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20

Nov

2012

Living With Imprecision

IN CATEGORY: News BlogPost BlogPost

Article published by :Hugh Graham-Marr

Teaching is an imprecise business. And teaching languages perhaps particularly so. And perhaps that's why where the field seems to present a surface of precision, we seem to so embrace it. We like the exactitude of word counts, of readability scales and yes, test scores. These seem to give a measure of certainty, of science, to what we do. And in so far as it does, I suppose that's all to the good. There can sometimes be too much that's taken on faith in our field and and everything should be put to the test. Yet all too often in embracing the precision of such figures, we don't pay enough attention to the fact that they're anything but precise. And so a student steadily getting better may see their TOEIC score drop, or an extensive reader with a headword level of 500 may prove more difficult for a particular student than another with a headword level of 600, just as a text with an ostensibly more difficult level of readability may prove easier than another for a student familiar with that particular area and genre. We strive to be as precise as we can with these and other measures—and we should—and yet, we have to live with imprecision, that the best numbers we can generate are at best fairly good guides and certainly not items to be treated dogmatically. And perhaps that's part of what makes our field so challenging. That as much as it might be informed by research—in its practice and in the creation of materials for its practice—teaching remains at heart an art. 

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