Perpetual PD or keep on learning

pexels-photo-310983.jpegKeep on Developing

As William S. Burroughs said in ‘Junky’, “When you stop growing you start dying.” and this could just as easily be paraphrased to “when you stop developing professionally you start stagnating, so in today’s post I’d like to think about how much we invest in our own professional development (PD) in a world which seems

photo credit: Vincenzo di Leo @

to be spinning round faster and faster, where technology is evolving all the time, and where standing still and doing ‘the same things you have always done’ in class is possible but would be like eating the same pasta every day when just around the corner there is a whole array of different types for you to enjoy. One of the easiest ways to participate in PD is by attending webinars or watching streamed conferences etc. all available at the click of a mouse, without having to travel anywhere, but there is also a rather special meeting which takes place on Twitter every Wednesday, run by a group of amazingly dedicated, hard-working volunteers, who believe in social networking to share and advance knowledge and professional practice. I’m talking about the Twitter event  ELTchat. It is IMHO an excellent form of ‘do-it-yourself professional development. If you’ve never been it’s well worth investing an hour on a Wednesday.

What is ELTchat

For those of you who have never heard of ELTchat, it is a virtual weekly ELT professionals meeting, where, for one hour, anyone can join in simply by going to Twitter on a Wednesday, either at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. Central European Time (or even both, if you feel inspired) and following the hashtag #ELTchat, and joining the conversation by posting with the same hashtag. This initiative was started quite a few years ago by a group of people who believe in the power of social media to bring people together into what is known as a PLN (Professional (or Personal) Learning Network) where like-minded people meet to chat and exchange ideas, insights and questions about ELT. These meetings then actually extend to a real social network whose members offer support to each other as well as developing lasting professional relationships in ‘real life’. Each Saturday anyone who is interested can propose a topic for discussion the following week, and then everyone votes on the proposals. The top two proposals are then discussed in the Wednesday meeting.

How to join in

It is possible to take part simply by following the hashtag #ELTchat on twitter itself, but if you want a more streamlined approach Tweetdeck and Hootsuite both organise Twitter hashtag discussions into single columns which are very easy to follow. Marisa Constantinides has provided an excellent step by step guide on the ELTchat blog, to get you started painlessly with these resources. I personally use Tweetdeck, but it is simply a matter of habit.

It is a good idea to go to the ELTchat blog, housed on WordPress, in advance to get an idea of what is going on. The “latest” menu will take you to up to date posts as well as links to the topic proposal form. You can then think about your own:




Preparing is useful because once the chat starts it is fast and furious with public and private exchanges going on all at the same time. The first time I went, in fact, I just watched what was going on and didn’t dare tip my comments into the sea of exchanges for fear of being swept away. I also tried to follow the meeting on Twitter directly, which I found rather frustrating and was almost put off until someone recommended Tweetdeck to me, and after that I was set.


Staffrooms of the Past and ELTchat of the Present

When I first started working here in Verona a long, long time ago, I was lucky enough to work for a private school which boasted a very professional team of teachers and our staffroom was a truly inspirational place (most of the time). We all taught in the evenings but we had the same 30 minute coffee break, which we spent together talking about what had or hadn’t worked in our lessons, sharing thoughts and asking for ideas for future lessons as well as social chit-chat. It was thanks to this particular classroom that I and a few colleagues published for Penguin books at the time I was involved in ‘Elementary Writing Skills‘ for instance and my colleagues wrote ‘Elementary Reading Skills’. Although they are somewhat dated now you can still find them in print and they were the direct result of a stimulating staffroom environment. Nowadays, everyone seems to be teaching at different times and this type of informal exchange is not so common perhaps, but this is precisely where an even like #ELTchat comes in and provides us with the staffroom of the present.

What is so Inspiring about it?

Twitter, you may think, is quite limiting, as you can only tweet a certain number of characters at a time, a challenge in itself. What happens, at least in my experience, is that the meeting acts as a brainstorming session and thoughts are still flying round in my head the following day. This may lead to reflection, you might find resources you want to explore further, idea for your next lesson or you might feel inspired to reflect and blog. #ELTchat is the springboard that launches you into a new process of development.

The ELTchat blog also contains an archive of all the summaries, written after each meeting, which is a veritable treasure trove of ideas, links and thoughts about all sorts of ELT topics. You can just search for the topic you are interested in to see when it was discussed and access the summary of what was said and the resource links that were shared. In fact, ELTchat was an Eltons finalist in 2012, precisely because it was such an inspiring, innovative idea, which can help so many teachers. I can also say that I have met some amazing colleagues there, and we meet up at conferences and even on our summer holidays at times!

There is a whole lot more to explore there as well, such as podcasts and videos, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. If you like the idea, just come along on Wednesday and I may see you there.




Revisiting reflection and cake baking


Revisiting a Short Reflection from 2010


What follows is a reflection that I posted one rainy September day in 2010, and I have decided to revisit it seven years later to expand on the idea of reflection, something we increasingly leave behind as we hurtle through our daily lives.

