Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Second pick of the cherries: impact, brains and furnished imaginations

Second batch of cherries (brought to in association with rent a cherry tree / Dal's cherry farm...)

I just stumbled across some straight to laptop notes from IATEFL. Just three more cherries and then I am done with this IATEFL reflecting / retelling / rehashing / rememberinglark:

Simon Borg: The impact of teacher education on in-service teachers’ beliefs

This session raised and answered some very important questions close to my heart. The key one:

To what extent does your work as a teacher educator make a difference in anyway to anyone at any time and what can you do to find out about it. An important question to regularly ask, and is particularly pertinent in light of my current research pathway.

When thinking about impact he asks us to consider impact on what and who.

  • Participation (teachers and learners – reach / participation)

  • Beliefs

  • Knowledge

  • Skills

  • Behavior

When do we expect the impact to occur?

From a research perspective how we collect the data about the impact becomes an important questions and he offered three observations:

  • Limited impact research about INSET

  • Impact often not a design feature of projects

  • Simplistic notion of impact (i.e.: end of course questionnaire = happy sheets  but how about in the medium to long term)

This project was to examine the impact of INSET on teacher’s beliefs:

Key Findings

  • Limited initial awareness of beliefs

  • Variable impact on beliefs: a real range, and some confusion about understanding, articulating, confirming, changing, and applying beliefs

  • Blurring of beliefs and practices

The word impact has krept into my research direction which is on improving / changing what I do, investigating my own practices / beliefs and how having these reflections impact on my work and lead to growth. I guess like Bailey (2001, p11) I am "simply keeping a close watch on my own teaching (training / work), to see what I could learn and how I cold improve". I am hoping to explore and inform my praxis. Next up,

Richard Kiely - The Furnished Imagination: What new teachers take to work

In this session there was a report of a study into thirty or so, trinity cert graduates about what they took to work from their courses. Kiely kept in touch with his grads and eventually set about using the conceptual framework of the furnished imagination to explain their experiences. Wenger coined the term the furnished imagination to talk about our changing ability to describe the our practice. Our practice is based on our shared historical and social resources, frameworks we have for understanding. When we interact with others (usually) we engage in situational; / socially oriented learning as part of a community of practice.

The emergent themes were that trinity TESOL cert holders left for work with:

  • Readiness and confidence

  • A platform for continued situated learning

  • the buds of a teacher identity forming

  • varying levels of support in place

  • a furnished imagination

Each graduate who goes into a school will be faced with a different reality. This will be based on:

  • The nature of the mentoring

  • The norms of the school

  • Their own language learning and schooling histories

The TESOL cert grad develops an awareness of their:

Knowledge what do you know, what do you not know

Procedural awareness and skills e.g. TTT is not good…not interrupting pair /grp work

Dispositions character is permanent / disposition can be shaped / attitudes can change

TESOL Identity – Block (2007) socially constructed, self-conscious, negotiated, ongoing narratives that individuals perform, interpret and project

A furnished imagination is a way of:

  • understanding teacher learning
  • tracking professional learning
  • capturing teacher learning as professional identity formation in sociocultural terms
  • validating learning within CERT TESOL courses

He rounds off with a general statement that learning teachers need support, mentoring and space to make mistakes.

James E Zull author of from Brain to Mind

He was somewhat controversial, in the sense that not everyone was sold on what he was saying, but I thought he was great. He talked about what we can learn from how brain biology about learning. I was impressed at having a HARD scientist rather than a social-scientist. He communicated his points clear enough for a novice of brain studies and made them relevant (ish) to us. He was an elderly looking frail man with a wicked sense of humour.

Stuff I didn't know:

  • Learning physically changes the brain: the cortex thickens super fast ages 1-4 and then gradually reduces in size from then
  • Total number of synapses produced decreases as we get on, due to new ones not being produced as fast in old age.

I liked the ideas that:

  • you can learn by forgetting things, by abandoning what doesn’t work.
  • you will have a more complex mind if you have a broader set of experiences in that the more complex the networks are the ‘better’ the knowledge

He finished off with this very Kolb like experiential learning summary of how science explains learning:

  • Experience-information

  • Reflect-make meaning

  • Create-Predict

  • Act-Test

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


My friends KADN have some work in the tate at the moment. It's a beautiful thing that encourages kids and families to get involved in making their own sculptures, structures and interacting with gallery artefacts in a non-established way. The work is called liminal, it's really good and it's a really good word too.

Image shamelessly nicked from Abigail Reed's facebook...

Liminality works for me and my current location. Palestinian people are perhaps liminal in the way that they are denied full statehood by many, my life is liminal (neither here nor there), and my research as an ethnographer, as a participant researcher (as I research myself) places me in some very liminal moments as I try to see me and yet separate the me from me, or something.

Friday, April 13, 2012

this caught my eye today

(image from guardian

This exhibition by a Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour opens in Manchester tonight. It looks funny. She's a virtual jihadi :) I want one of these cute Palestinauts. The show is called Subversion, which is a very good name, or act.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


(image from

Looking back through my notes from IATEFL I have cherry picked the best bits and will attempt in this post to briefly present them to you. By cherry pick, some of these are things that are new, some are less new cherry's but good ideas that perhaps I need to revisit.

