Telling in the first class

I know this English teacher. Let’s call him Caesar. He self-identifies as a CLT person, maybe even a strong version one. He talks about the importance of tasks for deeper learning. He has flirted with learning styles. He has been known to rail against the evils of the dreaded teacher talking time.  In pubs and staff-rooms he articulates his belief that English classes should be learner (or learning) centered. He is a firm believer in inductive learning.

Yet, in the first class of the term all bets are off and there he is at the front of the room telling. So much telling. Telling students about all the info on the syllabus and more. Telling students about assignments. Telling students about his expectations. Telling students classroom rules (though he might refer to them as norms they still sound pretty much sound like rules to my ears). He tells students about the weekly schedule. He tells students about his views on his class. He tells them how the course relates to the latest theories in SLA. He tells students how student-centered the class will be and how this might be different than their previous experiences. He stands at the front of the room and goes on about the grading schemes and how this is a good way to do things and will help students chart their progress. He tells students about the appropriate behaviors and attitudes required to succeed in this class. He tells students how valuable the class will be for his students. He also gives suggestions for students to maximize their learning outside of class.

I come here not to bury Caesar, nor to praise him. I want to understand him. Are the logistics of the course something that need to be covered and told about? Are these things somehow different wholly other? Do they thus require different treatment? Is he unaware of other ways for getting students to walk away with a clearer idea about his course and how it will be run? Does telling provide a clearer understanding or convey a better sense of professionalism and knowledge from the teacher? What am I missing? If I am not missing anything, what is he missing? Are there other ways of familiarizing students with key course information? What have you done and had success with? In a future post I’d like to share some of my ideas and experiences related to avoiding telling in the first class but I wanted to tell this story first.

Teacher in LaLa land


A thoughtful and interesting post from a recent WordPress convertee. The author compares how she thinks her learners will improve their writing skills and how they think they will improve.

Originally posted on My Elt Rambles:

Teacher in Lala land

How I think my learners will improve their writing skills and how they think they will improve is a completely different story. I ask CCQs and ICQS, but I don’t really ask them much about how they think they can improve their English.
I had a CAE writing class the other day, the focus was on writing an essay.  The students were asked to suggest ways they can improve their writing skills and in particular:

  • vocabulary
  • structures
  • grammar & spelling
  • punctuation
  • layout
  • formal/informal language
  • developing paragraphs
  • linking words and linking sentences together

Now, before I move on to tell you what their answers were, I would like to tell you that my learners are C1 level learners, in their teens, and they have been taking English classes for quite some time now. They have written tons of essays and we have spent hours discussing what makes…

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Four activities I wish I knew when I started teaching

I suppose that should be “Four activities I wish I’d known when I started teaching” but since I wrote the abstract in about 20 minutes it will have to do. “Which abstract?” you might wonder. I am presenting at CAMTESOL next weekend (Saturday the 28th in the morning) on this very topic. I think I mainly have my activities decided (and my Powerpoint almost done, it’s almost like I don’t even know who I am anymore). I really wanted to include something jigsawy but in the end decided there could be a bit of confusion and moving parts. I also had no real idea how to gauge the size of the audience and I didn’t want to mess around too much with paper and printing.
(Spoiler alert: I am not going to mention the activities in this post! My apologies for the misleading title.) 

Here is the abstract: 
In this interactive session the presenter would like to share four of his favorite activities, learned in his 15 years in the field. All the activities to be shared can be modified for different language points, contexts, learners and situations. The activities are relatively light on materials and preparation while high on interaction, fun, and learning.  The activities range from those that are widely known to those that are not so well-known. The presenter will also share some tips and strategies for setting up the activities. The hope is that by actually experiencing the activities and reflecting on the experience teachers will be able to decide if they want to add these activities to their tool kits and maybe even use in their next class.

Close readers of the blog and cynics might recall that I have been known to be something of “an activity snob” in the past. “Why simply present activities, Mike” you might wonder. When I attended CAMTESOL in 2013 I got the sense that many of the attendees were starved for activity ideas and were excited to hear about ways their students could use English in classes. I also thought materials light and flexible is the way to go. My experience thinking and talking about the glorious Flashmob ELT movement also (hopefully) gave me some insights on how workshops can feature and focus on activities in thoughtful way.