Facebook can lead to Reflection

“It’s raining quite hard in Verona this morning so rather than going out and busily “achieving not very much” I decided it was the perfect time to sit down and reflect, or at least to write what I was thinking on Facebook. Feeling irritated, like so many people these days, with the overload of information we are all bombarded with, all the time, I wrote that information without knowledge and wisdom is like the ingredients without the cake. This sparked off a little discussion which made me reflect a bit more. (So, yes, Facebook can be used in all kinds of ways 🙂 ) In fact, making a joke, I added that cakes are also very dangerous, as we all know.

On reflection though this is not a joke because the power of the cake lies with the baker rather than  with the person who eats it. The baker decides what to put into it, and therefore what the effect will be. This is true of many things in life, not forgetting, of course lesson planning and teaching (Two of the many points in the learning  process. )

The person who eats the cake, or goes to the lesson, also contributes to the process though, by exercising choice. You can choose which cake to eat, how much of it etc. but we have to think about what it is that leads us to choose one particular cake and not another…. This opens it all up for even more thought and discussion.

In any case, reflection is the essential part of the process. If we just throw in the ingredients without thinking, or if the cakes we eat are mass produced by unthinking machines, for instance, the results will be questionable, at the very least.

So, I’m off to meditate now… and then I might bake a cake…”

Thoughts ten years later

My initial reaction is that not much has changed. We are still bombarded by too much information, in fact, even more so, and we are also struggling to process it all in the different ways we encounter it every day . The second is that reflection can be a one sided process, which would be like baking a cake that nobody eats.  If it leads to insights, though, and if those insights are shared, or applied in practice in the classroom, observing, reflecting, experimenting and then observing again, perhaps we can all learn from each other, build on our experience and the cake can only get tastier and tastier.

24 Hours a Day are not really enough…. or are they?


One of the biggest problems when it comes to reflection is that many of us don’t think we have enough time to do it. Or rather, we get caught up in so much daily activity that stopping to step back and observe it all, is something that we simply don’t take the time to do.

I recently asked a group of university students what they would most like to do if they could do anything they wanted in that precise moment. What do you think the answer was? Well, no, they didn’t want to escape to a tropical island. They wanted to sleep. This says it all, in a way. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important ways of staying healthy and lucid, and yet here we all are, working too late, feeling stressed and carrying on anyway, and on top of all this I’m asking you to ‘reflect’! Well, when are you supposed to do that?

Digital Distractions

When I’m researching something, simply looking for ideas for my next lesson or even planning a trip, I tend to spend a lot of time navigating manically from one article or website to another on the Internet, without focusing to any great depth on any of them, always hoping to find exactly the ideas, flight or research I’m interested in the next one… The next one, after all, is only a click away. I can save them all and come back later, when I have more time. It’s a vicious circle, in fact, because it might have been better to sit and read one article through, rather than spending half an hour cataloguing articles that I am not reading. This is the siren call of the digital world and it takes up a lot of time. Taking time to do something like reflecting seems to be a waste of time. It isn’t productive. There is so much else to do. Strangely enough, though,  I find that taking the time to sit down and meditate, be mindful or simply breathe deeply stops my brain spinning round. It stops me multitasking and actually expands time. That’s the mental space that opens the doors to some of my most significant reflections and insights.

Recently, for instance, I was planning a lesson on discourse analysis which is quite a complex topic. I had been struggling to think of ways of simplifying it all without dumbing it down, and was not being very successful. I did not want to simply lecture students. I want them to be able to understand the basics of systemic functional grammar (in 8 hours at the most!), and I want to motivate them to find out more. Defeated, I left it and went to bed, and the next morning as I was walking down the street, after a good night’s sleep the image of clause complexes as planets came to me, all moving around their own systems, ‘process’ planets with satellites of ‘participants’ and ‘circumstances’ (I apologise for the jargon, but it is central to systemic functional grammar) so I made a Prezi which I called the universe of transitivity and suddenly just ‘knew’ how I was going to teach this subject. For all those who are interested, here is a link to the prezi :-).

None of this is new, of course. We have all experienced the way a good night’s sleep can help us to see things in a different light, and by taking the time to stop and  slow down, in fact, you actually do create more time for yourself, and you work better. Suddenly, you are doing something like writing a blogpost, for example, because you want to, because you have something to say, and not simply because it is on a list of goals that you have set for yourself. Suddenly you find yourself planning an activity to do in class with your students because it is meaningful, fun and relevant to them, rather than because it is simply the next lesson you have to do.

Finding time to make reflection part of your own professional development

This is a tall order, I know, for many teachers who are working heavy weeks, and barely have enough time to plan their lessons, let alone stop and think about them. I remember one Celta trainee I was working with, who said that our course was really good, and that he was learning lots of amazing things, but it was a pity that he had 40 hours of teaching a week and simply did not have the time to put it all into practice.

My advice to him was to “put it into practice’ for one or two lessons a week, rather than for all of them. I mention this because I know that writing a reflection journal, or even a blog, takes time. You don’t always have something specific to reflect about either. You may not have any insights for a few weeks, and then one episode in an exam, or a lesson, for instance, will start you thinking. That is when you can stop and take the time to think about it, and why it is memorable to you.

Reflecting by Asking Questions

Reflection is a skill that can be learned just as any other skill can. One or two moments of quality reflection can be invaluable but if you are not used to it, it may not be easy at first. You may feel that you have nothing to say or write. One way to start is by asking a few  WH questions:

What happened?

