Online discussion on extensive reading

Starting today and going up to 31 August 2014, the IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies special interest group is  hosting a fielded discussion on extensive reading with Thomas Robb, Professor at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan. He has been a long-time advocate of extensive reading and computer assisted language learning. His current project M-Reader is an online site designed to help schools implement extensive reading programmes. 

To join the discussion, visit Yahoo groups webpage.

reading600x291

Imagination in teacher professional development

In a previous entry on imagination in teacher education I focused on publications intended to promote creativity and imagination in English language teaching and learning. Now I would like to focus on professional development since the way the content and ideas advanced in books and articles are disseminated among ELT practitioners is mainly through teacher education programmes, courses, workshops, seminars and conferences which are sponsored and supported by major publishers and educational organizations.

Disputable as it may be in terms of long term results, sustainability and impact (Lamb, 1995, pp.78-9) and cultural appropriateness (Leather, 2001, p.232), attendance at short courses, talks and workshops in conferences is still an important and stimulating part of ELT professional life for most teachers and teacher trainers (Beaven, 2009, p.8). Conferences organized by TAs usually attract a fairly good number of delegates and a flow of ELT professionals linked to the publishing industry, education providers, and institutions interested in the promotion of English around the world, such as the British Council. A way to see how much currency imagination and creativity have among ELT professionals who participate in such events is to look at conference programmes.

For instance, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language’s (IATEFL), Annual Conference consists of a 4-day programme of over 300 talks, workshops and symposia (IATEFL, 2014, online). In the past ten years, there has been a small but steady increase in the number of presentations related to classroom techniques and activities to promote creativity using songs, drama, storytelling, literature, visual arts, and new media. The IATEFL Literature, Media, and Cultural Studies (LMCS) SIG has also been promoting imaginative and creative uses of material to promote language learning in its pre-conference events and in its SIG day presentations for years. At Cardiff 2009, there was a symposium especially devoted to Art in ELT, convened by Alan Maley. At Harrogate 2010, I delivered a talk on Imagination in Teacher Education which largely focused on the research I carried out for my MA degree. At Harrogate 2014, we saw the creation of the C Group, and had a symposium devoted to Creativity in ELT, once again largely organized by Alan Maley. The C Group and the LMCS are now organizing a joint event to take place in October 2014 in Oxford which theme is Teachers Create Learners Create. On the whole, it seems to be true that there has been a growing awareness of the importance of creativity in teacher education and language learning, at least among teachers and teacher trainers associated to IATEFL.

We should also consider if the same tendency is present at formal teacher education programmes, both at initial teacher training and continuing professional development levels. As for academic qualifications, it is virtually impossible to draw accurate conclusions about the status of imagination and creativity in the syllabus of degree programmes due to the overwhelming number of undergraduate and postgraduate Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) courses being taught at education colleges and universities around the world. What we can do is to look at the syllabuses of some of these courses in the hope that this will reveal a general trend in some specific contexts. This can be a potential area of investigation for educators interested in taking future research in the field.

When it comes to professional qualifications, the market of TESOL short certificate and diploma courses is unquestionably dominated by the Cambridge – Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA), the Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DELTA) – and the Trinity College – Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) and Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DipTESOL) (Barduhn and Johnson, 2009, p.62). These are courses for candidates who have little or no previous English Language teaching experience; candidates with some teaching experience but little previous training; or candidates with some experience but who wish to achieve a higher professional qualification in ELT. These courses are usually taken by both English native speakers who want to obtain a professional qualification to teach English abroad and non-native speaker EFL teachers who seek to obtain an internationally recognized qualification to improve their career prospects. There is considerable controversy and criticism regarding the efficiency and suitability of such courses to prepare people to teach EFL (Brandt, 2006; Ferguson and Donno, 2003), but it is undeniable that they can provide some training where otherwise none would be given and that they can be a first step towards further later academic TESOL qualifications.

In these courses, the knowledge and skill development model of teacher education is embodied in the concern for the development of teaching skills, with emphasis on classroom management, teaching methodology and language awareness, which reveals the strong influence of competency-based training. This is in turn coupled with a marked tendency towards analysis and reproduction of supposedly effective teaching practices and focus on knowledge of and about the English language. The words ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’ do not appear in the syllabus or handbook any of these professional qualification programmes.

