I’ve titled my remarks “On the path to Crystal Mountain: A trek and English language teaching in the 21st Century. ” Crystal Mountain is a snow-covered peak that’s high on the Tibetan plateau in the Land of Dolpo. It’s a remote area where a near mythic creature roams, one of the most rare and most beautiful great cats of the world: the Himalayan snow leopard. In the fall of 1973, the novelist Peter Math Eye e Sun joined a reknown wildlife biologist on a 250-mile trek to Crystal Mountain, in hopes of glimpsing the elusive snow leopard. Peter’s chronicle of his five-week trek through the Himalayas and his account of his journey to Inner Dolpo to find the snow leopard inspired me. A few years after reading the book I found myself on exactly the same path.
Just as Peter did, I began my journey in Pokhara, Nepal. Peter’s first diary entry on September 28th read: “There are no roads west of Pokhara, which is the last outpost of the modern world; in one day’s walk we are a century away.” I began my journey under grey skies and in a light rain in March of 1979.
Mach ha pu cha re By the end of our first day of trekking, we were in the shadow of brooding Mach ha pu cha re. Despite an elevation of 6997 meters, making it one of the world’s highest peaks, Mach ha pu cha re is a shorter brother when compared with its Himalayan siblings most of which exceed 7600 meters.
A few hours’ walk from Pokhara, the path becomes steep and rocky. The valleys narrow, obscuring the surrounding peaks, and the path becomes only a few feet wide. You turn your attention from the surrounding mountains to your feet and you concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other to avoid a misstep that could leave you hobbled for the rest of the trek or worse, mortally injured at the bottom of a rugged ravine.
Up and down the ridges we walked inching our way higher and deeper into the Himalayas and closer to Crystal Mountain. It was slow going and with each passing hour our legs grew weaker and the blisters on our feet became more painful. At dusk on the third day, we got our first glimpse of the Annapurna: a group of mountains all of which are more than 8,000 meters high. In 1950, Annapurna One was the first peak over 7600 meters to be climbed by a human.
The next afternoon, during a rest break high on a ridge, I surveyed the landscape. I could no longer see Pokhara and Annapurna One was directly before me. I felt rewarded for my effort and filled with optimism. I knew I’d eventually reach the Crystal Mountain.
That evening I slept in a tiny mountain village that clung to the slopes of Annapura One. The next morning I was followed to the edge of the village by a band of smiling, barefoot, laughing five-year-olds. As I moved into the mist and disappeared up the path, the children stood in a row with both palms pressed firmly together and bid me farewell in a local word that is used in every greeting and parting. Namaste! Namaste! the children shouted. “I salute you! I salute you!” Their words underscored the significance of my endeavor and encouraged me onward to Crystal Mountain.
I’ve chosen to frame my remarks today in terms of my trek through the Himalayas because I believe it is a useful metaphor not only for our experiences as English language teachers but also for how we can approach our work. With the remaining time available, I’d like to A. Underscore the significance of our endeavor B.Acknowledge several important developments in our field C.Identify what I believe is the biggest challenge facing language teachers, and D.Suggest how you can respond to it
The teaching of English to speakers of other languages is a truly significant endeavor As David Crystal (1997) and other leading linguists have noted, English has become a global language. As a consequence, in countries where English is not the native, majority, or official language, it has become a priority foreign language and English language ability is increasingly affecting a person’s educational, employment and career advancement opportunities (Ross, 2008). English language teaching represents an endeavor of extraordinary scale and significance, involving millions of teachers and billions of learners worldwide and governments are spending extraordinary sums of money to promote the English proficiency of their citizens. As a language teacher, it is both gratifying and humbling to play a role in helping learners to realize their language learning goals. Given the profound effect of English language teaching on English language learners and the larger societies in which we live and work, we need to be the very best teachers we can be and this means staying abreast of the trends and developments in our field.
These developments are influencing what we teach, how we teach, and how we assess our students’ learning. As a result of a great deal of research in applied linguistics, there is growing agreement about the nature of communicative language ability and this in turn is affecting the kind of content, activities, and assessment practices used in second language classrooms. 2. Educational systems in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. have adopted standards-based curricula. Standards-based curricula organize student learning around a set of predetermined content and/or performance standards (what is sometimes referred to as student learning outcomes). The TESOL Pre-K-12 ESOL standards is one example of this approach and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is another. 3. Because student learning in this type of curriculum is assessed on the basis of achievement of a specified objective or outcome rather than the scores of a norming group on a standardized test, it has led to the use of more criterion-referenced assessments and decreased the use of traditional standardized assessments in some countries. 4. This in turn has focused attention on how teachers can construct credible language assessments that are sensitive to local circumstances and capable of meeting local needs.
