[Guest Post] The Upside of English Language Teaching

It’s with great pleasure that I share this guest post. I first became acquainted with Jeremy on Twitter (where he is @jdslagoski ) and I’ve enjoyed his wit and scholarship. His blogs offer a lot of food for thought. Sojourning English Language Teachers caught my attention with its name and kept my attention with the posts. In Dr. J’s Blog of ELT Praxis Jeremy shares his efforts “to bridge the research-practice gap in English language teaching with a focus on curriculum, instructional technology, and intercultural communication.” Jeremy has been in the field of English language teaching for over 20 years and has experience as a teacher, teacher educator, and administrator in Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States. Jeremy earned his PhD in Teaching & Learning (Foreign Language & ESL Education) from the University of Iowa.

I was lucky enough to meet Jeremy at JALT in 2016 and we had dinner and a nice chat. We had some chances to talk about our shared interest in Behavioral Economics and the potential influence on English teacher.

Earlier this year on Facebook I saw Jeremy sharing some quotes from “The Upside of Irrationality” by Dan Ariely and we discussed the possibility of him writing a guest post on this very blog. What you can see below is the result of that discussion. I hope you enjoy it (and get as much out of it) as I did. 

The Downside of Education Labor

“Why do you try so hard?” a coworker asked me in the spring of 2015. This question confirmed that I was making the right decision to leave a job that I both loved and hated. This scenario came to my mind while reading Dan Ariely’s 2010 book The Upside of Irrationality, specifically a passage on page 72:

“If you take people who love something and you place them in meaningful working conditions, the joy they derive from the activity is going to be a major driver in dictating their level of effort. However, if you take the same people with the same initial passion and desire and place them in meaningless working conditions, you can easily kill internal joy they might derive from the activity.”

This passage comes from the second chapter titled “The Meaning of Labor” in which the author describes why and how people find their work, their job, and their career meaningful. Ariely describes several meaningful and meaningless working conditions. The big difference between the two is that people witness your achievement for work to be meaningful. In the meaningless conditions, the work is put away or destroyed before anyone can see the results. There’s no acknowledgement. It’s like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the mountain with nobody watching or caring.

sisyphus

I was beginning to feel like Sisyphus in a job I left a few years ago. Incidentally, during my last department meeting at that job, we were asked to write a word that describes our work on the board and I did indeed write “Sisyphus.” I spent the past two years on a faculty development initiative that was gaining momentum and traction across the college. I was meeting and exceeding the goals that we set for this initiative every year. When the project was small, I received ample praise which motivated me to work harder and better. When the project grew, the praise within my department ended and was replaced with either criticism or indifference, a stark contrast to the praise I was getting from the rest of the college.

When the project was beginning to make noticeable positive changes, I was told to remove my name from the project but encouraged to continue working on it. The rationale for this was that the project belonged to the college and not to me. This cut deep because it was implied that I was doing it for myself when in reality the project was completely collaborative and wouldn’t have been successful without the faculty and staff who volunteered their time to see it come to fruition. Finally, about a month after my coworker asked why I was trying so hard, the head of the department, my supervisor’s supervisor, strongly suggested that I move on to another project. A few weeks later I announced that I’d accepted a job elsewhere.

Those last few months at that employer were bleak because I felt my meaningful working condition become meaningless. My situation was becoming a lot like those experiments in the chapter where participants were asked to build something out of Legos. After completing their work, they had to watch their creations get disassembled before they left the room. To further illustrate, this project resulted in a task force that was asked to create a report for the college. After one year, the report was presented to top administrators of the college and then shelved with no further actions or reactions. I got to witness firsthand the frustration and disappointment of each member of the task force, including myself, before I left. The initiative died about six months after I left, leaving many faculty and staff demoralized concerning collaborations with my former department. Now I know what some people have warned me about: places that suck your soul.

This was not an English language teaching position. Fortunately for me, I have found most of my English language teaching jobs in meaningful working conditions. I have been able to witness the fruits of my labor as my students’ English proficiency improves. And for jobs in the United States, I also take pride in my students’ ability to integrate into the community and eventually matriculate into university. Thanks to social media, I have been able to witness my students succeed in their university courses and beyond.

The IKEA Effect in ELT

Unfortunately, this feeling of pride takes me to chapter three of Ariely’s book: the IKEA effect, in which he identifies four principles of human endeavor:

 

  • “The effort that we put into something does not just change the object. It changes us and the way we evaluate that object.
  • Greater labor leads to greater love.
  • Our over-evaluation of the things we make runs so deep that we assume that others share our biased perspective.
  • When we cannot complete something into which we have put great effort, we don’t feel so attached to it” (pp.104-105).

