Much of this post is written in the present as I was travelling and unable to do ‘live’ updates, everything in the present tense is that present not the moment as I post.
Welcome to our first international post. That’s right as I type I’m on a plane and I won’t be posting this from my desk as usual.
I’m in Lublin Poland. PIC Yes on Monday, I am supposed to be at ‘fresher’s week’ helping all of the new arrivals settle in before Week 1 at Winchester. And I will be. Tuesday at 3:00 for international students to meet Study Skills and ELSAC support.
This weekend I took the opportunity to go to a conference before things get busy with the academic year kicking off, and the conference happens to be in Lublin.
We’re being hosted by the University here and the conference is IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Poland’s
I’m speaking with Marek Kiczkowiak on equality and discrimination in EFL.
Ok, I know some of you are asking what my “little holiday” has to do with the work and language this blog is normally focused on. The answer is lots.
Any academic conference provides attending lecturers with a chance to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues at other institutions. This helps promote and spread good practice, deepens and broadens our understanding of the latest developments in our fields meaning we can share this with colleagues who didn’t attend and of course pass on the benefits to our students.
Having been to Poland before, (I lived there for a while 12 years ago) I thought I’d make my transfer from plane to rail but they’ve rebuilt everything and it would have been a very tight connection even if my Polish was still good enough to manage complex transactions, which it isn’t yet. It might yet come back but remember this, if you don’t use a language you lose that language. Getting a language back is much faster and easier than learning it the first time. But, it is more frustrating because one has the aphasic experience of knowing that you know the word, phrase, sentence but unable to produce it.
Ok so I made it to the conference having missed the opening ceremony. To top of my earlier slip ups my train was then delayed cross country.
In the end of Friday I saw:
– Anna Kamont talking about her use of Skype for lessons and student support. The take away for both learners and teachers should be try new things, specifically try new technologies, but if they don’t work for you dump them. Another point we discussed was the digital distraction factor, with 1-1 lessons where everyone’s on camera all the time this was a minimal thing, but might grow for larger courses. If you’re looking for a list of things to try look for @Annglish on Facebook where Anna posts new technologies she finds.
– Jeremy Day with his new presentation Order from Chaos: Towards a Taxonomy of ESP (English for Specific Purposes). He presents a personal view of how various sometimes inter-related fields and acronyms relate to each other. Sounds fairly theoretical right? What is the take away? How about be specific?
Teachers: What do you want your students to learn from this text, task, test?
Learners: What are you trying to learn? What exactly do you need/want from this lesson?
Now look back at your answers and be more specific, much more specific. I’d bet that half of you put ‘some English’, ‘some vocabulary’, ‘better grammar’ or something similar somewhere in your answers. The more goal driven and focused you aims the better the learning experience will be.
Last for Friday, but by no means least I attended Peter Medgey’s ‘How’s this for Fun’ where the ever versatile Peter proved his mettle as a stand-up comic as well as a diplomat, emeritus professor, theorist, and teacher. The serious bit? Where has the humour gone in ELT materials? Why? And what do we do about it? All of this after arguing, convincingly that humour is essential in learning and in language learning especially so.
First up Peter Medgey, De Ja Vu anyone? And his plenary talk “Why won’t the little beasts behave?”. Discipline comes from Latin knowledge and instruction. Partly a reflection on his return to the classroom in 2000 but also informed by notes from trainee teachers, and current literature. There is also a factor that re-occurs in educational research, writers and theorists frequently ‘don’t have chalk on their face’. As ever a humours look at his topic. The take away for learners, enjoy the learning instead of enjoying disrupting the learning, (those of you reading this blog probably have already converted here). For teachers, remember: this is natural; it’s relative; don’t take it personally, even when it’s meant that way. And for those of us shy of discipline control contributes to security (for not of the students) and that is key for learning, just go back to Maslow.
Next up was Hugh Dellar: talking about colligation and the importance of grammar beyond the verb phrase, and the model of tenses, aspects etc. The idea of collocation is much more familiar, originating in Russian academic circles where attempts were made to list words that typically went together. Such as sunny: with day but not night, but possibly also with garden or even room but not cellar or house talking about people you can say someone has a sunny personality meaning they are easy going, relaxed, usually happy, or perhaps expression, but you wouldn’t say a *sunny frown or a *sunny elbow. Colligation works in a similar way but with grammatical patterns, many but not all of them outside of the traditional verb phrase focus of EFL. Verbs of perception are often/typically followed by an object, then a gerund/continuous verb phrase (either finite or non-finite) and an adverbial or two. Carla smelt the honeysuckle and heard the bees buzzing through it sitting on the veranda behind the house in the afternoon. Noticing the kinds of phrases and their typical order is the study of colligation. My take aways from Hugh’s talk for teachers and leaners are: 1 noticing is important don’t stop at new words or the verb forms what else is happening both at sentence level and within and between sentences; 2 exposure and working in context are invaluable to successful language learning; 3 when translating do so in chunks, or sentences never just words or just grammar but both together and do so bi-directionally but independently. So if you want to use translation translate the sentence, then without looking at the original translate it back to check that the original meaning is preserved. One example from this weekend of a word that may not translate well is Kamizelka which probably should be something like a period terraced town house but it’s one of those things that doesn’t seem to have a simple equivalent between the two languages.