As I was procrastinating preparing for my presentation I thought this was a nice opportunity for some crowdsourcing.
So, here are my offers and requests.
a) If you’d like to mention an activity (or a few) you wish you’d known when you started teaching please feel free to add it in the comments. I will share this post with those attend my workshop. I will also break my recent tradition of not responding well to blog comments and give a hearty thank you.
b) If you’d like to write a blog post about activities (or an activity) you wish you’d know when you started teaching I will link to it (in this or a future blog post) and share it with conference attendees.

Any other manner of sharing an activity that I can pass along easily is also something I’d gladly consider. I’d especially be interested in activities that fit the description in the abstract. Thanks for reading and thanks in advance to those that share their ideas and activities.


Karina Thorne shares her favorite teaching activity here. 

Sandy Millin shares “How to set up an information gap.”

A classroom in a teacher training college in Cambodia.

Guest Post: Ranty Thoughts on Something that no longer Matters (KOTESOL Int Conference 2014)

As you will see, this post has been brewing for a while. Post conference chatter caused me (Mike G) to say something like, “That sounds like a great blog post, perhaps you’d consider writing it on my blog” and “If you write a blog post about this someday I will get you a beverage of your choice right now.”  It is my great pleasure and honor to share this guest post from my friend, colleague, and companion for nerdy talk while drinking coffee, Michael Chesnut. Michael is interested in teacher development, teacher identity, linguistic landscape studies and more. His latest paper on teaching with linguistic landscapes is available at English Teaching: Practice and Critique.  I appreciate him taking the time to write this post and all the conversations and thoughts that have come out of it for me, personally. I hope it will be thought provoking for readers as well. Both Michaels are grateful to those who commented on earlier drafts of this. Over to you, Michael C…

chesnucian art

An artist’s conception of Michael Chesnut

Well, this rant has been brewing ever since I left the KOTESOL 2014 International Conference with a general feeling of “huh” after hearing a few workshops and some plenary speakers. Actually, I was really happy to have gone and incredibly impressed with all the hard work the volunteers put into the conference. I guess I was a little confused, or put out, or just left numb by the way Mike Long and a few other folks addressed the audience, and the way they presented their arguments. So, I’ll be ranting about rhetoric in TESOL here, rather than talk about any of these folks’ actual arguments or things really related to teaching. And yea this is a rant, which in my mind means I’m kinda playing with what I experienced, and trying to get a grip on what bothered me in these talks.

Mike Long’s talk was what really got me thinking along this path in the first place. I learned about task based language teaching at some point earlier in my life, but actually haven’t thought about it or related issues in ages. So, it was a refresher for sure, but the way he was talking, and presenting task based language teaching, to me, was kind of unreal. Now, I can’t remember exactly what Mike Long said, but the imaginary Mike Long of my memory said phrases like “I wish those who doubt task based language teaching would produce even one empirical study supporting their position,” “task based language teaching is the most studied form of language teaching with over 200 studies done,” “there has never been…,” “every study has supported….,” and “EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE.” OK, well the last one I’m pretty sure comes from the Doctor Who marathon I’ve been watching, but to me this rhetoric was pretty extreme. There was no hedging or acknowledgement that others have legitimately argued for opposing positions. The rhetoric in this presentation seemed to suggest that all debate, or legitimate debate anyway, had been concluded, task based language teaching had been found to be the best form of language teaching, and all that remains to be done is finalizing the best ways of doing task based language teaching; no other studies of teaching are really necessary. In fact, if anyone in the audience believed everything Mike Long was saying the only questions they should be asking themselves are: Why have all these fools around the world failed to implement task based language teaching? Why would anyone bother considering anything but task based language teaching? What is the quickest way we can embrace task based language teaching and produce articulate well-spoken speakers of whatever languages we wish?

