanced programming and materials” as well as for “enrichments and upgrades” but does not “explain what these might be” This is important, she thinks, because the vagueness in the guidelines makes it possible for schools to say that materials which are in fact quite ordinary are really “superior” and so require fees. She also points out here that the guideline’s discussion of this particular point seems to imply that there “can be two qualities of learning material for one class”
(b) Annie Kidder also objects to the guideline’s use of the phrase “may consider” in outlining their fee policies. This statement, she points out does not set a requirement and therefore there is no reason to expect that it will have any effect on fee paying practices.
(c) There is dangerous vagueness too, she thinks, in the reference to students who do not participate in some activity because they “choose not to” (which presumably means that they don’t participate because they cannot afford to). And she sees questionable vagueness too in the stipulation that such students must be given an “alternative assignment”— which, as she says, might amount to nothing more than their being provided with a classroom to sit in.
(d) She points out that there is no mention of athletic fees in the guidelines despite the fact that they are charged in 73% of schools and may be as high as $1800.

ii) What’s problematic? Speaking more generally, Annie Kidder says that
(a) in her opinion the guidelines, far from improving the situation, will make it worse, because, by implying that the fees are “necessary and appropriate,” they will “serve to entrench fees into the system ”
(b) there is, she says, no commitment in the guidelines to the idea that all students deserve a “rich, broadly-based education.”
(c) Annie Kidder adds that there is “no recognition that extra-curricular activities are a key component of a student’s education and lead to a greater engagement and sense of belonging” and, finally,
(d) criticizes the guidelines because although they do recommend that schools have a “clear policy for students who cannot pay the fees” they still require parents and students who need financial support to approach boards and schools and thus expose themselves to embarrassment.


May 19, 2011

♦ Reading Report 4 on “Cultures, Contexts and World Englishes,” by Yamuna Kachru and Larry E. Smith, Routledge, 2008.
(Chapter 2, Part 3: conversation analysis)

• As was pointed out in earlier entries, in “Cultures, Contexts and World Englishes,” Kachru and Smith are mainly interested in considering barriers to communication between speakers of different “Englishes.” At the the beginning of Chapter 2, in preparation for this project, they examine a group of “relevant concepts.” Their treatment of some of these — the ideas of conceptual, indexical, and interaction management information, and the idea of speech acts — was summarized in the March 6th entry, and the idea of conversational implicature was summarized in the April 8th entry.

• The next concept taken up is “conversation analysis.” Kachru and Smith do not offer a definition at this point; they make it clear, however, that one important aspect of conversational analysis is the examination of the timing of conversational “turns.” (A “turn” is one uninterrupted “contribution” for example if A says “Hello.” and B replies, “Hello,” two turns have taken place.)

• In their very short discussion of conversational analysis (about half of one page) Kachru and Smith report on the analysis of two conversations between a native speaker, Diane, and a non-native speaker, Anh. In the first of these, communication fails because Anh mistakenly interprets Diane’s “How ya doin’?” as a request for information. In the second, Anh understands Diane’s greeting and the two communicate successfully. Kachru and Smith say that the failure of communication in the first case is reflected by the fact that Diane dominates that exchange: her turns take up around 66 percent of the total time. In the second conversation, by contrast, “the turns are more even.”

• In the final two sentences of this section Kachru and Smith draw their conclusions: first they suggest that when communication succeeds, the turns are more even because of the “comfortable” feeling that accompanies understanding. And then they go on to say that the second conversation “conforms more closely to the norms of...the American English-speaking community.” (They do not explain, however, why the technique of conversational analysis is required to show that this is so.)

• There is another aspect to Kachru’s and Smith’s commentary on the conversations between Anh and Diane — one that is not perhaps directly connected to the techniques of conversational analysis. They apparently feel that Diane’s domination of the conversation is not to be understood entirely by the fact that communication is thwarted by Anh’s misunderstanding. Diane, reacts in the way she does, they suggest, because she is uneasy with silence. The idea is apparently that, realizing that Anh has not understood her, Diane continues speaking — at unnecessary length — because she fears the embarrassed silence that may ensue if she does not do so. Kachru and Smith back up this suggestion by quoting from a 1979 publication by J. Gumperz and others: Crosstalk: A Study of Cross-cultural Communication: “It is not uncommon for a native speaker to react to discomfort in an exchange...by increasing verbal activity. Abhorrence of silence could almost be a cultural trait in dominant U.S. culture.”

