IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #1

This is part one of a review of some of the sessions that I attended at IATEFL 2017 at the SEC and Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. as well as the online content recorded and hosted by IATEFL Online and the British Council. There are 39 recorded and published sessions in total, including all five plenaries, and around 70 interviews on the website. The full conference programme is still available here.  This post is part of my of my commitment as a registered blogger for the event.  All of this content was watched afterwards as I was too busy taking part in Glasgow, although I was present at some of the sessions.  All the embedded videos should be playable from within this page or you can click on the titles which are links to both the recording and any associated documents (PDFs). I review two of the five plenaries in detail here, before briefly talking about a third.  In addition, there is a review of the ‘Outside In – Technology’ session. A second post will review some more of the sessions and highlight some interviews

Tuesday 4 April

Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

I had the pleasure of meeting Uruguayan Diaz Maggioli at the joint LTSIG / TDSIG PCE the day before his plenary, where he give a presentation on design thinking and online professional development.  He was losing his voice, but fortunately made a recovery, despite a few coughs and swigs of water during his talk.     His slides for his plenary included illustrations by Lucía Pascal.  It was a great kick off for the conference proper on a widely discussed topic.

He took us back to a reality check from 2002:

“…while particular ‘lighthouse’ schools and school systems are the exception, my sense is that professional development as it is experienced by most teachers and principals is pretty much like it has always been—unfocused, insufficient, and irrelevant to the day-to-day problems faced by front line educators. Put another way, a great deal more is known today about good staff development than is regularly practiced in schools.” Dennis Sparks, 2002

15 years later, he looked at research on PD (professional development) from 2002-17 and found that we are still oscillating between two forms of radically different PD experiences, such as fragmented, piecemeal improvements vs strategically designed, system vs school focused, teacher as adult learner vs student needs.  Most PD was done away from the school but nowadays there is a realisation that it has to be job embedded.

At the core of the literature was the view that a lot of PD are advancing through top-down reforms rather than teacher-led. The view is that teachers need to be ‘fixed’.  But ‘learning communities’ are better, although he uses this term with caution. These communities are individuals who come together because of mutual interest and can be short term.  This tug-of-war between two strategies exists, offering two kinds of visions of what PD should be. Diaz Maggioli argues the teacher should be a ‘transformative intellectual’  who knows how to constantly question from evidence with his/her involvement with students rather than being a ‘technician’, implementing policies from above.

Diaz Maggioli proposed in 2012 that effective PD involves several features:

Draws down targeted, specialist expertise. • Gives and receives structured peer support • Professional dialog rooted in evidence from trying new things. • Focus on why things work/don’t work and not on how. • Reflection as a way of practicing theory and theorizing practice. • Enquiry-oriented learning sustained over time. • Learning to learn from observing the practices of others. • The use of tools and protocols to help create coherence, sustain learning, ensure depth and make evidence collection and analysis manageable and useful. • Done with teachers, and not to teachers.

He spoke about a recent survey which he carried out and shared the results.  He wondered whether respondents belonged to a professional association.  9% belonged to international organisations while 71% belonged to local ones. What PD activities did they engage in?  Free webinars and general web surfing ranked high.  The number 1 activity to surf the web to find ideas to use in class. Much of it is done in their own free time, with their own funding and outside of their job.

He mentioned the LTSIG / TDSIG PCE where some participants revealed that they or colleagues still don’t know how to use a cellphone effectively, as well as the new IP & SEN SIG which developed from an interest in addressing this lack of PD for teachers working with students with special educational needs or ‘alternative learning styles’.

Criticisms of PD from the survey:

Disconnected from the reality of the classroom. • Too short. • No follow up. • Too much talking, very little doing. • Outdated. • Too low a level. • Cannot apply it. • No time to talk to colleagues. • No support implementing it.

