woo watch: ELGazette

ELGazette is a great little publication. It exposes dodgy goings-on in the ELT world, commissions interesting articles and most importantly pays a really decent rate to its writers. I know this because they asked me to write an article last year which appeared in print a few months ago. So it’s a shame to see them featured in ‘woo watch’. What have they done to end up here? Well, this month they printed a response to my piece on pseudoscience by a writer called Janet Denyer and it’s really this article that has landed them here. 


Denyer’s article is called ‘making the case for NLP’ (here). In it she writes that she was ‘intrigued’ by my article’s findings but ‘dismayed’ by its ‘lack of depth’. This is an odd criticism since as Denyer, who is also writing for the Gazette must know, the publication commissions articles of around 700 words. It’s pretty hard to get depth with 700 words. If depth is what you’re after, you can perhaps wait for the publication of my 5,000 word piece on NLP. I wouldn’t hold your breath though as it has been ‘under review’ with the TESOL journal for over two years (no joke). 


Denyer goes on to encourage me to do some research on NLP. She notes ‘as an expert in linguistics Russ may be in an excellent position to address the distinct lack of empirical research evidence…’ Let me stop you there. Firstly, I’m not an expert in linguistics, -in fact I’d say I’m not an expert in anything at all (except, perhaps, procrastination). Just to be absolutely clear to anyone reading, I’m a teacher, with no title, no research grants and no PhD. I largely spend my days teaching.  


And secondly, I couldn’t possibly address the lack of empirical research on NLP even if I was an expert in linguistics. This is not only because NLP is unrelated to the field of linguistics but also because there isn’t in any way a lack of empirical research evidence about NLP. There’s tons of it. NLP has been researched to death. There are even meta-analyses about it. It could be though that Denyer means here is ‘address the distinct lack of empirical research evidence’ which supports NLP. In which case she would be correct. But why this lack needs addressing isn’t clear to me. That would be like saying ‘we hope you can address the distinct lack of empirical research evidence against man-made climate change‘. It can’t be address because it isn’t true. 

Denyer goes on to explain that she is a 35 year veteran of lecturing though it wasn’t clear to me what that had to do with her following point that although some ‘facts’ about these practices may have been misrepresented she has personally seen the benefits of some of the things I disparage. For example, she has seen great benefits for students ‘who actively use both sides of their brain‘. I tried to think of something witty to say here about students only using one half of their brains but I just don’t have the energy anymore. 

Denyer defends NLP noting that ‘NLP is not something that you do to people’ which is odd because I got the distinct impression it was explicitly promoted as a tool for doing things to people; things like persuading and influencingclosing sales, making someone love youcuring allergies, curing asthma and anxiety and on and on. 

Denyer then moves on to a defence of BrainGym which she claims has been abused by ‘marketeers’ in the UK and its current incarnation isn’t true to ‘Dr. Dennison’s‘ original vision and his research. She may well be right. I have no idea. The problem however is that even if we’re true to Paul Dennison’s original vision, that wouldn’t be saying much. Watch the cringe-inducing interview with Dennison below. There are some real gems in here like his stating that ‘[human beings] are electrical’. Is this the ‘original vision’ we’re supposed to adhere to?



I tried to find Dr. Dennison’s published output on google scholar. I found a manual for BrainGym and a couple of articles all published in the journal of ‘edu-kinesthetics’ I wanted to check out the journal but it’s not available online…not a good sign. (ND: He does appear to have one article in a now defunct journal). 


Denyer closes this section by suggesting that ‘Russ must acknowledge the positive learning environment in many classrooms today, compared with half a century ago’. I find this sentence difficult to understand and in fairness it may be editorial rather than the author but is Denyer saying that BrainGym is responsible for the changes in educational practices in the last 50 years? That’s quite a claim. (And speaking of editing there is an section where she claims eye accessing cues were first identified in 1890 (sic?) by someone called ‘James’ (first name or last name?))

Denyer’s next strategy is to make NLP seem credible through the use of adjectives. Argument adjectivium? She writes that NLP is underpinned by the work of ‘esteemed family therapist Virginia Satir’ and ‘acclaimed author’ Robert Dilts. If she had managed to find an honourable and a holy I fear I would’ve had to concede. This seems to be some kind of reverse ad hom. Does it really matter if the author is esteemed or not? They can still be wrong.


In the final section she appeals to me to not be so sure of my assumed facts reminding me that ‘we once knew the earth was flat’. Sadly, while this fact is truthy it isn’t true. She then sets up what is know as a ‘false dilemma‘ quoting Howard Gardner (of MI fame) and saying ‘Surely you would not wish to return to the days when intelligence was measured by the intelligence quotient‘. In short, if I don’t accept MI, then I’m promoting IQ testing for all. These are the only two choices. (on a side note, when did we stop measuring intelligence with IQ tests? -I’m pretty sure that’s still what’s used.)

For the coup de gras she ‘recommend[s] Russ open his mind to our potential for learning‘. It always tickles me when someone suggests you ‘open your mind’ because you can bet what they’re actually saying is ‘you should agree with me.’ So I’ll close with the esteemed words of (not) Carl Sagan “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out”. 










‘Oh God!’

It’s been a very odd week.