It’s essential to understand the nature of L2 ability if we want to develop language courses that promote students’ acquisition of the linguistic and pragmatic knowledge they need to communicate effectively in real-world situations. It’s beyond the scope of today’s session to cover all the different conceptual frameworks available, but the prevailing view is that L2 ability consists of linguistic and pragmatic knowledge. Linguistic knowledge includes such aspects of language as phonology, syntax, and vocabulary. Bachman & Palmer (2010) refer to pragmatic knowledge as an aspect of language knowledge that “enables us to create or interpret discourse based on the communicative goals of the language user and the context of the communication. David Crystal defines pragmatics as “the study of the principles governing the communicative use of language…” (p.302). Learners levels of language competence will vary depending upon the aspect of language ability (e.g., they may have more grammar or vocabulary knowledge but less knowledge of cognitive strategies or speech registers) and their different sub-competences will interact and be affected by the situation in which they communicate (e.g., they may be more a competent language user in a classroom than the real world). This multi-componential view can be traced to the notion of functional communicative language ability that emerged in the 1980s.
A. The Common European framework assumes L2 use occurs in a social context and is manifest in the form of specific observable behaviors. Communicative FUNCTION: Exchange information with an interlocutor. SITUATION: office, airport, hotel COMPETENCE LEVEL: Highest/Can understand and exchange complex information on a full range of matters related to his/her job role. Lowest level/ Can understand questions and instructions addressed slowly and carefully to him/her and follow short, simple directions. B. The performance-based perspective of L2 ability assumes both linguistic and non-linguistic factors affect language use in a given context. That is there are characteristics of the language, the learner, and the task that influence language performance. But the relationship is complex and isn’t not completely understood. C. The third perspective has emerged more recently and it emphasizes the centrality of the negotiation of meaning that occurs when language is used for communicative purposes in social situations.
For example, if we want to promote learners’ listening and speaking skills, using current CLA frameworks will encourage us to consider what contributes to coherence in spoken discourse and it will focus us on determining what English language users do in situations where they participate in a conversational exchange such as asking for or giving directions. And it encourages us to develop tasks that replicate or simulate real-world situations where our students will need to ask for and give directions using authentic content (for example local maps) in our classroom lessons. These same real-world tasks are practiced in class and become the procedures we use to assess students’ language ability.
1. CLA perspective 2, Standards-based curricula 3. Standards-based assessments 4. Context-specific assessments During our university studies, most teachers are introduced to the linguistic features that comprise language ability. Most language teachers also are trained in how to plan, conduct, and assess language learning lessons. But the knowledge base in linguistics, language teaching methods, curriculum design, and assessment changes over time. If we want to remain competent in each of these areas throughout our careers, we must engage in ongoing professional development. In my experience, many language teachers find the assessment domain to be the most professionally challenging aspect of their work. And, so I’d like to spend a few minutes focusing on this aspect of our professional competence.
Surveys of both practicing language teachers and faculty in ELT training programs report assessment is the domain in which teachers typically receive the least training and have the least confidence. Yet current developments in ELT are placing more responsibility for selecting, constructing, and using the results of assessment in the hands of classroom teachers and this is why teachers will need to be more assessment literate in the years ahead. The good news is there are a lot of resources available for teachers who want to become more assessment literate. These include….
Books and journals cost money and many teachers will not be able to afford them. Sometimes the teacher’s institution will pay for books or journal subscriptions. The CUP language assessment series includes more than 10 titles and if you’re interested in assessing young children or assessing spoken English, you may only need to buy one book. The research centers offer many publications that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA. National Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) at UC Santa Cruz. National Centre for English Language (NCEL), at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The NCEL at Melbourne University has a reasonably priced video series that provides a good introduction to language assessment. Regional English Language Centre (RELC), Singapore, SE Asian Ministers of Education Organization University of Cambridge ESOL The Cambridge ESOL web site has extensive information on its tests and materials for teachers and practice assessments for students. There is no charge for some of the materials.
Center for Applied Linguistics (a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting effective L2 teaching and learning) has a lot of low cost and some free materials. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (professional association) International Language Testing Association (professional association) Maintains a streaming video that has interviews with assessment specialists and answers to frequently asked questions about assessment. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation hosts a wiki web-site with information and materials on language assessments for foreign languages taught in member nations. DIALANG is a site that offers free assessment of English ability in most skills (and 13 other European languages) and test takers receive feedback on their performance. Glenn Fulcher’s personal web site has a very good streaming video that addresses key concepts in language assessment. Annenberg Foundation’s Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop: Connecting Standards, Research, and Practice. Workshop “Planning for Assessment”
These associations often sponsor pre- and post-convention workshops and seminars on language assessment for classroom teachers. They also distribute conference proceedings and recordings of some conference presentations for those unable to attend the events.
