Small Is Beautiful: The 7th PELLTA Int’l ELT Conference

The TESOL President’s Blog

In 1973, the German economist E.F. Schumacher published a book subtitled A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, making its financial focus clear, but it is the main title that he is best known for: Small Is Beautiful. As an indication of the importance of the book, The Times Literary Supplement ranked Small Is Beautiful as one of the top 100 most influential books published since World War II. I referred to Schumacher’s book in my reflections at the closing ceremony of the seventh biennial international conference of the Penang English Language Learning and Teaching Association (PELLTA) last month.

The conference, which took place on 25, 26, and 27 of May, drew approximately 100 participants, mostly from Malaysia, but also from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam. Around 30 workshops and 20 papers were presented, as well as an opening keynote from Emeritus Professor Tony Wright, and five plenary speakers, of whom I was one.

The theme of the conference was: “Enhancing ELT Professional Practice: From Current Questions to Future Action,” and it was opened by YB Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching, the Deputy Minister of Education for Malaysia, who used to be an English language teacher in Malaysia. She was, then, able to speak not only about the government’s plans for ELT in Malaysia, but also to draw on and share with us her own experiences, as both an English language learner as well as an English language teacher.

Also, in spite of the relatively small number of attendees, the program was very varied, under the 15 subthemes of the conference, which reflected the current concerns and challenges of TESOL professionals there. The subthemes included: Innovations in ELT; Professional Learning Communities; Special Needs in ELT; Assessment in ELT; Teaching English for Specific Purposes; Material Selection, Adaptation, and Production; Managing Change in ELT Trends & Curricula; Literature & the Language Arts; ELT and Intercultural Communication; and Teacher Education.

For my plenary talk and the follow-up workshop I presented, I focused on the conference subtheme of “ELT and Intercultural Communication,” as modern Malaysia is the culmination of many different cultures, including Malay, Chinese, and Indian, as well as the historical influence of Persian, Arabic, and British cultures, together with local, indigenous cultures. Given the unique complexity and complexion of Malaysian multiculturality, this was an ideal setting in which to consider how intercultural competence and linguistic competence impact each other.

In my presentations, I showed a “3-I” model of intercultural competence, the first part of which is based on the idea of the “individual as cultural artifact.” That is, in some ways, in opposition to many of the most widely accepted definitions of culture, which are premised on the notion of large numbers of people sharing beliefs, customs, values, and so forth. Therefore, one of the questions we considered was: What would happen to our definitions of culture if each of us constituted an entire culture within our individual selves?

The second side of the “3-I” triangular model related to the notion of institutional culture, and the third side of the model related to international culture. In language classrooms, perhaps especially in countries like Malaysia, which may be one of the ultimate cultural melting pots, it is important to consider the relationships between language and culture in our teaching and learning contexts. Some of these ideas are further developed in the new TESOL Press book series, ELT In Context.

Although Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful book is about economics and not ELT, while I was doing the research for my presentations, I found a fortuitous coincidence between the theme of this year’s PELLTA conference (“Enhancing ELT Professional Practice: From Current Questions to Future Action”) and something Schumacher wrote in his Small Is Beautiful book: “To talk about the future is useful only if it leads to action now.”

The conference was a great reminder of the benefits of attending and contributing to smaller events, which can be just as beautiful as the larger ones—and sometimes, in some ways, even more so.

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ESP Best Practices in View of Leadership Conceptualization

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Next month (July), we will have another ESP project leader profile to add to those of Kristin Ekkens (May; health industry) and Charles Hall (June; tourism, helping the poorest of the poor). In this TESOL Blog post, I consider “ESP best practices” in view of conceptualizations of leadership. I expect that I will have more to write on this topic by March 2016 as more leaders contribute their profiles.

As many of you may have read, ESP is already conceptualized as “providing leadership.” According to Johns, Paltridge, and Belcher (2011):

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has an established tradition that has undoubtedly provided leadership, as well as an intellectual “nudge,” for what is still generally called “General English” or, more disparagingly, “English for No Obvious Reason.” As John Swales demonstrated in his 1988 ESP history (Episodes), developing an appropriate pedagogy for a specific group of learners has always been the goal of ESP practitioners. Studying language, discourses, and contexts of use—as well as student needs, in the broadest sense—and then applying these findings to the pedagogical practices, is what distinguishes ESP from other branches of applied linguistics and language teaching. In a more recent historical overview, Belcher (2004) noted that:

“Unlike other pedagogical approaches, which may be less specific needs–based and more theory-driven, ESP pedagogy places heavy demands on its practitioners to collect empirical needs-assessment data, to create or adapt materials to meet specific needs identified, and to cope with often unfamiliar subject matter and even language use….” (p. 166)

For readers of this blog post who are unfamiliar with ESP, you might want to take a look at the following ESP PowerPoint for practitioners and clients (Knight, Lomperis, van Naerssen, & Westerfield, 2010). In view of my own research on the process of conceptualizing leadership, I am particularly interested in the reference above to ESP providing leadership.

