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).


  1. Hi Ed. Nice summary. Particulalry like the bit about training often being 'deficiency related'. I went on a training day this week by J Harmer on getting the most from teacher observations and this fits in well. About levels of trust and having a deep conversation about maybe one small aspect of what happenend in a class and exploring that with the teacher. Not neceaaeily saying just 'that was good but...'. Something I need to explore.

    Cheers for the post. You've inspired me to blog, again.

  2. Glad to hear such a positive word or few. That talk was really inspirational and seemed to ring true for me. Harmer's idea of macro focus is nice, and I can see how it would reveal a lot about teacher's beliefs and so on.

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