Where did it happen?

Who was involved?

When did it happen?

What did this make me think?

What might I do differently next time?

What are the implications?

Planning a little time once a month, even to sit down and take stock in this way can soon become a habit that can actually help you to put more into your teaching. You find that you are no longer simply baking a cake, but you are baking your own quality masterpiece and you and your students are having a feast. Personally, as you can see in the image below, I’ve moved on to waffles at the moment, since it was Pancake Tuesday this week, but I was still quite proud of my creations, just as I was proud of my transivity prezi.

I’d love to hear about your reflections too, and where they take you 🙂


The price of freedom : a few thoughts on learner autonomy

How autonomous do learners actually want to be?

Is the quest for learner autonomy like reachinig for the stars or is it something that is both achievable and desirable? Is it something that should be explored purely outside the classroom or also in class perhaps together with teachers? Last week the TESOL Italy local group held a seminar in Verona on Learner Autonomy and Inclusiveness which raised one or two interesting questions related to my initial thoughts. The first one is the title of this post: what is the price of freedom? Or rather, how autonomous do learners actually want to be? The answers that were shared, even though this was largely on an anecdotal level, tend to confirm the idea that learners don’t actually know how to be autonomous and seek guidance. Jemma Prior began the afternoon by discussing negotiation in curriculum development and the way she does this in her Academic English courses at the University of Bolzano. One of the points that she underlined was Holec’s focus responsibility for learning lying completely with the learner:

“Learner autonomy is the ability to take charge of one’s own learning have, and
to hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning…” (Holec 1981)
Hoping for learners to take responsibility of  ‘all the decisions’ is a tall order, particularly in a world where many contraints are imposed on both teachers and learners by institions, exams and simply the reality of living in the real world. Jemma mentioned a project in Belgium where learners had been given the freedom to design and negotiate their own course, but which had actually had very negative results and which would tend to underline the fact that learners, just like all the rest of us, find it difficult to cope with complete freedom and seek guidance. After all, the thinking goes, “I am paying to do a course so I expect some expertise for my money!”. At the time that Holec was writing, however, I thought it worth mentioning, many institutions were introducing self access centres, perhaps believing that by allowing learners to ‘take responsibility for their own learning’ they could save money and provide self access rather than teaching. These self access centres were ultimately, like the project in Belgium, doomed to failure in most cases, precisely because most of us look for direction and guidance.

Autonomy or Self Instruction?

Self access centres are self instruction centres and learners need to be autonomous to want to use them but self instruction is by no means the same as learner autonomy. Autonomy could be considered a psychological quality or a behaviour but it starts with the individual rather than being a collection of resources for learners. This is also one reason why very few learners are able to follow online courses independently or the sort of self access language learning courses that used to be available as cassettes with magazines etc. Nowadays we have a wealth of self instruction materials available in the shape of online courses, sites etc. some of which are more effective than others but despite this wealth of potential sources of learning many learners still do not know where to start, or lack the motivation and knowhow to be able to use them well. The eighties s was a time when many were thinking about autonomy and what it meant, and that is even truer perhaps today, with the increased onus on learners to ‘take responsibility’ for their learning but the definition of what autonomy is is not such a simple matter and David Little in fact calls it a ‘slippery concept’. For a concise review of some of the research see Little’s description here.
In our digital age this debate is beoming even more heated and urgent in education. One noteworthy case is Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments which in his case, came to the attention of TED among others, and which then led  to further investments and research.  What he did, basically, was to set up computers on street corners in under-priveleged areas of India, like our ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines. These were provided in bright colours and designed for children to be able to sit comfortably at. He then simply left them to it in attempt to remove the teacher and to prove that children learn more effectively when their learning is more self directed. In his plenary at Iatefl in 2014 this had an electrifying effect on the audience (most of whom were teachers) and the debate continued long after. If you are interested I wrote about it at the time. He seemed to be heralding self direction as something new, although it was the self direction + technology that interested him, but I wondered what had happened a few years on and the results are, unfortunately that many of the ‘holes in the wall’ have been vandalised or are being used by older youths to search for all kinds of things that are not necessarily related to education.
Mitra, in fact is more interested nowadays, it seems, in his school in the clouds, which is more about self direction within existing  educational frameworks. I have no doubt that much of what Mitra says makes sense, and many educators are already doing this, but once again providing children is not enough and it is certainly not a magic solution to the problems of failing education systems. Tom Bennet, writing for TES in 2015 bemoans the fact that so many fell for this apparently ‘easy solution’ which he describes in damning terms:
“It seems to me that the more outlandish the magic bullet  claim in education, the more someone is willing to pay to subsidise it – and the less critical people become of it. But Mitra’s work taps into zeitgeists that are very, very groovy indeed: student-guided learning, the perpetually-approaching-but-not-quite-yet tech revolution of education, and the need to replace the ossified dogma of factory-farm learning. It’s like Ken Robinson regenerated into the next Doctor and the Sonic Screwdriver became a laptop.”
Well, teachers feel threatened when self direction rears its head, but scaffolded autonomy within a specific learning framework , is, to my mind, part and parcel of respecting learners and their needs, and in fact nothing new. I have, in fact, frequently given learners a problem or a task and asked them to solve it in small groups with the use of digital resources, and this type of guided learner self direction when monitored closely but not invasively by an educator, can lead to exciting results.
Photo credit: Comfreak on pixabay