What is the meaning of leadership? It would be better if I asked, “How do people conceptualize leadership, and why?” For example, I see leadership in “ESP best practices.” Before I can explain “why I see leadership,” I need to first present ESP best practices. In this connection, I would like to refer you to slide 14 of the ESP PowerPoint. In that slide, you can see the following description of ESP best practices.

Best Practices were developed for the following areas by the TESOL Task Force on Standards for Workplace Language Training: Guidelines for Workplace Language Trainers (J. Friedenberg, A. Lomperis, W. Martin, K. Westerfield & M. van Naerssen, 2000-2001).

  1. Develop an effective, current strategic plan
  2. Conduct effective marketing
  3. Assess the client organization’s needs
  4. Determine an appropriate program design
  5. Develop a proposal and negotiate a contract
  6. Identify and arrange program administration and staffing
  7. Conduct an instructional needs assessment (INA)
  8. Create an instructional design/curriculum
  9. Select and develop appropriate training materials
  10. Deliver training
  11. Evaluate course(s) and program, and apply recommendations

A version of this content can be found in the 2003 TESOL publication Effective Practices in Workplace Language Training.

What can we learn from looking at only the words used to list the 11 best practices in the PowerPoint? I used NVivo 10 software to conduct word frequency analyses. A word frequency analysis of exact words generated the first word cloud.  The second word cloud was generated by a word frequency analysis of similar words.

1.ESP best practices exact words

2.ESP best practices similar words

As you can see above, the theme that emerges from the first word cloud is program development whereas the second word cloud displays ESP as a creative activity.

In my view, how are program development, creativity, and leadership connected? In Knight and Candlin (2015, p. 36), my own conceptualization of leadership appears in an illustration with the following: “Leadership is making real a vision in collaboration with others.” Further, please consider what I wrote about leadership in one of my December 2013 blog posts.

As a researcher of professional communication, I recognize that many different conceptualizations of leadership exist. For me personally, however, I like to view leadership as a communication process consisting of two parts: 1) communicating to create a vision and 2) communicating to achieve a vision. Leadership is considered by many to be an “influence relationship,” and in my personal conceptualization of leadership, leadership would involve influencing others through communication associated with the goals of part 1 and part 2.

Now, let’s view the ESP best practices above through the lens of my own conceptualization of leadership. From such a perspective, communication and actions to collaborate on the creation and achievement of a vision become apparent. In my mind, we are practicing leadership when we follow best practices in creating ESP programs!

In view of the above, an awareness of “ESP project leadership” is important for understanding both ESP and leadership, not to mention the professional communication of ESPers. Be sure to check out the next ESP project leader profile, which will be posted in July!

All the best,

Kevin

References

Johns, A., Paltridge, B., & Belcher, D. (2011). Introduction: New directions for ESP research. In D. Belcher, A. Johns, & B. Paltridge (Eds.), New directions in English for specific purposes research, (pp. 1-4). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Knight, K., & Candlin, C. N. (2015). Leadership discourse as basis and means for developing L2 students into future leaders. In P. Shrestha (Ed.), Current developments in English for academic and specific purposes: Local innovations and global perspectives (pp. 27–49). Reading, United Kingdom: Garnet.

Knight, K., Lomperis, A., van Naerssen, M., & Westerfield, K. (2010). English for Specific Purposes: An Overview for Practitioners and Clients (Academic and Corporate). PowerPoint presentation submitted to Alexandria, Virginia: TESOL Resource Center.

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Creating Classroom Communities in ESL/EFL

What do you think of when you think of your “classroom”?  A place to learn, a place to study, a place to talk, a place to share experiences, a place to grow as a student and as a teacher…

In second language settings, the world outside the classroom serves to supplement English language instruction that goes on inside of the classroom.  In foreign language settings, sometimes the transition between what students learn in the classroom and finding opportunities to use it can be more difficult.  In both cases, most research supports the need for interaction in the language classroom. In this post, though, I’m going to encourage you to go even deeper beyond interactive activities in the classroom and begin to think of your English language classroom as its own discourse community.