Since last Wednesday my talk has been tweeted and retweeted over 50 times. I’ve been sent compliments by people I look up to and have acquired about 100 new twitter followers. I’ve had emails, requests to speak, and I’ve even been interviewed by the nicest man on twitter. I think Mike, who is one of the main reason this blog exists (see here for example), was just as surprised as me:




I’ve been blogged about by, so far about four people. I was mentioned by Hugh Dellar (Squeal!). My academic.edu page view count and the one on this blog both suddenly shot up (which is unnerving). This has also been the week I discovered that 20 seems to be the maximum number of notifications twitter goes up to and then it lazily displays 20+ at the bottom.


However, nothing surpassed the surreality that occurred when a couple of people retweeted the talk not to @ebefl -my handle- but to @russellmayne – a clinical strategist in Dubai.I thought the poor guy might take offence at being randomly tweeted at but no, he replied saying, ‘wrong Russ’ and then added:

Not only had my Googleganger been dragged into the chaos, he was merrily joining in!
All of this has come as a surprise. This was my first IATEFL. I’ve been trying to go for three years now. You might remember this post from last year when I complained because I couldn’t go. If I’m honest, the only reason I put a talk in is because we have a rule that accepted speakers can always go to conferences. I didn’t think many people would be interested in the topic but at least I’d get to tick it off my ‘to do’ list. I’d also maybe get to meet some of the people I’d been chatting with over the last two years.

I’d been pretty nervous all day beforehand and hadn’t slept well all week. When I slipped out of Steve Brown’s talk to go and prepare I was surprised by what I found. There seemed to be quite a lot of people in the room and more were coming. Then, Adrian Underhill strolled in and asked me a question. I was worried at this point. Next the guy at the back told me it would be live streamed I started to panic. People started to add extra rows of chairs and then the cameraman gave me a thumbs up. 

The  mic picked up my feelings at that moment and preserved them for history.  


Later, someone asked me how come I got to be live streamed. I have absolutely no idea. It’s really odd and I didn’t realise how odd till I saw the list of names. Either side of me are people who are actually, you know, famous and have done stuff. I’m not very well known, have no published papers, haven’t written a book nor have ever even been to IATEFL. I’d really love to know how they came to the decision to pick me. I honestly haven’t a clue. Maybe it was a mistake?

I should take a minute here to say thanks, though. I’d been feeling a bit despondent about conferences lately. Having had about 5 and 7 people come to my last two BALEAP talks, I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the time and stress of writing and presenting. Perhaps no one was really interested? The incredible response has made me think again. I’ll have to delete my half-written “conferences are a waste of time’ blog post now. I’m genuinely very happy that so many TEFLer seem to agree with the sentiment of the talk.

The highlight of the day for me (aside from not being lynched, obviously) was meeting so many lovely twitter bods like Nicola Prentis, Mike Harrison and James Taylor (sorry if I missed anyone out, it’s all a bit of a blur) Best of all was when Hugh, Steve, Carol and Chris bought me beer and sat and chatted with me until I had to catch my train. (Side note: NO ONE looks anything like their twitter picture except for Hugh Dellar and Jonathen Sayers who look exactly like theirs)  I wish I could’ve been there all week. Maybe next year? That is assuming I haven’t been done in by a shadowy TEFL illuminati.

I’m going to try to put up some extra info about the talk but in the meantime, here are some links to old posts on the subject.
NLP claims, NLP, Council article on NLP (with response from the website in comments) and a weird misuse of Thornbury half way down here to support NLP. 
BrainGym

Sorry if this post was a bit self-indulgent. I’ll be back to my old cynical self soon.

Researcher or teacher?

Dear blog,

Sorry I haven’t written much recently, I’ve been busy getting married.

Around this time last year I had a piece in Modern English Teacher. About six months later Simon Andrewes wrote a critical response to my piece (I don’t think it’s online though you can see another of his articles here.) I’m pleased to announce that my response to his response is out in MET today. I’ll probably put it up on the site later this year but this is just a short post with a couple of points.
First is a big thank you to Dave Francis who published the original article and the follow up. I don’t know if I would have continued with this blog if it hadn’t been for him. He recently told me he’s resigning as the editor of MET and that October 2013 was his final issue. Thanks for all your hard work Dave!
Second is a quick point relating to the article. One of the themes is whether it’s true in education that ‘researchers are researchers and teachers are teachers and never the twain will meet.’ It’s an issue I touched on earlier in the year.
Anyway, I’m currently writing a piece on student feedback for BALEAP in Oxford Brookes this year and during the research I came across this rather interesting paper. The authors attempted to find out if being a good researcher was in any way linked to being a good teacher. What’s interesting is that they come at the research from a different angle, -namely, they were trying to discover if the myth of “good researcher = good teacher”. I personally didn’t know this a myth and always tended to hear the opposite in TEFL circles (including Andrewes article) namely researchers are clueless about teaching.
As it turns out the researchers managed to find no relationship between being a good teacher and being a good researcher. some excellent teachers sucked at research and some poor researchers were also poor teachers and vice-versa. This result really shouldn’t surprise us. A thoughtful and intelligent teacher can make a thoughtful and intelligent researcher or they may just be awful.
Some musicians can also write songs, -some can’t and some folks can neither play an instrument nor write songs. Surely no one would be surprised by this so why does the odd myth of the teachers and researchers being different species persist?