ECLIPSING EXPECTATIONS: Sabancı University School of Languages 2nd International Conference on Language Education

“Eclipsing Expectations: Sabancı University School of Languages 2nd International Conference on Language Education”
by
Meral GÜÇERİ

Sabancı University School of Languages organised its second international language education  conference on June 2-4, 2011 in Istanbul at Sabancı University Campus hosting delegates from 21 countries. The conference was entitled Eclipsing Expectations due to the solar eclipse which took place just before the conference and the lunar eclipse which was on the day following the conference. The conference aimed to enable students and educators to explore their expectations collaboratively. Thus, key note speakers were invited to highlight the crucial aspects of the teaching learning process. Learner plenary and concurrent sessions were also held to hear learner experiences and expectations in their own voices. It has been a very fruitful but also a challenging journey as learner and educator expectations met and eclipsed where possible. Eclipsing Expectations chat appeared in facebook, twitter, School of Languages (SL) blog before, during and after the conference. Sabancı University School of Languages blog published and SL TV broadcast interviews with the key note speakers and the delegates. Our official interviews with the plenary speakers, are now available on the School of Languages TV http://digital.sabanciuniv.edu/e-rezerv/e-video/do/sltv/ .

In these interviews speakers refer to their 2011 Eclipsing Expectations presentations: http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/#en. Finally, as the fruit of the loom, a collection of selected papers, summaries and experiential essays by the delegates has been published.

Plenary speakers were Prof. Kathleen Bailey ,Monterey Institute of International Studies and Anaheim University (United States), Dr. Christine Coombe, Higher Colleges Of Technology (United Arabic Emirates), Prof. Howard Gardner, Harvard University (United States),  Dr. Tony Humphreys, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Senior Fellow at National College of Ireland (Ireland), Dr. Nur Kurtoglu-Hooton, Aston University (United Kingdom), Prof. Patsy Martin Lightbown, Concordia University (Canada) and Joe Pereira, British Council (Portugal).

The main themes of the conference can be listed as follows:

-Noticing critical incidents and learning to reflect critically
-?A bit like taking your hands off the handlebars on your bike or something?: When we experiment with learning
-Transfer-appropriate processing: How can we ensure that classroom learning is transferable?
-Comprehension in second language acquisition: Listening and reading as the basis for language acquisition
-Bridging Student Learning and Teacher Development with Dialogue Journals
-Using Communication Strategies to do More with Less
-Foreign/Second Language Teacher Assessment Literacy:  Issues, Challenges and Recommendations
-Burnout in ELT:  Strategies for Recovery or Prevention
-The art and science of changing the mind-sets of learners and educators
-The Inner Course of Teaching and Learning
-?I?-sight in the Classroom
-Question Time on Teachers? and Students? Challenging Responses
-A narrative at war with a crossword: an introduction to Interactive Fiction
-Playing and learning outside the box

The language of the conference was English in order to create a forum for research and practices in foreign language education through one common language, which allowed language educators to share and exchange ideas across languages and across diverse language learning and teaching contexts.

The very first plenary talk was by Patsy Martin Lightbown who began her speech by stating that transfer appropriate processing (TAP) is synonymous to Transfer-appropriate learning. She emphasized that practice does not make perfect if practice is merely drilling students. Dr. Lightbown claimed that de-contextualized drills have no resemblance to the natural way we usually learn languages; hence, isolated drills can not really foster language learning. So she asked ?what kind of learning and practice can actually lead to automatized procedural learning??. She is cautious in her approach to content-based instruction. She claims that if we have to focus a lot of attention on content, less attention may be given to the language and hence processing of the features of language. In other words, focus on general meaning can distract focus on meaning and structure. Patsy ended her speech by saying that the TAP classroom needs to provide opportunities to use language communicatively, focus on linguistic features that cannot be learned through communicative interaction or have been learned incorrectly and provides practice that leads to proceduralization and automatization. She also highlighted that task meaningfulness must be defined relative to learning goals. http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/2011/06/02/summary-of-patsy-lightbowns-plenary/#en

Kathleen Bailey discussed how dialogue journals bridge the gap between learner and teachers as they provide students the opportunity to use the language as well as to express themselves.  Pedagogical scaffolding by Walqui & Van Lier (2010) is ?progressive help provided by the more knowledgeable to the less knowledgeable.?  And she explained the significance of these journals in terms of how teacher responses can help students reflect critically. What is important about scaffolding is that actually once the individuals are capable of performing themselves, the ?scaffold? is removed. Kathleen ended her talk by posing some questions about student home culture and dialogue journals. http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/2011/06/05/summary-of-kathleen-bailey%E2%80%99s-plenary/#en

Nur Kurtoğlu-Hotoon of Aston University quoted Dewey: ?We do not learn from experience but from reflecting on experiencing?. She argued that critical incident analysis promotes this learning. Then, she provided a definition of ?critical incidents? as an everyday event, a memorable happening, a problematic situation which promotes reflection and has a possibility for personal change and development. She claimed that critical incidents can open up learning opportunities as described in ?Critical reflection is a way of life? Larrivee (2000). In order to learn from a critical incident we need to reflect and when we reflect we fit new understanding into what we already know. Nur shared the following five levels of reflection by Bain et al. saying that reflection requires mental space:

1. reporting the event
2. responding to the event
3. relating it with past experience
4. reasoning about the event in terms of alternatives
5. reconstructing the event in terms of theory and applying to experiences

