Exercises & drills

Thursday 17 March 2016

A major new development in this website is being stimulated by technical developments provided by Jordi and Ruben, Inthinking's website magicians. They have produced the fundamental software to create the 'qBank' system - a programme to enable Inthinking's authors, in all subjects, to produce masses of question items which can then form a pool of questions which you subscribers can draw on to give exercises to your students. You decide how many questions you want for an exercise, about which category of ideas (language items in this case), and at what level of difficulty - and the system generates a random selection from the pool. This can then be accessed by your students to do online. So ... instant, easily produced exercises, to encourage understanding and memorisation.

Actually, I've never been fond of doing grammar exercises with my students. The process has seemed to me to be mechanical, ineffective and ... well, boring! To say nothing of repeated experiences of students who can perform well in multiple-choice grammar tests, and then can't use the language to have a real conversation or write a real text. The point of language is to communicate, I have felt ... and who has ever said "I had a really good chat with Andrea last night - do you know, between us, we used the past perfect 42 times, and always correctly!"

However ... I have come across various articles recently which make the point that language learning necessarily involves some basic memorisation of essential information, and that such memorisation is best achieved with repetitive exercises which are, yes, mechanical. Returning at regular intervals to items of vocabulary, for instance, improves retention - and if this involves transferring the vocabulary to different contexts, and thus having to think a little about the meaning, so much the better. Well, I think, if it works, do it.

Fine! What that means, from my point of view, is an awful lot of doggedly slogging on, producing all those items. The initial target is around 1000 items in the pool. Right now, I'm on 421, so there is still a way to go!

I thought the task was going to be monumentally boring, but actually, it has turned out to be interesting and challenging. To start with, I have divided that figure of 1000 into two sections : the 'Common Errors' section, and the 'Transferable Academic Language' section. Exploring the possibilities of each approach is proving fascinating.

It is evident that the typical English B student, especially at HL, has a reasonable command of the language and can communicate fairly effectively. However, it is also clear that many, who sound confident and fluent in general terms, are likely to have persistent flaws in certain parts of grammar - for example,the use of articles, or slips in pronoun agreement. I call these the 'Common Errors', and they form the main categories of this section of the qBank. The aim is that you should be able to produce custom-made exercises for each student, to enable them to polish up their 'favourite errors'!

So - I would be delighted to produce items for the common errors among your students. Why not give me a quick list in the Comments below ?

The 'Transferable Academic Language' section is still germinating, but the intention is to provide training in the use of vocabulary and phrasing which can be used in academic discussion across the range of subjects - for example ... "this demonstrates that " ... "infer / an inference" ... use of the passive: "It can be argued that" ... and so on. Since English is the language of instruction in 87% of Diploma schools, this would appear to be a vital service that English B can offer.

Anyway, this is merely a first announcment of this work in progress - more blogs to come, before the system is fully launched!   


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