Sunday, 21 April 2013

IATEFL Interviews - part three

As part of my plan to catch up with IATEFL 2013, I'm spending some time watching interviews with key players at the conference. I find that this gives me real insights into some aspects of our profession that I might not have known about or sought out before. I wrote about the day one interviews here and day two's here.

Alan Maley
The first interview on day three was with IATEFL lifetime achievement winner, Alan Maley, who I was lucky enough to meet at a conference in Saigon last year.  he was talking about the difference between preparation and preparedness.  Teacher training prepares teachers in terms of pedagogical knowledge, classroom management, etc., but, in reality, most of what happens in the classroom is unpredictable.  How do we train teachers for what Alan calls, 'the Dark Matter'?  We need to train them in 'preparedness' as well as 'preparation'.  Preparation is being ready for what you assume will happen.  Preparedness is being ready for anything!  It is congruent with dogme teaching - 'going with the flow'.  Alan advocates the need for spontaneous activities to be built in to teacher training courses.  He believes we should start teachers on the path to 'preparedness' during initial training, rather than waiting for it to come with experience and his talk at the conference would focus on techniques like theatre improvisation and clowning to facilitate this.

The next interview was with Abdoul Ka from Senegal an Partha Sarathi Misra from India.  They are IATEFL scholarship winners and they talked about what they will be taking back to their home countries and how they will communicate what they have learned to their colleagues.

Mike Harrison
Mike Harrison was next up, talking about experimental practice for PD - doing things you don't normally do in class.  This involves researching new methods, incorporating them into your lessons, documenting what happens, reflecting on it and adopting the results.  For the results to be meaningful, the process needs to be repeated at different times with different groups.

The next person to be interviewed was Hywel Coleman.  He has been researching the use of English in eight West African countries that use French as their official language.  English is typically the third language of these African children, but there is a need for them to achieve proficiency in it driven by trade, business and international peace-keeping forces.

Then Jamie Keddie was interviewed about 'videotelling' - using video clips for teacher-led storytelling in the classroom.  The idea is to deconstruct a video and take a narrative from it to tell a story.  Students don't see the video until they have heard the whole story, thus increasing its impact.  Jamie advocates the 'say something, ask something' approach in order to keep students' attention throughout the story.  There are sample lesson plans on his website, including the one he demonstrated in this interview, 'Breathing Holes'.  For videotelling to work, teachers need to plan really well - preparation, visualisation, exploration, resolution.

Jeremy Harmer
Sue Leather came next, talking about the graded readers which are produced by National Geographic in conjunction with Cengage.  She was closely followed by Jeremy Harmer who spoke about the connection between developing musical ability and developing linguistic ability.  His ideas were inspired by the book 'Guitar Zero', written by Gary Marcus.  When it comes to learning a musical instrument, the belief has always been that if you do enough practice, you'll get good.  Now we know that it's not enough simply to go through the motions - the brain has to be engaged.  It is better to practise for ten minutes, solve a problem and concentrate on it, than to practise for an hour doing scales with your brain elsewhere.  So, how does this translate to language learning and teaching?  Perhaps we need to really focus on a small piece of language and ask questions like, 'where are the pauses?', 'what's the intonation?', 'what does it mean?'  Jeremy doesn't have the answers yet, but feels that exploring the connection between musical ability development and language acquisition is a worthwhile thing to do.

Jeremy stayed on to interview Vicky Saumell who talked about using e-publishing to enable students to reach a wider audience than just their teacher.  Students pay more attention to accuracy if they think other people will read/watch/listen to their work.  This wider audience could simply be other classes in the school or it could involve having an online presence and inviting public comment.  Blogging, Skype interviews and online projects could all be used.

The next interview was with Tim Phillips, Zhou Liping and Keith O'Hare who spoke about the need for more and more teachers worldwide, particularly for junior and primary schools and in the specialism of business English.  The British Council is working on this in many countries.  Nowhere is the need greater than in China.  They were followed into the interview room by Zhang Jinxiu and Anna Searle who continued on the same topic, Anna explaining about the BC's global offering for teachers and Zhang Jinxiu talking about her experiences of ELT in China.

ELT Journal editor, Graham Hall was next.  He spoke about the journal and made a call for articles.  These articles should be 4000 words long and have up to fifteen references.

New IATEFL president, Carol Read, was closely followed by Carl-Johan Westring from EF Education First.  Founded in Sweden in 1965, EF now has 3,500 staff in 450 schools worldwide, making it one of the biggest private language school organisations in the world.  Carl spoke about EF's English Proficiency Index (EPI), a report on how the world speaks English compiled from the results of 1.7 million test takers in 54 countries.  You can read more about this at

The final interview of the day was with Michael Connolly, an English language advisor with the British Council in India.  His work focusses on teacher training, particularly the Bihar Language Initiative for Secondary Schools (BLISS) project.  Bihar is one of the least developed states in India with a history of bad governance.  In the last five years, however, there has been a new, progressive government that has asked the BC to help with its English programme.  Together they have set up a group of 160 teacher educators, four from each district of the state.  All of these trainers are Indian and have Hindi as their first language.  Teachers are from low-resourced schools and communities.  80% of homes have no electricity.  Many have no water.  Teachers have had no training in the past.  Many of them do not even really know what a teacher is.  They have, however, embraced the new ideas very quickly and Michael reports that it's a very motivating project to be involved in - tough, but challenging.  You can learn more about the project by watching this video:


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