To me Mike Long’s rhetoric was the most surprising, but I felt touches of discomfort elsewhere. Ahmar Mahboob also spoke at KOTESOL and opened his plenary by asking for a definition of language, remarking about how strange it is that many teachers cannot really give a good definition of language, the object of their teaching (or something somewhat similar, again I can’t really recall) and he discussed how in TESOL generally there is a lack of professional knowledge. His talk on teaching writing was peppered with remarks about how this approach he was introducing “just works.” Again, I’m curious if this is an effective way to get TESOL folks thinking about issues of professionalization in TESOL, and teaching writing. In this case I really like this approach to teaching writing and hope it is further picked up by many teachers, but I’m not sure the rhetoric used in this talk is going to help others examine and adopt some of the ideas discussed in this talk. Is saying something like “Lawyers all know how to define the law, how come we don’t know how to define language?” an effective way to raise issues of professional knowledge in TESOL? Possibly, but it didn’t really work for me and just made me think how unlike other fields TESOL is. To be fair Ahmar Mahboob is very active through other media sharing his ideas about professionalizing TESOL and employs different rhetorical strategies there, but just his opening rhetorical move in his speech got me thinking more about the rhetoric of TESOL, even at the micro-level of opening a talk. It also got me thinking about how we persuade others in this field, and how knowledge is generally disseminated.

Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with the rhetoric of Mike Long in the context of an academic debate. If for instance Steven Krashen, another TESOL figure who also embraces this type of rhetoric, and Ahmar Mahboob wanted to discuss language teaching, this rhetoric could be well suited to their argument and we the audience could learn much by seeing these two knowledgeable experts challenge each other’s’ positions. However, in the case of this plenary which simply had Mike Long speaking about a topic undoubtedly near and dear to his heart this rhetoric really alienated me and left me wondering and maybe even concerned about the how everyone else took this speech.

I suppose though, Mike Long should use this rhetoric as it reflects his honest opinion, shaped by his decades of foundational work with task based language teaching. Certainly he should be saying what he thinks during a plenary in the way he wants to, but that brings home the main point of this ranty blog post. I don’t know how TESOL as a field really communicates and creates paths for ideas to circulate. And I don’t know if the way these speakers actually speak limits how these ideas are taken up in the larger field. And I don’t know if there’s better ways of engaging with rhetoric in TESOL to more productively help teachers take up and use ideas. I do know that none of the major speakers really spoke to me in a way that helped me get a grip on their ideas or even made me feel welcome within the grand global TESOL ecosystem. And finally I do know that in most cases if I wanted to know what these speakers were really taking about I’d be better off reading one of their publications rather than listening to anything at a conference.

So, what should be done? Nothing is fine. KOTESOL 2014 was great and the unpaid volunteers did a wonderful job for no money and actually I’m really glad Mike Long and Ahmar Mahboob came to Korea and had a chance to network with folks, so yea we’re good. And this is a ranty blog so I don’t necessarily have to write something critical or give out suggestions, but I think I will discuss what I’d like to see or experience.

I’d really like to see Mike Long and Ahmar Mahboob have a discussion about their ideas in front of an audience, with both of them aware of the audience and prepared step back from speaking to each other and explain background concepts to everyone listening. I’d love to see someone like Scott Thornbury or a local knowledgeable speaker act as an honest broker and stand in for some of those scholars who really challenge the ideas of Mike Long, Ahmar Mahboob, Stephen Krashen and all the major figures who come and speak, and have him just ask genuine insightful questions so we can better understand the ideas floating around TESOL. I’d like to see followers of task based language teaching who have taken up Mike Long’s ideas ask him questions based on their experiences using task based language teaching in their contexts and I’d like to hear Mike Long’s answers. I hope those people at least had a chance to sit down with him and talk privately this go around. I’d love to see something online, like a Facebook thread, where folks like Stephen Krashen, Ahmar Mahboob, Mike Long, and Scott Thornbury could discuss their ideas and positions, ask tough and thoughtful questions, and carefully lay out their positions with us all getting to read along. I don’t see why KOTESOL or another conference couldn’t host something like that online a week or two before a conference, giving conference attendees a chance to get a sense of the discussions circulating around different speakers’ chosen topics. Actually, I have no idea if any of this would just result in greater confusion, would be convoluted and awkward to make happen, or actually would result in more people in the audience learning something from the talks, reading more about these ideas, and trying out new practices, but that’s fine. The key point here, if there is one, is that I have questions about the rhetoric we use in TESOL and I don’t have the answers, and that’s fine, especially, in my opinion, here on a ranty blog.

