The Reflect EFL conference

Do you agree that online conferences are the new normal? I wish it were not so, but for the time being it’s the best way to exchange ideas and make new contacts in the field. As one of the invited speakers at Reflect (a big shoutout to the organisers!), I was able to see other presentations for free, sitting in my own home – CPD has never been more convenient.

It was a one-day event with three strands, so I couldn’t see as much as I wanted to. Still, I really liked Svitlana Salova’s presentation about teachers’ well-being (remember that ‘the situation is not as bad as it seems‘), Maria Penner’s talk about teaching young learners online (‘The contents of your lesson are on both sides of the screen!‘) and Hugh Dellar’s take on how not to plateuau if you are an advanced learner (the best advice for busy teachers: ‘build language development into lesson planning‘).

My own presentation can be found here; it’s an update of my last year’s Wizard’s First Rule (with one more rule added) for teacher trainers. I try not to revisit the same topics again and again, but this time the conversation felt truly different: we’ve all come an awfully long way since March 2020.

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A positive Q&A with Sarah Mercer

sarah QA

Here is the link to a wonderful session with Sarah Mercer that LAMSIG organised yesterday (I helped a bit too :)). It’s a shame that I had to leave 30 minutes in to teach a lesson, but we have the recording – which I really recommend viewing, or even listening to, whether you are a teacher, a manager or a little bit of both.

There were lots of interesting discussions about the situation we are going through and whether we can expect any post-traumatic growth, what coping strategies work and which don’t (e.g. planning doesn’t work anymore!). Sarah spoke about the difference between resilience and flourishing, about blurred boundaries between home and work and, most importantly perhaps, about the role of the manager who is the hub of the team and as such has to support and connect the teachers with microconversations, appreciative inquiry and generally communicate openly and honestly.

The final question was about something that worries me too: what’s going to happen after the virus is gone? Watch the video to find out what Sarah thinks 🙂

IATEFL 2020 – Global Get-Together, Day 2

The second day began with a thought-provoking talk by Catherine Walker. She spoke about the recent changes in education, about inclusivity and how synchronous lessons by their very nature exclude people with special needs or lower income (no devices, low bandwidth.) Asynchronous learning is more inclusive and allows us to support these categories of learners a lot more, so perhaps this is the way to go. ‘We do not support technology, technology should support us’ – can’t agree more. It’s interesting how some of the presenters truly practised what they preached – for example, Catherine described every picture on her slides to support the visually impaired (incidentally, it also helped me because I was listening and cooking :)).

Then I watched Alex Warren’s webinar, or rather, workshop. It was so engaging that I dropped my spoon and started taking part in the polls 🙂 He spoke about using TED talks and offered a very workable model based on flipped learning. In short, after the learners have watched the talk at home, in the lesson the learners are asked to talk about what they remember, there is a quick comprehension check (Alex demonstrated how he uses Zoom tools for that), then there are critical thinking tasks, then creative assignments of various kinds (comment boxes on Padlet, ‘interview the speaker’, all kinds of written and spoken responses). One more important takeaway: if flipped learning doesn’t work very well for you because the learners don’t do their pre-lesson homework, stress the benefits of personalised learning they can get when they view the talk on their own. (They can slow down, use the subs, re-watch as many times as they like etc. )

Gareth Rees began his presentation with a photo of a urinal (!). The urinal was equipped with a video screen, so the idea was ATAW (viewing anytime, anywhere) – really memorable 🙂 There were lots of interesting examples from his own experience and materials, techniques that fit into a neat model (DARE: description, analysis, reflection, evaluation) and useful recommendations. Teacher’s video selfies, students making videos of the teacher demonstrating a pron task, students’ video responses – the idea was that videos work best if they become almost unnoticed everyday practice.

I had to skip Adrian Underhill’s talk and part of Laura Edward’s presentation – looking forward to the recordings. A few ideas gleaned from Laura’s talk: invite guest speakers to online lessons, use chat for more informal feedback and backchanneling, use rubrics for peer assessment that students can copypaste into the chat.

