Queering ELT: LGBT sessions at IATEFL 2017 | Some thoughts

LGBT in ELT.jpg

I was happy to see that there wasn’t just one, but two sessions at IATEFL 2017 that dealt with LGBT issues. Sadly, neither were recorded so this post is based on interviews with their presenters, Thorsten Merse and Angelos Bollas.

Thorston Merse (here’s the video) spoke about integrating LGBT issues into lessons through a focus on global issues. Coursebooks have no visible LGBT content but Merse explained that there are some coursebooks developed for Germany which have a few LGBT themes but that it’s really up to teachers to include LBGT-themed lessons.

Nik Peachey, the interviewer, mentioned that the coursebook industry is very conservative. In response, Thorsten suggested that even bad coursebooks could be rescued or subverted by teachers. He said awareness could be built through conferences although these cater to a privileged few. Teachers can also turn to publications and there is apparently a lot of literature on LGBT issues in ELT.  He recommended that open minded ELT teachers establish a global community for exploring practical ideas for ‘queering ELT’. I like the sound of ‘queering ELT’ but I’m afraid it seems a lot more radical than the halfhearted token gestures its going to translate into.

Nik then asked Thorsten about changes in Germany. As a policy, German state governments require gender and sexual diversity across the curriculum, not just for ELT. In practice, the implementation has been uneven with some states taking the lead. The process has been top-down but many teachers have also taken individual decisions about making their lesson content more inclusive thus enabling a bottom-up process to meet a top-down one.

I agree with Thorsten that we can’t wait for publishers to take ownership for inclusion. They’re always going to play a ‘blame the market game’ but at the same time most teachers simply don’t know how to introduce LGBT topics into their lessons. It would have been useful to discuss how these can be curated and made available as open-source materials (not sure if this was discussed in the actual session).

The second session by Angelos Bollas explored whether a lack of diversity in ELT materials has an impact on learning (titled ‘De-idealising the Heteronormative Self in the ELT Classroom’). Once again, there’s no video recording of the session but there is a recording of his interview with Scott Thornbury (here’s the video). His presentation was based on some research he’d done on whether the invisibility of LGBT identities in materials would adversely affect motivation and ultimately language learning. He apparently found that ELT materials, which are designed in a heteronormative way, do negatively impact the learning of students who identify as LGBT.

Thornbury questioned the relevance of the research given that the coursebooks Angelos had researched weren’t the latest editions. Angelos suggested that these editions were still in use. Thornbury also made a point about materials in the US being more inclusive because of the ESOL/ESL context and that this might be more challenging in an EFL context, where coursebooks are designed for the global market. Angelos’ initially explained that EFL students may come into contact with cultures like the US or the UK where sensitivity to LGBT issues may be important. This wasn’t a very convincing line of reasoning but he quickly expanded it to touch on the idea of social change within the students’ own cultures.

The discussion then moved on to what ought to be changed. Angelos seemed to think that it wasn’t necessary to introduce anything new in the coursebook but instead work with what was already there. Thornbury wanted to know whether this would translate into a greater and more equitable visual representation of LGBT individuals as has been the case with women in non-traditional roles, the disabled and women in headscarves. Angelos was against the compartmentalization of LGBT issues into a specific unit and instead spoke for representation within existing units such as for example a unit on family which portrays different kinds of families including an LGBT one.

Angelos rightly pointed out that pre-service doesn’t equip teachers to deal with potentially controversial issues and that they may fear what might emerge in a lesson that broached such as topic and how they’d handle for example homophobic comments. However, he suggested that in his context, teaching is driven by coursebooks and so everything goes back to the coursebook. In response, Thornbury referenced a study from Japan where it was found that teachers were being overtly cautious whereas students were in fact more open and curious about LGBT issues.