Just 10% participants were involved in PD. Where are the 90%? asked Diaz Maggioli. He concluded that 15 years after Sparks’ book, PD is still traditional and untimely and is never tailored to individual needs. It is standardized in institutions. One size fits ‘most’ not all, he stated. It is also prescriptive, decontextualized and superficial.

His conclusions on what teachers need for develop professionally were 3 basic things: Time, affordability, support and follow up.  PD is futile and useless without these.  It is a ‘Utopia’ out there on a horizon which is never reached. Real life PD is “timely, job embedded, personalized and collegial.”  He offered the long standing ‘teacher’s choice framework’ (2004) which requires honesty from the participants. This places PD on an ‘updated / outdated’ + ‘aware / unaware’ quadrant.

He went on to describe working in communities, outlining various kinds of coaching, study groups, critical friends’ teams, mentoring, learning circles, collaborative action research and exploratory action research.

He concluded by offering what we can do about PD:

Explore one of these strategies in depth and share it with colleagues. • Help administrators find resources to start a pilot program (small scale). • Talk to colleagues and administrators to start a discussion about embedding PD in your workplace. • Come up with your own PD strategy and share it with the world.

He asked us to get involved, not just in IATEFL or TESOL, but in one of the Special Interest Groups, of which there are now 16.

I am a member of TDSIG.  My impression was that professional development is now in a better state than 2002 and was portrayed at the beginning of this talk. But clearly there is still a long way to go and there are many barriers and too much top-down decision making to make it effective.  But there are lots of options as he outlined towards the end.

What about freelancers?  What do they do?  Well I recently went self-employed so have taken full responsibility for my own PD, but attending a conference such as this is high on that list, but it costs a lot of money top get there and attend (best part of £1000 for the whole week) and there are no discounts for the self-employed, those who don’t have a publisher or a scholarship.  I have to develop my own affordable strategies, too.  But there are plenty of online options these days, not least the huge number of IATEFL or related webinars.  Being part of a wide range of Facebook groups, such as ‘Blog posts for teachers’ and ‘Webinars for English Teachers’ can also aid PD.  There is also #ELTchat, of course, which meets on Twitter once a week.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Also on Tuesday 4 April was the Cambridge English sponsored Outside in:  bringing new Technology perspectives to ELT hour long session / panel discussion in Forth.  It was presented and chaired by Michael Carrier and featured four experts in using technology.  Here’s the abstract of the session:

Outside in Session

Outside In

and the recording is here:

As a member of the LTSIG, I was very interested to hear what the distinguished panel brought to this session.  It was actually a last minute decision not to attend the British Council signature event on refugees which took place at the same time in the Clyde auditorium.

The chair first invited the audience to answer two ongoing questions via Glisser.   One of these questions asked ‘How much would you welcome the impact of the outside digital world inside ELT?’  “Digital learning is here to stay and that resistance is futile”, Carrier stated in his introduction. So one of the answers,  which referred to it being unavoidable,  made this a somewhat leading question, although I would argue he was asking whether it should be used inside ELT.   Speech enabled technology, augmented reality and the internet of things were some of the areas flagged up in the introduction.  He also questioned whether institutions drove many decision on purchasing technology for use by teachers and whether Interactive Whiteboards deserved a place in the classroom.

Donald Clark spoke only about Artificial Intelligence.  Technology is always ahead of the culture and sociology, while pedagogy is a poor third, he stated.  Most language learning occurs outside of the classroom.  For English, Clark regularly finds that English is learnt via YouTube, music and movies – often by using illegal torrent downloads.  AI is the new UI.  We already use it. Social media and using Google is AI, he stressed.   It is already tackling some of serious issues of  teaching and learning of languages.  Chatbots (e.g. Cortana, Siri and alexa), are becoming commonplace.   I am personally skeptical because they are not something I like using. It’s all very well speaking your search term question into Google but I don’t particularly want to be reliant on it.  I don’t use Siri (on my iPhone) or Cortana (on Windows 10). But the Croatian Maths homework app (photomaths) looked cool as all the steps (the teaching) are included.  The unbiased and quick Georgia Techbot was nominated for an award.  He gave a few more examples before reiterating that ‘Resistance is futile’, folks!