A note of warning is necessary here though. Even with the content of academic and professional teacher training programmes excluding overt references to imagination and creativity, it does not necessarily follow that the teacher trainers’ approach in class excludes those. Teacher trainers working on such courses may well introduce tasks involving imagination and creativity in their own sessions and propose the discussion of such issues in their lessons with their trainee teachers. There is no way of knowing the extent to which imagination is actually present in the everyday sessions of student teachers without an ethnographic study in specific institutions as it depends on the trainers’ own views and understanding of what is important in teacher education, which makes the whole discussion of the roles of imagination and creativity in teacher development even more indispensable.

References

  • Bardhun, S. and Johnson, J., 2009. Certification and Professional Qualifications. In
  • A. Burns and J. C. Richards (Eds) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Beaven, B., 2009. Exeter Conference Selections. Canterbury: IATEFL.
  • Cambridge English, 2014. Teaching English. [online]Available at http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/teaching-english/ Accessed 10 Aug 2014
  • Lamb, M., 1995. The consequences of INSET. ELT Journal, 49/1.
  • Leather, S., 2001. Training across cultures: content, process, and dialogue. ELT Journal, 55/3.
  • Trinity College London, 2014. Teaching English. [online] Available at http://www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=293 Accessed 10 Aug 2014

Review: Writing About Literature

image.phpW.F. Garrett-Petts’ second edition of Writing About Literature: A Guide for the Student Critic is exactly what the title proposes: a manual to help undergraduate students to write more critically informed essays on literature. Although there is quite a lot of such supposed guides available both in book form and on the internet, most of them fall short of addressing the real issues behind the composition of essays, being no more than lists of formulae and tips on academic writing.

The author’s comment right on the introduction of the book definitely rings a bell for me and my literature and language students. He points out that the ‘great irony of our field’ is that students ‘spend a great deal of time discussing literature’ whereas ‘relatively little direct instruction is offered in how to write about literature (Garrett-Petts, 2013, p. xiii). Last term I tried to minimize the problem by introducing a writing tutorial done via our VLE right in the first week of the course; however, reading his book made me realise that there are still aspects that need to be addressed and that are missing in the course.

Particularly relevant is the concept of the four contexts for learning or the four critical stances proposed by the author and which serve as a framework for writing a critical response to texts: the social, institutional, textual and field stances (pp.1-11). First, the social stance is taken when students compare and discuss with other students their personal reactions to the text, their notes on vocabulary, metaphors, themes and issues raised by their reading. The institutional stance requires students to learn the series of writing conventions we adopt in academic writing, such as what constitute evidence, and attitude and tone expected by the department. The textual stance requires students to become familiar with the tools of trade in literary criticism, such as  the features of an academic essay, the organization of a paper, the use of quotations and the field vocabulary. Finally, the field stance means that students have to learn how to think critically about literature by adopting a critical approach to their analysis.

The writer adopts throughout the book a quite clear and didactic approach to writing  and carefully maps the terrain of literary criticism scaffolding the writing process so that students can have a solid basis to start with. The proposed six common places of literary criticism (pp.51-57) and his summary of the critical approaches to text (pp.57-68) could be considered reductionist and boarding oversimplification but for dazzled undergraduate students they can prove to be quite helpful and a clear starting point for future explorations. This is especially true for international students who may come from academic cultures that have a different approach to literary academic writing.

Clear examples and samples of students writing based on a sample text provided in the book help readers to see how the theory and the strategies suggested are put into practice. The section on poetry at the end is not as well-developed as the one on prose analysis but insightful nonetheless. A glossary and suggestions for further reading at the end can also prove useful to students wishing to go further in their understanding of academic writing in the field of literary studies.

All in all, I found the book a welcome addition to the field and I will definitely review the writing tutorial I offer to my students next term and incorporate to it some of its ideas and tasks.

Garrett-Petts, W. F. (2013) Writing About Literature: A Guide for the Student Critic. London: Broadview Press.