I’m currently attending the Teacher Educator Conference (TEC15) in Hyderabad and this is the first of several summaries I hope to write on some of the more interesting talks I heard. This enigmatically titled session was facilitated by Dr. Elka Todeva who works with the SIT Graduate Institute.
Dr. Todeva started off by talking about how metaphors define us and constrain things. For example, if we think of marriage as a contract or a box of chocolates or Russian roulette – we recast it in different ways. Similarly, we tend to label language learning using the input-output model which is not only highly mechanistic but also diminishes language learning and the learner’s agency. Many are attempting to move away from this perception to talking about:
- affordances, learning, opportunities & engagement
- an ecological approach
Dr. Todeva explained iterative using the example of Ss of who narrate the same story three times but with shorter time spans (3 min, 2 min, 1 min) and with a different partner, imposing two variables on this activity: time and person. This, she said, helps develop automaticity and iteration ensures that things are never mind-numbing because predictability of responses is not our goal.
The deficit approach to language learning is detrimental … where Ss are seen as walking deficits.
She then arrived at the crux of the talk – that we keep looking at language learning in deficit terms. or that we see language as a problem. Instead, she sought to change the lens using additions to Canale & Swain’s (1980) communicative competence model (grammatical, strategic, discourse and sociolinguistic competence). She spoke about two more competences: symbolic competence Kramsch (2000) and performative competence Canagarajah (2013). She briefly spoke about translanguaging which I think is also one of Canagarajah’s terms.
The rest of the talk was mainly about symbolic competence and approaches to enrichment. Some of the examples of enrichment included situated learning, ecological approaches to teaching, more realistic representation in our teaching materials and real corpora-based language. This requires some amount of reframing as we shift away from a deficit mentality to paradigms of enrichment. She presented this concept through the image of Hawkins’ triangle where ideas and information are always determined by the teacher or the subject matter (coursebook) which then flow to the learner.
This transactional one-way relationship deprives Ss of ownership of language and topics. For instance, the classic PPP model (which Dr. Todeva called PPU), she suggested leads to inert knowledge. If our goal is optimal engagement and enrichment, then we need to take a different approach. Before we knew it, she had us engaged in an activity that was full of insights about enrichment. She displayed different versions of the 10 rupee note and asked us questions about what it contained and why it had these things. She then brought up some American bills and had us notice elements of it. The audience was really buzzing at this point. Dr. Todeva talked about how an activity such as this one encourages situated learning promoting genuine authentic sharing and in this case each question she asked was in the passive and the follow-up activity could have been a grammaring task where Ss explore authentic uses of the passive. Another example was from Facebook. One of Dr. Todeva’s students posted a photo of a bucket load of drugs that she was required to take after getting bitten by a tick. Her friends and colleagues then commented with remarks such as “That’s insane”, “Wow” and “Oh my! So sorry – thinking of you” and she pointed out how this is in fact a very authentic source for exploring empathetic responses.
Dr. Todeva spoke about the benefits of adopting a ‘you are already there’ type of mindset. One way of doing this is to make connections between new skills and what is already familiar to Ss (she called this brain friendly learning which I’ll need to look up but sounds a bit faddish). Her example referred to an academic teaching context where Ss need to learn to write in the argumentative format. A segue into this skill is to ask them to write an argument about who is the better of the two: Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, have them notice the features of their written argument and transpose these into their argumentative essays.
Towards the end, she spoke about pluralistic pedagogy as well as how the Hawkins’ triangle applies to Ts as well with teachers taking the place of Ss and the flow of ideas coming in from researchers and publishers. She wrapped up by taking about addressing this issue using reflective teacher education and briefly referenced the CATRA model (Copying, Applying, Theorising, Reflecting and Acting).
Books mentioned during the talk
- Multiple Realities of Multilingualism by Elka Todeva & Jasone Cenoz
- What the bleep do you we know? by William Arntz (This might actually be a movie as well)
- Metaphors we live by George Lakoff & Mark Johnsen
- Reflection in action by DA Schon
- Contrasting conversations: Activities for exploring our beliefs by John Fanslow
- Breaking Rules by John Fanslow