She concluded emphasising that we need to promote reflection through critical analyses.

http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/2011/06/03/summary-of-nur-kurtoglu-hootons-plenary/#en

Christine  Coombe talked about the practical application of teacher involvement in assessment, alternative forms of assessment, burnout and toastmasters. Dr. Coombe discussed how teachers and students view assessment and continued explaining four models of in-house test development, namely ?Teachers Write the Tests?, ?Testing Specialists Write the Tests?, ?Administration Buys the Test? and ?Teachers/Testers Write the Tests?. She said that the last option is the most preferable. However, she added that in order to apply this model, teachers had to acquire certain assessment skills, such as learning how to design tests, to analyze test results, to provide diagnostic feedback to students, evaluate the quality of tests/tasks, evaluate learner performance according to rating scales and write evaluative reports. Christine expressed her concerns on the time pressure related to ?testing training, insufficient resources, trust issues, getting institutional and administrative support, overcoming increased workload, mismatch between teaching and testing and the fact that alternative assessment still had a few slippery slopes.? She highlighted the crucial role of testing professionals and teacher collaboration for quality assessment. For more please visit: http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/2011/06/06/summary-of-christine-coombe%E2%80%99s-plenary/#en

Joe Pereira of the British Council has reflected his personal experience of gaming. He highlighted the crucial role of interactive fiction and its role in language learning and also focused on the  anti-social stereotypes surrounding gaming and karaoke. Joe shared one simple game where the reader is able to influence the pace and to determine how the story unfolds through input in natural language. The game takes the readers input, analyses it and responds to it. The reader can also back-track and discover different paths through the narrative. It is a little similar to the idea of a ?Reading Maze?, but at a more sophisticated level. The reader is engaged in the story as an outcome is sought through the second person narrative and logical puzzles. He also gave some useful links:
http://digitalplay.info/blog has information about creating classroom activities for computer games www.IFDB.tads.org and www.wurb.com/if and www.brasslantern.org have IF downloads
http://parchment.toolness.com and www.iplayif.com have online IF games.

More information about Joe?s session is available on : http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/2011/06/06/summary-of-joe-pereiras-plenary/#en.

Tony Humphreys discussed how we can create a climate of emotional and social safety in not only staffrooms but also classrooms so that both parties involved in a relationship can have a chance to express themselves freely. Dr Humphreys highlighted the fact that each teacher and each student has a unique story which he describes as ?inner core? (our ?unconscious?). Tony adds that this core includes our background, experiences and feelings, thoughts etc, and determines the way we see the world, act, react, think, behave, work and so on. In educational settings, the unconscious determines the way teachers teach and the way students learn. He also said that conflicts, disagreements and confrontations are inevitable in any context. In classrooms, when hidden conflicts are consciously worked at, a mutual sharing of the teacher?s experiences of teaching and the student?s experience of learning becomes possible. Tony emphasized that although we live in an age of ?Internet? where interconnectedness is indispensable to catch up on what goes on, many people seem to lose connection with themselves. Our relationship with ourselves and our individuality is important and inhabiting our own individuality is our main responsibility as individuals. Tony claimed that pupils are always ready to learn?not necessarily for what we teach. He believes that the mission of teachers is to discover what they are ready for learning. Tony Humphreys completed his talk with a quotation by Chomsky: ?99% of teaching is making students feel interested in the material.? And the following thought provoking questions: ?How do we as teachers / learners / managers become aware our inner core? Who can help us to keep in touch with our unconscious??.  For more about Tony Humphreys? session please see: http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/2011/06/03/summary-of-tony-humphreys-plenary/#en for more.

Howard Gardner was the last plenary of day one in the conference. His talk was entitled “Eclipsing Expectations: The art and science of changing the mind-sets of learners and educators”. His talk briefly defined what ?Individuation? (teaching each person in the way they understand best) and ?Pluralisation? (teaching something in many different ways) meant in education. He said that in relation to the theory he has put forward, he was posed questions as to whether there were many ways of being creative or just one and whether leadership was connected to a certain kind of intelligence. His answer to these questions was the one common feature of highly creative people like Pablo Picasso, Atatürk or the other leaders was that they changed not only the way people think, feel or behave but their entire lives. Prof. Gardner suggested that people who want to change minds either directly or indirectly use seven different approaches:These seven levers of mind change are listed as: 1. Reason / Argument 2.Research / Data, 3. Resonance that is, some leaders are very charismatic ? they resonate with large populations, that is, teacher?s role is significant as students need to feel comfortable with us and we need to feel comfortable with them. 4. Redescription involves presenting what we are trying to teach students in many different ways so that we reach more students and demonstrate what it is to understand. 5. Reward and Punishment are essential in changing behavior but may not change attitudes. 6. Real World Events were explained by Gardner as ?a good leader takes real world events and uses them to his advantage,? a good teacher should bring the real world into the classroom to enhance learning. 7. Resistance; was explored as trying to understand the origin of the resistance to change which should take precedence over trying to change somebody?s mind.

Learner voices were heard not only in plenary sessions but also in learner concurrent sessions where learners shared their learning experiences by giving tips and hints relying on their language learning experiences. It was amazing to listen to learners who reflected more than 3 or even 4 foreign language learning journeys that they had been exposed to. Learner voices backed up Gardner?s seven approaches that he put forward in his plenary talk. We hope that learner and educator experiences were eclipsed in this 2nd Language Education Conference at Sabancı University in İstanbul.

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