The object in this context must be external, so one can’t interpret it as your teaching because that is a part of you. Instead the object can be the lesson, a certain activity, or materials you developed for learning. As an experienced teacher and curriculum coordinator, I have often had the opportunities to create my own lessons, whole courses, and whole programs. If they positively affect student performance, then I love those lessons, courses, and programs forever. I used to assume others would too, but other teachers love their creations more.

ikea products

As an ELT curriculum coordinator and project manager, I sometimes cannot enact the courses or activities I designed because I am not always the instructor or facilitator. When someone else gets to facilitate my design, I have learned to let it go and celebrate the collaborative effort when the project is successful. If the instructor follows my lesson plans exactly the way I designed them, I still feel attached to them. However, I’ve been in reversed roles where I had to follow a lesson plan strictly, and I do not feel attached to them unless I was able to tweak it to better meet the needs of the students. If I was given a little leeway to tweak, then I loved the lesson more.

I expect the facilitators or instructors of my curriculum to feel the same. Most of my lessons were designed for experienced teachers, so I purposely left a lot of wiggle room for teachers to make the lessons their own. I call this my “secret sauce” because I am able to accommodate for the strengths of my teachers, which is directly tied to assessing the day-to-day needs of the students. In this case, my labor of love is no longer the curriculum itself but the collaboration of curriculum development between me, the instructors, and the students. If the teachers and students are happy and successful with the outcomes, then I do not care if certain activities I designed were out of sequence or even dropped. This “greater labor” is shared and leads to a greater love of not only the curriculum but the relationships forged through the successful joint effort of designing and facilitating the courses.

The Not-Invented at Our School Bias

All that pride in teamwork takes me to the fourth chapter in The Upside of Irrationality, which is about the not-invented-here bias or “if we didn’t invent it, then it’s not worth much.” I recognize this as the rigidity of a school’s curriculum because it represents the hard work of the whole school. When I started my job as curriculum coordinator at another former job, I learned that I threatened this strong bias of the many of the teachers. Why would I want to change anything about this wonderful curriculum that has served us so well over two decades?

Two sentences stood out for me in chapter 4. The first captures my leadership philosophy very well:  “If you understand the sense of ownership and pride that stems from investing time and energy in projects and ideas, you can inspire yourself and others to be more committed to and interested in the tasks at hand” (p.121). The second describes what I encountered in my last two working environments as a change agent: “Once we are addicted to our own ideas, it is less likely that they will be flexible when necessary. We run the risk of dismissing others’ ideas that might simply be better than our own” (p. 122). One of my greatest achievements as curriculum coordinator was not taking the dismissal of my ideas personally. As a leader of a team, my ideas work best when they are integrated with the ideas of the other team. Within the past few years, I have learned that it’s important for a leader to maintain his or her vision, but it’s not as important to have all or most of his or ideas enacted by others.

Finally, this bias is easily seen in the proprietary nature of English language programs, especially private ones, that have administrators and faculty who believe their curriculum is superior to others or they market it that way. It’s the “secret formula” of ELT that will never get shared on social media or published in any journal. As a curriculum designer, the key to a “most successful formula” is its transparency to all stakeholders involved (students, teachers, administrators, and parents) because a strong curriculum is flexible enough to use “evidence-based” approaches to an extent that meet the goals of the program and the needs of the students. A secret formula also suggests rigidity or a one-size-fits-all approach, which may be cheap and easy for the school but it does not serve the students. So I urge teachers and administrators to share your curriculum, lesson ideas, and activities. If your school or program successfully improves students’ language skills, the “magic” that is difficult to replicate is more likely to be the expertise and winning dispositions of your teachers who are able to make the curriculum accessible and meaningful to the students.

More recently, I have been able to incorporate many of Ariely’s ideas and suggestions in a program I designed for English language teachers in Brazil. First, I was put in a meaningful working condition both physically and mentally. The program was based in Chicago and Iowa City, two cities that I love and have a long history and strong familiarity with. Additionally, I set the standards of my working conditions, designing my schedule and workload, maximizing my time to learn about each teacher’s needs and strengths. Second, I put all my effort into this especially during their two-week visit when every waking minute was dedicated to the success of the program. My love for this project was amplified by the joy and excitement I saw expressed by many of these teachers.  This project was purposefully collaborative with two non-profit organizations and the United States Embassy in Brasilia. Our collaboration helped the program run smoothly every single day. Lastly, to reduce the not-invented-here bias I posted the entire program publicly online. The nuts and bolts can be reproduced by any competent and coordinated group of international exchange and English language teaching experts. However, the “magic” was I loved this work and the participants and it took place in the backyard of at least my twenty years of my life.

