Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IATEFL 2014 - ELT Conference Highlights

Harrogate is a beautiful former spa town in northern England and it was in this cozy city where spring was blossoming and flowers were everywhere that the 48th Annual IATEFL Conference was held. It was my first attendance at an IATEFL Conference and I was quite impressed with the extraordinary multiculturalism , the astonishing volume of choice , the impressive array of speakers and the cheerful atmosphere among the participants.

 Overwhelmed by such a rich, diverse choice of options, I tried to select as many interesting  sessions as possible and spent four days  running around the beautiful Harrogate Convention Center trying not to miss anything. I attended excellent plenaries and also got in touch with teachers from different parts of the world who work and do research related to coaching and  mentoring, one of my areas of interest and also the topic of my presentation in the conference.

The coaching and mentoring delegates formed a team in Harrogate! We attended each other’ s presentations and exchanged a lot of information and experience. It was wonderful to see that people from the most distant parts of the world have been working hard to implement collaborative practices in order to enhance teachers capacity and at the same time promote professional development. All the sessions were excellent.

One valuable presentation I was able to catch was given by Dr. Svetlana Belic  Malinic from Belgrade, Serbia.  Svetlana presented the results of an  action research conducted in an international school in Serbia which aimed to bring about change in teachers perceptions of their pedagogical practice. The teachers were introduced into reciprocal coaching schemata and, by doing peer coaching, were able to support one another in their professional growth, which positively affected their self-assessment. This shows how valuable it is to work collaboratively and how teachers gain by exchanging their experience and practice.

In addition to the thought-provoking presentations I attended, there was one innovative session format I really appreciated called  ELT Conversation , which involved discussion between two leading ELT professionals, Jeremy Harmer and Scott  Thornbury. In this session the speakers interviewed each other about the Communicative Approach. After 20 years, is it time to redefine its concept?  Is there a contemporary view of CLT? For more than one hour, in a full auditorium, Harmer and Thornbury discussed the gains and losses of this so well-established approach for language teaching followed by questions addressed from the audience.  A wonderful moment to revisit this approach and reflect upon what we have doing in our classrooms in the last decades.

In the opponent flow, Jim Srivener gave a lively presentation reassuring the importance of teaching grammar and urged the audience to ignore those voices that tell you that you have to communicate all the time. The presenter stressed that, yes, students want, need and learn from grammar. The question is how teachers can make grammar genuinely engaging, valuable and challenging. In order to make grammar really meaningful, Jim Scrivener stresses that we should use lots of examples. They are input. And we should play with examples. This is practice. We should never forget to make examples sound real. Personalization is fundamental. After personalizing , students then are able to use the language.

As you can see through my highlights above, IATEFL was filled with diversity and innovation which have made me an IATEFL convert. Those were professionally inspiring and enjoyable days that will always remain in my mind. My thanks for the support and encouragement the Casa has given me to participate in such a fabulous event.   

Margarete Nogueira

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TESOL 2014 and Being a Leader

This was the first time I attended a TESOL and I was amazed at how big and how well-organized it is. It was great to see so many teachers from all over the world learning, sharing, motivating and being motivated. There was a huge variety of topics for the presentations, with options for everybody’s interests. I chose to attend those related to Teacher Development and Leadership not only because of my present position at Thomas, but also because I believe we teachers are always searching for professional development opportunities and we are all leaders.

There was one particular presentation I enjoyed a lot and would like to share with you: “Leadership Skills and Styles Affecting Leaders” by Dr. Sufian Abu-Rmaileh, from the United Arab Emirates University.

He started by defining Leadership:

“The act of identifying important goals and then motivating and enabling others to devote themselves and all necessary resources to its achievement. It includes summoning one’s self and others to learn and adapt to the new situation represented by the goal” (NYSBR 2003, p. 3)

“Much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do” (De Pree 1989, p.148)

So, who is a leader?