Taking a page out of Thorsten’s book, I think it’s pointless to wait for publishers to take the lead on this. Thornbury used the phrase ‘banging on about this’ – in fact he wrote an article way back in 1999 titled Window-dressing vs. Cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture. I quite like the idea of subverting coursebooks and we could potentially design a playbook for taking existing material and making it more inclusive. Now that’s something teachers can be trained on.

I believe English has a role to play in social change, whether through connections with people across the world or through exposure to new ideas. I know this is an area that folks particularly from the West, tread cautiously, lest they’re accused of trying to impose alien cultural norms in a renewed colonial endeavour. But as both Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki Moon asserted a couple of years ago, “LGBT rights are human rights” and no culture has the right to deny that.

Image attribution: Rainbow Flag by torbakhopper | Flickr | CC by NC 2.0

Context analysis practice: the hidden paradigm in contemporary ELT | IATEFL 2017 session summary

Jason Alexander.jpg

It’s a real pity Jason Alexander’s session at IATEFL 2017 wasn’t recorded. I’m grateful to Silvana Richardson whose tweets gave me a bit of a window into what he presented. His Context Analysis Practice (CAP) model truly validates what teacher trainers, particularly on the CELTA, have been using as a basic framework for lesson planning. During my CELTA tutor-in-training program, one of the trainees, asked me what she should write under approach on her top sheet. I was genuinely puzzled because the lesson shape wasn’t really PPP, nor was it text-based and I now have a label for it.

It also makes sense to explicitly call attention to context especially within the CELTA given the primacy of establishing a meaningful communicative context within the assessment criteria.

I’m not sure what Anderson’s take on the dominance of extensive text contexts was but I reckon the texts are far too long. It really throws new teachers off track.  Texts are but one way to explore language in context and when used, they really ought to be quite short.

And I agree that consciously or unconsciously, we have been endorsing this model on teacher training courses

Anderson seemed to have suggested an optional additional stage ‘evaluation’ but apparently went on to state that four stage models tend not to catch on.

It’s worth exploring whether CAP is truly effective. Do we recommend it to trainees because it makes sense from a language teaching and learning perspective or because it’s relatively easier to plan and teach?

Interesting to note the variations with the CAP model: Context Practice Analysis (CPA), Context Analysis Task (CAT), Checking, Analysis Practice (ChAP). It seems like Anderson has identified how we’ve been deluding ourselves into thinking that we are teaching lessons using TBL or test-teach-test, when really it’s much closer to what he’s described here.

I once worked with a new teacher who suggested that all the fancy names for lesson shapes I was teaching her were redundant because in practice they seemed to reflect a similar type of lesson. I started to defend the theory when I suddenly realised that she sort of right.

I wonder to what extent CAP will fly on pre-service courses. Given that it essentially describes the current situation, there ought not to be too much resistance to incorporating it but the wheels of teacher training tend to turn slowly.

Although Anderson’s presentation isn’t available, he’s got a handout on his site from an earlier session which summarises the same content. 

Integrating plurilingual practices in ELT in a superdiverse world | IATEFL 2017 session summary

Angelica Galente

Angelica Galante opened her talk with a question that I’m all too familiar with, “Where are you from?” Said with a particular intonation, one tends to ponder over its intention. Students want to adopt the behaviours and language of the host culture, particularly in the tertiary setting when they are away from their home countries for prolonged periods of time. Galente was interested in whether plurilingual identities could be promoted instead of a focus on acquiring an ‘English’ identity.

The rationale for plurilingualism is that bringing the diverisity of the real world into the classroom prepares the learners for that real world. Plurilingualism considers all the language and cultural experiences people have had in their lives. Galente suggested that people’s lives were not like a pre-fabricated puzzle that you live with one language or one culture so even when you may think you are monolingual, you may in fact have a plurilingual identity.