IMG_20180122_224232_268

Although opportunities are like this are rare, the upside of English language teaching is 1) working in meaningful conditions, where one can work in a school and/or culture that you cherish, 2) being able to complete and find closure to your great efforts, and 3) being able to find that the secret to success in teaching and learning is intangible, that your effort, expertise, and enthusiasm are worth more than the lesson plans and curriculum you create. The tangible parts of your work are the product and not the source of an enjoyable English language teaching career.

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Maybe that cool April Fools’ prank isn’t so cool?

This is me trying on a curmudgeon suit.

On the grand scale of things it’s certainly not a huge deal but I sometimes feel uncomfortable reading about teachers pranking their students on April Fools’ Day. The specific type of prank that gives me this strange feeling is the old chestnut where the teacher gives a previously unannounced quiz/test/assignment.

Disclaimer: I have done this many times in the past. 

april fool

 

This sort of prank bugs me because it’s such a flex. It feels like a power game, however unintentional. It reads to me like the teacher is saying something like:

“I have all this power over you and I’m in a position to use it as capriciously as I feel like. You are at my whim and you have do to whatever I tell you to.”

Maybe you don’t see it like this and consider it just a bit of fun but I wonder how students feel when the announcement is made. Education is often arbitrary enough and I’d rather not play up this aspect.

Here in Korea when grades are of such importance I can imagine students might freak out at first and that the big reveal that it’s April Fools’ Day would not really be worth it. Even if we (especially as EFL teachers) think we are sharing cultural aspects I have to wonder if it’s worthwhile trade off.

The other aspect of this fake quiz (or whatever) prank that catches my interest is that it seems to be teachers who might otherwise sing the praises of student autonomy or affective filter who do this type of prank. As above, I don’t think it’s a major issue but I do think it’s worth thinking about the impact such pranks might have on students’ psychology (even just for a moment) and the impact on group dynamics.

I am willing to admit I am overthinking this and being a stick in the mud. That said, I’m done with this type of prank. I might still leave room for flying penguins,  spaghetti trees, however.

Anyway, the joke is on me because April Fools’ Day falls on a Sunday this year.

I’m not a complete curmudgeon as I can appreciate the comedy in this prank:

 

Letter to myself

Dear Mike,

You are writing this to yourself on December 11, 2017 (and, let’s be honest, you wrote a little more on December 12th and edited a very little bit in January 2018).  It’s the last class with one group. They were a nice group and it was an enjoyable time. You had a lot of laughs with this group.

Your students are currently writing a letter to “their juniors” offering advice and recollections. You decided it was too boring (and somewhat uncomfortable) to watch them write so you decided to do some writing yourself.

When faced with this “letter to a junior” task a few students were a bit reticent. One suggested that she didn’t have anything to say because she didn’t do well this term. You told her that is also valuable. Perhaps the next time you do this you can do a bit more in terms of a lead-in and intro. Similarly, one student (who it must be said didn’t benefit from reading “a letter to a senior” in the spring” sort of balked at the idea and thought it was unfair to be compelled to write something. You fully agreed. It was an interesting moment and a fun challenge to your beliefs. You might have overdone your lack of a desire to compel them to do anything and in the end she seemed very focused on the task and it looked like she did her best to pass along useful information.

The idea of this letter is to remind you of a few things that are on your mind as you finish the term in the hopes that it will be helpful when you start the new term. We can consider it something of a reminder but also perhaps a nudge to make some small changes.

Looking back on this term (and this class and the 2 other sections just like it) you believe you worked hard and did your best. Perhaps sometimes your classroom management in terms of timing was not the best as you raced against the clock to finish a few times during the second semester.

It is perhaps related but, this was also the class that you got a bit bogged down a few times with some esoteric questions.  In retrospect you might have just said something like, “you don’t need to know that.. maybe let’s just move on.” You only got a bit pissy about this once but it felt like it was more of a bonding moment than anything.

If you are honest with yourself you can admit that this year was not super easy for you in terms of teaching. You can also say that they are some great students and people that you’d like to stay in touch with you. You can hold on to the idea you’ve impacted some people and helped them. Please remember the touching feedback you got from students as they left on the last day. You will remember what they said and it might serve you to remember that this positive and touching feedback was not exactly about pedagogical feelings and was more about affect and helping students be comfortable in the class and comfortable with who they are in the class. It is a good lesson to keep in mind and try to replicate although of course it will be different with different groups. Some good news is that you are already familiar with many of the students you will be having this term and they are a great bunch.
You are reading this post in the future through the miracles of modern WordPress post publishing technology.  It’s March, 2018.  It’s a new term. I am guessing you don’t really know what the new term will bring. I hope you are still excited. If I know you I know that you were thinking last night about the idea that if you don’t get butterflies in your stomach the night before a new term or class that means it’s time to hang it up.