OK, I suddenly have to add one more point about rhetoric in TESOL. I saw on a post floating around that Claire Kramsch is coming to Korea for the 2015 KATE conference and she is a stunning presenter. All I want to do is see her lecture about whatever she feels like lecturing about. I saw her speak in person for the first time in 2010 and until that moment I didn’t understand that giving a lecture can be as artistic as theatre, jazz, and any live performance and that a lecture, simply an expert on a topic talking, can profoundly help me understand a topic, and understand it in a joyful fun way. She made use of a rhetoric that spoke to me in a way that is difficult to describe. It was everything I wanted to hear as who I was at that time. That rhetoric evoked or drew upon my image of who I believed Claire Kramsch to be as part of a persuasive performance that was informative and to some degree transformative. It was a performance in every possible interpretation of that word. But I want to make clear that the rhetoric she used should be put under just as much scrutiny as Mike Long’s or that of other speakers, perhaps even more so for all the effect it had on me. I’m looking forward to seeing her speak again, but I’ll try to pay attention a little more to the rhetoric this time. I’ll try to apply a little more analysis to how she’s connecting with me and the audience, and think a little deeper about how she’s conveying her message.

For all the work scholars put into studying TESOL and applied linguistics I wonder how much effort is put into understanding how information flows in TESOL, and how different parties can effectively make use of rhetoric in person and beyond. I think there’s a lot to be explored there and I’m hopeful someone will make the effort to do so soon.

한국의 영어 선생님들에게 보내는 편지 [A letter to Korean English Teachers-Korean Version]

[This is the translation of my post from 2012 “A letter to Korean English Teachers.” Thanks for reading and sharing. Translation by Kate Chang (email: alpha1203 at gmail dot com).] 



이 편지를 읽어주셔서 감사하다는 말씀을 드리고 시작해야겠네요. 여러분의 바쁜 시간을 쪼개어 읽으실 만한 가치가 있었음 하고요. 그리고 사과하고 싶은 것이 있습니다. 사실, 저는 여러분을 제대로 알기도 전에 어떤 선입견이 있었습니다. 저는 예전에 대학에 부속된 어학원에서 일한 적이 있습니다. 제 강의에 오는 학생들은 대부분 대학생이었고 영어회화에 있어선 심각할 정도로 준비가 부족한 친구들이 많았습니다. 명문대를 다니고 영어 성적이 꽤 우수한 학생들이 영어 한 문장을 말하는 데에 큰 어려움을 느낀다는 점은 저에게 큰 충격이었습니다. 하루는 제가 이러한 이야기를 꺼내자, 강사 양성인이었던 제 친구는 다소 감정이 상해 제가 여러분이 처한 상황이나 현실을 이해하지 못한다고 말했습니다. 그로부터 2년 뒤 저는 강사 양성인이 되었고 그제서야 상황을 조금 더 이해할 수 있었습니다. 물론 제가 전문가라고 말씀드릴 수는 없지만 한국의 영어 선생님들과 수많은 시간을 온/오프라인에서 영어 강의에 대해 충분히 논의하고 고민했다고 자부합니다. 이 같은 논의와 저의 개인적인 경험을 토대로 여러분과 나누고픈 생각이 있습니다. 여러분이 원하거나 혹은 필요한 조언과 제안을 드리는 것이 아닐 수도 있어 이 점도 사과를 드리고 싶네요. 다시 한번 말씀 드리지만 저는 전문가가 아닙니다. 저는 그저 이러한 사안들에 대해 많은 시간을 관찰하고 고민해온 선생이며 여러분과 나누고픈 생각이 몇 가지 있을 뿐입니다. 저는 “외부인”이 나타나 원치 않은 이런저런 조언을 던지는 것일 수도 있다는 생각에 매우 조심스럽습니다. 저의 진심은 결코 그것이 아님을 말씀 드리며 단지 여러분께 몇 가지 생각할 거리를 드리고 저의 견해를 공유하고 싶은 것입니다.