Some of the benefits of plurlilingualism include the following:

Enhances metacognitive skills (Bono & Stratilaki, 2009; Psalter-Joyce & Kantaridou, 2009; Vorstman et al., 2009)

Has positive effects on motivation and self-esteem (Bernaus, Moore & Azevedo, 2007; Corcoll, 2003)

Awareness of individual plurilingualism is seen as an asset for communication (Marshall & Moore, 2013; Prasad, 2014)

Mediates the process of additional language learning (Payant, 2015)

Learners who speak 3 or more languages are more open-minded, have more cultural empathy (Dewaele & von Oudenhoven, 2009), and

Plurilingual posture towards language learning (Jeoffrion et al., 2014)

In ELT, practices such as an English-only classroom have hampered plurilingualism. Some of the other barriers include:

Plurilinguals are unaware of their full plurilingual potential (Oliveira & Ançã, 2008)

Plurilingual ESL teachers have more positive attitudes towards their students’ language learning process and plurilingual strategies compared to monolingual teachers (Ellis, 2013)

Lack of teacher education in plurilingual pedagogy (Ellis, 2013); teachers who are unaware of learners’ linguistic repertoire see their plurilingualism as an annoyance (Pauwels, 2014)

Gap between policy that promote plurilingualism and classroom practice (Göbel & Vieluf, 2014; Pickel & Helót, 2014; Pinho & Andrade, 2009)

English-only policies create barriers for classroom plurilingual practices (Abiria et al., 2013)

Galente recommended strategies such as translanguaging, code-switching and crosscultural awareness to build language & cultural awareness, validating identity, agency and inclusiveness. She described several tasks to achieve this.

Task types

  • My plurilingual identity: Students draw their own body placing languages and cultures they have learnt on different parts of their body. Students can also include their future languages or cultures which intend to learn or experience. Students then explain their rationale.

Angelica Galente.png

  • Code-switching: Students work in groups of three and come up with a situation where they code-switch. They prepare a one minute skit.  Their peers try to identify the type of code-switching (from one sentence to another or mid-sentence), the languages/dialects used, the reasons why they code-switched.
  • Idioms in different languages: Students try to figure out the meaning of an idiom and then identify an equivalent idiom in their first language or dialect.

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  • High and low communication styles: Students are presented with different scenarios and they decide if they would prefer to use a direct or indirect utterance. Students develop an awareness of the characteristics of the two styles and reflect on how people in their own lives communicate and how they could adapt to a style that’s different from their own. They then discuss situations where they had issues communicating with people with different styles and they get peer feedback on how they could deal with this.

Angelica galente 3.pnghigh and low communication styles.png

Galente studied the impact of tasks that promote plurlilingualism in a university context and found that the results were positive both from a student as well as an instructor perspective. She believes that students have started to shift from trying to camouflage their identity to accepting their pluri-identities.

More information on this project is available at Galente’s site.

Living as I do in a super-diverse country where plurilingualism is the norm, I’ve always wnated to try out code-switching with my learners but have never been able to identify an appropriate and manageable way of introducing it. These are some interesting task types but there’s only one that explicitly requires students to use L1. Galente mentioned ten tasks types in her research – I’m going to write to her and see if she can share any others.


Easier said than done: using mobile phones for a test | IATEFL 2017 session summary

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This talk had a lot of promise but unfortunately didn’t live up to it. I suspect partly because the presentation lacked specificity (perhaps for proprietary reasons) and partly because in actual implementation, the idea of taking a test on a mobile device isn’t revolutionary at all, it just replicates test formats from a computer with some adjustments for mobile UI.

The speaker, Adrian RapRaper and Sean McDonald from ClarityEnglish and TELC explained that this pilot was in response to the challenge of providing a placement test to 2000 students at Asia University in Taiwan. They had to work with a smaller screen size, and move away from true or false and MCQs but ensure reliability and validity.  They suggested that new devices enabled new types of interactions and new items which you can’t do on paper including cross-skills testing. They were quite vague about these new test types and only explained one in detail: moving a word into a right place in a sentence, which is a fairly conventional digital activity and not all that uncommon in assessments. They described a reading test where candidates can look at the text and questions by flicking between the two but again this was described quite superficially.