Followed by Ania Musielak, talking about communicative experience with drama activities, or drama games, or as she says “drama light”. Not all drama activity needs to be dramatic, or result in a performance. Using drama in the classroom has a number of benefits:
- It relaxes the students
- It promotes cooperation between learners
- It removes some ‘loading’ from language processing as it masks the individual behind a character so the individual doesn’t need to ‘own’ errors
- It encourages creativity
- It creates/drives discussion
My take aways from this are: language learning can be stressful for individuals and mitigating the stress of competence anxiety can improve communicative competence. Language is essentially a communicative and creative activity, practicing it as such encourages real language use. This was a refreshingly practical and energising talk to go to just before my own.
Marek Kiczkowiak and I, as you’ll know from above, spoke about discrimination in TEFL and how despite EU law in many places 90% of the job ads require ‘native speaker’ as a qualification, and that regardless of linguistic competence, experience and qualification as a teacher, and a host of other factors that affect classroom and student outcomes many jobs, some entire schools remain closed to NNESTs (non-native English Speaking Teachers). Much of the industry seems bent on perpetrating a destructive false quality marker of ‘native’ teachers being better, despite the fact that this is not reflected or even suggested in any of the academic literature and studies from any related field. I could go on here however, this isn’t really what this post in general is about.
Next up was Grzegorz Spiewak talking on how integrating some life skills training into the classroom can offer language students a competitive advantage in the workplace, but that this integration should happen before they enter the workplace or even know what career(s) they are planning to peruse (next) (the –s and next are in brackets as education being followed by a job followed by retirement seems to be a thing of the past.) Grzegorz always has some interesting statistics in his talks. (Ok anecdotal data I’ve only seen him speak once before in Gdansk about 10 years ago.) Apparently only 4% of people trying to study something apply any type of study skills to their attempt. My take aways here again for both teachers and learners:
- Breaking things down makes things more meaningful and more memorable
- Knowledge can be applied across domains and this kind of cross fertilisation can offer benefits beyond the specific domain
- Organising information makes it more meaningful and memorable, the act of organising information can deepen your understanding of it and improve recall.
My penultimate talk was Geoff Tranter from Mondiale Testing on the Common European Framework of Reference, and the importance of profiles over levels. That is understanding that just because someone’s interactive spoken communication is generally effective and fluent doesn’t mean that they will be grammatically accurate, use a rich variety of vocabulary appropriately, or that their competence stretches to giving a presentation. There was a good deal of quite specific information for teachers on how using the specific qualities of langue profiles can ensure the right sub-skills get the right level of focus. But, take aways from this talk include: communication is more often shades of grey not black and white; sending appropriate linguistic signals encourages more specific and contributive answers and enriches communication in dialogues; and that not all activities in life require the higher levels of language competence even in someone’s L1. Nobody buys train tickets at above about intermediate levels of language, because the language used in any situation is driven by the needs of that situation.
The last talk I went to was a case study examining the needs analysis of two groups of Academic English students at Universities in Bialistok, presented by Agnieszka Dudzik and Agnieszka Dzieciol-Pedich. I found that much like in service EAP support in the UK there was some need for general language support as well as purely academic terms, and that the students tended to need the most work in speaking, and that the provision was not really adequate for the needs, and that the students were not universally at the right level starting off, and that integrating the teaching with subject tutors would be ideal but so far has proven hard to achieve. (I think this year I’m starting to make some real headway in some areas). My take aways here are: wherever possible be specific about the need you are trying to meet, but be aware that other needs (such as GE) may be required to support the attainment of specified academic needs; and language learning works best with a little but very often. Literature suggests 20-45 minutes every day. 2 hours once a week isn’t frequent enough to make good progress.
During, a much needed coffee and a chat with some of the other delegates. We talked about how the ‘sponsored talks’ all contained a sales pitch of some sort, and they seemed to be put only a couple at a time in big rooms and that individual talks were too many, at the same time. Hopefully in future this could be a bit more balanced. There were also a number of exhibition stands in the arterial corridors making it quite challenging to get a coffee, stretch your legs and get to the next session on time. However, these are fairly minor gripes and the conference as a whole was very successful and well organised.
All this left me with precious little time to explore and experience the historic city of Lublin, I’m already writing this on the train back to Warsaw to fly back to attend meetings, welcome students and start the semester in Winchester. Wow is all that happening tomorrow, yes it is. And conveniently I’m pulling in to Warsaw where I know a wi-fi hotspot to post this from. Don’t worry I have plenty of time before my plane. My photos of Lublin will follow and I’ll populate this with links from my desk over the next week or so.