Welcome to the August-September issue of NELTA ELT Forum 2020!
We take pleasure in reaching this step with a combination of thought-provoking ideas through an interview, memoirs, narratives and teaching tips even during the time of difficulties. We are happy to enjoy the immense support from our mentors, ELT practitioners, classroom teachers, and inquisitive learners who have shared their wisdom and learning experiences. In this issue, we have included various contents in order to address the quest of our readers. Further, we have incorporated an interview of an ELT expert that can benefit the teachers from home and abroad to shape their pedagogical practices. This issue aims to encourage and inspire the experienced as well as novice teachers to enhance their insights in teaching. We, therefore, have set our priority to give due space to the contextual creations and make this issue a confluence of teachers’ lived experiences in local and global contexts.
The present issue consists of views of eight scholars. Starting with the short Interview,Professor Jai Raj Awasthi shares his experiences by highlighting the recent trends in teaching, learning and assessing through virtual platforms during the period of COVID pandemic. The interview sheds lights on alternative means in teaching by redefining the roles of teachers, parents, academic institutions along with the stakeholders. Similarly, Miriam Corneli in her article ‘Making things stick: Evolution and embodiment for best teaching practices in the classroom and beyond’ gives a particular emphasis on what we need, as teachers or teacher trainers, in the area of professional development very thoughtfully. Moreover, the article provokes teachers to think more possibilities of exploring new ideas in their teaching journey. She shares a few practical tips including questions to ponder what the author makes us all think more and criteria the teachers need to execute further plans. She presents ‘tea’ as a metaphor from the Nepalese context of professional attachment to prove that professional networks will always put us together to share our ideas about teacher development through further dialogues and discussions. In the next article, ‘Student engagement: A prerequisite for agency, empowerment, and ultimate success’, Madhu Neupane focuses on different dimensions of students’ engagement (SE) and suggests how SE ensures their mental and cognitive development creating a ‘positive academic identity’. She clearly states affective, behavioral and cognitive dimensions of students’ engagement.
Ganga Laxmi Bhandari in ‘Learning is like a river flowing unobstructed’ recollects meaningful insights from the past for the future growth. She shares how a- month practice teaching develops confidence and enthusiasm to grow her as an academic scholar. In addition, she advocates that every teacher needs to be a reader and keep updating him/herself to fit in every changing context.
Jagadish Poudel in his write up on ‘Writing as a Skill: Fostering writing in English in higher education’ considers writing as one of the most important skills needed in higher education for accomplishing educational goals. In his article, he shares his own learning experiences in writing in English and discusses some directions that can promote students’ writing in English. Additionally, ‘Pictures and locally available materials in English language teaching’ by Somy Paudyal explores the practical importance and effectiveness of using locally available materials in ELT. The article reflects Socratic ways of presentation highlighting the practical truth for writing ‘start where you are, use what you have and do what you can’. Unlocking his story of struggle to learn, Khem Rauteda recalls his bygone days of learning English in a remote village with low access of resources in his narrative ‘My reflection on learning English from a school to the University level’. Finally, Usha Kiran Wagle in ‘Using newspaper cutouts to involve students in writing’ presents some practically useful tips to achieve success in students’ writing and suggests the step wise procedures of writing practice that can be applied and adapted to any writing activities.
In the changing scenario of ELT practices that is guided through the abundant means of ICT tools and applications, most of the teachers and the learners are involved in different webinars, online training, and conferences to utilize the opportunities awaiting them. We hope this issue will create a thoughtful space with some useful insights to the ELT practitioners so that they can use them in their day to day teaching-learning endeavors and look forward to bringing more productive and practical ideas in the coming issues. We are glad to notice that time of uncertainty does not stop the knowledge producers. In this regard, we thank the writers and reviewers who have contributed to this issue of NELTA ELT Forum, and expect your continuous support in the coming days. Happy Reading!!!
Editor in Chief
Dr. Kashi Raj Pandey
Mr. Guru Prasad Poudel (Issue coordinator)
Mr. Guna Raj Nepal
Mr. Kunjarmani Gautam
Ms. Bibha Jha
Mr. Rameshwor Thakur
Mr. Hom Raj Khadka (Technical support)
For the ease of the readers, we have hyperlinked the articles below:
Current practice of ELT in pandemic: Opportunities, challenges and way forward (An interview with Professor Jai Raj Awasthi)
Professor Awasthi, who was the past president of NELTA and Linguistics Society of Nepal has been contributing English language teaching with his thought provoking ideas and good leadership skills. He has been in teaching and teacher education for nearly a half century. He has wide range of experiences of working in pleasant and panic situations. Being specific to the present pandemic situation and its implications in ELT, the editors of NELTA ELT Forum Mr. Rameshwor Thakur and Mr. Guru Prasad Poudel had an interview with him. Professor Awasthi has shed lights on current practice of ELT, opportunities created even in the pandemics, the hardships of the teachers and some ways forward. Here is what he shared in the interview.