• This idea of the relevance of culture to communication is pursued in a one-paragraph section that follows: “Linguistic and Sociocultural Conventions.” The authors’ point here is that, to facilitate cross-cultural communication, both linguistic and sociocultural conventions must be taken into consideration: it is necessary, for example, for Anh and Diane both to understand that “How ya doinq’” is a greeting, but if they are to communicate successfully, it is equally necessary for them to find common ground as to the amount of silence that is tolerable.

[note: The Oxford American Dictionary defines “socio-cultural” as “combining social and cultural factors”; this suggests the word is vague — at least in the absence of any clear distinction between “social” and “cultural.”]



April 8, 2011

♦ Reading Report 3 on “Cultures, Contexts and World Englishes,” by Yamuna Kachru and Larry E. Smith, Routledge, 2008.
(Chapter 2, Part 2: conversational implicature, H.P. Grice’s maxims, eto)


• After having explained the idea of speech acts, Kachru and Smith, move on to a discussion of the connected idea of conversational implicature. (The noun “implicature” is a technical term based on the verb “imply.” The more common noun form is “implication.”)

• Kachru and Smith define “implicature” as “what the speaker implies, suggests, or means, as distinct from what (s)he literally says.” The participants in a conversation must understand the implicatures that lie behind the statements. If they do not, information will not be successfully exchanged. To provide an example, they return to the conversation between a native speaker and a non-native speaker in which communication is thwarted because of a misinterpretation of the utterance; “How ya doing?” (See the entry of March 6.)

• This conversational exchange fails because the non-native speaker thinks she has been asked a question; she does not understand the “implicature” that lies behind the words she hears. She does not understand, in other words, that the “question” is not a question at all but rather a friendly greeting.

• In order to clarify their point, and perhaps buttress it with authority, Kachru and Smith give a lengthy quote from the British philosopher, H.P. Grice. In the passage quoted by Kachru and Smith (from Grice’s 1975 article “Logic and Conversation”) Grice states a “general principle of conversation” to the effect that what participants say must be in accordance with the conversation’s purpose. This principle, Grice says, is supported by several “maxims” which indicate various things participants must keep in mind if they are to speak in accordance with the basic principle: providing the right quantity of information, telling the truth, being relevant (i.e. sticking the the point), being clear, being unambiguous, being brief (i.e. not being long-winded), and being organized.) Kachru and Smith stress that Grice’s maxims are not “prescriptive:” they are not an attempt to say what conversations should be but to describe what they are. They also point out that if a conversation has an unusual “purpose,” one or more of the maxims will be violated. (They do not give any examples of this but presumably they have in mind the sort of situation that occurs when a politician in “conversation” with a journalist intentionally makes irrelevant or ambiguous statements in order to avoid providing real information.)

• In the midst of their discussion of Grice, Kachru and Smith insert a reference to a book by G.Brown and G.Yule, Discourse Analysis. Apparently, those authors object to Grice’s list of maxims first, on the ground that several do not apply to “primarily interactional conversation” and secondly that one of Grice’s maxims, “Be Relevant” seems to include all the others. Then, in the same paragraph as they mention these objections, they say the following: “Whatever the controversies might be with regard to these maxims, they are useful as a point of departure for our discussion.” This statement is noteworthy because, up to this point, Kachru and Smith have not given a detailed account of just how conversational implicature and the “Gricean maxims” are relevant to their discussion.

• In the final paragraph of the section, Kachru and Smith do connect Grice’s maxims to what they have already said about the difficulties native-speakers and non-native-speakers can have in communicating with one another. They return to their discussion of the breakdown in communication that occurs when a native speaker greets a non-native speaker and fails to be understood. In the previous section concerning speech acts (see the March 6 entry) they have already explained this in terms of the native speaker’s using an indirect speech act. Here they repeat that explanation and add that the “use of an indirect speech act”...in this context...represents a violation of [Grice’s] maxim of mAnnier in that it appears opaque to her interlocutor.

• {To close with an editorial comment: That may be so, but I cannot see how, so far at least, Kachru and Smith have shown that the theories they have been discussing (the theory of speech acts and the theory of conversational implicature) are required for an understanding of this case of communicative failure. It seems to me that it would have been simpler, and just as useful, to say — succinctly and common-sensically — that Anh (the non-native speaker) does not understand Diane (the native speaker) because she does not realize that an utterance that has the grammatical form of a question is in fact a greeting.}