Complete resonsibility for learning, or to return to Jemma’s Academic English in Bolzano, course design, then, even if the learners did want it, is difficult to achieve as most institutions have certain expectations in the shape of standard exam requirements and standard syllabi.  Jemma, in fact, explained that much of here course is not ‘up for negotiation’ but one part that can be is the portfolio which counts for 25% of the final exam. scaffolding learner autonomythe level of task negotiation or topic choice etc. is much more realistic and ultimately rewarding both for the learners and the teachers. Learners, who are provided with clear guidelines, within an existing framework, are, in fact, often very happy to ‘take responsibility’ for certain aspects of their learning, and teachers are able to help them taking on increasingly the role of facilitators of learning rather than providers. This leads me on to the second theme that came up in our seminar, which was the need for scaffolding, which all of the speakers underlined in one way or another.
Ann Margaret Smith from Lancaster, who talked about learner autonomy and inclusive education as being two sides of the same coin, mentioned how splitting thinigs into manageable chunks can help learners, telling them that they will be working on a 3000 word essay may be daunting whereas saying that the overall aim is to write an extended essay but that for the moment they would be focusing on ‘titles’ is much more manageable for learners. Elizabeth Beck from the British Council Milan, described their experiences in deveoping ‘learning to learn’ strategies with adult learners, and once again she mentioned that she had initially been quite surprised by the lack of awareness of how to go about studying, but was encouraged by the results achieved by integrating learning strategy work in class supported by separate clinics with materials developed to help learners navigate the world of language learning. I talked about using corpora in class, and once again stressed the fact that it is not enough to simply provide learners with tools. After all, you wouldn’t give a 17 year-old a car and say here’s the key, off you go, would you? Learners need to be provided with the right questions to ask, strategies to use resources effectively and also systems about how to motivate themselves.
Scaffolding, I strongly believe,  means providing the support for our learners to indeed be able to reach for the stars and actually be able to grasp them and even create their own starry firmaments. To reach these dizzy  heights one or two things that we can do to help is to provide the means for both learners and teachers to find out how to establish:
  • goal setting techniques
  • effective/ fun learning strategies
  • an awareness of the outcomes they would like to achieve
  • the motivation to keep up with it all.
  • what useful resources are available and how to use them one step at a time


Non embedded Reference:
Holec, H. (1981), Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning.Oxford: Pergamon.

Can you use that image?

photo credit: Sharon Hartle

Well, I’m back from Iatefl, and am gradually settling back into my normal Italian life. One of the highlights of the week, last Wednesday was a lesson I did on ‘Intellectual Property’ with my advanced C2 class, who have to do presentations as part of their final exam. Many people use resources such as prezi or emaze to do this, which are public, open platforms, freely accessible by the world and his wife. As we live in a world where remix is the norm and images, video, music and other media are shared at the speed of lightening, often without much thought for ownership, it is important, I think, every now and then, to stop, take a deep breath, and question all this.

I have added a photo credit to my own image above, which I would probably not normally do,  (This is my photo, by the way, ) in a rather ironic way to make the point, but for many taking time to think about who owns ideas and content really did seem to be a wake up call, that meant looking at their practice, if not their lives, with new eyes.

What did we do?

Part One: Discussion and Reflection

The lesson began with reflection and the discussion of these two questions:

  1. “We live in times of theft, intellectual theft. When you can download just about everything and make it your own what incentive is there for artists to create any more?”
  2. “A remix is actually an original reworking of someone else’s idea, so as long as credit is given where it is due, it belongs to the remixer.”

This gave rise to various points such as the distinction between piracy and theft, which was not immediately clear to everyone. There is also a fine line between plagiarism and intellectual theft which we also explored, and it seems, at times, for some to be difficult to distinguish between expressing their own ideas and expressing someone else’s. This may seem obvious but when does an idea become so commonly accepted or shared that it is no longer necesary to cite its author? We, obviously, cannot cite everything so in our comunity, for instance, we  refer to ‘scaffolding’ because everyone knows what it means, without having to cite Vygotsky every time we do this.

Part Two: So, in practice?

So far, this was all rather theorectical, however, so the next stage reinforces what this actually means in the way we use technology. I had created a Facebook exercise for the Student Group (which is a closed group on Facebook), with an image I had created by adding special effects to my own photo of an art installation, inspired in fact by J.J. Wilson’s plenary at Glasgow Iatefl.

During this motivating plenary one of the things he asked the audience to do was to look at differnt classrooms and create ‘I wonder……’ ideas with each other. I asked my learners to do the same, (and there are  prizes for the most ‘liked’ ideas). This time, though, I asked the class to look at this video and to say whther or not they thought it was intellectual theft. (I had added a link to an article about the original installation as well, both for those who were interested in reading about it and to give credit to the author.