Mr. Thakur: Warm greetings sir! I feel extremely pleased to welcome you. Sir, you must have recollected both better and bitter experiences of teaching in your long journey of academic life. In this regard, how do you observe the current pandemic situation in relation to academic life of the teachers and learners involved in ELT in general?
Prof. Awasthi: Greetings!! Thank you very much indeed for giving me this wonderful opportunity to speak a few words to my own fraternity during this COVID-19 crisis.
I was born in a remote village of Darchula district from where I completed my high school education. We did not have a school building then, so we had to study under the shade of a tree. When I was in the fourth grade, we got an opportunity to house ourselves on the veranda of a newly constructed school building. I don’t remember until then because I was too young to go to school. I completed my SLC at the age of 15. At that time, we had teachers from India who taught us all the subjects in the Hindi language. As a result, I became a fluent speaker of Hindi. Due to my proficiency in the Hindi language, I wrote a book named ‘The Spoken Hindi for the Beginners’ in 1985 for the ‘Peace Corps Office’. Peace Corps volunteers who were posted in the Terai region, where Hindi was supposed to be the contract language, used it as the practice material. Because of my poor initial background in English, it was definitely a hard nut for me to crack, chew and digest. When I came to Kathmandu to further my education, I had to struggle to learn both Nepali and English. I used to go to Ratna Park with some of my friends in the evening to practice my spoken English. Gradually, I felt comfortable to communicate in English.
But at present, the COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented and disruptive situation in the whole world. Consequently, 850 million children and youths are out of educational institutions, which constitute 80 percent of the world population. We are currently facing acute physical, emotional and economic difficulties. It has reduced our mobility, interrupted both teaching and learning, and changed our entire lives. We have lost our loved ones. Many of them are ill. We are refraining ourselves from our own family members and keeping ourselves away from the passersby. We are afraid of our own relatives. Moreover, we are wearing a face covering mask to protect ourselves from the corona virus. We have hidden our smiles, laughs, and even our speech organs. We can’t show our students as to how ever difficult English fricatives are produced. Our communication skills are suddenly stopped. We are also not sure when we will stop breathing. Our educational institutions have suddenly turned into quarantines. All the school and university level exams are postponed. Students are on the verge of losing their academic year. Thus, we are in a state of depression and uncertainty. A recent study, I think, done by the UNESCO showed that 59 percent of the higher educational institutions are completely closed. When all such institutions are closed, we naturally have academic stagnation, including the teaching and learning of English.
Mr. Thakur : Sure sir. This is what the reality is. Now, let me move on to the next question. It’s said that A difficult situation brings not only problems but also opportunities. Do you agree with this? If so, what could be the opportunities triggered with COVID-19 in ELT?
Prof. Awasthi : You’re right, whenever we have problems; we definitely have the opportunities behind them . Thus, this pandemic situation has not only flooded us with the problems but also opened several avenues. Since we were not prepared for such an unprecedented situation, it has made us aware of fighting with unexpected situations on the one hand, and also opened our eyes to explore the viable alternatives to our teaching modality on the other. The whole world is now struggling to find a possible and conducive solutions to the existing situation. Likewise, we are all thinking of alternative modes of teaching. So, this is the opportunity given to us by COVID-19. This has taught us that we cannot only rely on face- to -face mode or the traditional way of teaching, but we have to go for a new approach and modality of teaching.
Mr. Thakur : Great thanks for your response sir. I would also like to ask you that Teachers can have different opinions and strategic plans to face various challenges emerged in ELT related to ICT integration in instruction, balancing relationships with parents, innovation of new trends, digging appropriate evaluation system, regularity of face to face classes, etc, due to pandemic. In your observations, what could be the better plans and strategies for English language teachers to cope with such challenges?