The U.S. Department of State offers an electronic scholarship program whereby teachers can enroll in ELT distance learning programs through two U.S. universities.
Finally, it is possible to participate in discussion groups where you can share ideas and ask for assistance with assessment challenges that you face. Another option is to form a local discussion list or study group to explore assessment issues with colleagues in your country or region.
On November 1st, 1973, following 25 days of arduous trekking, Peter Matthieson got his first glimpse of Crystal Mountain and he made the following entry in his diary, although it would be another ten days before he actually arrived at his destination.
Ten days later, on November 11th, 1973, he reached the slopes of Crystal Mountain. He was exhilarated as revealed in this entry. The personal and professional quest he’d embarked on was now over and he had been transformed by the journey. He felt he could return to New York and move on with his life.
It’s not easy to get to Crystal Mountain. And given the temperatures in the highest reaches of the Himalayas, the destination is often obscured by the fog and clouds. In my case, our attempt to reach Crystal Mountain was thwarted by a late spring storm that forced us to return to Pokara.
What did I learn on the path to Crystal Mountain and what does it have to do with English language teaching in the 21st century? Set ambitious goals It taught me of the importance of setting and pursuing ambitious goals even if I don’t always achieve them. I set out to retrace Peter Matthieson’s epic trek to Crystal Mountain. I never reached the Land of Dolpo nor did I set eyes on Crystal Mountain. Yet, had I never set out for Crystal Mountain I certainly would never have come to know what I learned along the way. As professionals, it’s not so much about reaching a destination as it is about engaging in a journey of ongoing professional development. Don’t settle for what’s easy or familiar. Take the path that keeps you up-to-date in your professional knowledge and skills even though it may be difficult. Persist in important endeavors As I stated at the outset, we’re engaged in work of great consequence for our students and for society and the field of ELT continues to evolve. We must stay abreast of developments and do what we can to maintain the professional knowledge and skills we need to remain effective educators throughout our careers. Obtaining professional degrees and certification is not the end of our professional development but rather the starting point in a lifelong professional trek. Gauge our progress During our professional journey, it’s easy to become “focused on our feet,” and in doing so to fail to perceive our progress or recognize the changes in the professional landscape around us. Surveying our surroundings periodically, as I’ve attempted to do today, helps us measure our progress and recognize some of the changes in the English language teaching landscape. Recognize the challenges in your path We need to be alert to the changes and challenges that appear in our professional paths and I’ve identified what I believe to be four important ones. When you see what lies ahead, prepare for it Again, I’ve shared with you what I think lies ahead. In particular, I’m convinced teachers will need to acquire increased levels of assessment literacy and I’ve suggested some ways to accomplish this.
In closing, I salute you for your commitment to the important endeavor of teaching English to speakers of other languages. And I wish you well as we continue on the path to becoming the best teachers we can be.
“On the path to crystal mountain” a trek and elt in the 21st century
IMS for the Teachers of English
November 6-9, 2012
“On the path to Crystal Mountain”: A
Trek and ELT in the 21st Century
September 28, 1973
“There are no roads west of Pokhara, Nepal,
which is the last outpost of the modern
world; in one day’s walk we are a century
The Snow Leopard (p. 21)
The trek can be a metaphor for
our professional journey and for
how we approach our work as
Underscore the significance of our endeavor
Acknowledge several important trends in
the field of English Language Teaching
Identify the most important challenge ahead
Suggest how to respond to it
The significance of our endeavor
Affects billions of learners worldwide
Involves millions of teachers
Represents enormous investment of public
and private resources
Has profound consequences for learners and
Four recent developments with
implications for language
Consensus on what constitutes
communicative language ability (CLA)
Adoption of standards-based curricula
Alignment of assessments with curricula
Development of assessments based on local
circumstances and needs
Current conceptualization of second
language (L2) ability
The prevailing view is L2 ability consists of linguistic and
pragmatic knowledge and language use involves a set of
multiple sub-competencies that interact in a particular
language use situation.
What is less clear is how many factors are involved and
how they are related to each other.
The idea of functional communicative ability emerged in
the 1980s (Canale & Swain, 1980; Canale, 1983) based on
earlier work by Hymes (1972) and Halliday (1973). Since
its introduction, the construct has been elaborated and
extended by many others (e.g., Bachman, 1990; Chapelle,
Grabe, & Berns, 1997; Weir, 2005; and others).