Much of the presentation dealt with the security issues that come with using mobile devices such as the fact that candidates could go into Google if they’re using their own device. They suggested that the two ways of dealing with this is through a time limit and through question type. They claimed that the item type that involves moving a word into the right place in the sentence is fairly cheat proof. I really doubt that – Google can show you sentence patterns with a general search.

The way it works is that the candidates download the assessment app before they come to the test centre. At the centre, they are given a code to access the test. In case of poor connectivity, the app puts answers into a queue similar to how Whatsapp operates but the upload sizes are only about 23kb which is really tiny. The other issues they touched on were more interesting such whether the type of device has any impact on performance, the latest iPhone vs. an older smartphone. They are are collecting data about this in their pilot. They don’t currently offer gap fills or writing item types because of the problems associated with typing: auto-correct and the default language on the device which might not be English.


In one ear and out the other: does feedback work? | IATEFL 2017 session summary

Loraine Kennedy IATEFL

Having reflected loads on feedback while shadowing the CELTA, I’ve been continually pondering over its effectiveness. So I was immediately drawn to the the sub-title of this talk was ‘why bother?’

The speaker, Loraine Kennedy, suggested that we’re drowning in feedback, particularly in demands for feedback (e.g., from service organisations). Kennedy was inspired by a management article titled ‘Feedback doesn’t work’ by Jan Hills. The article references research from the 90s which apparently found that one third of feedback has a positive result, one third has no result at all, and one third has a negative result. She also referenced Deloitte, incidentally my ex-employer, who’s doing away with performance management systems in a bid to eliminate ineffective feedback.

Feedback is information provided by an agent {boss, teacher, peer, book, parent, experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding.

John Hattie & Helen Timperley

Feedback is about eliminating the discrepancy between the current standard and the goal.

Kluger and Denisi (1996)

Kennedy explained that no one was questioning whether feedback done the right way was important for development. But there’s something broken in the way we deal with feedback and it’s worth reviewing our thinking about it. However, she did reiterate a couple of times that the feedback she was referring to was targeting growth and professional development and not for teachers who are performing poorly or in pre-service training situations.

This might require us to reconsider our conventional notions about feedback. Hattie, for instance, suggests that reading books from your field and drawing on your experience are forms of feedback.  The traditional way of giving feedback using the sandwich approach is concerned with positive and constructive feedback and how much to give of each. Literature on the topic often talks about dialing up constructive feedback based on whether the teacher is novice or experienced. Kennedy, however, suggested that we need to be thinking about whether the feedback recipient has a growth or fixed mindset (receiver mentality), and what he or she wants from the feedback.

She also recommended reframing feedback with feedforward (a bit overrated in my opinion) or insights into working performance (now this is interesting) and refer to feedback meetings as coaching conversations. These coaching conversations could begin with starting questions such as ‘What aspect of your work/lesson/students’ development would you like to talk about?’ It might also be worthwhile to encourage teachers to ask questions of their peers and observers such as “What would be your one suggestion so I could tweak and make my lesson better?” which makes the feedback incremental, manageable, and solicited. This led her to discussing the importance of self-assessment which we assume that people can do automatically but that teachers need to be trained in these skills.

Coaching conversations can also be used to explore teacher beliefs about teaching and learning and what good teaching is. The focus ought to be on development as opposed to evaluation. She also suggested that collaborating on teaching behaviours & standards rather than imposing them on in a top down way. These could be structured around areas such as the following, linking them to impact on student progress and confidence:

  1. Content knowledge
  2. Quality of instruction
  3. Classroom climate
  4. Classroom management
  5. Teacher beliefs
  6. Professional behaviours

Kennedy also recommended flexibility in observation practice, using audio and video and training peer observers on giving and receiving feedback. The Sutton Report identified this as a gap; that only when peer observers are trained to give and receive feedback does it become productive.  Finally all of this needs to be validated in light of feedback from students which teachers collect very little of both formally and informally.

