The 18th TESOL Arabia Conference

The 18th TESOL Arabia Conference
Adam J. Simpson

The 18th TESOL Arabia Conference took place between March 8th and 10th with the theme of ?Achieving Excellence through Life Skills.? The School of Languages was well represented at this major international event. Hatice Sarıgül Aydoğan was a key part of the conference?s IT Village with her interactive workshop, ?Yes ? Everyone Can Glog.? Adam Simpson also presented at the event, with his paper ?Why don’t your group activities work well?? showcasing the results of recent classroom research. Former SL colleagues also presented at the conference, with Mehtap Kocatepe?s research paper ?Examining Out-of-Class Learner Autonomy and Motivation? and the workshop ?Life Skills for the Classroom and Work? by Denise Özdeniz and John Landers.

The conference also featured many excellent plenary talks. Andy Curtis considered ?The Meaning of Retirement in the TESOL World? in his plenary, based on a recently published chapter, ?Rethinking Retirement? (Curtis 2011), the aim of which is to help TESOL professionals to fundamentally change the way they think about and prepare for Retirement, with a focus on Early Retirement. The talk started with a brief review of some recently published work on Retirement, followed by a critical examination of some of the current definitions of Retirement. Next, Curtis considered some of the reasons why Retirement is important not only for individuals who may be nearing retirement, but why it is also important for societies and communities in general. He also looked at some of the reasons for retiring later than usual, after which a case was made for TESOL professionals to consider Early Retirement.

Christine Coombe discussed ?Teacher Effectiveness in ELT: Empirical and Practical Perspectives? in her talk. A primary concern amongst English language teachers today, Coombe noted, is how to be more effective in the ever-changing world of education. This presentation provided a review of the research into what constitutes an ?effective teacher? as well as providing strategies for increasing teacher effectiveness in the EF/SL classroom.

Dave Allan?s plenary was titled ?Taking TEA into the 21st Century.? In many countries, particularly those with long language teaching and testing traditions, TEA (on this occasion testing, examining and assessment) has proved slow to change in response to potential new developments. The world of ELT, Allan enthused, has seen massive changes in syllabus design, materials and methodology since the early days of communicative language teaching, but only relatively recently has the impact of things like item-banking, the CEFR and digital technology become really significant on a major scale, with implications and opportunities not only for international exam boards but also for classroom teachers. We are now witnessing a worldwide explosion in the use of digital delivery in TEA, he noted. In this talk Allan briefly reviewed the important changes that have taken place in TEA in the half century since Robert Lado’s seminal work ‘Language Testing’ and explored the ways in which online delivery, including CATs (tests you do with a mouse) can genuinely improve the quality of some of the instruments we need for both formative and summative purposes in language education, while on the productive side the development of detailed descriptors and rating scales linked to meaningful external frameworks has offered the chance for criterion-referenced assessment to be both more valid and more reliable, particularly in terms of scoring validity.

Jane Revell aimed at ?Introducing NLP? in her plenary. Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a name that can put people off finding out more about it and that’s a pity, she suggested, because NLP is a lot to do with achieving excellence and therefore with the theme of the 18th Annual TESOL Arabia International Conference, Revell hoped to give the participants a general idea of what NLP is all about, and suggest some ways in which it might be useful.

Jeremy Harmer looked at ?Making Dreams Touchable – Using Poetry and Music in Language Learning.? Sometimes it seems as if language learning is just about learning the present perfect and the third conditional, but, Harmer exclaimed, surely it is more than that! Language is how we express our profoundest emotions, and never more so than with poetry. Part performance, part lecture, Harmer?s session discussed the value of poetry (and music) and ways of using them in the language classroom. ?

Jim Scrivener made ?A Call: For Activist Interventionist Teaching? in his plenary. Are we, Scrivener asked, really as effective at teaching as we imagine we are? We say that we are ?communicative? but, do we, in practice, do ?whatever?s in the coursebook?? Is our methodology really rather hit and miss? Does much contemporary teaching (fluency tasks, communicative focus, fear of being ?teacher-centred?) actually sidestep the real teaching work and the real needs of learners? And is it possible that the majority of teachers who have been trained in the last twenty or so years have become so used to delegating the teaching work to “good enough” books that they have lost many of the teaching techniques that previous generations took for granted? Harmer?s talk proposed a muscular reinvigoration of teaching: focused, active, alert and getting much closer to where the learning is. He suggested that there is a particular type of teaching skill that has been lost more than others. This is the skill of getting in close to where the learning is going on ? for example, looking closely at language, helping learners to zoom in on language items in order to recognise them, understand them, say them better and use them well. He proposed that this kind of exploratory, reflective, quantum-level, analytical, language and learning-focused teaching is essential and its absence in so many classrooms is becoming a serious problem.

Joe McVeigh looked at ?Achieving Excellence through Intercultural Awareness? in his talk. As English language teachers we naturally focus on language itself and how we can help our students learn it better. But research has shown that intercultural competence can be just as important as language ability. How can we become more aware of cultural differences and how can we ? and our students ? bridge cultural gaps? McVeigh examined some key concepts of intercultural communication and looked at some practical ways to help learners communicate more effectively when they interact with those from different cultural backgrounds.

In his plenary Keith Folse discussed ?Teaching Vocabulary: Research Findings and Practical Classroom Considerations.? In the last two decades, Folse noted, we have seen a great deal of research on the teaching and learning of vocabulary in a second language. This research has important practical implications for our classes in terms of how our curriculum is arranged, what our textbooks could look like, and what teachers should (and should not) do in class with regard to new vocabulary. However, given that we have a limited amount of class time, what, Folse asked, does all of this mean for us classroom teachers? In teachers? meetings, he frequently hears teachers say, ?I think vocabulary is certainly important, but I really don?t have time in my class.? If so many teachers agree that vocabulary is important, then how are the students supposed to learn enough vocabulary if no one is teaching it? (Or are they?) In which class or classes should this supposedly important language component be covered? Whose job is it? Is teaching vocabulary the reading teacher?s job? The writing teacher?s job? The grammar teacher?s job? Is this in fact not the classic case of ?no one is doing anything because everyone thinks someone else is doing it?? In this talk on the teaching of vocabulary, he considered several concrete research findings along with three practical classroom limitations.

Rod Bolitho?s plenary talked about ?The Fifth Skill.? In this talk Bolitho argued that the development of thinking skills should be at the heart of language education, and that a language teacher has an obligation to attend to the quality of process in the classroom as well as to the imparting of content. He touched on the relationship between each of the four traditional language skills with thinking, and suggested that language classes offer a particularly favorable context for the development of critical thinking. Bolitho also hazarded a guess as to why many teachers choose to ignore this opportunity, and related this to the links between education and citizenship.

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