Astin and Astin (2000) define a leader as anyone who has a formal position and who holds the role of bringing about change in the society in which they live and work.

De Pree (1990) says that one of the major tasks of a leader is to expand and unleash the talents and skills of the different people in the organization.

These definitions made me think of how much we teachers match them. Every semester we face different challenges to which we have to adapt and learn how to deal with. We are in charge of groups of students who need our constant guidance, model, assistance and motivation. More than teaching English, we teach them how to respect and help their peers, how to accept different opinions, how to overcome their difficulties. 

Good leaders help their team achieve their goal, which should be in accordance with the institution’s/organization’s. I particularly like De Pree’s  saying about the role of a leader. A good teacher/leader should be able to expand and unleash the talents and skills of the different people s/he leads.
There are different leadership styles and we can adopt different styles according to our and others’ necessities and in different moments of our life. Dr. Abu-Rmaileh talked about the six leadership styles listed below.

1.       Directive Leader:
Allows little or no negotiations
Keeps tight control without delegating
Is not flexible or open to new ideas

2.       Visionary Leader:
Has clear standards and feedback
Explains the logic behind procedures
Inspires people to a higher purpose for their work

3.       Affliliative Leader:
Creates harmony and affective/emotional bonding
Avoids confrontation with others
Provides little explanation on direction or rationale behind tasks

4.       Democratic/Participative Leader:
Collaboration and team concurrence
High on trust, respect and commitment
Motivates his/her team by empowering them to direct themselves

5.       Pacesetting Leader:
Sets high standards for performance
Obsesses about doing things better, faster, quicker
The pursuit of excellence is overwhelming

6.       Coaching Leader:
Helps team members to discover their own strengths and weaknesses
Guides people to find and create their own career development
Links goals, personal and career, with those of the organization

Leadership Matrix
How it Builds Resonance
Impact On Climate
When Appropriate
 Competency requirements
Moves people towards shared dreams
Most strongly positive
When changes require a new vision, or, when clear direction is needed
Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Empathy, Transparency, Visionary Leadership, Change Catalyst
Connects what a person wants with organisational goals
Highly positive
To help an employee improve performance by building long term capabilities
Self-Awareness, Empathy, Developing Others
Creates harmony by connecting people to each other
To heal rifts in a team, motivate during stressful times, or strengthen connections
Empathy, Teamwork & Collaboration, Conflict management, Building Bonds
Values peoples input and get commitment through participation
To build buy in or consensus, or to get valuable input from employees
Empathy, Teamwork & Collaboration, Influence
Meets challenging and exciting goals
Is often Highly Negative  - because it is generally poorly executed
To get high quality results from a motivated and competent team
Self-Awareness, Empathy, Self Control, Achievement Drive, Transparency, Initiative, Adaptability, Teamwork & Collaboration
Soothes fears by giving clear direction in an emergency
Can be Highly Negative – because so often misused
In a crisis, to kick start a turnaround, or with a problem employee
Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Empathy, Achievement drive, Initiative
http://www. maetrix.com.au/leadership_styles.asp

I’m sure you have recognized yourself at different moments of your professional life in many of the characteristics listed above. These characteristics are just a few among many others for each style. We can select some and put them together to come up with our idea of an effective leader. Dr. Abu-Rmaileh presented effective leaders as being:

-          Visionary
  • -          Trustworthy, fair and honest
  • -          Role Models and Mentors – “Effective leaders demonstrate courage in difficult situations, and provide a model of moral leadership for other to emulate” (NYSBR, 2003, p. 2)
  • -          Visible
  • -          Dedicated – Effective leaders are dedicated to the institution which they serve. They have commitment and loyalty to the constituents and to the institution.
  • -          Good Communicators

The implications of good leadership are many. Good leadership in the classroom leads to a calm end of semester, not necessarily an easy one, but surely one in which we have a sense of accomplishment. Some of the implications Dr. Abu-Rmaileh talked about and I believe are appropriate for a classroom environment were:

  • -          Achievement drive: high level of effort, high levels of ambition, energy and initiative
  • -          Honesty and integrity: a trustworthy environment
  • -          Self-confidence: belief in one’s self, ideas and ability
  • -          Emotional maturity: well-adjusted groups

The presentation made me reflect on the kind of leader I am and the kind of leader I want to be, my personal characteristics that influence on my leadership style, and the aspects I need to work on in order to be a better leader. I hope it helps you see yourselves as leaders too and realize the importance of being a good leader.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

TESOL 2014 Through Gamification and Complexity Theory

Going to the TESOL Convention in Portland last March made me feel realized as an English teacher for two reasons: first, that was the second time I had the pleasure of attending an international convention; second, I was there as a presenter! Last year, my friend and co-worker Carolina Barreto and I decided to submit our workshop and, fortunately,  it was accepted to the TESOL 2014. Both of us were anxious to be presenters in a foreign country to an audience from all over the world. The result could not be better - the spectators were engaged for 1h45 minutes, actively participating in the hands-on activities we were demonstrating in the workshop named BREAKING THE ICE - Going beyond simple icebreakers through motivation.

I am a teacher who loves creating games to use in class with my students, so the topics that caught my attention were the ones related to the use of technology or practical games. I have to confess that I did not see many innovations in terms of technologies in the classroom. For this reason, I have to admit that the work we do at the Casa may be considered at par with the most recent trends in terms of Mobile Learning.

One of the presentations I attended drew my attention because it was called The Gamification Of Learning Outcomes  (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bxrfi4WnBTonOWRieFFlWDRVQTQ/edit?pli=1) . In that presentation, 3 professors from Colorado first clarified that gamification is not game. After briefly mentioning some theoretical aspects of language and technology, they exemplified with their work with foreign students, using facts, statistics and results.  They ended their presentation showing the survey they did with those students about that work, and, at that time, did another survey with the audience. (https://cuboulder.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_5ciU5FolfhxKfC5) Each person had to use his/her own mobile phone to send his/her opinion about the presentation.  The results were shown on the screen. It was dynamic, easy and interesting.

Attending  the session Think like a Video Game Designer to Build Better Courses, by Josh Wilson, from the Kansai Gaidai University, I became aware of many concepts about games that I had never realized before, such as: games are fail positive environments; games escape from the real world; games are learning tools and learning platforms; games design the experience for choice and to be won; and some others. These concepts are certainly going to help my reflection upon the games I create to use in class.

In my opinion, the top presentation was the one by the famous linguist Diane Larsen-Freeman, Complexity Theory: Renewing Our Understanding of language, Learning, and Teaching. Besides admiring her ideas and her culture for a long time, I liked the fact that she spoke for about an hour about how language changes day-by-day, and we, teachers, have to be aware of those evolutions and adopt them in our classes. In her words, she manages to introduce some humor to make the audience feel comfortable and engaged in her lecture. It was a blast!

Friday, April 11, 2014

TESOL 2014 - Some iPad Tips

TESOL is definitely an overwhelming experience. One has so much to explore that is almost impossible to see everything you want. While I was there I learned a lot from the presentations or workshops I attended. I saw things I already knew through a new angle and I also discovered some new things that I think is worth sharing with our teaching community. So, let me tell you about some iPad tricks and apps worth exploring. 
Remote desktop access
There are solutions that allow you to control your desktop while walking around the class that do not rely on a wireless mouse. At TESOL, two teachers reported using two apps that have such affordances. One application that wirelessly mirrors your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch screens to any Mac or PC is Reflector.  To allow desktop control you will have to install it to your PC and your device. Besides that, one can connect multiple devices to the same screen. One license allows you to install it in up to five PCs.
Another one that has the same feature is Doceri. Doceri also lets you control your desktop from your device (iPad, iPhone, iPod) with the added feature of transforming it into a smart board once it allows you to draw and annotate any file that can be shown on your Mac or PC. The drawback being that licenses have a price, the good thing is that they help us get rid of the cumbersome cable and let us roam free around class while displaying whatever is being shown in our mobile devices’ screens.. Reflector and Doceri allow  free trials. So, you can download them and see how they work for you. 