Yvonne Rogers stated that we don’t want is digital bubbles in their own worlds. Collaborative learning is much better. Life sentences is one such open-sourced tool, which is loved by students.  Learning is inadvertent so could be used for more tricky grammar. Pokemon Go opened the way for augmented reality and motivated play in the real world.  Learning in context will increase.  Microsoft’s HoloLens doesn’t make the user feel sick like a lot of augmented reality does.  Interactive wearables were shown. One example showed an LED light that shows food going into the stomach.  As well as Alexa, an advert for Google Home showed how a resident can get everything done they want to just from instructing the device. Again, I have personal reservations about this – asking the device to play room in your son’s bedroom to get him up is all well and good but what’s wrong with asking his sibling to give him an imperative?  Roam.I made its debut at the London 2012 Olympics. Clunky robots have been around for ages, but can commercial ones out help in the classroom?  I know that in Japan and South Korea they are already being used.  Her take-away message included the view that new technologies should be   allow for playful, engaging and creative language learning in situ. Collaboration using the same device, not individual device use is important, so sharing of school owned devices is one way forward. This has already been tried in many settings.

I first met Paul Driver in Barcelona, where he gave a fascinating talk at the first Image conference.  He has produced a Cambridge book called Language Learning with Digital Video with Ben Goldstein. He was also the only panel member who (still) works inside ELT.   He disagreed slightly with Donald’s assessment over huge pedagogic change. The way that technology is used isn’t, he argues, particularly pedagogically innovative.  Driver is a great example of a teachers who has lead the way with geo-location GPS games.  In Portugal, he devised the game ‘Invader’ using map reading and I’ve also seen his incredibly innovative ‘Spywalk’ in that Barcelona talk. 3D Printing is another possibility for Task-based learning.  He mentioned ‘greenscreening’ (which was later demonstrated to great effect by Joe Dale in the LTSIG day) as very accessible now.   Removing (Krashen’s) ‘affective filter’ occurs regularly with certain kinds of technologies.  Like another big game-based learning advocate, David Dodgson, he dislikes ‘gamification’ as a motivational tool, which he describes a ‘low hanging fruit’.   Intrinsic motivation is quite powerful with GBL. He has used VR on CELTA courses for teacher training, which most people would never have even considered as a possibility, including the session host.  But I would argue that Driver is in the top %1 of teachers currently using technology in innovative ways.

Geoff Stead gave a brief overview of his personal experience – prisons, vocational colleges, military medics. No teachers.  But at the other extreme, running a team of mobile developers in huge American tech company, which built over 100 apps. At Cambridge he has realised edtech is about seeking that perfect fir to particular contexts. He spoke about a couple of exploratory projects.   Cambridge English have developed both ‘Quiz your English’ and Write & Improve.  Using machine learning to practice before submission.   He also discussed Google Cardboard as an effective way of reducing anxiety, through what I understand to be ‘exposure therapy’.  Their 360 degree pilots on speaking tests uses a desensitising approach to learning.  Research is ongoing, with students already saying they feel much happier using this.  CE don’t know which technologies are going to work yet.  In this respect they have launched a BETA version of ‘the Digital Teacher’, a new website which was demonstrated to delegates at the LTSIG/TDSIG PCE the day before, which Stead made a reference to at the end.  Twenty minutes of questions and discussion followed.

Outside In (2) questions

Wednesday 5 April: Connecting minds: lanrguage learner and teacher psychologies Sarah Mercer.

Language learning is a deeply social and emotional undertaking for both teachers and learners. Mercer reflected on the fundamental role played by psychology in the learning and teaching of foreign languages. She showed how crucial an understanding of psychology is, given that people and their relationships lie at the heart of the teaching/learning interaction.