I know you like and even love your job. I must admit I’m a bit concerned about you being a bit complacent or fat and happy in this job. I hope you will find some ways to keep things new and fresh. Remember how hard this all was back in 2010 when you started. You scraped and clawed to be decent at this and now you can confidently say you tend to do well. The learning curve was steep and now you feel comfortable and confident in the job. There is, of course, always room for improvement.
So,  in terms of improving and keeping things fresh, what will you do? I was thinking about a few experiments you might try in your classes this term. You could even try different experiments in different groups and see how things go.

Another concern I have, which is surely connected to the above is that it’s perhaps too easy for you to fall into that “demand low” situations and attitude. You work hard and students surely improve and work hard but there are probably some areas where some more tension could be helpful for everyone.

You spend all this time writing notes for the students based on their mistakes/errors and successes. You know that students don’t read them or take them on so much. This is tough on both and emotionally and time-wise. You instituted the weekly quiz last year and it worked pretty well last year but this year a lot of students missed it. The way I see it now you have two options with this. You can stop doing the quizzes or you can be more strict about this. One crazy idea you had (and halfheartedly “threatened” was that students cannot participate in class without taking the previous week’s quiz. Another idea was to be explicit about students who take the quiz getting more chances to practice (in the interpreting booth) if they take the quiz.

Another example of a potential change might be in terms of the speeches and such that students bring in for material. I know you value your laissez-faire attitude to this, and ultimately you are right that it’s up to them but perhaps you could play a slightly more influential role in the selection process and help students make the most out of their time. It’s just something to think about. I know that want to be understanding and generous in the moment when a student doesn’t fulfill their duty but maybe there is such a thing as being too kind and it doesn’t serve them or the class. I don’t think you need to re-think all your beliefs about teaching necessarily but you could perhaps be a bit tougher and clear when students don’t meet their obligations. This kind of “Oh well, let’s do better” view might not be that helpful in the long term.

The other thought related to speech selection is that sometimes it seems like (some!) students spend a lot of time on this. While becoming an expert on such a Korean speech and thinking about potential pitfalls is surely helpful it seems like (most?) students view it more as drudgery and busywork and less as a potentially great learning experience. The suggestion here for this is to really emphasize it’s okay to borrow speeches from previous years and from other sections. This might help limit this issue.

I need not remind you about the conflict between students when one student felt their classmate was not doing enough in terms of speech prep and was not selecting appropriate speeches.

Well, that turned into a sour note to end upon. Let it be a reminder that you will want to keep working to improve. Thanks for reading and considering what the Mike of terms past has to say.

 

Best of luck,
December 2017 Mike

MOOCS, PLNs, & iTDi: Taking advantage of professional development opportunities in the digital era

That is quite a long title for a blog post. I suppose it’s also a long title for a conference presentation. As luck would have it, that’s exactly the title of a presentation I’m doing at CAMTESOL very soon. My idea for the session is to just introduce some places, spaces and groups for those interested in dipping their toes into online professional development.

Here is the abstract: Are you interested  in professional development online? Are you familiar with the term “PLN?” Do you know how to start one? Do you know the benefits of having one? Have you heard of iTDi? Do you know about all the great learning, mentorship and community building within this group? What about MOOCs? Are you aware of what they are and how they run? Do you know about the wide variety of MOOCs offered and which ones might be a good match for English teachers in the Mekong Valley? If you answered yes to any of these questions perhaps this interactive session will be a good fit for you. Participants can expect to hear some inspiring stories about teacher’s experiences with PLNs, MOOCs, and iTDi. Further, participants can expect some advice on how to get started with these and how to make the best use of the tools available in the digital era for professional development. 

In addition to sharing some advice I mostly just wanted to let the audience know what is out there and give something of a taster of professional development opportunities online.

Here is my not at all fancy Powerpoint that contains a bunch of links:
MOOCS, PLNs, & iTDi

If you have any additional suggestions for MOOCS, or already made PLNs (think #ELTchat) you think would be of interest to the teachers who attend my session please leave them in the comments!

teaching demos in interviews (part II)

I wasn’t all that nervous. I guess I was something approaching confident. I felt quite prepared and had the sense I knew what I was talking about. I thought I had some good ways to catch the students’ attention and some interesting points to get them thinking. The topic was something I’d given a great deal of thought. I had not to that point delivered very many presentations (if you’re interested in presentations I’ve done since please click here) but I was ready to knock ’em dead and land what seemed at the time like a dream job.