Prof. Awasthi: This is definitely a very difficult situation. Now, we have experienced that people have started integrating ICT in their teaching. There has obviously been seen a paradigm shift in classroom delivery. And this paradigm shift is not only in Nepal but also in the whole world. Most of the developed countries have made ICT integration in teaching and learning obligatory. The flood of research, if you look at the research repository on ICT integration in every discipline, is affecting the teachers as well and students. This trend is further expanding into entirely virtual classes. As a result, it has not only been a dire need of the educational institutions but also of all the human establishments. ICT is being used everywhere whether it’s a business or a government/ non-government office. So, all such organizations now find it impossible to function in the absence of technology. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of Nepal has issued Student Learning Facilitation Directives, 2077 to begin with from September 17, 2020 that proposes the alternative mode of teaching and learning.
Mr. Thakur : Certainly sir. As you know, the schools and colleges are temporarily shut at present; however, some efforts to continue teaching learning activities are being made through alternative modes of instructions. As a teacher educator and the expert, could you please suggest how academic institutions should initiate their institutional efforts to make teaching learning effective in the present context?
Prof. Awasthi : As I mentioned earlier, educational institutions are closed in most parts of the world but people are thinking of adopting an alternative mode of teaching and learning. At this hour, it is essential that we prepare short and long term plans. The short term planning is required to address the present crisis, whereas long term planning may require for future adoption.
Since all our curricula are prepared for face- to- face mode of teaching and learning, they need to be revamped in order to address the present situation; some immediate adjustments are required in the curricula and a mode of delivery. We may use whatever technology is appropriate at this hour, such as online, Internet, FM radios and televisions. Besides, wherever possible, a home school program can also be used. Some of the schools in the villages are using it where the teachers visit their students and give instructions on a regular basis, particularly in the remote areas where there is less CORONA effect. Many higher educational institutions in the developed countries are using online classes exclusively.
Some universities in Nepal have also successfully conducted online classes, and there is no obstruction whatsoever. Others are running classes for graduate level students only who can afford it. We have to learn from the successful practices at this hour and adopt or adapt whatever is possible in our situation.
Mr. Thakur : Pleased to have your worth deserving ideas, sir. Additionally, we have been facing pandemic for about six months. At this juncture, you have been involved in different webinars, online conferences, panel discussions and so on. Could you please share your observations? Are teachers, educators and experts of ELT really shifting from traditional teaching to ICT-based teaching? Do you think they are motivated and ready to adopt ICT based teaching learning or this is only a momentary effort?
Prof. Awasthi : During the past six months, we have seen a big flood of webinars all over. NELTA also initiated district, provincial, and central level webinars. These webinars have really been an eye opener for the teachers because they did not have such kind of exposure before. The teachers of all the levels of education have shown their keen interest in technology and learning. Many of them have not only learnt the use of technology for the first time but also made use of it. This shows a shift from a traditional mode of teaching to ICT integrated one. I’m pretty sure that the teachers are motivated and this motivation will get prolonged. Whenever I was invited in the ELT webinars, I can see the presence of a single teacher in almost all of them. This indicates that s/he is not only motivated toward ICT integration in teaching and learning but also passionate to use it. But, a serious problem of digital divide and access to Internet is felt because of the economic and topographical differences that exist in our country. As a result, all the teachers are not equipped with the ICT tools. Thus, the government or the educational institutions have to give a big thought to make digital gadgets available to the teachers and students. They can be bought at the cheapest rate and then supplied to the stake holders. This is what I have experienced.
Mr. Thakur : Yes sir. Both Teachers and students should be given such opportunities. My next query relates with the current dilemma about the existing assessment and evaluation systems in Nepal. As it’s known that the SEE-2076 evaluation has invited a lot of negative comments regarding the roles of academic institutions and teachers in awarding grades. In this scenario, what alternative assessment system should be exercised to make the assessment more valid and reliable?
Prof. Awasthi : We have traditionally been using paper and a pencil mode of examinations. A technology based assessment is still unimaginable in our case. Regarding the present SEE situation, we have experienced a mixed reaction of the people to it. I think this is very natural as we have been conducting SEE or SLC examinations centrally and an abrupt change in its modality was difficult for some to digest. If we look at the tradition of school termination evaluation in the developed countries, it is done by the teachers themselves who taught the students. Since we have not practiced it here, an apprehension as to whether this practice will be recognized internationally is felt.
But if we believe the teachers in the evaluation of the practical components of the curricula, there is no point that we should not trust them for the evaluation of theoretical portions as well. However, testing ethics is very important to comply with because we have to know the international practices in this regard and prepare ourselves for it. We have an example of European or Japanese testing ethics modality. Our own universities and examination boards issue ethical notes, but many of us do not heed and comply with them. Therefore, teachers of all levels of education should be made aware of testing ethics and their sincere adherence to it. A detailed evaluation guideline has to be prepared, disseminated and executed. Then only the teachers realize that evaluation of their students is their own responsibility and it is imperative for them to maintain fairness in it. In doing so they will feel it a privilege and honor given to them as well because they are teaching their students and they have the privilege to evaluate them.