The class decided that this was not intellectual theft because the installation was in a public space and I was using my own photo, not claiming that the installation was mine. The power. however, of this exercise, I felt, was that it really made people think about how they use Social Media and the content they post. Some went away from that lesson looking rather worried and talking about closing accounts, a reaction that they would probably not have had from simply taking part in the discussion.

So, why is all this important?

SEC Conference centre Glasgow

Well, reflecting on what you do before you do it is a skill that often needs to be relearned in our world where everything can be shared at the speed of light, by the click of a mouse. I personally believe that respecting other people’s work, ideas and insights is etremely important and I hope that they will respect mine too. When you have experienced your own work being plagiarised or stolen in some way you will know how hurtful it can be. Why do we need to steal other people’s work when we can give them credit for it, ask them for permission to use it or…actually, even better, use our own work? Oh, and by the way, the reflection image above is my own photo taken in Glasgow, just in case you were wondering :-).



Ten Pearls of Wisdom from Glasgow Iatefl 2017

The conference finished yesterday and I was, like everyone else I met, “all conferenced out” so I went for a walk around the Kelvingrove area of Glasgow and the West End, partly to vlear my head and partly to be outside for a while. The area around the university was a lovely place to wander, look at the spring flowers and take in the greenness by the water, which was lovely. During this time I decided to write a blog about ten interesting points from my conference experience. There are thoughts that I wrote down during the sessions and which have made me think. So here are my ten pearls, (even though these are sctually only some of the pearls.)

Pearls of Wisdom 2017

  1. Gabriel Diaz Maggioli: “we are experts at routinising our tasks”: he went on to point out that what starts out as innovative quickly becomes normal or even boring, so that teachers meet a new technology or idea and integrate it into their classroom but both teachers and learners soon see it as predictable. My thoughts on this one are actually mxed. In fact, I think, the more innovative ideas you meet and integrate into your teaching repertoire, the richer the whole process becomes, and whilst some things are repetitive, repetition can be reassuring and learners recognise little rituals that occur in the lessons that are actually a welcome structuring of their nlearning process, which is often not at all structured. It is true, however, that the continual search for new resources, new ways of doing things, new apps, new activities can become a destructive spiral if the “wow” effect is the only thing determining it. Most teachers, however, I think, and especially those who are searching for innovation, do reflect about their practice and integrate the new with the tried and tested into a meaningful code of practice which may be eclective but is still meaningful and varied enough to appeal to a whole range of differeing learners with their differing needs.
  2. Sophia Mavridi: “What do people associate with you when they see you online?” A simple question but one that we don’t always stop to ask ourselves. I recently asked a colleague what he associated with my Facebook use, thinking he’d say that I posted too much that was realted to teaching, but what he actually said, was that I posted beautiful photographs. 🙂 So, I suppose, the message is to see yourself through other people’s eyes and to reflect on what they tell you. I recently looked at someone else’s Facebook Page, and it was what might be termed as “showing off”: a whole seies of this person with VIPs in photos, so the message I got from this was “Look at me and how important I am.” It was not a very positive impression, at least from my point of view, because I like to think that online use is an exchange or sharing of impressions and ideas, and I cannot learn very much from self aggrandizement. Each person, of course, projects only certain aspects of themselves online, but it is worth thinking about which aspects e re going to post, which ideas e are going to share and which moments, emotions and insights we are going to invite othrs into.
  3. Peter Medgyes: “the proper use English affords privileges” This was said, I think, although I’m not quite sure of this, with reference to the Berlitz coastguard ad. which I blogged about earlier in the week. It underlined an idea that I think is prevalent in those who choose to study English. The language is often a means to acceptance indifferent communities, a passport to a better life and better job opportunities. “Proper” English,  in my view, is not the use of a whole range of idiomatic phrases but an awareness of how to use language to express yourself in the best way you can. Language, no matter which one, empowers its user, because if you can express yourself articulately you can share your understanding of life with others. We are living in a world where knowledge and information are at a premium and I would actaully say that using any language “properly’ affords privileges.
  4. Several speakers: “the wow effect is not enough.” This is a theme that comes up often in conferences and there had been a marked move away from those presentations of technology aimed at simply showing people how to use new techniques and tools, simply because they are ‘cool’. Cool tools are still great but there was a lot more emphasis on thinking skills and routines being developed by means of these cool tools. This is also a sign of the times, where technology has become such a normalised part of our lives it makes sense to ask yourself: is this the best way of accessing content or thought? This is not only true of technology but also of common classroom techniques. One of these is, for instance, cutting up pieces of paper with parts of a text on them that then have to be reassembled. Now, I would be very surprised if you have never done this (That is, if you are an ELT teacher). I have and still do, but I am very much aware of two things:
    1. Make sure that the different parts match very clearly, so perhaps divide your text in the middle of sentences rather than at a fullstop, so that it is very clear which parts go together. If you don’t you will see learners trying to match up the way you have cut the paper rather than looking at the language. I know because I have resorted to this myself! After all, the aim is to put the pieces together correctly, however you do it…. isn’t it?
    2. Be aware that if learners are doing this they are actually analysing the language and NOT reading the text. It is quite possible to put a whole text together and not read it at all. I have seen trainees on teacher training courses do this, with a txt about reading skills, and at the end nobody had actually understood the content of the text. So make sure that you have a very good reason for doing this. (I often do it to highlight lexical grammar items on Quizlet, such as “The reason……..” “…..why I sat this is”. If you do ask learners to put a jumbled text together, for whatever reason, then give them the chance to read it through for meaning as well, with enough time to do so.
  5. Marcos Benvenides “Extensive reading simulates what good readers do (read all the time and for fun.)” This is an important one, I think. Marcos made the point that “smart people read” and for whatever reasons this tends to be true, but often learners (and their teachers) feel that they should be focusing on great literature or what the teacher suggests. (I am guilty of this myself, as I have set books for my university classes). Encouraging learners to read whatever they want to and to stress the fact that it is the habit of reading itself, and aiming for a regular reading habit, that brings benefits. Of course, there has been a lot of research on the subject and this seems to suggest that you should be reading something which you find very easy to understand, and it should be something that you want to read, whatever it is, which means it should probably be your own choice rather than your teacher’s.
  6. J.J. Wilson: “compliant students answer the teacher’s questions but engaged students ask their own?” This is another interesting one, because it made me think of those students who I sometimes get mildly irritated with because I want to make one point in class and they ae going off in a whole new direction, on their own tangents. It is however, those tangents that may lead them off to the stars. So, I try to take a deep breath, not be irritated and to spend ten minutes or so with these learners, who generally are asking something because it has occured to them, and which means they are engaged. Some of these people, incidentally, are the ones who are still following my Facebook Student Group years after they have graduated.
  7. “I wonder…” This also came from J.J.Wilson’s plenary. He showed us images of different classroms aaround the world and asked us to complete the thought “I wonder….” for each one. We did this in pairs or small groups and what I noticed ws that the more we did it the further we went into both the observation of the images and the ideas, which began by being quite simple but quickly ranged from the facetious to the philosophical and it reminded me of work done in art education by museums, which explore the way we look at images and all the different aspects, thoughts and knowledge cultural or otherwise that we bring to this activity.
  8. John Field: “we draw on our knowledge of the world AS we listen not beforehand.” John Field dismantled the “traditional” procedure when approaching listening of doing pre-listening work whether discussion of pre teaching of vocabulary. He said, quite rightly that neither of these are sub-skills of listening and that we should perhaps spend more time on helping learners with precisely those parts of the texts that are causing them trouble, if we want to lead them “out of the fog” of listening in a second language. I agree in part, though, though because I see listening as part of an integrated skills approach, which are hard to separate one from the other. I may watch  a TED talk about something I know little about, but I still have expectations and discussion in advance is meaningful in itself, although I agree that too much scaffolding is not actually helping learners deal with potential listening difficulties.
  9. Gad Lim: “we are social creatures who like to interact with each other.” This was related to understanding new language, and the fact that frequency of exposure is key. The more you are exposed to a phrase, the more memorable it will be to you. He went on to say, however, that it is also the quality of that exposure that counts so that babies whose mothers talk directly to them are being exposed to language in a more memorable way than if they were simply hearing the language on TV and he cited studies to back this up. This made me reflect that we are social creatures and the quality of our exchanges does determine how memorable they are. I’m not sure what this means for classroom exchanges but if anyone has any insights I’d be really interested to hear them.
  10. Sharon Hartle: finally here is one from me: “keep putting  yourself in the shoes of your learners.” In a conference like this we are often asked to do things in the same way that we may ask our learners to and it can be a very salutary experience. If you ask your learners to answer a question or to discuss something, give them enough time to do so. If you cut things up and ask them to reassemble things do it for a reason which is very clear to all concerned.