For a judgment about whether teaching is effective, it must be checked against the progress being made by students.

Sutton report 2014

I haven’t seen this report but it sounds really interesting. It apparently has some research to support the fact that what’s seen in one lesson is not indicative of the teacher’s ability to teacher.

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Writing methodology texts: Bridging the research-practice gap | IATEFL 2017 Plenary summary

Scott thornbury iatefl 2017.jpg

As engaging as Scott Thornbury is, you can’t help but head into his talks with a sense of deja-vu, mostly because he’s been trotting out similar stuff on methodology for the last few years. This talk, though, was different. Perhaps even revealing, not particularly about himself but about some of the others who (whether they like it or not) make up our de facto pantheon, i.e., Messrs Harmer, Scrivener et Brown, & Mme Ur.

Thornbury started off by declaring that teachers’ don’t read research. He cited three reasons for this: irrelevance, inaccessibility (both in terms of actual access to the research and the ability to understand it), and lack of time.

‘A lack of time is the predominant reason cited [for not reading research]… A perceived lack of practical relevance was also a common hindrance, as was the inaccessibility, both physical and conceptual, of published research.’

Borg, S. 2009. ‘English language teachers conceptions of research.’ Applied Linguistics, 30/3, p. 370.

He went on to suggest that research articles don’t seem to be a good means of communicating insights to teachers.

‘Studies of teachers’ consumption of and attitudes towards academic research articles show that such articles do not seem to function well as a mechanism for communicating information for teachers.’

Bartels, N. 2003. ‘How teachers and researchers read academic articles.’ Teaching & Teacher Education, 19. p. 737.

He asserted that this trend wasn’t unique to ELT. Of the 1.5 million peer reviewed articles that appeared (I think he said last year), 82% of them never got cited in subsequent articles, and only about 20% of articles in the humanities are ever read. He added that SLA research was often inconclusive or didn’t fit teachers’ ideas of plausibility.

He then quoted Penny Ur who also believes research plays second fiddle to classroom practice.

‘For the ELT practitioner the main source of professional learning is classroom experience, enriched by discussion with colleagues, feedback from students, and – for those teachers with the time and inclination – input through reading, conferences and courses, of which research is one important component. Research is not the primary basis of ELT knowledge for the practitioner, but it is a valuable supplement.’

Ur, P. (2012) ‘How useful is Tesol academic research?’ The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/oct/16/teacher-tesol-academicresearch-useful

So how does the researcher communicate with the practitioner or consumer? An idea borrowed from agriculture is of a country agent who mediates by bringing news from the science establishment. In our context, methodology books take the place of the county agent. Thorbury stated that this mediation was influential therefore imbuing it with some responsibility. To explore, this he posed eight reflective questions to Ur, Harmer, Scrivener and Harmer.

Now these responses were mighty revealing. Have a look at what Scrivener has to say in response to the question ‘How important is it, do you think, to link research and classroom practice?’

JS: I’ve never found much formal “research” very helpful to my own classroom work. I am not “antiresearch” but I do carry a suspicion of many statistical studies in teaching. My teaching is not applying linguistics. Rather, it is about tuning in to people and attempting, moment by moment, to help create a space where learning can happen. I more often look at the literature to see if it can help me understand what I have already noticed myself.

And have a dekko at what Ur has to say in response to the question ‘Do you feel you have an ‘agenda’, i.e. a bias towards a particular theoretical (or a-theoretical) position? If so, do you think this matters?’

PU: I really try hard in my own writing to be as objective as possible. The problem arises when a researcher’s data seems to contradict my own experience-based opinions: so then I have to read the research very carefully, re-examine my own experience, and try to decide who is right, or how they might both be.

The responses make for a fascinating read – the presentation can be accessed and downloaded from this link.

Thornbury makes a number of conclusions but two really stood out for me:

Methodology writers have an interest in keeping abreast of developments in research, but largely as filtered through their own experience and ‘sense of plausibility’.

Methodology writers use research findings less to promote new practices than to validate existing ones.