There were some problems. A major one was how I’d completely misunderstood the task. I was not to deliver a sample lecture or presentation to a classroom full of interested and passionate undergraduate students enrolled in a teacher education program. Instead, I was apparently expected to deliver a “sample lesson” to a completely uninterested audience of two professors in the program.

Since that somewhat fateful day I’ve wondered how I managed to misunderstand the expectations. Actually, come to think of it, I know a few other people who participated in the interview process and they had different understandings of the task as well. Looking all the way back to the 2009 email I received from the university the outline of the interview process read (along with other components):

Mini-lecture for 15 minutes

Choose one of the following courses:

  • TEE (Teaching English in English) in Primary
  • TEE in Secondary
  • Teaching English to Young Learners

I prepared was something of a lecture on the topic of teaching English in English to secondary students but it turns out they were looking for (or decided mid-way through the day they were looking for a lesson that incorporated one of the three categories above.  I delivered a 10 minute talk (they sort of cut me off there at the end before I could power through the full 15 minutes) on something like pragmatic and thoughtful use of L1 in class and the reasons teachers might and might not use English in class. I think it was interesting enough and surely important back in the halcyon days of thoughtless TEE in Korea. It was the end of the day and I was the last presenter/demo giver. I think they’d probably heard enough by that point.

Interestingly, (or at least it seems so now with the benefit of a great deal of hindsight) I delivered the talk to these bored professors as though I was talking to a full room of curious and impressionable university students. I walked paced around the room a bit. I made eye-contact with non-existent people in the corner. I tried to own the room in my then best impression of a TED-talk. My gestures were expressive (as is my wont) and surely ill-fitted to a room of two people fighting off apathy, boredom and an afternoon snooze.

I did not get the job. Neither did the Korean woman who’d just finished her PhD at Yale. Neither did two North American gents I know well. The person who got the job ended up running into problems and was relieved of his duties soon after he was hired. At least his demo matched the (unexpressed) expectations. I learned later through my sources he did a nice little sample lesson and got the interviewers/professors/judges/jury/pretend students to actively participate in a mini-English lesson designed for young learners.

sour grapes

This is just a picture.

There’s a reason I’m sharing this story 8 years and 3 months after it occurred (and I believe and hope for the first time on this blog).  A Korea-based friend recently asked me, “Any sage advice for a guy giving a demo lesson for a job?” and I offered some thoughts. My off -the-cuff ideas (though probably more basic than sagacious) were:

  1. Have an objective.
  2. Meet said objective.
  3. Consider being explicit about said objective.
  4. Keep it simple.
  5. Maybe try to actually teach them something. Like something small.
  6. Try to teach them something while avoiding being condescending.
  7. Don’t be afraid to tell them something.
  8. Be careful with feedback.
  9. Mostly try to be friendly and approachable and match the image of what you think they are looking for in an English Teacha.
  10. Make your presence felt.

Of course, it’ s a bit of a challenge to offer tips without a sense of what the institution is looking for. That said, I wonder what advice (sage or otherwise) you’d offer, Dear Reader. I also wonder if this sort of demo lesson is a thing in other countries and what the process entails.

Finally, BTW, and FYI I called this part II because I previously wrote about demo lessons in job interviews here but that 2013 post was more about the process and an experience I had on the other side of the interviewer’s desk. I’d be very curious to hear about other’s experiences with this. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be less rubbish better at responding to comments.

From the mailbag [Topic: KOTESOL IC]

mailbagHello folks. I received a question recently and thought it might be worth padding my blog post total sharing the answer here. I have had too many conversations about my treatment of KOTESOL here on this blog. I will never forget, however, a discussion with a member of the KOTESOL brass who said he always appreciates it when I write about KOTESOL because it keeps them on their toes and that I am almost always fair. Tough but fair, perhaps.

The question below is from a friend and prospective attendee for the 2017 KOTESOL International Conference.

I have to admit I have unusually warm and fuzzy feelings towards KOTESOL in the wake of the recent RP SIG Day of Reflection which I found to be an inspiring and thought-provoking day. 


Hey Michael,

Hope you’re well.

Just wondering if you could help me sort out some thoughts about the upcoming KOTESOL International Conference. I’ve been reading your post about past conferences https://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/tag/kotesol/ and perceptions of them and my over riding impression is that aside from networking opportunities there aren’t really much other advantages in comparison to reading articles that people post online. I guess I’m trying to figure out how a physical conference is better in regards to say a FB group.
So – my question is: given that I live in _______ *and would need to commute to Seoul and probably stay there for two days, do you think the benefit(s) would outweigh the cost(s) in terms of time and money? I know the answer is probably subjective but any thoughts you may have would be appreciated.