Anyway, that’s it from me today. I have to get to the airport now and then… back home again. So, goodbye Iatefl2017 and Glasgow 🙂


What are you ‘sinking’ about? The ELF Debate continues…

The Elf Debate

The elf debate is still at the back of my mind, as it often is and the other day, here at Glasgow Iatefl, Peter Medgyes, in a very well presented speech which supported the importance of learning English as a language in its own right, rather than learning a not very well defined ‘elf version’, quoted this video as an example of one reason why in real life situations we need to be able to speak ‘proper’ English.

There is so much wrong with the stereotyping of this ad, which is actually a Berlitz advert, that I’m not sure where to start, both as far as language learning is concerned and as far as stereotying the Germans… However, my point here is not the stereotyping in itself but how relevant this is to the question of ELF. The point being made here seems to be very much in favour of traditional English models although who, in their right mind, in a context such as this, would react in this way??

I, personally, keep thinking that there is a distinction to be made between ELF as the traditional researchers such as Jennifer Jenkins or Barbara Seidelhofer, and others, see it and Global English as described by david Crystal as the usage of English as a lingua franca on a global scale. There is no denying that English is a global language, and this means that it is in rather a different position from other languages perhaps that are studied with the express purpose of contributing to or integrating into L1 communities. This means, in my view, and as I have said before, that when it comes to assessment we need to take into consideration the notion that our learners need to aim for clear expression rather than to adhere to unreachable native speaker norms, which has to be taken into account in assessment. When it comes to teaching, however, there still needs to be a clear model to present in the classroom, and this is the closest native speaker variety to those learners, so that in Europe this will probably still be British English to a great extent. After all, I may, in a test situation, decide that using ‘informations’ as a countable form rather than the traditional, uncountable ‘information’ does not impede the message particularly (although it will affect the grammar and text references that go with it when writing, which may well hamper reader comprehension). So, when testing this may be acceptable but when teaching we are sulely doing our learners a disservice if we do not point out that even though many now use this word in a countable way it is, actually, uncountable. The model that is presented, in fact, is often just that: a model, and then each individual will, as they do in their own language, develop their own voice and means of expression. As Peter Medgyes also said in his presentation, this is actually not ELF but simply the way we use language.