Mr. Thakur : Thank you for the idea of testing ethics modality, sir. You know that the parents are more worried regarding their children’s study, and so, they have kept requesting the government and academic institutions to launch effective programmes to engage them. In your opinion, how could the governmental and educational institutions address the concern of the parents and guardians? What could be the effective activities that might help them to engage to support their children?
Prof. Awasthi : We are all worried by the present crisis, no doubt, everyone in the country or elsewhere in the world. Moreover, we are definitely isolated and psychologically depressed, and so are in the need of the positive psychologist’s help. We are attracted by the acronym HERO for Hope, Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism at this hour. The recently issued Learning Facilitation Directives of the Government of Nepal proposes the use of alternative modes of teaching, dividing the students into four groups. One group is having no access to any kind of technology, and another one having access to radio and FMs. The third one is having access to television, and the last one is having access to Internet and ICT tools. If it is implemented in its true spirit, the students will be brought back to learning activities. In Nepal, we have not practiced out of school engagement much, which is done elsewhere. I recollect the book written by Professor Tony Wright, who talks about classroom management. In his book, he makes the teacher assume her/his classroom as a garden house/wrestling ring/ market place/ temple/hospital/ and a tree where the teacher plays a role of a gardener/ referee/ seller/ priest/ doctor/ and a tree respectively. Similarly, the students take the roles of plants, audience, buyers, worshipers, patients, birds and animals respectively.
In Nepal, we have not practiced out of school engagement of the students much, which is done elsewhere. It is believed that students learn from their engagement outside the classroom much more than what they learn in the school, which is not very natural. Once they are taken out of the classroom, their school becomes a natural setting where they learn a lot, and their learning becomes much more practical also. Students learn more when they engage themselves in learning. It can be done through project works, which can be individual or collaborative ones. The teachers themselves can become a part of this kind of collaboration. The government should make available every sort of learning materials, keeping in view the economy and topography of the nation. The digital or material divide should be monitored and minimized or eliminated. If that happens, the students can learn because they have the gadgets, materials, opportunities, and directives.
Mr. Thakur : My pleasure to get the idea of learning beyond the classroom, sir. Would you like to convey any specific messages to our valued readers in the end?
Prof. Dr. Awasthi: As ever before, I am in favor of extensive reading. We participated in the NELTA Central webinars a few days ago. If we recall how Professor Stephen Krashen in his presentation reiterated his input hypothesis and stressed on optimal input, which is obtained through maximal reading, in order to have optimal output. So, reading is very important. Another important aspect that we cannot ignore is the knowledge about integrating technology in teaching. Also, we should believe that learning is a lifelong process. We learn collaborating with our colleagues as well as with our students. People say that even a nursery or kindergarten child has to teach a lot to us. We have to believe that we are not only a knowledge giver but also a recipient of it. Therefore, we have to be always a very humble learner, conduct classroom research to address our immediate problems and adopt a reflective teaching in order to bring innovations in our profession. We can share the research outcomes with our colleagues who may be in the same state of affairs. It is now imperative that the government of Nepal as well as higher education institutions have to revisit their curricula, materials, methodology and evaluation, in order to make them useful to address COVID-19 and similar crises that may occur in future. Moreover, we have to contextualize our teaching as Prof. B. Kumaravadivelu proposes. He believes that every teacher practices his/her own methods and teaching strategies. We cannot import methods from the Western world or elsewhere because our classrooms are context bound. Even, one classroom is contextually different from another. In this case, whatever method we use to teach English in one classroom may not suit to another, which may require us to make some immediate modifications. Likewise, we cannot forget three parameters of possibility, particularity and practicality keeping in view the classrooms of our under-resourced world. In addition, we have to practice differentiated instruction so that all the students learn in equal pacing or on equal footing.
Mr. Thakur : Thank you very much sir for giving your precious time to NELTA ELT forum. All the Neltians and valued readers will definitely get benefited from your insightful experiential and academic ideas.
Prof. Dr. Awasthi : And thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Making things stick: evolution and embodiment for best teaching practices in the classroom and beyond
Teacher education and continuing professional development is often cited as the way forward to improve teaching content and quality, as well as teacher satisfaction. But the question remains, what do teachers themselves need, based on their different situations, status, cultures, and educational level? This article makes the argument that while there are many different factors that can influence teacher education, the real need is to get input from teachers in the field, and to help them foster and share ideas in social network situations. By thus querying and sharing, we can help stimulate a thoughtful revolution in methods, materials, and classroom situations.