My answer to the above was something like the following:
(this version has fewer typos and more detail)

Hello NameRemoved,

Nice to hear from you. I hope I can be a bit of help. My general thought is that it’s still pretty worthwhile to go to KOTESOL even if it’s not perfect and there are annoyances. I worry that I might have been a bit overly negative at times because I have generally found the conference to be a good (to great) investment of time and money.

My biggest gripes in the past have been occasional lapses in management and manners but I feel like the last 3 conferences have been very good in these regards. I think my hottest rants were about the attitude on their Facebook group and I have since removed myself from that space but have heard reports it’s far more civil lately.

I am glad you searched my blog for KOTESOL and not K0TESOL as the posts with different labels can be a bit different.

Aside from networking and all I’d generally recommend it…unless someone really didn’t like/prefer seeing something in person. I think this speaks to your point about it being subjective. I mean, if you are the type of person that is never going to get any added value out of seeing a talk in person or discussing things with others at the venue then perhaps it’s not worth it.

This is actually something I have been thinking about for a while, this question of the benefits of all getting together at the same place vs. staying home and livestreaming something in the comfort of your own home without the need for showering, shaving and getting dressed. For me, the idea of listening to a long plenary from a big name speaker when I could just as easily read their book or article doesn’t seem like a good time. That said, I think there are and will be a variety of interesting talks and sessions.

One thing I noticed with this year’s IC is an invited panel discussion on, “The Future of Face-to-Face Conferences in the Digital Era” which might be related to our current conversation. As above, my thought is that unless you are really the type who doesn’t like face-to-face conferencing the KOTESOL IC is truly worth it.

I see that Ted O’Neil (aka @gotanda) will be there. I saw him give a great talk at KOTESOL a few years back and highly recommend seeing him. Marti Anderson (@martianderson7)  will be there and she is a very impressive thinker and presenter. I suspect you are familiar with Nicky Hockly of The Consultants-E? She has a few sessions that look interesting.

Some other sessions that caught my eye include:

  • Michael Free & Elizabeth May’s session “Assessment Dialogue: Let’s Talk about Grading Attendance and Participation”
  • Kalyan Chattopadhyay’s session titled “Analogue Teacher Training for the Digital Teacher: What the Teachers Say and Do”
  • Evan Frendo on “Evolving needs in university English for Specific Purposes”
  • Cameron Romney & John Campbell-Larsen with “Small talk is big talk: Teaching phatic communication”
  • Kathleen Kampa’s “No-Tech, Low-Tech, Active Teaching” session
  • Rob Dickey with “Is Teachers’ Technology Over-rated?”
  • Maria Lisak’s “A Pedagogy of Care and New Chances”
  • Jessica Ives with “Exploring teacher beliefs and classroom practices through reflective practice”

I think the above give a picture of the wide range of sessions available. There is also lots of talk about 21st century skills and you know this is a topic that always catches my interest.

I see there are also  “Tea with the speakers” events. I am not sure what I think about the extra 10,000 won fee for this but I can see how it might be a nice experience.

Speaking of costs. I feel like the cost for the conference itself is quite reasonable. Of course it can add up when you include things like travel, accommodation and food. How much is a movie ticket? Around 10,000 won, right? That is two hours. At the conference you can be entertained (and, more importantly, informed) for many hours. Just a thought.

Perhaps this video might help you make up your mind?

This blog post on reasons not to go might help you make up your mind as well.

Now that you have been so thoroughly convinced I can imagine you are thinking, “Okay, great Mike, thanks. See you then and there!” However, I will not be at the KOTESOL IC this year. If you are super curious where I’ll be instead you can click this link.

Thanks for the question and I hope I was somewhat helpful.

Sincerely,
Mike

Interview with Clare Maas

Below is an interview that was a long time coming! Clare and I talked about doing an interview quite while back and here it is below. We talked about a range of issues including materials development and she offered up a nice range of ideas and links. I thank Clare for taking the time to answer my questions.  Enjoy!

 

clare


Hello Clare, thanks for stopping by. We talked about doing this interview a while back and I’m so glad to be finally doing it.

 

Can I get you a drink? What are you having?

Ooh, I love a good cup of tea! You, know I still get my friends and family to bring me ‘proper’ tea bags when they come and visit me in Germany!

Okay some nice tea coming right up. Please make yourself comfortable. So, what is new?

