Category Archives: ELT Issues

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

Creativity in language teaching

I see teaching and learning as intrinsically creative activities. They require from all those involved the capacity of thinking in different ways, taking risks, and changing a present situation into something else because, otherwise, there is no learning. Nevertheless, it is no unusual for teachers and learners to get stuck in classroom routines and be driven by the need to perform well in examinations which take the novelty, experimentation, creativity and fun out of the process. Having these things in mind Alan Maley and Chaz Pugliese have  brought a group of like-minded people together to think of ways of promoting creativity in language teaching, we are calling ourselves the C Group.

One of the first initiatives of the C Group was to organize a symposium on creativity at IATEFL where six of us presented on different aspects of creativity in teaching and learning. Here is a summary of the presentations.

Creativity – for a change Alan Maley (Freelance) Creativity is much proclaimed but little practised. Teachers suffer from the twin plagues of routine and institutional control. In his presentation, Alan suggested  that more creative forms of learning and teaching are possible. He  focused on constraints, heuristics, improvisation and the random principle as ways of rendering our teaching more creative.

Getting our students in flow: the creative teacher’s ultimate challenge Chaz Pugliese (Freelance) We’re in a state of flow when we’re so immersed in what we’re doing that we become oblivious to anything and anyone around. But what can a teacher do to promote flow? In this session, Chaz analysed a few useful strategies to design activities that are rich, enjoyable and may help the students pay attention and stay focused.

Why do we still need creativity in a language class? Hanna Kryszewska (Pilgrims Language Courses, Humanising Language Teaching Magazine) Humanism and other schools of thought considered creativity a vital component of learning and teaching. At present, creativity seems to be less prominent. Has it become obsolete? This talk focusesed on reasons for and ways of promoting creativity in EFL in the 21st Century, with reference to Gardner’s recent theory of education (Five Minds for the  Future).

Putting the human centre stage Mark Almond (Canterbury Christ Church University)
Mark talked about how the focus in language classrooms around the world has moved from
person-to-person interaction to person-to-screen interaction. He argued that, though much of the new technology available to teachers is quite staggering in its innovation, more meaningful, richer and creative communication should be going on between the people in the room.

Creative reading in teacher development Chris Lima (University of Leicester) In this talk, I discussed how integrating the reading of literary and creative material into teacher education and development programmes can give ELT professionals the opportunity to better understand the role of literature in language learning, participate in discussions of relevant issues, engage with different points of view, and develop their own language skills.

Creative use of the coursebook Brian Tomlinson (Anaheim University) Brian demonstrated how teachers can stimulate their learners to be creative by using their coursebooks in creative ways. He showed how consciously articulating principles of creativity can generate a menu of creative activities which can help the teacher and the students to come up with ideas for using each coursebook unit in novel ways.

Alan Maley also gave an interview to the British Council Harrogate Online where he talks about the importance of creativity in the ELT industry and introduces the C Group:

To visit the C Group website, click here

EFL problems – EAP and low-level students: will it work?

This is an ever-present question to everyone working with pre-sessional students.  I have just started teaching a group of would-be PhD students and although they are almost at entrance level, their language proficiency level is still quite low compared to the students I usually teach. However, contextualizing language work and connecting it to their field of knowledge seems to really motivate them and it has proved quite effective in class so far.

Read more below.

Oxford University Press

Teacher helping adult studentWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Stacey Hughes responds to Raef Sobh Azab’s blog comment about whether to focus on general English or EAP for low-level university students.

Raef wrote:

I teach English to university students at the English Department in a non-native English speaking country. My students lack the basic skills of the language. Their levels are beginner and/or elementary at best. My question is: what is the best and the most suitable choice for them? Is it general English because of its language input and real life context or EAP which is badly needed for their academic studies?”

Raef has posed a fundamental question, and I suspect that at the heart of it lies the distinction between General English (GE) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP). For one thing, where each is traditionally taught is different: EAP…

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Getting worse?

Grammatical correctness is certainly an issue that speaks close to every language teacher and in a week where I spent over two days marking papers and a Friday afternoon attending a meeting where we discussed marking criteria, this article on grammar accuracy published yesterday in The Guardian makes a timely come. The article discusses the myth that people nowadays make less accurate use of English than they did in the past and that, basically speaking, poor teaching practices, the national curriculum, and new technologies are to be blamed for the falling standards displayed by current writers and speakers of English.

If poor English grammar, spelling and punctuation are indeed rampant among native speakers of English, what can we expect from English language learners?

Although my students display in their writing different levels of language proficiency, they are virtually all advanced learners of English and their grammar accuracy is, generally speaking, pretty good. Their major problems are style and register and I tend to focus on those as well as on content when marking. Should I be more strict when marking their grammar? Perhaps. However, there is a limit on what students can take from any piece of feedback and I have to prioritize the areas  where I believe substantial improvement is more important.

An interesting thing is that language learners – and also some teachers –  seem to assume that all well-educated native speakers of English have the power to write with flawless grammatical accuracy. Nothing could be far from the truth and I have an anecdote to illustrate that.  The episode occurred when I submitted an article to a journal last year.  I asked a friend to proofread it and send me some comments before I could submit it to the editor. My friend kindly agreed to do that and the manuscript came back to me with a couple of articles added here and there, another couple of commas deleted, and one or two sentences slightly edited. Brilliant!  I made the necessary adjustments and sent it to the editor,  Then I received it back… Some of those very articles which had been added were now crossed over, some commas reinserted, and another couple of sentences –  which my first proofreader considered OK  – were now heavily edited. So…

A couple of other everyday working episodes –  too trivial to be mentioned – seem to indicate that we all have our doubts and issues with grammar, vocabulary and punctuation and that none of us has the supernatural power of writing in ‘perfect’ English. When you read an article, an academic paper, a book, or any other published piece of writing, is it very likely that the final version you have in front of you has gone through a process of reviewing and proofreading that rendered it quite different from the first version. It has certainly been corrected and amended a couple of times. Nevertheless, anyone reading it more carefully would be probably still able to find something to contend with in terms of language accuracy and vocabulary choices.

Anyway, the article that triggered these reflections is the one below. Please click on the link to read it.

The pedants’ revolt: lament for a golden age of grammar that never existed.