I will start with a few cherry picked ideas from the RESIG day.
Sarah Mercer and Richard Smith had a few nice warmer activities: for example making acronyms that define how we feel: TEFL Totally Eddy Feeling Lad...

In her practice at uni in Austria she does learner histories as her first lesson, an idea that I am going to use tomorrow and Tuesday for my cover classes that bridge the gap between two teachers.

Richard Smith talked about making the most of feedback, something I am really into. He talked about the horrible evaluation questionnaire institutions use for various devious purposes. The practical suggestion of asking students for feedback using the start, stop, continue prompts, or rather (as a US colleague put it) keep, change, ditch. He clearly illustrated how we can (and perhaps should respond to open questions with closed questions.

Ruth Hamilton gave some ideas linked to possible changes that could be made to the CELTA, including making potential candidates shadow a teacher for a day, and echoing Scott Thornbury that the written assignments should be ditched and the course should be a teaching only course.

The British Council's people in China did an ace presentation on some amazing work they have been doing. It seemed really deep and meaningful, it was a great presentation, but I just wondered how scalable it was, and how many trainers they could train using this level of intensity of training. They also were able to show how they successfully wrangled with an issue of how to link teacher training and trainer training.

Susan Barduhn and Beth Neher did an amazing job of situating teacher educators as change agents a conceptualisation i really liked and find powerful. They focused on their context at SIT working with teachers on a long programme whereby they are mostly learning in school, but come to the Uni in the summers. They talked about how professional development is often viewed as deficiency related: if you need to improve, you are not good enough kind of thing. They talked about how we need to focus on learning not in a this is the right way, way.

They talked about change coming when there is trust and about change at three levels. First order change is reversible and is about immediacy. Second order change has transformative potential and is less likely to be reversed. This might be change to how teachers do things and who does what. I effects at a deep systemic, cultural level.

With the equation TRUST + EFFORT + LEADERS THAT UNDERSTAND CHANGE they say it is possible to be change agents. However, we must understand that change as chaos, loss, grieving, unstable, confusing, as somthing that creates conflict, but eventually becomes a new beginning with new identities, competency, identities and energy. The language in this talk was so BIG i loved it! They then finished off by talking about teacher's need for real knowledge and confidence and that we should do this taking into account that we have all undergone an extensive "apprenticeship of observation" (Lortie, 1975) and that understanding is created dialogically we need somthing and somebody to make sense of all!

In one of the many sessions I attended about doing teacher education work in development contexts an audience member said this in the Q&A after (my paraphrase):

people want quick fixes. We live in a superficial, celebrity obsessed, capitalist world. People in developing countries don't want to engage in deep reflections, change, or question their beliefs: they want quick fixes. All this talk about reflection is right. Therefore lets deal with the technical aspects of teaching first and then deal with the beliefs underpinning this.

It's a pretty staggering quote and was a great example of someone going balls-deep and not hedging their opinion: really saying it as they see it. Slightly contreversial generalisations, but still I get him, though I can't see how you seperate actions and beliefs, often the actions are very representative of the beliefs.

Penny Urr did a session talking about some of her issues called, it's all very well in theory but.....

She cites Schon initialy, who feels the scientific paradigm is not justified and that professionals learn by doing and then reflecting in /on / for action, not by applying research based theories.

She then moves onto talk about the teacher as researcher and action research as, a disciplined inquiry made public....and something that hasn't really happened. Teachers don't have time and so on.

She talked of issues teacher have, including:
1. Lack of clarity (writing not good)
2. Contradictions within the research
3. Researcher Bias
4. Limited Practical Application

She reminded me of the Hawthorne effect (how the consciousness of change influences outcomes of experiment). She also seemed to be asking for research to be done not only within limited populations / time frames and within these local pedagogical / practical constraints. She argued that researchers (like me) have limited experience of research (yes, but okay how do we get experience otherwise?). Practically, she recommends critical engagement with research and suggests: checking out overviews in language teaching / ELTJ, skimming abstracts, reading results and conclusions and saving in zotero, or similar. See for yourself here

The last nice cherry was from Gabriel Diaz Maggoioli at the new school. He presented 4 conceptualisations of teacher learning
  1. Look and Learn (craft tradition)
  2. Read and Learn (applied science tradition)
  3. Think and Learn (reflective tradition)
  4. Participate and Learn (sociocultural tradition)
Nothing massively new, but a good reminder (for me) to avoid dos and don'ts, better to participate and learn rather than prescribe and learn. He also made the point that we need to learn first and then develop, and that these are seperaate processes. His other cherries included being a teacher, not just teaching. He gave a nice idea for teacher training courses in the future that teacherly vocabulary (for example reflective practice, Lingua Franca and so on should be treated like vocabulary on any language learning course, i.e.: we play with it, using games like back to the board).