Mercer began with a ‘inspiring’ video of Barry White greeting his students with unique greetings. It was clearly about generating rapport and, possibly, trust, to make the point that we still need teachers.

Language learning is more than just about motivation, cognition or an abstracted, internal mind, she stated.  “Psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to their learners” (Duckworth, 2016).  They do 3 essential things, which she covered. They:

(1) develop positive relationships

(2) focus on positivity and growth

(3) nurture their own professional well-being.

(1)  She goes into each of these in detail on the video, showing the educator, Rita Pearson, talking about the power of relationships.  She states that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  A lot of rapport is about getting students to ‘like’ you, however, as well as creating trust.  But I’m not sure this is always necessary.  I certainly felt it when I started my career but it’s not essential in my view.

Language teaching, she argued, needs social and emotional intelligence, as well as socio-cultural competence.  The teaching profession attracts people like this already, but wanted to remind us how important this is.  Sarah asked the audience what qualities or relationships were important to us.  I mentioned trust and honesty to the person next to me.  They offered (mutual) respect.  These three qualities appeared at the top of a list (Roffey, 2011).  There was also reciprocity and feeling comfortable and enjoying being together.

Her own research looked at developing positive relationships (Gkonou & Mercer, 2017) and how to make ‘deposits’, based on the idea of an ’emotional bank account’ (Covey, 2004).  She looked at how teachers, who scored highly on emotional/social intelligence made these deposits:

1. Work on mutual trust & respect  – this is earned. Reliability. Consistency. Promoting Autonomy.  Self-disclosure. The last one is something I do. I personalise the lesson by sharing appropriate information about myself as well as that of the student.

2. Be empathetic.  Trying to imagine and understand what it is like from their point of view.  Non verbal signals are also key here.

3. Be responsive to learner individuality.   I agree that knowing student names, as early as possible, is crucial.   I try these, even my class is full of Chinese students who have adopted ‘English’ names, which I’m not a fan of.

Mercer highlighted this quote about the nature of relationships:

“An extensive body of research suggests the importance of close, caring teacher-student relationships and high quality peer relationships for students’ academic self-perceptions, school engagement, motivation, learning, and performance” (Furrer, Skinner & Pitzer, 2014, p.102)

Learners are more frightened of talking in front of their peers than their teachers according to other research, she stated, and we need to develop positive relationships between learners in our classroom.  Knowing each other’s names is key, too.

(2) Mercer used the same reference as Tony Price in his talk on ‘activities that can change attitudes’.   What we believe about our abilities – our ‘mindsets’ or implicit theories (Dweck, 2006) are so deeply rooted that we are not aware of them.  The ‘Fixed’ mindset is believing our abilities or intelligence are given (to us) and can’t be changed.  The ‘growth’ mindset says our these attributes are more malleable and can be developed.  Mindsets are the foundation for what happens afterwards, according to Mercer.  If you don’t believe you can change, why even try.   She outlined attitudes of people with both ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets.  These are very prevalent in language learning.  Now I’ve often believed that I am not very good at learning languages myself, but this is probably not true and is based on having a fixed mindset.  It was something Tony Price also personalised when he made the same reference.  Mindsets are domain specific which means a distinction can be made between different language (macro) skills – speaking or pronunciation, for example.   Teachers have mindsets, too.  Mercer’s research  on teaching competencies highlighted the belief amongst many teachers that they couldn’t develop their interpersonal skills.  Again, if a teacher does not believe that they can improve their abilities, why bother.  A teacher can be a role model in promoting a growth mindset in their learners.  But this is not enough.  Strategic planning is also very important, she believes.