This throws up some critical questions: how much of what we read in books that we consider seminal in our field are the products of confirmation biases and lenses with a particular world view? And what impact does this have on our practices, beliefs and development as a professional community?


Empowering teachers through CPD | IATEFL 2017 Plenary summary

Maggioli IATEFL

The full title of this talk is ‘Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises’. The speaker, Gabriel Diaz Maggioli is from Uruguay and delivered this year’s opening plenary. 

Maggioli kicked off his talk with a quote from Dennis Sparks about professional development lacking focus/effectiveness which I suspect comes from Designing Powerful Professional Development for Teachers and Principals. He stated that he wanted to probe what had been going on in CPD in the last 20 years. He felt professional development was oscillating between individual development and the institutional development which is more about advancing the community. He perceived the former as piecemeal and the latter as more systemic. He went on to suggest that top down reforms usually don’t involve the teachers who need to be ‘fixed’ (he used this odd word often, perhaps on purpose) and as a result are not successful and that a better way to think about development and change is a learning community which is a group of individuals who come together because they have some mutual interests.

Maggioli described two diametrically different roles for teachers within professional development programmes: the teacher as a technician who just implements policy and the teacher as a transformative intellectual who propels the development of learning communities. He argued that professional development that was effective drew on targeted professional expertise (based on teacher needs), adopted structured peer support, and provided opportunities for reflecting on why something worked or didn’t work. For these reasons, professional development, he suggested, ought to be done in-house.

Professional development is inquiry oriented learning sustained over time. It requires the the use of tools and protocols that help create coherence, sustain learning and make evidence collection manageable. My favourite quotable quote was when Maggioli suggested that professional development should be done WITH teachers not TO teachers. In his own research, he discovered that teachers listed surfing the web to find ideas and free webinars as their top two professional development channels.  From the institutional perspective, there was only mandated INSETT in the list of responses but these weren’t focused on teacher needs and were often disconnected from the reality of the classroom. Respondents described INSETT as having the following faults: no follow up, too much talking very little doing, too short, a low level, and a lack of access to resources to apply this learning.

Maggioli portrayed traditional professional development as untimely and not tailored to the career stages of teachers because teachers are seen as having to perform a function which explains the manufacturing-style one size fits all approach. He spoke about he doesn’t perceive career stages as a continuum but a loop and that every time we move into a new role or context, we kick-start the loop again. He suggested that teachers need time, resources and support and that any kind of CPD in the absence of these three things was futile.

He then shared some approaches to CPD.

  • Mirror coaching – Teacher-initiated; a peer takes notes during your lesson. You are accessing your own behaviour from someone else’s eyes. Maggioli stated that this wasn’t the same as watching a recording.
  • Co-teaching: You and your co-teacher model behaviours and learn from each other. expert coach – not from  deficit perspective (easier said than done).
  • Expert coaching: The teacher is coached by someone who is acknowledged as an expert in the area that they’re getting feedback on.
  • Study group: A teacher shares something she did in class with her peers. They then ask her questions which records. The group then goes on a coffee break during which time the teacher prepares to answer questions which is what happens when everyone comes back from the break.
  • Collaborative action research: groups of teachers who plan and implement interventions.
  • Exploratory action research
  • Lesson study: This technique apparently comes from Japan.
  • Learning circles: Ad hoc professional development meetings that follow a structured process.

Learning cirlces

  • Mentoring
  • Professional portfolio

These activities sit within a simple but interesting framework for raising teacher awareness and also identifying those within the learning community who can share, coach and/or mentor:

Maggioli finally ended by exhorting the audience to commit to some actions:

While I don’t think there was anything new or revolutionary in what Maggioli was suggesting, it is I suppose food for thought given how often we talk about CPD, extol CPD frameworks and construct CPD plans. To what extent are these frameworks and activities effective and do they adopt a deficit approach to development?

Dennis Sparks’ book is available as a free download for educators from this link.