Giving control to students

If you have a blue tooth keyboard that connects to your device, how about connecting it to your iPad and creating interactive activities. You can pass it around class and your students can perform some tasks displayed on the big screen if you mirror your iPad using a cable or one of the apps suggested above. You could create quizzes or have a competition to answer questions. If you have more than one keyboard, it becomes even more interesting. 

Turning your iPad into a Speaking Device

How about turning your iPad or iPhone into a speaking machine? To do this, you will just have to activate the text to speech feature. You will have to go to settings, general, accessibility, speak auto-text (turn it on), then choose the language. This will allow you to listen any text you select. It also reads out loud whatever you are typing. You can use to read your e-mails for you if you are busy doing something else. In class, you can use it for dictation or to improvise a listening comprehension task. By the way, you will have to adjust the speaking rate to turtle or hare on speak selection

Thursday, April 10, 2014

TESOL 2014 - Professional Development for Novice Teachers

As a teacher trainer and a researcher in teacher development, when attending the TESOL Conference in Portland last week, I gave preference to the sessions related to this field. Some of them focused on the trainer’s role and how initiatives towards teachers should be conducted. Others focused on the teachers’ role in engaging in professional development. All of them were truly interesting and added new insights to my knowledge on the topic.  However, one specific talk called my attention, for , besides being related to novice teachers, the ones I’m closer to at our institution, it addressed the teachers’  and the trainers’ perspectives.

The talk conducted by Dr. Liz England, from Shenandoah University in Virginia, revolved around an experience she had gone through when organizing and delivering a sixteen-hour orientation program for novice professionals as English Teaching Assistants – ETAs -  at the start of their programs. The group of novice teachers had just gotten their BAs in different fields and most did not have any background in TESOL.  This group of seventy-five professionals accepted the challenge of going to Malaysia to work with groups of kids and teens in primary and secondary schools. 

The first aspect pointed out by Dr. England was related to the beliefs the group of professionals had in the beginning of the training program and, afterwards, how they changed their points of view in such a short period of time. First of all, the group was made up of Americans; therefore, they believed that because of being native speakers, they would face fewer challenges than non-native EFL teachers. Second, they thought that lesson planning wouldn’t be important since they had many activities and nice ideas in mind. And third, they bet they wouldn’t have problems concerning classroom management, for they were nice, young, and cool teachers.
As Dr. England went on describing the instant training program she had been required to deliver and all the challenges she had faced, I started thinking about how I myself sometimes feel when I wish I had a magic formula to give novice teachers to make them feel ready and confident to teach any groups.

For us, teachers and teacher trainers, it’s meaningless to point out all the reasons why a sixteen-hour course will never be enough to prepare a teacher to face the numerous different situations a classroom presents, but, as Dr. England mentioned, if we trainers have little time to help inexperienced teachers, we must make the most it.

After the sixteen-hour orientation program, a survey was conducted to verify how helpful the training was and in what ways it could be improved.  Having already faced the first difficulties in teaching, most of the ETAs pointed out that what they could benefit the most from in the training was related to lesson planning and classroom management, for these were the most challenging aspects of their new experience.

By getting this feedback, I could confirm the idea that despite where novice teachers come from and the particularities of the English language programs they are involved in, the target issues in teacher training are pretty much the same. Thus, I felt really pleased to acknowledge that the training and development opportunities the Casa Thomas Jefferson has offered to novice teachers are in sync with the most updated research conducted in the field of language teaching and training. Also, I reviewed my own passion for the field I’ve chosen to dedicate myself to, and own proud of being part of such a wonderful team of teachers and teacher developers.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TESOL 2014 Educational Snapshots

I could be here focusing on the interesting ideas that I learned from presenters in the TESOL Conference 2014, but by having the snapshots, quick notes I took during some sessions, you  might come across interesting references, links and people that will inspire you. 