What do you think?

Iatefl 2017- Exploring digital footprints and Elfies

I can’t believe we are already half way through the conference. So far, in fact, it has lived up to its reputation of being a whirlwind of events, learning, meeting old friends, working and networking. Yesterday was the first day and there were various sessions that I attended, In fact they were all inspiring. I went to an extensive reading presentation by Marcos Benvenvenides, which I liked because I have long been a fan of reading and need to remind myself from time to time of how useful just ‘reading for fun’ at a non demanding level, can be for everyone, and particularly for learners.

I also went to a lovely session on ambiguity by Jonathan Marks, talking about punctuation in the tradition of ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ but many other aspects of language that go to create ambiguity. In the end he concluded, however, that the context of use determines the meaning and that most of us deal with ambiguity n practice with no trouble at all, no matter how funny we may find such things in jokes.

Both of these talks were  informative and fun, but I would like to write about two different sessions in more detail here.  The first of these was a session by Sophia Mavridi who was speaking about ‘Portraying Yourself Online’. This was of particular interest to me, not as a teacher who portrays herself online, although that is true as well, but rather for my undergraduate and post-graduate students who are tying to enter the world of work. Her session provided me with several interesting points that I can pass on to my students to consider:

Your Digital Footprint

Sophia talked about the digital footprint each of us leaves behind us in our daily trek through social media, what we post, how permanent it may be and how unwary posts can come back to bite in the future, Examples of this were things like:

  • posting yourself drinking alcohol
  • posting yourself in a swimming costume
  • posting unguarded thoughts and opinions

The point was also made, however, that at times others may post images of you in a swimming costume, for instance, and the nature of socila media means that this is largely beyond your immediate control.

On the other hand she also talked about the things you can do to make sure you leave a postivie digital footprint:

  • blogging
  • posting comments to other people’s posts that go beyond the ‘great post’ level and actually say something more like ‘great post! I enjoyed it because….’ so that those who read can learn something from you as well.
  • Drawing a fine line between showing off and showcasing your skills
  • Creating an eportfolio on sites like ‘linkedin’ etc.

In any case, and Sophia did not prescribe her views of what was or was not apropriate but left it for us to decide, the talk  provided food for reflection for both me and my university students.

The World of Elf

The second event that made me think, and is still making me think aday later, was the ELTJournal Debate about the motion:

“ELF is interesting for researchers but it is not important for teachers and learners.”

You can see the video of the event below:


WordPess embed

Peter Medgyes spoke for this motion saying that ELF is something that has been created by what he called ‘elfies’ who have invented their own ‘elfiology, which bears little resemblance to the English that learners aim to learn in order to express themselves in the ‘real world’. Alessia Cogo, on the other hand said that “Applying ELF in the classroom is a challenge but it is a challenge worth taking up”. The members of the audience had several comments to make on the subject including my own. I said that I feel the subject to be a complex one and three issues that come to mind are:

  1. the language you teach depends on the audience you are teaching. If, for instance, you are teaching Academic English writing to PhD students who would like their work, perhaps, to be published, you would be doing them a disservice not to teach them a model of English that is accepted in that world. I could add, that whether or not it is fais, those preparing for external certification also need to conform largely to native speaker standards in the ‘Use of English’ sections of the exams they take. Jennifer Jenkins may claim that countable or uncountable nouns ar eon the way out, but if you use ‘informations’ instead of ‘insformation’ in an exam, you will prbably still be penalised. Of course, there are other factors to take into account. (I said it was complex) and most speakers, in actual practice. will willingly accommodate to each other if they want to communicate, this is not necessarily true of assessment criteria.
  2. I said, in fact, that I think a distinction needs to be made between teaching and assessment. Whereas, I truly believe that assessment in the C21 needs to take Elf into consideration and could easily, partularly in speaking tests, take elements such as negotiation r accommodation, into account, it is more difficult when it comes to teaching. There is a danger of an ‘anything goes’ approcah being adopted at one end of the spectrum, where accuracy is not taken into consideration at all. This is also a disservice to learners, because whereas it is true that I can understand you if you do not use the third person ‘s’ in the present simple, it may be helpful for you to know that it exists, and that you may well have to understand it when it is used by others.
  3. I also mentioned the issue of non native speakers, which I know is another subject, but which I thought was worth bringing in. Here I think that many excellent non native speaker teachers are pensalised around the world for their status, which I personally consider to be both unfair and unwarranted. Many of these teachers are in a unique position to help their learners precisely because they have gone through the process of learning the language themselves, so that they know where the pitfalls may be. These teachers, however, have also started from a native speaker model and this is the model that they teach to their learners.

