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!”
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.
The following is a conversation between present day Michael Griffin (MGN, as in MG now) and Michael Griffin circa 1999 (MGT or MG then). This is, of course, a fictional conversation because I don’t own a time machine and even if I did I wouldn’t risk messing up the space time continuum by talking with myself. No offense to any humans or groups is intentional. I also would like to emphasize my aim and hope for there to be no hint of the aroma of sour grapes here either.
MGN: Hi buddy how are you doing?
MGT: Hey. ‘Sup? What is going on?
MGN: Not too much. One thing on my mind is how I am so gutted because I am not going to either IATEFL or TESOL for yet another year.
MGT: What does “gutted” mean? And what are IATEFL and TESOL?
MGN: Oh, right, sorry. IATEFL and TESOL are professional organizations in the field of English teaching. This is, by the way, your future career.
MGT: Wild. Really wild stuff. There’s more than one organization? OK.
MGN: There are tons of them. Regional ones and country specific and interest specific and probably lots I don’t even know about.
MGT: Wow. Weird. And how often are these conferences?
MGN: The really big ones are yearly but there are regional meetings and all sorts of other events all the time.
MGT: You mean to tell me that there is so much happening in English teaching you need to have major conferences every year? What can change? It is not like English changes all that much, is it? Are there radical changes in teaching styles every year? What could possibly be so new and important that you need to have a new conference so damn often? That sounds bizarre to me. You didn’t answer about the meaning of “gutted” bee tea double you.
MGN: Ahh, sorry, it means sad or hurt or something like that. It is British English. Many of my mates from the Irish Isles use it. MGT: You really *shouldn’t use such words. It sounds like an affectation and makes you sound like a wanker or a jerk or something. Don’t do that. Seriously. Anyway, why are you so bothered about missing conferences?
MGN: Nice question. I think you are onto something with this word “missing” as I think it sort of feels like I am missing something. You know that thing about how you can’t go to bed until you are sure that all the possible fun has been sucked out of the evening? This is sort of similar. It is like a feeling that all the fun and excitement is going on without me. While on the subject, I can report that this feeling of not being able to go to bed while there might still be fun to be had dissipates as you get older.
MGT: I see. I guess that is pretty good news about “Griffin’s Disease.” And as for the conferences., well, what exactly is so fun? MGN: I think part of the fun is meeting like-minded people. I am pretty geeky about this stuff and it is really to find people who share the same interest. It kind of reminds me of a baseball card show or a comic convention. Oh yea, while i am thinking of it, believe it or not, a friend you are going to make in the next 18 months actually attended a Star Trek convention one time.
MGT: I keep learning crazy things from you. So what goes on at these English teaching conferences? Do people seek autographs? If so from who?
MGN: I guess I have seen some autograph hunting but not all that much. It is sometimes fun and interesting to see people freaking out about authors and big names in the field.
MGT: I hope that I..you…we never engage in such nonsense.
MGN: It might be too late. Anyway, your question here got me thinking a bit about the nature of celebrity in this field. I guess it is sort of a peculiar thing.
MGT: It sounds like it. I still don’t really have a clear idea on what goes on at these conferences.
MGN: Presentations and workshops and things like this. It is a chance for networking and learning and sharing.
MGT: I guess I had an idea already. Thanks. Why can’t you go this year?
MGN: Time and money mostly. Those are always key factors with most things as you surely already know. It is also tough to fly out of Korea and get to the US or UK in time to really do much without missing too many classes.
MGT: Wait, what? You live in Korea.
South Korea, right? That is something else. Wow. So, it must be hard for people from around the world to get to these big conferences.
MGT: Aside from the fact that such a conference is all these nerds getting together to talk about teaching English and god knows what else related to it something seems strange to me that in 2014 you’d need to get together in an actual physical place to talk about this. Can’t you meet online? Don’t they have video conferencing, in the future? And yea, what about flying cars?
MGN: Video conferencing is common enough but being at the venue is a special buzz. Nothing on the flying cars yet.
MGT: I can’t help but wonder about the teachers that can’t afford to make it to the US or UK. Surely that is most English teachers in the world, right? I have only heard about this stuff for the last few minutes but I am wondering who is served by these conferences. Who exactly benefits and how? Is it for teachers? All teachers? Or teachers with access to money and time? Teachers from certain places? What is the main purpose of such conferences? Is it for students in the end? Are there other ways to disseminate knowledge? Is it about disseminating knowledge? What is it about, ultimately? You mentioned networking and buzz a few times. Is there more?
MGN: Those are some good questions to consider. I am not sure I really have the answers to them now. Maybe I need to think about them some more. But again, I do think conferences can be a valuable chance for teachers to learn what others are doing and to connect with like-minded people. It can also be inspiring and motivating. I also don’t think you are saying anything that couldn’t be said about any sort of conference in any field.
MGT: Yeah.. OK but somehow it seems different to me when related to something like teaching English. Another thing, while you are wondering about conferences it you might also want to consider things like carbon footprints.
MGN: I never thought of you as the party-pooper type. Gosh. But at the same time, I do thank you for the fresh and outside perspective.
Possibly related links:
James Taylor on attending conferences.
Kevin Stein shares some experiences and gratitude from JALT 2013. Note: This post comes with a dust warning.