Thanks! Well, I’m quite busy at the moment, though that in itself is nothing really new! Usually September is a pretty quiet time for me, at work I mean, but I told my parents and some friends in England that, and now I’ve been busy with visitors coming and going for long weekends! But, you know, it’s quite nice doing day trips and whatnot with them – I feel a bit like I’m on holiday, too, and it’s really good to forget about work for a few days! But I’ll be back in the office, and the classroom, soon enough: the new term always comes round so quickly, doesn’t it?

Oh for sure. My term started in late August and it was a bit of a shock to me. So, what do you do exactly?

I teach EAP at Trier University, in Germany. Well, that doesn’t quite capture it! I’m the team leader for EAP teaching within the English Studies Department, on top of my full-time teaching load, which is 16 hours per week. Doesn’t sound much does it? But with all the preparation and marking it can sometimes be more than a full-time job. And I’m also in charge of the Erasmus exchanges for our Department, so for all the students of ours who go to study at our European partner unis and the students from those universities who come to study with us for a term or year. Oh, and on the side I’m a materials writer of sorts – it’s something I’ve just recently started getting into! But the thing that is really ‘my job’, is being an EAP lecturer.

Yes, I’d like to talk about materials development. For now could you please tell us about your students and courses.

So I teach 8 two-hour classes each week, for semesters that run for about 15 weeks. A winter and a summer semester each year. The classes I teach cover a pretty wide spread: from oral presentations and academic writing, to translation, British cultural studies, and phonetics. Translation is probably one of my favourites. My MA was in translation, so I really am a translation nerd! I know it’s not always approved of in the ELT world, but with my generally monolingual groups learners, I think it’s helpful. And it also opens lots of doors to discuss interference from their first language, German, and also cultural differences, for example when a culturally-specific concept pops up in one of the translation texts.

Because I teach within the academic department, rather than a general language centre or whatever, all of my students have English Studies as one of their main degree subjects. Most of them are on degrees that will qualify them to be secondary-school EFL teachers in future. It means that my classes are part of their English Studies modules, and so I only see each group of students once a week. But it also means that the students have actually chosen to study English, so the general level of motivation is quite high. So is their level of English! In Germany, students are expected to leave high school with about a B2 level in English, and most of our students are even better than that. At the master’s level, especially if the students have spent time abroad in an English-speaking country, they’re often C2 level, so basically bilingual! It’s very rewarding to see! But it’s also hard to find materials for them, for their language development.

Oh wow. Many of my students are future translators so I should pick your brain at some point. You mentioned materials writing. We took Katherine Bilsborough’s iTDi course back in June 2016 on Creating ELT Materials. What are your lasting memories of the course. OR What are your takeaways from the course?

Yes, it was a great course, wasn’t it? Kath touched on a lot of things I had kind of already heard about, but it was great to discuss them in detail, and to get them together in my head in a more structured way. I’d say my biggest take-away was about writing instructions. And blurbs. So that other teachers can use the materials I create. In my team, we often share things we’ve made for our classes, but I think it was probably quite hard sometimes for my colleagues to see how I used the materials in the classroom, and so sharing probably wasn’t really effective. But from Kath, and with practice, I’ve learnt how to write clear instructions for the tasks I create, and also clear and concise blurbs or teaching notes, so that other teachers can follow what I intend to be done with the materials. I think Kath’s message, that all teachers are also materials writers in someway, is important, too. There seems to be, well often, a kind of conceptual gap. You know, when teachers think of ‘materials writers’, a lot of them probably just think of the big names, the authors of published textbooks. But most teachers write or adapt materials for their own teaching, so we’re all materials writers, whether we publish them or not. That’s a really key point for me. It was great that Kath emphasised it – it’s really influenced the way I think about materials writing!

I also really liked the community feeling that built up among us participants on that course. I wasn’t sure beforehand how that would pan out on a MOOC, but, you know, I’m still in touch with several of you guys that I ‘met’ on that course!

That is great. I think the sense of community was amazing on that course. On a somewhat similar note, I see you joined Twitter in 2014. How has social networking impacted your development?

Wow! Has it really been so long? I love Twitter! It’s the key way I keep in touch with people in the ELT world, and with you and the other people I met on Kath’s course. I use Twitter for professional networking, for my PLN, and separate that from Facebook, where I’m only ‘friends’ with people I’ve actually met – like old school friends, my immediate colleagues and so on. Although, having said that, I am in a few groups on Facebook that are about English teaching.

But Twitter is the social network I would recommend to anyone interested in CPD as a teacher, especially in ELT. I mean, it’s any easy way to keep up with what’s going on, people post articles and blogs and things like that, which I probably wouldn’t get to know about without Twitter. And also events, webinars, conferences and the like: I usually find out about those from Twitter. And I use it to share my own blog posts.

