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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

My update

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Well, the picture kind of says it all. As of 8 January 2020, I’m a committee member of the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG! I could list one hundred reasons why it’s so important to me, but here are my top three:

  1. IATEFL is one of the biggest and certainly the most well-known international organisation in the field of English language teaching.
  2. LAMSIG is one of 16 IATEFL special interest groups and the closest to my heart: five years ago this SIG gave me, a very new and inexperienced academic manager, a scholarship to come to the 50th anniversary conference. It made me more confident, encouraged me to reflect and develop a more academic approach to my work, and to go out and meet more like-minded people. And now I have a chance to give something back.
  3. I’m one of the 10 committee members, and the other 9 are incredibly cool. I know most of them from before because I’ve been attending their talks, reading their articles, admiring them from a distance – and now we can actually work together!

So, there you go. This also means that my blogging schedule is moving from daily to weekly, but I promise I will continue to read and share the best bits of ELT goodness 🙂 Keep watching this space – and see you at the next IATEFL, maybe?

 

Post-conference efforts

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I was talking to a few teachers during a conference coffee break on Saturday, and they shared how unrealistic many of the things they’d heard are. Yes, there are too many ideas and so little time to put them into practice, and sometimes the students are not as ideal as we would like them to be – and yet I feel that it’s worth making an effort and trying out at least something new. I saved this cool link some time ago, and I think it’s the perfect time to share: it’s advice from conference experts (in a totally un-ELT field, which makes it even more interesting) about how to plan your work and thinking process after an event. There are quite a lot of approaches to choose from: create a special template, write about the best ideas, rewrite and teach, ‘pick one for one’, analyse the ‘wow, hmmm, meh’ – some excellent tips there! Hopefully, this will help with conference hangover 🙂

My impressions about the Grade Teachers’ Conference 26 October 2019

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Are conferences worth it? You bet. For me, each day is a month’s worth of professional development. You meet amazing people, you listen to their stories and of course you attend all kinds of interesting workshops. If you have a chance to speak, it’s even better! That’s why I’m so keen on these events, and I’m always sorry I don’t have enough time for all the cool events that happen in Kyiv (to say nothing of more distant places).

So, what did I gain from the yesterday’s conference? (By the way, it was really well organised by Kateryna Protsenko and her team, they are absolute superstars.)

I saw six talks and workshops:

  1. Adrian Underhill is always a pleasure to listen to, and I’m really happy for the participants who saw him in person for the first time. And pronunciation, ‘the Cinderella of teaching’, needs all the attention it can get, really! His advice to NNSTs and I suppose any speakers of English: ‘Teach your own accent and expose students to multiple others’.

2. My wonderful colleagues, Alina and Mariya, spoke about the neuropsychology of signposting in perhaps the most memorable talk of the day.

3. Kris Kirby gave loads of helpful advice about how to tweak speaking tasks so that students use the target language and keep speaking.

4. Tony Prince, one of the amazing NILE tutors I’ve been privileged to study with, was there with a great plenary on critical thinking. Such an important topic nowadays, and never enough time to go into it deep enough.

5. A team of academic managers/teachers from Lviv spoke about their favourite ways to engage learners (and used Mentimeter – nice).

6.  Irina Sushko spoke about the importance of good learning habits. Now this is definitely something I’ll discuss with my teens!

And, of course, I presented my own talk and really enjoyed talking to the participants and listening to their ideas. It was a bit of a challenge, to speak in the last slot, but I think we all did really well 🙂

Now I have lots of new ideas to try out in my classroom – what a breath of fresh air!