Ultimately, I think it is unrealistice to expect our learners to aspire to native speaker standards when they use the language, but what we teach them has to at least start from a native speaker model. I may be wrong, and, in fact, at the end of the debate the voting was even on both sides. I voted against the motion, however, this was not because I believe that ELF should be taught but because I believe that English is being spoken as a global language and this does affect the way people use it so our assessment of use must evolve to reflect this, but not perhaps the initial models that we teach.

Well, the jury is still out so what do you think?


To Join or not to Join SIG Groups?


Whether you are still on your way, arrived yesterday or are planning to come later this week, I’m sure lots of you are thinking of Iatefl and Glasgow. I was told the weather would be cold and raining, and although there was some rain today it really was not very cold. Yesterday was a beautiful day with sunshine and blue skies. So, I think the key is probably to dress in layers. The weather reporter is actually promising better whether for the second half of the week.  In any case, for those of us who were at the Pre Conference day today, it didn’t really matter what was happening outside as we spent the day in our SiG groups.


This year our TEASIG group joined up with ESPSIG to host a joint event. The day was characterised by various series of shorter (15 min) talks followed by the chance to ask questions to everyone in each group, like mini panels. This worked quite well although there were comments that it did not really give people to go into the issues in much detail, which they would have preferred. There were also those who said that having a joint session meant ‘having to be interested’ in something they actually weren’t. One person who was of this opinion said that she belongs to TEASIG and was not interested in ESP, so she was rather disappointed. However, the fact that the two groups were going to co host the event was well publicised in advance, and it is important to try out new formats for events, rather than always following the same one. In fact the group was split, quite a few people saying that they liked to have the two groups together and the others saying ‘No’.

Read Before You Choose

I, personally, am interested in both assessment and EAP/EMI so I found the content to be relevant. I think the only advice I could give would be to look very carefully at what your SIG is planning and if you are not interested in that, go to something else. One example of this for me is the LTSIG, which I have been a member of for quite a few years. One year the focus was on young learners that I don’t teach, so obviously I chose to go to something else.

Anyway, I was wondering what other people thought about this? So here is a quick poll. Let me know what you think: it expires in one week.


Iatefl Glasgow 2017


That time of year…

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to travel towards the UK. Normally this is one of my favourite events in the year and this year, I am once more one of the official Iatefl bloggers.

These days, however, we are living in uncertain times what with borders being closed and EU citizens being treated as little more than pawns in UK negotiations with the EU, I feel that we are living in a dark world. Even so, Iatefl shines a light into my teaching world and each year I go home afterwards with a wealth of new ideas and renewed energy for the classroom so, despite fears that they might not let me back into Italy, once I’ve departed for Glasgow, I am bravely preparing to leave tomorrow.

Ten tips for a successful conference

Whether this is your first or tenth Iatefl conference you have to know that attending an enormous event like this takes a certain amount of planning so here are my ten tips for a successful conference.

  1. If you are a speaker, prepare well in advance. This may seem obvious but Murphy’s law applies to conferences as well as other events. Do not rely on the wifi connection working, and make photocopies etc. in advance. If you have asked for 30 minutes, make sure that you can complete your presentation in 30 minutes, which requires forethought and practice. Having said that, the audience at Iatefl is generally extremely supportive so if problems do arise they will be on your side. I think the most important thing to remember when your nerves threaten to overwhelm you is that you have ideas that you believe in and you would like to share with others. That is ultimately what counts.
  2. Don’t try to go to everything. There are so many things on, so many parallel sessions, the book exhibition, posters, evening events, etc. that sometimes you just get carried away by it all. This means that by Day three you will be exhausted. Remember every now and then to take time out, have a coffee, wander along the river or just take some time to sit down and relax. Then you will come back with renewed vigour.
  3. I find it helps if I have one or two topics I am interested in. This year my topics are EMI (English Medium Instruction). writing and Lexis. That way you don’t get too distracted by all the parallel sessions.
  4. Don’t be too rigid though. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow, and be ready to go to something that looks interesting even if it wasn’t on your original list.
  5. Check the type of presentation it is. If a presentation is aimed at young learners, for instance, and you don’t teach them it might be something you are interested in precisely because you don’t teach them or it might not. The important thing is to know in advance.
  6. Remember that some events will be available on video, so if a videoed event clashes with something else you are interested in, you can always catch up later.
  7. Remember that Iatefl is also a very social conference, about meeting up with old friends and making new ones. Do not be afraid to go up to people and just talk to them, most people are very friendly.
  8. Don’t forget to explore Glasgow as well. You can actually spend your entire time at the conference but that would be a shame, if you have travelled thousands of miles to be there. A walk into the city centre is a must, and the conference arranges excursions too, so check them out when you arrive.
  9. The evening events are also generally very well organised and include parties, receptions, storytelling, theatre events etc. etc. The last time we were in Glasgow we had Scottish Country Dancing too, I think.
  10. Finally, I think it is important to make the most of your time at the conference. Put your everyday worries on hold for the next few days and focus on professional development and FUN. See you there. (Please say ‘hello’ if you see me) 🙂