For me, what I really like about Twitter, is also that it kind of flattens the hierarchy. Do you know what I mean? So, you can be in touch with all those ‘big names’, if you want. It’s like, everyone is equal, valued for their contributions, not for their professional status or whatever.

Good points, for sure. Let’s move on from micro-blogging to blogging. I enjoy your blog. What do you usually write about?

Well, it’s a bit of a mix really! I guess I always kind of figured it would be, since I have so many interests within teaching, which is why I went with the name Clare’s ELT Compendium. I post materials I have created, and ideas on how to teach certain things or handle certain situations, but also my reflections on my own teaching or on what’s going on in ELT. I summarise conference talks I hear, review relevant books, and report on action research I do. So a real mix! But I think it captures me, as a teacher, with all the things that a teacher thinks about and does, it captures all of that. An all-round ELT blog!


Nice! Are there any posts you’d like to share here?  

Haha, all of them?! It depends on what you’re interested in. One post that got quite a bit of attention recently was about a project I did with my MA-level students. We wrote an ebook and published it on smashwords – within a 15-week semester! Lots of people seem interested in how we managed it, so I wrote it up in a blog post.

 

That was very cool and something I remembered quite well. Sorry to interupt. Please continue…

Also, last year, I did a series of posts called “7 Days 7 Ways” all about professional development for ELT teachers. It covers everything that I do for my CPD, like blogs, webinars, reading teaching magazines, etc. That, I’d say, is definitely worth a read!

Excellent. Thank you. You have a talk coming up, right? What is about? 

Actually, I have a couple! The next one is an online talk, “Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing”. I’m giving it as part of the LTSIG and OllRen online conference. It’s on 5th October, at 4.25pm UK time, if you’d like to join!

Sounds interesting for sure. As a note for readers, here is a link about the talk. Do you have more to add on this topic? 

Basically, I’ll be reporting on research I’ve done into developing a procedure of learner-driven feedback on L2 essays. In LDF, as I call it, the feedback is given by the teacher, but the student can decide what they receive feedback on, and in what form, so via email or audio recording or whatever.

I came up with LDF by combining some other feedback ideas I’d heard and read about, and did a study with my students to see how they liked it. I’m going to be giving a talk on more general ideas on feedback at the TEASIG event in Luton at the end of October, too! Feedback has been my ‘baby’, my topic, for a while, so I’ve got plenty to say about it!

Oh, and I’ll also be at the TESOL Spain convention next March, giving a talk that combines two of my other interests – the topic is “How can research inform our ELT materials writing?” It’ll be part of a strand that MaWSIG are running at that convention.

Oh, okay.  Wow. I was right. You are busy! Can you say more about MAWSIG? Like, what is it? What do you do there? How is it pronounced?

Ok, so firstly, we pronounce it like ‘more sig’. It stands for Materials Writing Special Interest Group, which is a bit of a mouthful! It’s one of IATEFL’s special interest groups, SIGs, and we aim to provide networking and professional development for anyone who is involved in creating materials for English language learners. It’s one of the younger SIGs, and also one of the more active ones, I think. I’m on the events team, and we organise meetups, conferences and things like that. Online and face-to-face conferences. Also, one of my biggest contributions so far has been getting a materials writing competition off the ground, aimed at teachers who write, or unpublished materials writers. You can check out the upcoming events and the competition, oh and also a pretty active blog, on our website: mawsig.iatefl.org

Thank you! Are there any books or blog posts or anything you’d recommend to those getting into materials development?

Well, the MaWSIG blog on our website is a great resource for this! Otherwise, I’d recommend people check out the books published by ELTTeacher2Writer, they’re all ‘how to’ type guides on writing different kinds of materials for ELT.

Oh, and recently, ETPedia have brought out a materials writing one, it’s by John Hughes and Lindsay Clandfield. That’s a really easy one to dip into for ideas, too, so a worthwhile investment!

Thank you for this. I’d sort of forgotten to keep checking back with some of these so it was a nice chance to catch up. Stepping away from ELT for a moment, what are some non-ELT books you’d like to recommend?

I like to read general teaching books, too. One that I really liked was ‘How to Teach so Students Remember’, it’s by Marilee Sprenger.

If you’re talking about fiction, I like crime mysteries, like by Elizabeth George or P.J. Tracy, and also novels that include social criticism, like by Ben Elton. My all-time favourite is George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

The last one is a favorite of mine so I will have to check out the others! Thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s been a pleasure and I hope and believe it’s been helpful for readers as well. Thank you! I won’t pressure you about a guest post just yet!

Thank you, Mike! Bye!