“The best thing for being sad,” said Merlin, . . . “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.” 
I was very heartened and delighted to read the editorial in the July (2020) issue of NELTA ELT Forum. One paragraph particularly struck me:
Therefore, as editors, we are encouraged to take the teachers as the starting point for change in core issues of curriculum design, teaching, learning, assessment, and policy. The reason behind this is obvious: the change emerges from what teachers think and do at the ground level. In this regard, we believe that all of the articles in this issue provide, in some way or the other, productive experiences and insights that readers may decide to situate in their own settings for further explorations.
This dovetails nicely with an Online Class on Teacher Training and Professional Development I have been taking, and some of the questions we have been asking about best practices in teacher professional development:
- What makes the best teacher training?
- What do teachers need?
- How can we best contextualize the trainings to meet the needs of teachers?
This online graphic by Silvia Duckworth, (below ) has galvanized me about this topic (start from lower left corner):
I thought it would be interesting for the NELTA ELT Forum to toss these questions out to the general teaching public and create some kind of a poll to find out what you, the readers, think about this.
What do you need, as a teacher or a teacher trainer, in the area of professional development?
Let’s first think about the context.
What specific needs do you have in your physical context?
Think, for example, of the following:
- Highly resourced vs. under-resourced classrooms,
- Large or small class size,
- Accessibility to the internet, technology, and mobile phones;
- Teacher support and mentoring networks;
- Colleagues who are helpful and open-minded, or not;
- Access to English language usage and resources in your environment;
- Student population criteria, i.e. what kinds of students you have;
- Curriculum and textbooks requirements;
- Testing requirements, and also,
- Adjustment to the Pandemic.
All of these factors influence you, and what you need.
Then there are personal factors:
- Burnout, Boredom, Depression, Frustration, Overwhelm
- Range of experience
- Exposure to training opportunities
- Amount of exposure to English
- Proficiency in English
- Different motivations about learning/teaching English
- Isolation in the teacher setting
- Lack of materials
- Doing the same thing over and over again without better results
- Other family or professional responsibilities
- Personality variables.
We can see in teaching and in teacher training, just as in classroom-centered research, there are a confounding number of variables to take into consideration.
I posit that Teacher Development or Professional Development has to be personal development, and in order to improve personal and professional development, we have to learn how to inculcate new ways of applying learning theory to make the best practices “sticky” and “transferrable” and “sustainable.” Perhaps we can even help make them “viral”– in the best sense of the word.
A quote I heard today from Ammachi, the Indian saint, was as follows: “You can write the word “honey” on a piece of paper. But if you lick the paper, it will not taste sweet.”
I wonder if too often the theory and practices we develop in teacher trainings we participate in may not be experientially applied, and what to do about it. How can we get teachers to experience the taste of honey, and not just lick the paper?
In order to investigate this area, I would like to have you think about and discuss with your colleagues the following questions:
- Are you satisfied with your current level of teaching? Why or why not?
- When have you made a successful and positive behavior change in your own life? In your own teaching? What allowed that to happen?
- If you had a magic wand and could go back and change one thing about the way you were taught in school, what would that be?
- How is your teaching style the same as or different from the way you were taught as a child / young adult/teacher trainee?
- If you could do one thing differently in your teaching approach, what would it be?
- Why do you teach the way you do? What beliefs, attitudes, experiences, or theories underlie your own teaching style?
Now – we may discuss these questions at length, and my hope is that this article will be a catalyst to discuss them either in person, or on some kind of social media platform. However, there is another small ember of passion that has been burning a hole in my mental pocket of late.
Why did you become a teacher?
Many people say that they became a teacher because they failed some other exam, or they couldn’t get into med school or engineering or neuropsych, or because their parents were teachers, or someone told them that’s what they should do; or perhaps it was something you were good at and it was easy to do, or you had a passion for teaching in general and English in particular.
Many people complain (in the west at least) that teaching is not a high status position. And most teachers notice that teaching is not a high paying profession.
In Nepal and South Asia in general, I was very pleasantly amazed to find the ongoing reverence for the Guru. (This tradition goes back thousands of years to the ancient Gurukul tradition, where the Guru would be responsible for the education and enlightenment of his or her students – on a very holistic, spiritual level. The body, mind, and spirit were all under the Guru’s dedication.)