‘Strength spotting’ (Linley, 2008) is not just about focusing on our weaknesses.  People often have a negative bias which she claimed is human nature – where we obsess, for example, about the one negative piece of feedback over several positive pieces. This is something I have to develop myself.  I try to ignore the voice inside my head that focuses on the negative and, instead, focus on the things that have gone well. Mercer invited delegates to share something positive about themselves.  Are we conditioned to stress what we are not good at, though?  Maybe it’s part of how we wish to be perceived.  For CVs and job interviews, for examples, we only dwell on positive things, so this isn’t necessarily true, I feel.

She talked about positive emotions and the Broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 2001, 2012).  This resonates with Krashen’s ‘Affective Filter’ theory.  She mentioned the ‘flight or fight’ response for negative emotions, which I know to be associated with panic attacks. Reducing anxiety is important but when we engage with positive emotions, we are more creative and experimental. These build resources and create new competencies.

(3)   T is the most important letter in IATEFL as it refers to teachers, she stated.

“There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. {They] are the lifeblood of the success of schools.” (Ken Robinson)

Mercer’s final section dealt with teachers who nurture their own professional well-being. You can’t pour from an empty cup and teachers need to care of themselves first. Our psychology is closely related to that of our learners.  Reciprocity is ‘neuro’ mirroring, it’s catching!    She talked about happiness at work.  The judgement error is that being successful at work will make us happy when, in fact, it’s the reverse of this.

Her final points really struck a chord with me.  Teaching is inherently stressful. Stress management is highly important.   Teachers who suffer from perfectionism bring a motivational force but can hinder our performance when things don’t go as planned. She showed a slide (below) and drew on  Self-compassion is about not being hard on yourself.  We have to make sure that we are not overstretching ourselves, that we learn to say no and set boundaries for the sake of our physical and mental well-being.

Teacher professional wellbeing is not an indulgence, it is a necessity for good teaching (Roffey, 2011, p. 133)

This is inspiring, I feel and of huge, personal relevance to me having made the decision recently to go self-employed and take charge of when and where I work.   My own mental health is paramount when I consider taking on a new role.  That role needs to be suitable for me. Mercer’s plenary was my favourite this week.

Stress Management For Teachers (Mercer)

Sarah Mercer

Thursday 6 AprilELT and social justice: opportunities in a time of chaos – JJ Wilson

I was keen to hear JJ Wilson’s talk having written an #ELTchat summary last November about ‘Teaching diversity, inclusion and social justice issues’, in which this plenary at IATEFL was flagged up.

I was suffering a little bit on Thursday morning, watched it online and didn’t really take it in at the time.  I’ve since watched it back and have come to this very short review having read (some of) a very critical opinion about it “turning radical pedagogy into dross”.

I know JJ Wilson’s name, having seen it an old coursebook, the (totally tropical) ‘Total English’, that somebody gave me recently when I started teaching privately.  In addition, I bought a Flexi version of ‘Speak Out’ during the conference. But I have never heard of Paulo Freire or his book, ‘The pedagogy of the oppressed’, which Wilson made reference to.  I’m not in a position, therefore, to comment at great length about his plenary.  But to a certain extent, I agree with the view that this was slickly produced stuff. From the moment he said that he came from ‘a place of privilege’, I was immediately put off.  It was more an ‘inspiring’ TED talk on steroids with all the earnestness of Bono (from U2).   He also said he came from a community of struggle and his battle with racism but I didn’t get the impression that he had.  It appeared to be more of an ego trip, such as encouraging the delegates to reassure him that he [is] still a young man!  He bragged about reading of the whole of Freire’s book, not just the Amazon reviews. He sung a lyric by Bob Marley without stating that it was called ‘Redemption Song’.  It was an over-confident, disappointing plenary and didn’t convince me.  Almost as far from critical pedagogy as you could get.  Maybe the fact it was a plenary softened the message through rose-coloured spectacles.  Anyway, I don’t wish to dwell on this, however, as he appears to be a well-respected writer and speaker.  I can see why this particular plenary was lauded by some, but very empty and paying lip-service to social justice for others.  Watch it and decide for yourself.



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