일단, “네이티브”에 대해서 이야기 해볼까요? 솔직히 여러분 대부분의 영어는 저처럼 발화될 수 없는 것이 사실입니다. 절대로요. 지극히 당연한 것이죠. 여러분의 발음 공부나 발전하고자 하는 의지를 꺾고자 드리는 말씀이 아닙니다. “네이티브”처럼 똑같이 말하는 것이 현실적이거나 유익한 목표는 아니라는 것이죠. 만약 여러분의 학생 대다수가 여러분만큼 영어를 잘 사용하게 된다면 그것은 엄청난 성공이라는 것이 제 생각입니다. 즉, 여러분은 훌륭한 모델이라는 것이죠. 여러분께서는 (물론 정도의 차이는 있지만) 영어 학습에 성공하였습니다. 강의를 더욱 잘하기 위해 여러분의 영어 능력은 얼만큼 훌륭해야 하는 것일까요? 여러분이 갑자기 소위 “네이티브”가 된다면 영어 강의가 얼마나 나아지는 것일까요? 저는 잘 모르겠습니다만 제가 관찰한 최고의 교훈 중 하나는 영어 실력이 아주 뛰어나지 않았던 한 강사의 이야기라는 것은 말씀드릴 수 있답니다. 그 분은 환경을 조성하고 학생들 스스로가 수업을 이끌어 가도록 했습니다. 한번은 저의 좋은 친구이자 동료 강사 양성인이 수학 선생님들의 수학 실력에 대해 물어 저에게 생각할 거리를 던진 적이 있습니다. 수학 선생님들에게는 대수학 상 수상 이력이 필수인가요? 그렇지 않습니다. 그렇다면 체육 선생님들은 모두 올림픽 출전 선수였거나 전문 체육인이어야만 합니까? 아니죠? 이들은 모두 해당과목에 필요한 실력과 가르칠 수 있는 능력이 있으면 충분합니다. 하지만 어떤 이유에선지 한국에선 영어 발음으로 선생님들의 능력을 평가하고 티칭 능력은 평가표의 아주 하단에 자리잡고 있습니다. 공정하다고 할 수 있을까요? 변화는 여러분이 주도할 수 있습니다. 여러분이 먼저 회화능력과 발음으로 다른 선생님을 평가하는 것을 거부한다면 어떨까요? (“네이티브 스피커”에 대한 환상과 이에 따른 문제들에 대해서 할 얘기가 무척 많지만 다음 기회로 미루겠습니다.) 제가 느낀 또 다른 점은 선생님들이 회화적으로 가르치지 않을 경우 이에 대해 불편해 하는 경우가 많다는 것입니다. CLT 교수법을 따르지 않는 것에 대해 죄책감을 느끼는 것입니다. 여러분의 연령에 따라 CLT가 전혀 적용되지 않은 영어를 배웠을 수 있습니다. 같은 얘긴데요, 여러분은 좋은 모범이 될 수 있습니다. 보세요, 제가 딱히 문법-번역식 교수법이나 청각구두식 교수법을 좋아한다고 할 수는 없지만 분명 효과가 있는 것은 사실입니다. 허나 제가 사실 드리고 싶은 말씀은 이것이 아닙니다. 강의를 하기 위해선 결정이 필요하고, 여러분이 결정을 내릴 때에는 학생들, 강의, 경험, 신념에 따른 최선의 결정을 내려야 한다는 것입니다. 만약 여러분이 45분짜리 강의에서 하루는 현재완료의 다양한 사용법에 대해 강의하기로 결정했다면, 여기에 대해 어떤 죄책감도 느낄 필요가 없다고 생각합니다. 저는 선생님으로서 여러분이 해야 하는 것은 바로 결정을 내리는 것이라고 생각합니다. 물론 그 결정들이 언제나 옳지만은 않을 것입니다. 하지만 그것도 괜찮습니다. 어떠한 결정이든 배울 점이 있다면 괜찮은 것입니다. 즉, 여러분이 어떠한 결정을 내리든 죄책감을 느끼거나 스스로를 다그치는 것은 아무런 도움이 되지 않는다는 것입니다.