Some topics that caught my attention:

Many Intersections Sessions that I attended focused on Mobile Learning. It is noticeable that though we all work in different contexts, the challenges are very similar, lack of infrastructure, difficulties with bandwidth in an ipad rollout program. Teacher training is also in the agenda of every Institution who wants to have a successful program. In my notes, I added some apps and resources that were mentioned. One thing that I missed was more presentations on learning outcomes with a more intensive use of mobile devices. Any qualitative and quantitative differences in the results of students who have been using smartphones/tablets and the ones who are not?

Marsha Chan, in her presentation on how to help students improve their oral communication skills, suggested using Youtube Playlists to help students find relevant content for further practice. At the end of my notes, you can find Marsha´s notes with all the links she mentioned. 

Nick Robinson´s advice and thoughts on the future of ELT publishing really got me hooked. Many interesting points about possibilities for self-publishing and concrete examples already in the market. I had the pleasure to meet Andy Boon (thanks to Nicky Hockly!), one of the authors in a self-publishing/independent project. We were immediately hooked to the story and downloaded the multi-pathways stories available in Kindle. You can learn more about those great interactive stories at http://atama-ii.com . Learn more about Nick Robinson´s ideas at http://www.eltjam.com/  and https://twitter.com/nmkrobinson 

Another excellent presentation that got me with an irresistible thirst for more was one on gamification by Josh Wilson, who focused on the game-like mentality for educators to prepare better, more engaging lessons. Josh´s presentation was much more focused on the strategies and mechanics that we can learn from a game designer mindset to make our students learn in a more enjoyable way, not in the aspects that many consider as the core of a gamified lesson, points and badges. Not at all. Josh consistently mentioned that these are just part of the sum. Here are some key concepts:
Design the experience
Quantify everything (score; progress)
give choices
External pressure
Constant feedback 
Design the context
Imagine your learners as players

In fact, this is an area that I´ve been consistently studying, and two resources that you might want to check, a Google Talk, Smart Gamification: Designing the Player Journey with expert Amy Jo Kim

Also, the book "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction" by Karl Kapp

Another presentation that was very useful, highly intense in terms of ed tech resources we can use in our classrooms was Lea Sobocan´s digital tools session. I´ve just checked her scoop it, which is a true gem: http://www.scoop.it/t/tech-gems-for-teachers 

I could go on and on with my highlights of TESOL 2014, but I´m sure you´ll find your own treasures by exploring my Evernote notes with some great presentations I had the chance to attend. I´d love to know what you found.

Crossposted at http://carlaarena.com/tesol-2014-snapshots

TESOL 2014 - Pronunciation with Obama

I have attended several Tesol Conferences along the years and, since one of my great interests is Phonetics and Phonology, I tend to participate in several presentations on the topic.  To tell you the truth, I have not been happy with what I have previously seen. Presenters have repeatedly used the same activities and strategies to help students overcome their difficulties – minimal pairs, rubber bands, tongue twisters, traditional songs, nursery rhymes, among others.

When I came across the title: Obama as pronunciation Teacher: Using Political Speeches for Suprasegmentals, I was really curious about how the presenter would use Obama’s speeches to teach pronunciation.

The presenter’s objective was to make clear how essential pauses, stress and intonation in sentences are to accurate pronunciation. Her point was to provide students with effective models to help them successfully use suprasegmentals when they use the English language. The presenter, Mary Rommey from the University of Connecticut, used Obama’s political speeches as examples.

She offered a six-month course at the University of Connecticut for candidates as Teaching Assistants for whom English was not  their native language. She conducted a pre test and a post test with these candidates. She videotaped them when they were talking about familiar topics related to their daily life before and after the course. The results were fascinating ! Students improved a lot regarding pause, rhythm, stress and intonation.