A discourse community is a group of people who share a set of discourses, understood as basic values and assumptions, and ways of communicating about those goals (Swales, 1990).  These communities will usually have a shared purpose; certain language or expressions associated with them; certain conventions in speech, writing, or behavior; typical modes of communication; and sometimes even unwritten rules for membership or audience.

For example, the discourse community of business professionals will have a shared purpose—usually to make profit for their company.  They might use certain expressions related to business, such as “profit margin,” “in the black” or “in the red,” “ASAP,” or “corner the market.” Their communication might be more formal in writing or when giving a presentation about their business, and they may be frequently on their cellular phone answering email and performing work-related tasks as a mode of communication.

In comparison, the discourse community of teachers might use much different expressions, a different mode of communication, and have different rules for dress or behavior.  Individuals usually belong to several discourse communities at any one time; some examples are one’s job or school, religion, geographic region, language group, hobbies or pastimes, family, sports team.  You can see several examples of discourse community analysis examples by typing “discourse community” into the search bar of images.google.com.

As a TESOL educator, you may find it helpful to your students (and yourself) to view your classroom as a discourse community.  What are your shared goals as speakers of English?   Do your students want to learn English for a job? To succeed in school?  To communicate about content concepts, like science, math, or social studies? To travel?  To develop social skills in a new country?

From there, you can analyze what types of language you both plan to and need to use to participate in your identified discourse community.  You can also analyze some of the unwritten rules for membership in that particular community, and discuss how they impact your students.  For example, how does a scientist talk about what he or she knows?  How could a customer service representative convey politeness?  It might also help allay some of your students’ anxiety about learning English as the “rules” become less opaque.

Language is so much more than vocabulary terms and grammar structures that, rather than looking at it as a separate “subject” to be taught separately with rules to follow and memorize, Van Lier and Walqui (2012) change language from a noun to a verb, and coin the term “languaging.”  This verb reminds us that even in the earliest stages of language learning, how we navigate one, two, three, or more languages is an active process.  Van Lier and Walqui also help us remember that

  • language is embodied physically in movement, posture, facial expression, gesture, and rhythm;
  • language is integrated into the physical world around us, and helps us relate to space and time;
  • language is embedded in the social world of relationships and identity; and
  • language is representative of historic and symbolic worlds that humans create.

With these reminders at the forefront of our teaching, perhaps we can better create spaces for students to learn not just about English, but how to understand the different dynamics that accompany belonging to different discourse communities—the classroom included.

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Audience Awareness: An Interactive Group Activity

This is yet another interactive activity that may help learners better understand the concept of audience (readers), the importance of the writer’s background knowledge about their audience, as well as the importance of writer-reader relationships.

For this activity, you will need to prepare in advance a character description (see an example below).

Procedure

1) Tell the students that they will compose a short piece of writing to a particular person.

2) Read the description of the character that you prepared in advance. When preparing the descriptions, remember to include such characteristics as gender, age, race, social and economic status, educational background, cultural values and beliefs, preferences, and hobbies and interests (not necessarily all of them for each character).

See the following example below:

My name is Samantha. I am 34 years old. I received my MBA from Harvard University in 2006. I am an owner of a real estate company in Chicago. I recently got married. My husband is from Japan. We are expecting our first baby in three months. Among some of my hobbies are: economics, reading The New York Times, and cooking.

3) Divide the class into three groups. The first group is the family members of Samantha. The second group is her close friends. The third group is her colleagues.

4) Ask each group to discuss the following questions:

  • What do you have to be careful about when writing to her?
  • Is there a certain type of stance that you can’t take when you write to her?
  • What language do you think you should use when you write to Samantha?
  • What topics can you NOT address when you write to her?
  • What media do you think would be most appropriate to use when you write to her?
  • What tone may be considered inappropriate to use as you write to her?

5) After the groups are done with the discussion, ask them to share their findings with the entire class.

6) Based on these findings, ask all groups the following questions:

  • What genres would you use when writing to Samantha?
  • What genres would you not use when writing to Samantha?

Note: If your students are not familiar with various genres, you may skip this stage of the activity.

7) Ask each group to compose a short writing piece to Samantha in one of the appropriate genres. If the students struggle with the genre choice, you may want to give them a specific genre to work with. For example, for the first group (family members) it may be a wedding invitation, for the second group (close friends) an informal email, for the third group (colleagues) an invitation to a business party.