제 한국인 친구 중 하나는 영어강사입니다. 그녀가 한번은 “나는 웜업이 정말 좋다고 생각하지만 그럴 시간이 진짜 없단 말이야”라고 한 적이 있습니다. 여기에 대해 전 할 말이 없었습니다. 왜냐하면 그녀가 시간을 내고자 한다면 얼마든지 그럴 시간이 있다고 생각하기 때문입니다. 그녀가 진정으로 웜업이 필요하고 그럴만한 가치가 있다고 믿는다면, 시간은 만들 수 있다고 생각합니다. 그녀의 강의상황을 제가 자세히는 모르나 아마도 출석을 부르면서 수업을 시작할 것이고 다음 “공개수업”을 위해 연습하는 시간을 가질 것입니다. 이 두 가지만 생략해도 참으로 다양한 것들이 가능해집니다. 제 말은, 핑계를 늘어놓는 대신 여러분의 신념을 토대로 한 변화를 조금씩 만들어가는 것이 낫다는 것이죠. 만약 웜업이 시간낭비라고 생각한다면 구태여 할 필요가 없겠지만, 유용하다고 생각한다면 시간이 없다는 핑계 뒤에 숨어서는 안 된다고 생각합니다. 여기에는 웜업 뿐만이 아니라 하고 싶은데 못한다라는 모든 핑계가 해당됩니다.

지금까지 저는 “네이티브가 되려고 안달할 필요가 없다고 생각합니다” 그리고 “수업에서 하지 않는 것들에 대해 자책할 필요가 없다고 생각합니다” 그리고 “핑계가 얼마나 도움이 되는지 모르겠습니다”라고 했습니다. 자, 지금까진 제가 꽤 긍정적인 메시지를 드리고 있다고 생각합니다. 앞서 말씀 드렸다시피, 한국 선생님들과 나눈 제 경험의 대부분은 강사 양성과정에서 깨달은 것입니다. 제가 배운 중요한 것 중 하나는 만약 코스 수강자가 “이론적으로는 효과적이지만 실습할 수 없는 것들을 잔뜩 배워야지” 또는 “강사가 내 상황을 모르니 난 아무것도 배우지 않을 거야”라고 생각한다면 정말 생각한대로 된다는 것입니다. 하지만 만약 “나는 많은 것들을 배워갈 것이고 그 중에서 내가 사용할 수 있는 것들을 직접 선택할 것이며 그 방법에 대해서도 고민해야지”라고 생각한다면 이 또한 이루어지게 되겠죠. 제가 또한 강조하고 싶은 것은 만약 여러분이 수강하는 코스에서 “티칭 방법을 주입”한다면 그러한 방법은 전혀 쓸모가 없으므로 환불, 무시, 컴플레인 등을 하시라고 권하고 싶습니다. 훈련과정이 효과적이지 않은 방법을 고민하는데 에너지를 쓰고 핑계를 찾는 대신 스스로에게 맞는 방법을 직접 고민하고 노력해야 한다는 것을 말씀 드리고 싶습니다.

글이 점점 길어지므로 이쯤에서 마치도록 할게요. 수업 때 무언가를 하고 싶은데 할 수 없는 핑계를 대는 스스로가 보인다면 아마 이 편지가 생각날 수도 있습니다. 수업에서 영어를 더 많이 또는 잘 하지 못하는 것에 죄책감을 느낄 때 이 편지가 생각날 수도 있겠죠. 수업에 대한 아이디어가 효과가 없을 이유를 생각하는 대신 그 새로운 아이디어를 사용하는 방법에 대해 생각할 수도 있습니다. 뭐, 그렇지 않을 수도 있지만 잘 모르겠습니다. 하지만 분명한 것은 지금 이 편지를 마치면서 제 마음이 한결 나아졌다는 것입니다. 이 글을 읽어주셔서 다시 한번 감사 드립니다. 그 어떤 의견이든 기탄없이 남겨주세요.



**저는 학생들이 절반은 졸고 있는 수업에서 언어의 다양한 측면에 대한 강의는 학습의욕을 고취시키는 데에 그다지 좋은 방법이 아니라고 굳게 믿습니다만, 제가 틀린 것일 수도 있지요.

A few scattered moments of 2014 and one thought

Hooray! This post, my last one of the year (I promise), is not another list but is rather more a small collection of things that happened in 2014 with one thought about them at the end.  This thought just might tie these things together. The ties, connection, or hypothesis might not be correct or appropriate. It’s more of  just a tentative thought at this point. Any comments are welcome. I’ll start now with four things I saw this year.