Then there was the panel about sustainable online teaching and learning with representatives of several sigs, including Andy Hockley, the Coordinator of my own LAMSIG. There were a lot of interesting thoughts about how we can move to real, not emergency, online learning, and I really liked how Sophia Mavridi expressed hers: ‘After the emergency, experts need to come to the fore’. I totally agree: eventually we need to stop focusing on the tech tools and start thinking about pedagogy, instructional design and materials.

Another panel I watched, Moving to Teaching Online, focused on the practical side of teaching in this new reality. I was happy to hear how optimistic the participants were: like Andy Johnson said, ‘You should never waste a crisis’ 🙂 Sandy Millin shared a lot of practical advice, especially useful for the teachers who are still learning to teach online; Joshua Underwood suggested that it would be useful to develop our (and our learners’) camera literacy: he recommended a webinar called ‘Own the screen’ or something like that, but I haven’t been able to find the link yet. In a nutshell, we need to learn how to be more comfortable standing up, moving around on Zoom, and teach our learners how to express themselves physically in the virtual environment. I also enjoyed the participants views of the future: Heike Philp suggested that one day, after we go back to our face-to–face teaching, we will start developing the online world again and create a rich online environment, maybe VR, 3D or something equally exciting. Sandy said that her school will probably move to a mix of online and f2f in September (this is what most of us expect, I think!); Andy expects a backlash with more physical teaching for some time, but then online teaching will be here to stay. Josh hopes that when we’ll go back to physical classrooms, we’ll improve them and make them more inclusive – and that generally things will get better. Hear, hear!

And then – too soon! — Gabriel Diaz Maggioli closed the event.

closing

Now, I might be biased (and in case of IATEFL I most certainly am), but this was the greatest online event I’d ever watched. It was supposed to replace the physical conference, but it did a lot more: it engaged and supported a lot more teachers all over the world who had not been planning to come to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to Harrogate 2021, the organised chaos of the registration queue, lotteries, meetings, workshops and exhibitions, the friendly conversations with strangers and old friends at lunch or over a pint – but the Get-Together was totally worth it and I hope it will happen again, not to replace the conference, but to add to all the wonderful things that IATEFL does. Ahem, sorry 🙂 Time to stop singing praises and get back to work!

IATEFL 2020 – Global Get-Together, Day 1

sustainable goals

What a great idea – have a series of online talks on the dates when the conference didn’t happen. I was chopping nuts and mixing veggies for the Easter lunch – and listening to David Crystal speaking about changes in English. It’s impossible to predict the future, he said, but at least we need to keep track of the changes: keep an eye on the corpora and social media, and reach out to the young generation. Kuhl. In fact, it felt like a real plenary – and the Adobe room was packed. (Another great idea, to have a Facebook live feed.)

I’ve attended as many talks as I could, and here are some highlights.

Tammy Gregersen inspired us to savour what we have (and when we say ‘I wish I could…’, write it down and put in a big jar for later). Also, “If you don’t want to focus on yourself for yourself, do it for your learners‘. A well-rested happy teacher is a good teacher!

I really liked the panel on Inclusive ELT materials, especially Alex Popovski’s presentation on ‘tokenism’ (do your research, avoid showcasing, reflect learners’ realities, create connections and have a sidekick – had to put down my kitchen knife and write all of this down!).

Carol Read did an amazing workshop on the UN’s sustainable development goals, with a very good balance of information and interactivity. (The picture for this post covers two of the 17 goals.) From concepts to activities, from graphic organisers to student work, the session was really well-planned, varied and real enough to satisfy any practising teacher. If there’s any webinar that could be made available to the public, this should be the one.  

The panel about thinking outside the box was interesting because I could find out what the other SIGs are doing! That’s one advantage of the online event: you don’t have to choose between several exciting sessions because there’s only one at any given time 🙂

Looking forward to the next day.

My 5 years of IATEFL

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s this time of the year again! April, the UK, the global IATEFL conference… Not this year, sadly, but I couldn’t resist the nostalgic pull today.

2016

The 50th anniversary conference in Birmingham, which started the whole romance with IATEFL for me: I got a scholarship from LAMSIG to attend and speak about change management. Also, I met a lot of wonderful people and got to see the towers that inspired J.R.R.Tolkien – and went punting in Cambridge.birmingham

cambridge

2017

Glasgow, where I spoke about Team LDP and got to see a bit of Scotland. And then there was the Edinburgh castle, Loch Lomond and the misty Highlands…

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highlands

2018

Brighton and the South Coast with the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters. I spoke about language support for NNSTs and developed a taste for local ales.