The influence of the communicative
language ability (CLA) perspective
on L2 teaching
Lessons that emphasize a set of functions, situations, and
the relative competence displayed by language users
across a range of ability levels as exemplified by the CEFR
(Council of Europe, 2001)
Lessons that emphasize the performance of relevant tasks
in a language use situation (McNamara, 1996; Norris,
Lessons that emphasize the discourse that emerges from
language users’ interaction in social contexts and the coconstruction of meaning that occurs (Chalhoub-Deville &
How do these theoretical
developments benefit English
They offer teachers a rational basis for selecting
the content, tasks, and assessment procedures they
use in their courses.
When teachers use theory and research findings to
design language courses and construct
assessments, they increase the likelihood of
promoting learners’ CLA.
What implications do the four
developments I mentioned have
Teachers need to understand what contributes to
communicative language ability.
Teachers need to understand standards-based approaches
to L2 teaching and learning.
Based on local circumstances, teachers need to be able to
select and in many cases, develop appropriate language
assessments, administer them properly, interpret the results
correctly, and use the results responsibly.
Most teachers will need to become
more assessment literate in the years
ahead if they are going to select or
develop and use language
(Cambridge Language Assessment Series, Cambridge
Studies in Language Testing, Volume 7 Language Testing
and Assessment in the Encyclopedia of Language and
(Language Assessment Quarterly and Language Testing)
Research centers’ and non-profit organizations’ reports
(CRESST, CREDE, NCEL, RELC, Cambridge ESOL)
(CAL, TESOL, ILTA, APEC, Glenn
Web-based professional development in
(CAL’s assessment tutorial, Annenberg L2
assessment workshop, ILTA’s streaming
IATEFL, TESOL and NATE Annual Conferences,
Regional Meetings, & Seminars
Association for Language Testers in Europe
European Association for Language Testing and
Current Trends in English Language Testing
Language testing at Lancaster summer program
(Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)
TESOL Summer Institute at American University
(American University,Washington, D.C., USA)
Distance education courses offered by major
universities (University of Maryland, Baltimore
County and University of Oregon)
International electronic discussion groups
(TESL-L and LTEST-L)
Local electronic discussion groups
Peer study and support groups
Professional development in
Requires “an appropriate balance of technical know-how,
practical skills, theoretical knowledge, and understanding
of principles…”(Taylor, 2009, p. 270).
The optimal balance among these four considerations will
depend upon the stage of the teacher’s career, employment
context, and professional responsibilities.
Therefore, professional development in language
assessment should be considered an ongoing process rather
than a competence that is mastered at a particular point in
a teacher’s career.
November 1, 1973
“High to the west, a white pyramid sails on
the sky--the Crystal Mountain” (p. 185)
November 11, 1973
“Having got here at last, I do not wish to
the Crystal Mountain. I’m in pain about it,
truly, so much so that I have to smile; or I
might weep” (p. 232)
What did I learn on the path to
Set ambitious professional goals
Persist in important endeavors
Gauge your progress
Recognize the challenges in your path
When you see what lies ahead, prepare for
Useful Web Sites
Annenberg series on teaching foreign languages
Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence
Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing
National Center for English Language
Regional English Language Centre (http://www.relc.org.sg)
Cambridge ESOL (http://www.cambridgeesol.org)
Educational Testing Service (http://www.ets.org/portal/site/etsmenuitem)
Center for Applied Linguistics (http://www.cal.org)
Useful Web Sites (continued)
Glenn Fulcher’s Resources in Language Testing Page
Fulcher’s Key Concepts in Language Assessment streaming video
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation language assessment wiki site
DIALANG assessment site
Association of Language Testers in Europe (http://www.alte.org)
TESOL web cast (http://tesol.org/s_tesol/seccss.asp)
International Language Testing Association (http://www.iltaonline.com/)
Selected Print Resources
Bachman, L., & Palmer, A. (2010). Language assessment in practice. Oxford,
UK: Oxford University Press.
Brown, H. D., & Abeywickrama, P. (2010). Language assessment: Principles
and practices (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.
Brown, J. D., & Hudson, T. (2002). Criterion-referenced language testing.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fulcher, G., & Davidson, F. (2007). Language testing and assessment: An
advanced resource book. London: Routledge.
Genesee, F., & Upshur, J. (1996). Classroom-based evaluation in second
language education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for language teachers (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Shohamy, E., & Hornberger, N.H. (2008). (Eds.). Encyclopedia of
language education (2nd ed.) volume 7: Language testing and
assessment. New York: Springer.
ALTE (2011). Manual for language test development and examining.