In March I had the opportunity to see David Graddol (who I wrote about here) give two very similar talks online. One was at IATEFL and one was at TESOL. His talks were also the focus of a #KELTchat. I liked the talks (which are linked to in that #KELTchat link above). Lots of numbers and charts and Powerpoint wizardry and things to think about. Yet the takeaway I got from all this actually had very little to do with Graddol or his talks. My lasting memory of this time in relation to Graddol is how I enjoyed a talk at the KOTESOL Seoul Chapter Conference in March much more than his talks.  Sandra Lee McKay, author of “Teaching English as an International Language” (admittedly also a big name) gave a talk that I connected to on a deeper level and got much more out of. I should say I didn’t agree with everything she said, there were some funny moments when myself and friends were furiously scribbling notes about disagreements, but I thought it was a fascinating talk and I was thrilled to see it.

In early April our good friend (and interviewee) Russ Maybe  Mayne delivered a stellar presentation at IATEFL. It seemed to be the talk of the town in the ELT blogosphere, to mix metaphors. Here is the reaction to the reaction from the man himself. From my personal viewpoint, one of the most interesting things about “Russelmania” was not that his talk was well-received (as it should have been). The interesting thing for me was how many people talked about it like it was something completely new. I think Russ has been saying similar things equally as eloquently and persuasively on his blog for more than 2 years now. I was genuinely surprised his talk seemed like such a surprise to so many.

Also in April (I guess it was a busy month) I went to a Nara JALT Chapter meeting. I saw a presentation by one Mr. Kevin Stein on students’ stories on their experiences with Extensive Reading. I enjoyed Kevin’s presentation immensely and I kept thinking to myself about what a great presentation it was and how lucky I was to be able to see it. I attended the ER World Symposium in 2013 and saw lots of great presentations there and I thought Kevin’s would have fit in very well and would have been one of the best ones there too.  I can say Kevin’s presentation was one of the best presentations I have ever seen without any criteria about topic or location. It was fun to be an international visitor for it. Anne Hendler and I received applause from the audience for making the long journey to see the presentation. I got the sense that some people were thinking “Who the heck is this Kevin guy? He drew such a big crowd, including people from abroad!”

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Kevchan is kind of a big deal.

Scott Thornbury
came to KOTESOL this year. He delivered a plenary. It was excellent. No surprises there. One of the surprises was when he mentioned #KELTchat in his talk. If my memory is correct he mentioned it as an example of the positive and productive conversations about teaching that can go on and that might be needed and helpful for teachers’ professional development. While Alex Grevett was suppressing squeals, I was thinking about what this mention meant, if anything. Here was the man who wrote “An A-Z of ELT” (and so much more of course) mentioning a smallish group (mostly) on Twitter (but also on Facebook!) in a plenary at KOTESOL. I was surprised and I think others were as well. I pondered the implications and potential impact of this mention for a while.

Before my attempt at some analysis and trying to tie things together I’d like to ask you, dear reader, to take a moment to predict what I might say. What connections can you draw between these events? Do you think I am onto something? 

If you guessed my conclusion was, “I know cool people who do cool shit and I’m into cool shit too” you are wrong. Also. if you thought my point was “You need to get online for the real professional development!” you are also incorrect. My thought is more about potential shifts occurring or just starting to occur in the ELT field. I have been accused of being overly optimistic (and much worse) but the conclusion I am drawing from these four seemingly isolated events is that a shift of power in this field could be just starting to happen. Maybe things are shifting east. Maybe things are shifting online. Maybe things are shifting to smaller and more grassroots organizations. Maybe things are shifting away from the traditional halls of power in the field. I honestly don’t know, but I think if you squint your eyes and hold up these events in a certain way you can see it from a perspective of changes going on in the field.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by all this. Maybe others already take it as a given that you can see a great and thought provoking presentation at smaller conferences in Northeast Asia or elsewhere. Similarly, maybe people already know that a JALT or KOTESOL chapter meeting or a #KELTchat (or iTDi courses) can be fertile ground for professional development and we don’t need to gravitate towards the bigger and flashier events. Perhaps it should be no surprise that Scott Thornbury mentioned #KELTchat in his talk. After all, he did participate in a Twitter chat with our friends at #AUSELT (links to summaries, yes plural, here). For me, this year was a nice reminder of the potential for smaller and maybe more under the radar events and groups. Maybe there is something happening here or maybe it is an illusion or wishful thinking. Only time will tell. Bring on 2015.