She started by asking students to mark the pauses on transcripts of Obama’s speeches. Then, they watched videos and checked their markings. She explained that he was a convincing speaker because of the pauses he makes. Then she worked with stress and later with intonation. When students received the transcript, they read the speech first, solved vocabulary doubts, and asked about content. She made sure the text was grammatically transparent and that the meaning was clear to all students. 

The presenter’s objective was to show that suprasegmental aspects influence communication and that the speaker has to be intelligible to communicate effectively.

Lúcia Santos

Monday, April 07, 2014

TESOL 2014 - How Wide is the World of Pronunciation?

With every year that passes, TESOL is acquiring a more egalitarian personality and is more dedicated to the recognition of the various purposes for English teaching, the broad spectrum of ownerships of the somewhat organically mutating language that we know as English, the ways in which this language unites many different collectives around the world. That’s a long sentence; in a way, it tries to convey the scope of the conference we attended and the direction it took. 

Among some of the teaching concerns being approached along refreshing new lines is pronunciation. With the acceptance of the nature of English as a multi-communicative connector, the influence of pronunciation is also shifting slightly in intent and interpretation. In previous conferences, I have attended several sessions dedicated to a focus on pronunciation as having a form of purifying influence on the production of English, creating exercises and games to attend to the oral exactness of the “th”, the shaping of vowel sounds, the oddly difficult combination of “orld” in “world”, etc. Attention to pronunciation more recently is not related to what, in the past, were common references like “standard American English”, “standard collegiate English”, etc. After all, what is “standard” in South Carolina is not necessarily standard in Oregon or Nevada, and the “college” in question might be in Sidney, Glasgow, London, New york, or somewhere in South Africa or India. 

Twenty speakers in different locations around the world might give surprisingly different renditions of the following sentence: “I hurt myself working on the hood of the car in the late half of the day.” What is definitely a priority concern is the intelligibility of the message, the immediacy of its power to communicate; this concept broadens the scope of how to regard pronunciation and its effective connection  – for better or for worse – to the result of an attempt at general communication.

One of the sessions I attended took me momentarily back to a bus tour that I took some years ago in Scotland.  I was sitting right behind the bus driver and happy to be receiver of many side comments he made during the trip; one of these remarks was offered to describe what a large number of laborers were doing on the road at almost dusk…the driver said they were walking/working on the road, and in my interpretation of the driver’s tone, neither activity was appropriate for that time of day. The problem was one involving accent; I couldn’t for the life of me determine (even upon further inquiry) whether those people were “walking” or “working”, because of the pronunciation of the vowel in the main verb….and no amount of repetition on the driver’s part shed any definitive light on the subject. I finally decided that those men just shouldn’t be on the road doing anything and would be better off at some nearby pub. End of subject. 

Fortunately, the subject of pronunciation has not ended, and this conference was an example of the variety of views that are developing with regard to the influence of pronunciation on communication and to how general is the acceptance that the “native English speaker” is not “the” norm, but - instead – just one of them.            

Katy Cox

TESOL 2014 Highlights

Participating in International conferences is an amazing opportunity to network and see what is going on in the world concerning education. This was my first time as a presenter but my second time as a TESOLER. And I can say this was a great chance of seeing how Casa Teachers are avant garde in so many areas! People stop us when they see we belong to the Casa and anxiously ask us when our presentation is going to be once they are used to attending them and always learning something new, creative and interesting! It's a pleasure to work in such a well recognized bi-national center!
Also, I am the incoming EFL -IS chair elect (2014/2015) of TESOL and this was a totally different experience and I have to confess I was kind of frightened. I didn't know what I was going to do... But I must say that keeping in touch with the EFL community from all over the world is rewarding and enriching.
All in all, sharing is of great relevance and I am sure I myself benefited a lot not only as a professional but also as a person; and my students will consequently profit from my experiences.
          by  Carol Barreto