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Seven sisters

2019

Liverpool started with the lovely York for me, and then I got to speak twice: about restructuring a management team and about the Purple Pen of Progress. A steam train trip through North Wales, the Conwy Castle and this wonderful sea smell in the air that you can only feel in my favourite country in April.

york

conwy

To be continued next year, I hope! For now, let’s meet up online this weekend 🙂

COVID-19 support group for managers

COVid support group

Did you know that my favourite LAMSIG IATEFL committee launched this great initiative several weeks ago? It’s an open Facebook group with more than 200 members where school managers can exchange information and ideas and support each other in these difficult times. I’m awfully biased of course because I’m one of the admins, but it’s really a great community with very intelligent and supportive conversations. Do check it out if you have any interest in academic management.

On top of that, our Coordinator Andy Hockley has been putting together useful links shared in the community and summing up ideas and suggestions in regular posts: here and here.  We have talked about teacher wellbeing, supporting students, price policy, assessment, remote management, and there are a lot of questions yet unanswered. Perhaps they are waiting for you? 😉

The CEFR event: my own view (4 of 4)

CEFR mix

My first attempt to use CEFR happened back in 1998, when I was in my fifth year at uni: one of the teachers brought the self-assessment grid to us, near-graduates. Of course, everyone put themselves at the top of the scale 🙂 Only six years later, on an in-service teacher training course at Moscow Linguistic University, I found out about the descriptors, the portfolio, and most importantly, about the ethos of the European Language Portfolio.

From my own (admittedly simplistic) perspective,  the Common European Framework of Reference for languages as part of The European Language Portfolio has two very important functions:

  1. It shows that people who speak very different languages want to talk about the same things.
  2. It can give a great sense of progress to learners (and teachers) of languages.

This February, more than 20 years later, imagine me sitting in the very centre of London and hearing from all these amazing  experts first-hand how CEFR has grown and evolved over time! Feeling lucky? Yes, and also happy that in spite of all the changes CEFR is still about the same: the sense of unity and the sense of progress.

The updated and improved descriptors describe what we ‘can do’ more precisely; the addition of sign language makes CEFR even more unifying and inclusive; plurilingualism and mediation finally acknowledge what a person speaking several languages actually does when communicating. And, of course, we have official CEFR updates for young learners – how cool is that?

What does that mean for an English teacher? Exciting times ahead 🙂 Now that the updates (the CEFR Companion Volume) are out, there will be more and more new coursebooks, resources, curricula and research opportunities.

CEFR future steps

That said, there is a lot we can do even now, before all these changes trickle down to classrooms:

  1.  Consider how you can foster a plurilingual atmosphere in the classroom. If students want to use L1, encourage translanguaging, mediation, exchange of different L1 (if you’re lucky to work in a multilingual environment). CEFR can help you make plurilingual skills part of your learning objectives – after all, research shows that it gives great cognitive benefits, so why should your learners miss out?
  2. When teaching pronunciation, look at the new phonology scale: isn’t it great how it acknowledges accents at all levels and encourages focus on intelligibility?
  3. If English is not your first language, check out the changes in C2 descriptors: perhaps there is something that can become your own learning goal? English means a lot to me on many levels, but it’s also my work instrument, which I like to keep sharp 🙂
  4. The whole Companion Volume is a long read at whopping 235 pages, but you can open it to any random page and find real gems. For example:
  • descriptors for online interaction p.97 are great for justifying all the time you spent on edutech 😉
  • descriptors for online collaboration p.99 can be useful for planning a professional skills course
  • descriptors for describing data p.110 can help with IELTS preparation

There’s much more of course, so let’s start using the good old CEFR in new ways! This is what it is meant to be: not a prescriptive set of requirements, but a tool to use and adapt to our contexts, learners and their needs.

P.S. You can read my previous posts in the series about this event here: 1 2 3.

