Review of My Grammar Lab

This is a review of the book 'My Grammar Lab' from Pearson

MyGrammarLab with Key can be purchased at 25% off list price from The English Language Bookshop:
http://www.elb-brighton.com/pearson2012/pearson/index.html

Review: MyGrammarLab Intermediate B1/B2,  Mark Foley and Diane Hall,  Pearson

I have to admit that I feel pretty excited as I sit down at my computer with the log in information that Catriona from Pearson has set me up with and a copy of MyGrammarLab Intermediate B1/B2. I’ve seen MyGrammarLab in a presentation at a Pearson event and now I’m getting a chance to explore it for myself. I have been promised “a unique blend of book, online and mobile resources” so let’s see if it lives up to its claim.

I go to www.mygrammarlab.com and log in as a teacher and follow the instructions on how to set up a course for my students. The interface is immediately comfortable on the eye and the text on the screen is easy to read and the buttons and menu items are large and easy to navigate. It’s straightforward to set up the course and I’m given a course code which I write down. Then I switch into student mode and, opening a different browser so I don’t get confused between my different roles, I log in as a student. I’m asked to enter some personal information (my alter ego is Salvador Dali!) and then I’m off. I need to join the course which I set up as a teacher and that’s easily done by clicking the COURSE button and entering the code.

Switching back to teacher mode I go into SETTINGS, MANAGE YOUR COURSES AND STUDENTS and go into the course I created – success! Salvador Dali has successfully joined my course. At this time I want to take a look at the course and find out what the course consists of so I decide to take a look at the HELP section to find out how to do this. Nice! The HELP link is easy to find and it opens in a new window so I don’t lose my place where I am working. The HELP information is divided into two main windows, the left hand window showing the tree structure of the HELP information with its sections and where I am in each section, the right hand window showing the detailed help information. It’s very easy to use and navigate and after I have found what I want I realise the simplest thing to do is to leave the HELP window open so I can come back to it easily whenever I want.

Whilst I am clicking through I see how easy it is to change the course name I have set up for Salvador Dali and that I can move him into a different course if I want to.

I think it’s time to give Salvador some work to do! I go to COURSE and open the course I created. I can see the course content and going into MODULE 1  I can see a list of items: Diagnostic Test 1, Units 1 – 5, followed by Progress test, Catch-up Exercises and Exit test. I want to see what Salvador already knows so I click on DIAGNOSTIC TEST and ASSIGN. I’m now given a range of options. I can assign the DIAGNOSTIC TEST to all the students in the course, or choose which students to assign it to by checking the check box next to their names. I can give a deadline for the test to be finished by – a date and a time. I’m beginning to be impressed with this:  if I was in a computer lab I could make the deadline an hour from now and test a whole class at the same time and set a finishing time. There are also some other options for case sensitivity and showing hints and tips to students during the test.

After assigning the activity I switch browsers, go back into student mode and I see I have a test waiting for me. The test is a traditional multiple choice grammar test and I work through 40 questions which ask me to decide between definite or non-definite articles, demonstratives, plural forms, capital or lower case letters, countables and uncountables and so on. At the end I submit my test. It’s done. I am given the option to see how I did. Before I click on SEE YOUR RESULTS I click on the back button on my browser because I wanted to check the answer to my last question. No luck! It doesn’t let me back in to the test – I’m not surprised – so now I want to go and view my results. Hang on. Now I’m lost. I can’t find the SEE YOUR RESULTS screen I was just at. I go to GRADEBOOK. Aah. Now I see – I got 39%. Not too good. But I don’t see a way of seeing which ones I got right and which ones I got wrong. This is a good time to bring in another of Catriona’s students: Paul Cezanne! I log in as Paul, join the same course and take the same diagnostic test. At the end of the test I click on VIEW MY RESULTS and now we are rocking! Every question is marked for me and the ones that Paul got wrong have a speech bubble next to them. When I click on the speech button I get directed to a particular exercise to correct that mistake: Learn more about demonstratives THIS THAT THESE THOSE in Unit 5.1 in the book. That’s really helpful and friendly too.

I put my teacher hat back on and go to GRADEBOOK and I can see a list of my students and their scores in the diagnostic test. It’s clear and easy to see. If I go to STUDENT MANAGEMENT I can see how long my students have spent logged on and when they last logged on. I’m trying to see my students’ individual tests to see how they performed on the individual elements and it’s not easy. Aah, finally I find it on the homepage under ASSIGNMENTS. I can see the things I have set my students and I can see a report on it. I can see an average score and then the individual students’ scores, and I can see their individual test papers. Very handy indeed. I now realise that I can assign the test again another time and will be able to compare results the first and the last time the students have done the test. I see a COMMON ERROR REPORT button and when I click on it I get a report on the test items which the students have made mistakes on. So now I know what to focus on in class! I notice the MESSAGE button and decide to e mail my students. A very clear e mail interface pops up and within a moment I can e mail all the students on a course, or choose which student to write to individually. I tell Paul and Salvador to get on with some work because their tests were so poor. They need to work on all areas of their grammar so I tell them to start by looking at Module 1 in the book. I want to them to concentrate on the first module and then do some extra practice online but I don’t want them to shoot off and start doing other modules online so I hide all but Module 1 from them. I switch back to Paul’s account and from the homepage I can see that there is a message indicated by a small 1 next to the MESSAGE button.