8) After the groups are done with the writing, ask them to read their pieces to the entire class.

9) Discuss these pieces of writing with the students and reiterate the importance of the relationship between the writer and the audience.

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Adapting Content for ELLs: What Non-ELL Teachers Should Know

A sad reality of being an ELL specialist in secondary schools is that our hardest working students are usually the ones who leave our program. We do our best to give them the skills they need to learn and demonstrate what they know for other teachers. Our role is often limited to monitoring to find out how well our students can compare to their native-born classmates.

But that’s not to say we have to take a reactive role for our students’ needs. We are still the experts of adapting content so the underlying information comes through without distracting or needlessly complicated language. Newer teachers may receive the benefits of linguistic-specific classes as a part of their education, but they will lack the experience, while more experienced teachers may be reluctant to make huge changes to their tried-and-true materials. And neither group has time to spare when it comes to planning their lessons.

So to make this sort of interdisciplinary collaboration work, we need tips that are both practical and easy to apply. Here are some I found that work:

1. The “Blah” test. Before handing out a reading activity to students, the teacher may want to read through it—and replace every word the ELL student may not understand with “Blah.” If the reader sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, consider simplifying the text. That’s not to say there should be no “blahs,” especially if these show up with the target concepts for the lesson.

2. Hemingway App. You don’t have to be a famous writer to turn any piece of text into clear and concise prose with this free online service. Just paste in the troublesome text to instantly see what words may be too high-level, what sentences are long enough to be confusing, and other suggested improvements. Once the text is pasted in, you can adjust it in real-time and watch the grade level drop.

3. Avoid polysemous words. Remember that students may still rely on dictionaries, and the intended definition may not be the first one. Multiple meanings for uncommon words can make a simple sentence hard to understand. I once had a student struggle over a social studies question that asked, “Are governments bound to follow their own laws?” because her dictionary said “bound” meant a very big jump.

4. Watch the idioms. Colloquiums are often the last things language learners master. They may not see any rhyme or reason to phrases that don’t ring a bell, especially when they come out of the blue. It’s best to avoid any gray areas when dotting your “i”s and crossing your “t”s as a rule of thumb.

5. Remember the cultural disconnect. ELLs may know the language, but unless they started their American education in kindergarten, they may struggle with what’s common knowledge in this nation. For example, even students who didn’t pay much attention in history class will know what a “pilgrim” was. It may help to take some extra time to explain these concepts to bring your ELLs up to speed while activating prior knowledge among their classmates.

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Haiku Deck: Revolutionize Your Presentations

Despite drastic changes over the years, many educators still use presentation software, such as PowerPoint, for a variety of reasons. Such presentations in class reinforce content delivered orally, serve as supplemental material, and scaffold learning. Turning these types of presentations into videos serves the same purpose for flipped classrooms. Additionally, whether delivered in class or submitted as videos, presentations are also commonly used as assignments for students. Presentations are great and not going away any time soon; however, it might be time for an update to their format. I previously suggested Prezi as an alternative, and another great option is Haiku Deck, whose tagline is “presentations that inspire.”

Haiku Deck is free and signing up is simple. Enter your email and choose a password to get started. The first page you see has a simple deck that explains the basics, or you can skip it and start creating your own right away. Like PowerPoint, there are some slide templates, fonts, themes, and layout options to choose from as well as a place to put your notes, but the image selection is what I found most impressive. Haiku Deck lets you choose what word from each slide you most want to convey with an image and then generates a perfectly matched gallery of pictures to choose from. The resulting presentation is gorgeous, and you do not have to worry about any copyright issues, but if you have an image handy that you would rather use, you can do that, too.

Once the presentation is finished, you can present directly from the website, opt to share it one of a wide variety of ways, or export it as a .pdf or .ppt file. Unlike with Prezi, there is not much of a learning curve with Haiku Deck, especially if you are familiar with PowerPoint. If you have an iPad or iPhone, there is a free app that would allow you to work on your presentations on the go, too. Your students would also benefit by not having to purchase specific software and by being able to complete assignments on mobile devices.

There really do not seem to be any disadvantages to using Haiku Deck, so you may as well give it a try. If you make the switch, you can even follow some simple directions to move your PowerPoint or Keynote presentations into Haiku Deck. It might not be quite the same as a Haiku Deck, but it is nice to have everything in one place.

What do you use to make your presentations? Share your favorite software, sites, or apps by leaving a comment below.

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