 

 

 

The CEFR event: discussions (3 of 4)

I’ve debated with myself for quite a while: shall I just give you a brief digest (one slide, three bullet points)? But since this is a blog, I’ve finally decided to group the comments into categories and share them as they are. The discussions were incredibly fun,  and the pictures don’t show all the excitement. So, these comments may give you a better idea of how it all happened.photo_2020-02-08_01-19-56photo_2020-02-08_01-19-48

Important caveat: I was taking notes very quickly, and I took down the names of just a few speakers. Consider this just a blurry snapshot!

Understanding CEFR

CEFR is not a rating scale, it should inform curriculum development, task design and only then follows assessment. (Brian North)
Not everything can be pinned down or scaled; we should not forget about the big picture. For example, while mediation is generally useful, mediating too early can be annoying.

Plurilingualism in the new CEFR was brought about by globalisation, and it’s globalisation that caused the same shift in education, not CEFR.
Overall, CEFR and CV is synergised with the values of the European Council.

If we need to understand the difference between action-oriented and task-oriented approaches, the action-oriented approach in CEFR gives the power to the learner. It’s about learner agency and empowerment

Implementing CEFR

CEFR is meant to be adapted.
There can be a stronger and weaker form of implementing CEFR.
There is tension between localisation and commonality. The way to align them is to use the top overview level. (Elaine)
It’s not the experts who should be simplifying the framework, but the local experts.
Can CEFR be used in Tunisia? Adopt it or adapt it (question asked by Dave Allan, Nile)

We need to learn how to speak to policy makers
LESS IS MORE
The COD principle (Barry Sullivan quotes): Capacity, Opportunity, Desire

How do we change public attitudes to CEFR?
There must be a continuous and on-going dialogue with parents.
We need to encourage whole-school policies.
We need to align people, not just systems.

We need more collaboration with psychologists, sociologists; between different associations.

The role of teachers

We need to start with teacher education.

Teachers have a duty to know what students are interested in and what they ought to be interested in.
Communities of practice and an online platform they have been using (Bessie)
Action research for teachers
joint SIG event with success stories (Dave Allan)

The role of materials

Why isn’t there a CEFR manual for materials writers? (Me, silently: hey, what about the core inventory?)

There’s no recycling in coursebooks, just chapters full of throwaway content (sic).
If we can’t influence publishers, let’s have language policies at unies.

Perhaps revisit the portfolio system?

Assessment

We need to develop assessment literacy

Tests are reductionist
The washback effect can be quite unpredictable
Should we be scaling at all?

Let’s grade the behaviour instead of the task

What about the learners?

Shouldn’t we ask the students?
Learners see things differently from teachers.
We need to focus more research on the learners (Chris Brandwood)

In the inclusive approach, if we use screen readers for the visually impaired, are we testing reading or listening?

A dog needs to do something 17 times before it learns to do it. A human needs a lot of repetition, too.

We need to take EQ into account (Cliff Perry)
We need to take cognitive development into account
If we have just 3 hours a week, how can we hope to take anything into account?

We can use the scenario-based approach (Armin)

Tech may be the answer.

Phew 🙂 The next and last post in the series is going to be about my own takeaways from the whole event – stay tuned!

 

 

The CEFR event: Day 2 (2 of 4)

This post continues my account of an event I’ve recently attended.

Wow, that was a really full day! Three symposia (symposiums?) with three speakers each, followed by discussions, comments and more discussions… I’ll only focus on the presentations here, and have a separate post about the discussions.

The first two talks of the first symposium (about the action-oriented approach) were packed with theoretical information. So, if you’ve been wondering if the new companion volume represents a new paradigm, if mediation is really a construct and if plurilingualism can be reliably tested, the speakers are a much better source of information than this blog. My own takeaways are literary rather than academic:
Constant Leung (King’s College London):
‘You’re opening plurilingual spaces: new dimensions, unpredictable and contingent.’

John de Jong (Language Testing Services):
‘Let’s fight hypnosis through scales and levels.’

photo_2020-02-09_22-49-37
Mark Levy (British Council, Spain) took a less theoretical stance and told us about the introduction of CV in Spain. Did you know that there was a Royal Decree about teaching and testing mediation?


