Monday, 15 July 2013


I gave this talk at the 2013 BALEAP and was kindly invited by UCL to present it again. This is an edited version of that. Thanks to UCL for the warm welcome and the DVD.


  1. I'm enjoying the talk despite little blips and jumps here and there (I'm watching it as I type this comment). I'm very much (and also increasingly) on the same bus (or a parallel one at least) as you with regard to evidence-based practice.

    One point I've often heard when anyone argues against teaching reading skills (e.g. skimming/scanning) is that if we can do it when we are monolinguistic ourselves, surely our students also employ these skills in their own languages. Therefore, it's not a skills issue they need practice with, but rather a lexical one. Without knowing how a culture or language group deals with reading in their L1, how can we say this for sure? I'm not suggesting that the argument is absolutely wrong, but every time I've heard it, it too lacks evidence. Even if in their L1 reading history, they do scan a text or guess meaning from context or check a dictionary endlessly or whatever skill it is we are teaching, they often don't realise they do it. When thinking about some of these and others I employ through academic reading circles, it made me realise how many skills I almost simultaneously do when reading that I wouldn't have noticed had I not forced myself to think about it. Is it important for our students to then be cognisant of a skill they already know how to do? Hmm, common sense says awareness is useful, but I'll have to check on that. ;)

    What I loved was your idea of 'smorgasboarding' in relation to connectors. I've struggled many times with how connectors are presented to students and how they are consequently used. It's not presented anywhere beyond the cut'n'paste lists in really any materials, online or off. It's taking a look at my own essays (more recently than the drivel I wrote in my undergrad) that has been helpful, if only in questioning what I don't do. But then again, we come back to a key problem: relying on my experience with the language than everyone's.

    OK, I'm blabbering on. Sorry about that. Thoroughly enjoyed the talk, Russell. :)

  2. Hi Tyson thanks for the comment and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Re: Reading skills, you make an interesting point. What you're saying then is that reading skills may be different in different languages? It does lack evidence, as you say. Whether or not other languages have these skills is a tough one. Firstly, did anyone teach you how to do them? No one taught me. Scanning is not only a reading skill, it's a human being skill. People who can't read at all can scan say, "the horizon" or "a crowd" in order to find the something. Skimming is trickier, as in order to answer the question "do all languages have skimming" you first have to define what skimming is. There seem to me to be 2 possibilities here, either skimming is reading quickly, or skimming is reading selectively (or perhaps both?). If it's just reading quickly then I'm not sure why it wouldn't exist in other languages as it's not a linguistic feature but a "speed of processing"/ "speed of eye movement" problem. If it's just missing bits out then again, why wouldn't readers in other languages be miss bits out? This is pure speculation though, -but if we do lack evidence, why assume the one position (they don't have the same reading skills as us) rather than the other equally valid (they do have the same reading skills as us)? Aren't both possible? As an aside with Skimming I often wonder if it is just "missing bits out" how is it a teachable skill? I mean, how do you or I know which bits in a text can safely be missed out? I sometimes tell me students to read the first sentence of a paragrapgh which is often a good bet for info. Other teachers say first and last, and others say first and second. This is all quite speculative though, isn't it? We're to some extent guessing.

    I have no problem , -and think it's quite good, to point out these skills to students. I guess the problem comes when we assume we're teaching them the skills, ie. 'Today I will teach you how to scan'. -everyone knows how to scan. Ss might need telling that scanning is a useful test skill, especially for things like IELTS, but they must be able to scan things.

    The third point thing I would say is that the idea that we read by predicting skimming scanning etc is probably false. The idea, pput forward here

    has been refuted. here for example

    I don't know if this deals with your concern or if I'm just waffling on, please let me know ;) Anyway I'm glad to have a critical question, they're the best kinds. They force me to go and check stuff out again.

    "smorgasboarding" -I wanna write an article with that as the title. "Smorgasboarding:presentation of items in ELT".