14 relatively unexciting things about me, this blog, blogging, this year, and so on

1.  No preamble or preramble, we are just getting right into the list here. I still cannot believe how much I like blogging. I never would have thought I’d do it, let alone like it or get much out of it.  My thanks, as always, goes to Josette LeBlanc for being such a diligent and persuasive “blog pusher.”

2.  Last year around this time I was tasked with sharing 11 facts about myself. It was something I put off doing for a while and then enjoyed.

3.  I like lists. I do. I think it is somewhat sad to see the listification and clickbaiting that goes on in the internet world these days. After two listicle posts in a row I hope to get back to paragraphs soon.

4.  Oh shit, I just remembered that I have one more list on my mind.  I previously wrote a post called “Sorry for judging” where I listed some things that bothered me in the past but don’t these days. I am still thinking about “12 things which to cause me to judge you” or something like this. Stay tuned. I’ll be wearing my judgey pants whilst drinking haterade.

5.  One of the apparently many things that irk me is when connected people say things like “there are no ELT blogs anymore.” This reeks of laziness, at best, to me. I know I have mentioned this a few times, but c’mon people!

6.  Damn, that means another upcoming listy post for me is sharing and recommending new(er) blogs that have caught my attention. I think it is nice to mix a bit of positivity and celebration with the occasional spite and bile that can also appear here.

7.  Some interesting (to me at least) search terms that led readers to this blog this year were:

happy  new year kotesol my husband
party time excellent
TPS reports 
many variations on “how to study like a Korean (student)”
flashy lesson plans
stephen krashen personal life

female urination contest 
learn random crap

8.  This year I set a target for blog hits per month and I will come quite close to reaching it. It was sort of bothersome and even stressful on occasion but it was also sometimes nice motivation to write. I shall not do the same thing next year. One interesting result of this target was how it caused me to be a bit more self-promotional than I might have otherwise been. I think it is an interesting balance between being annoying and needy and simply sharing stuff. I suspect I am not the only one who has considered this balance. I’d prefer potentially interested people to read my stuff but I don’t to be spamming people or groups.

9.  This is my 59th post of the year. This number includes guest posts, interviews, and everything else. I (secretly and silently) set 50 posts as my goal for 2013 and that seems like a workable number for me. I have a feeling this will not be my last post of the year. We shall see.

10. I think in 2015 I will play around a bit more with the “publish later” function here on WordPress. I think I only managed to use it once in 2014. (In case you are the very curious type it was the post called “Burgers, language, culture, confusion, and headaches“)

11.  My post from 2014 that had me thinking the most after writing it was  on Confucianism and teaching English, mostly because of the reactions it garnered. It makes me chuckle thinking there are likely some folks who’ve read my blog only once and walked away thinking I was exactly the type of person I was trying to lampoon. Oh well, I guess that is life.

12.  I’ve done a horrible job responding to comments in the last few months, after being mostly prompt for the rest of the year. It is terrible and not something I am happy about. I even considered disabling the comments as something of a punishment to myself. I also considered not posting till all the comments had been responded to. In the end I just kept posting and figured I’d get to the comments “later” when I had more time. I guess that time is now and I *should get to the comments soon. I will elaborate on my excuses here, it’s mostly that when I have time online unencumbered by other work I tend to spend that time writing posts and sort of put commenting on the back burner. Then the days spill over into each other and that thing I wanted to do gets pushed to the next day only to be less of a priority than other things. I wondered if seasoned bloggers or rapid comment responders could share some tips on this? I promise to respond promptly!

13.  One running joke and stream of updates I had going on Twitter was that I’d not use the sign off “Best” for the whole year. I can report I only used it once. It was a complete mistake caused by habit and I laughed when I hit send. It was the 5th message I sent that day to that person and it just kind of happened. Thank you for all the support and interest on this matter throughout the year. While I failed in this mission, I can still hold my head high because I believe I have mostly eliminated the desire to use this sign off. I will surely admit to using, “My best” and “Best regards” numerous times. “Best wishes” seems odd to me in an email sign off.

14.  Thanks very much for reading this and other posts. Best wishes for 2015.