From that point onwards, more and more words were said about the role of teacher training and development. As Mark said, in times of stress, even if we have developed and changed our habits since, we tend to revert to our original teacher identity formed at the moment of training. This means that teacher education is even more important – but isn’t the responsibility a bit frightening, too?

Symposium 2 was about plurilingualism, plurilingual education and mediation (again).
Peter Lenz (Institute of Multilingualism, University of Friburg) used ESP skills assessment to demonstrate how mediation can be measured.

photo_2020-02-09_22-49-18
Bessie Dendrinos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) gave a very comprehensive presentation about how multilingual learner corpora and other tools are used in Greece to exemplify CEFR levels.

Déirdre Kirwan (Formerly principal of Scoil Bhríde (Cailíní), Blanchardstown, Dublin).
Déirdre’s talk was perhaps the most memorable of them all: from the bird’s eye view we were transported onto beautiful school premises in the heart of Ireland. Here is a great example of how plurilingualism can work in a certain context provided all stakeholders are involved and on board. Bringing all the richness of multiple cultures into the classroom – makes me wonder if something like this can ever be achieved in our monolingual environment.

Symposium 3 was about descriptors in curriculum, classroom and assessment.
Elaine Boyd (University College London) spoke about CEFR from the position of a materials writer.

photo_2020-02-09_22-49-06
Armin Berger told us about a project to adapt CEFR to high proficiency levels at his university in Vienna.

And Elif Kantarcıoğlu from Ankara spoke about the challenges (and improvements) the new CEFR has brought to assessment.

At some point Barry O’Sullivan, who chaired the first symposium, told us an inspiring story. ‘A single shape with a graphic and 3 bullet points’, that’s how we need to communicate with stakeholders.

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And this is what this post should have been – but I’m sitting at the airport and my higher order thinking skills are slightly impaired 🙂 To be continued!

The CEFR event: Day 1 (1 of 4)

That’s where I am this weekend: Trafalgar Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields, The CEFR: a road map for future research and development

What can 130 language teachers, assessors, professors and other experts do in a church crypt in the centre of London?

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Discuss teaching and assessing of course – and it’s not boring at all. The whole vibe reminds me of IATEFL, with lots of people who clearly love what they do and are happy to see old friends and make new ones.

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Between the coffees and conversations, we listened to several excellent talks about the CEFR (Common European Framework) scale, especially the new CV (Companion Volume).

And the real question behind it all was: how can CEFR help us in the classroom, with the curriculum and with assessment?

This little blog is awfully (and woefully) inadequate for giving you any kind of detail, but here are a few random takeaways:

1) Brian North spoke about the Companion Volume. They added YL descriptors, mediation, phonology, sign language, and made other important updates.

photo_2020-02-08_01-20-21

Mediation (and plurilingualism) deserves its own blog post, or even series, so watch this space.

Oh, and do you know that they have got rid of ‘the ghost of the native speaker’ in the descriptors? It’s ‘proficient user’ throughout, just like in IELTS descriptors.

photo_2020-02-08_01-20-37

Even though he repeated a few times, ‘It’s too early to tell’ when speaking about achievements, it seems that CV has helped the CEFR cause a lot. The question is, how do we let all stakeholders know about it?

2) The panel with Barry O’Sullivan, Masashi Negishi and Meg Malone, chaired by Jamie Dunlea was in fact three more presentations.


For me the biggest realisation was that CEFR is a truly international phenomenon and that it’s actually ok to adapt it to different languages and cultures (e.g. in Japan there are a lot of elementary learners, so there was a need to have a more detailed subdivision of levels)

3) David Little gave his own take on CEFR and its perspectives, related to plurilingualism, proficiency levels (yes, we’re finally talking about how diffferent they are in terms of hours needed to reach them and in terms of which contexts of use they presuppose).

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I took pictures of every slide (until my phone died), and then started scribbling with a pencil. I have to say that nothing beats a good speaker: you hang on their every word, you laugh at their jokes. (Language learning is like a relationship, it has its ups and downs. Meg Malone)

David Little: ‘Reading this is a challenge for breath control, but I’ve had practice’.

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Group discussions were quite exciting too and deserve a post of their own – to be continued!

P.S. Did you know they call the intermediate plateau ‘terminal intermediate’ in America?