I turn to the My Grammar Lab Intermediate book for the first time. The first thing I notice is that is heavy and I wouldn’t want to be adding it to my shoulderbag if I could help it! I turn to the back and see that it runs to nearly 400 pages – there is enough here to keep any student busy for a long time! A first glance at the contents page shows 20 modules of the areas of grammar I would expect to see covered in a course like this (Unit 1: Nouns and articles, Unit 2: Possessives, pronouns and quantifiers and so on - view the contents page and a sample module here) each module being broken down into 5 or 6 smaller units. So far so predictable, but then I notice that the modules are topic based. Module 1 is Museums and Galleries, other topics include Explorers, Crime, Cars as well as the ones you would expect along the lines of Food and drink, Travel, Holidays and so on. This is definitely an improvement on previous grammar practice books where often no serious attempt is made to contextualise the language or to make the individual units hang together cohesively. Turning to the modules I see that each module has a BEFORE YOU START page. This page has a passage with highlighted text showing the target language of the module. I instinctively approve of this because it shows students what they are going to be studying in a meaningful and  accessible way. This is followed by a short diagnostic test which tells students which units go with which questions. The units themselves are clearly laid out and easy to follow. Photographs are used to brighten up the pages and artwork is included in exercises so that almost every page looks different and long passages of text are broken up.  The grammatical explanations and input are clear, easy to read and students are often directed to other parts of the book for more exercises on related grammar points. (I see that there is an accompanying audio CD for use in class for pronunciation practice.)  This input is followed by practice exercises with answers at the back of the book. At the end of each unit students are directed to GO ONLINE FOR MORE PRACTICE. So I do so and I find some videos of some grammar points. These online videos give a welcome change to the way that grammar is introduced and explained: they feature people and graphics and are professionally produced and easy to understand for English language students. There are plenty of pronunciation activities which involve listening and speaking and the record facility means that students can record their voice and compare their pronunciation with Pearson’s native speaker model. You can also listen and check some of the exercises in the book. All the online exercises are extremely well presented and easy to use. They are similar to the ones in the book but are far more fun and motivating to use than looking up answers in the back of a book. But the most useful thing is that a record of these activities is kept by MyGrammarLab in its GRADEBOOK and at any time the teacher can look up a student, see how many activities they have done, their score in the activities, how much time they have spent on task and when they last logged on.

After the practice exercises there is a Progress test which the student cannot take until it has been assigned by the teacher. I decide it’s time to check up on Salvador and Paul so I assign them the test. They haven’t learned much, but the online test is easy to complete and the multiple choice and drag and drop activities make the test as pleasant as a test can be. Again, the test is scored immediately and feedback is available.  The following Catch-up exercises are designed to be taken by those students who haven’t done very well in the Progress test (like my two artists) and a final Exit test rounds off the module.

At the end of the grammar book I find useful appendices which include a quick check for each module and the usual things like irregular verbs, spelling rules and differences between British and American English.

The thing which I’ve neglected so far is the mobile app. With some scepticism I go online with my tablet. I sometimes find that apps are not compatible with my Motorola Xoom but in this case in no time I have the MyGrammarLab Intermediate App installed and working. I can choose Practice or Glossary. The Practice lessons follow the modules in the book and I can choose how many questions I want to work through. I get multiple choice grammar questions and if I choose the right answer I proceed automatically to the next question, but if I get it wrong I am directed to the appropriate unit in the book to study. The app is easy to use and a handy way of doing some extra grammar practice when the mood takes you and you have your mobile to hand. If you have your mobile and your book then you’re sorted!

So after a few hours of investigating MyGrammarLab what do I think? MyGrammarLab takes grammar books to the next level. I really like the automatic GRADEBOOK and the logging of student activities and I can see how teachers can really use this to make sure students are doing what they should be doing. The COMMON ERROR REPORT shows teachers what to teach in class and the online activities are motivating and fun for learners. The book itself is very good indeed – the use of topics means that the modules have some cohesion even though it is basically a grammar practice book, but it is a grammar practice book with good solid explanations, with exercises of the quality you would expect from Pearson and the language is presented in a meaningful way. As a teacher I would like to have been able to assign any of the online exercises to my students, but only a few of them (and the tests) can be assigned. As a student I would like to be able to go back and view my tests which I took in the past to see which items I got wrong and although the teacher can do this I haven’t found out how to do this as a student. (Until Catriona emails me having read my review! The SEE REPORT link for students to see their tests is in GRADEBOOK where I was looking but on a different page. I knew that it had to be there somewhere!)

In case you are wondering about using the components of the course separately: book yes, online no. The book would work well on its own and if you buy the book on your own as a student you get an access code which gives you access to the online components although of course you won’t have a teacher who assigns you work. The online component supports the book and directs students to exercises in the book so it wouldn’t work to use only the online component. One more positive thing to say is that the sheer amount of language learning material in MyGrammarLab is huge and with three levels available I can see this supporting students throughout their English language learning.

If a grammar course is what you want, you should definitely consider MyGrammarLab!

Written by Patrick McMahon (who received a small fee for writing the article and hosting it on his website Englishforuniversity.com!)

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