Now however, education has become both secularized and very compartmentalized, so we have education for science, education for medicine, education for English, education for Nepali, education for Education: the list goes on and on. However we seem often to divorce the mind from the body, and leave the Spirit out entirely.
Throughout all these fanned-out differentiated branches of educational specialization there runs a single thread, however:
The need for becoming. In other words, there is a need to maximize one’s potential and become all one can be. Maybe we won’t become enlightened teachers, but we can become excellent teachers!
English Language Education is more than teaching grammar, vocabulary, and phrasal verbs, and memorizing texts. It can be about helping the student or teacher increase their range of effectiveness in this lifetime, and become all they can be.
Although there are definite concerns about “cultural imperialism” (see, for example, Canagarajah) and native language die-off with the teaching of English, the bigger picture is that “worldEnglishes” today are opening up a wide world of possibility – not only on the World Wide Web, in commerce, employment opportunity, and personal growth, but in global understanding.
In addition, we human beings are now faced by massive crises of planetary proportion: climate change, economic and ecological disruption, pandemics, pollution, and the realization that we are just here on this small blue planet out in the backwaters of a mediocre galaxy in an infinite universe. Now, more than ever before, “we must all hang together or surely we will all hang separately.” 
This need for becoming “more” than we were previously, and the mission, if you will, of helping our students to become more than they thought they could be, is what I call the “evolutionary imperative of education.” Is there a way that learning English (or another language) can help us to survive as a human society?
How can we allow our students, and teachers, and ourselves, to develop the proper framework to maintain an evolutionary perspective? I am not talking about biological evolution, nor even linguistic evoluation, but rather the process of becoming more than one was. If this were not the case, why would we bother to teach anyone anything? Why would we bother to learn anything?
This “actualization through learning” idea stems from the Greek word entelechy, the origin of which is here: late Middle English: via late Latin from Greek entelekheia (used by Aristotle), from en- ‘within’ + telos ‘end, perfection’ + ekhein ‘be in a certain state’.
Teacher Development as Evolutionary Behavior
I hold that teaching is and should be an evolutionary behaviour, that is, it creates learning that leads to more possibility and more awareness, and an improved human situation. That’s a big goal! But why not strive for it?
If teaching is something that we want to develop as a skill set, and we want our students to… (pass the exam, get a good job, succeed in life, become an English teacher or a Doctor or a farmer in order to help society), what are the criteria we need to plan for in order for in this development to occur? Here are a few of my ideas; please feel free to list more of your own!
1. Expanded worldview. With learning a new language comes a view into new worlds, a door opening into unseen realms.
2. Personal responsibility. Teachers and students alike need to learn to set their own goals and develop their own inner guiding lights, not merely parrot what they have seen or heard before.
3. Development of personal gifts and talents. Each person has a unique soul, and to allow this to blossom in its full capacity, as a human being here on earth, seems to be an important part of what we are here to do.
4. Service. Whether it is service to the teaching/learning profession or a bigger service to help one’s students, neighborhood, or mankind in general, the emphasis on service is the key to success.
Questions to Ponder: What are your own “evolutionary imperatives” in education?
What are you wanting to become? And what are your students wanting and needing to become?
Teaching as Embodiment
In addition to learning and teaching languages, have always been interested in animal behaviour. In Taiwan, where I used to teach, I would observe large packs of street dogs crossing busy multi-lane streets together in the middle of the block, thus avoiding turning cars and finding security in numbers. American city dogs do not have this behavior.
You may have heard of the “hundredth monkey phenomenon.” In this experiment in the 1950s, animal scientists were studying monkeys on a series of archipelagos in Japan. They observed the behavior of monkeys when yams were dropped on the beach of their island. The researchers noted that most monkeys simply started to gobbling up the yams, covered as they were with dirt and sand. However, one mother monkey — and her offspring — started going to the beach and washing off the sand in the ocean water. Other monkeys, observing this behavior, began washing their yams also. Gradually, seeing the improvement in the taste and texture of the yams, the majority of the monkeys began washing their yams, on this particular island. (There is an “urban myth” that after a certain number of monkeys on the first island started washing their yams, let’s say 100, monkeys on other far-away islands spontaneously began washing their yams as well. However, as that is not, apparently, scientifically verifiable, I leave it to you to ponder.)
Animal behaviorists tell us that the way that new “cultural” information is learned is by trial and error, and observation, and imitation, and then adopting the behavior if it is beneficial. But information creates a behavioral change: something changes in the actual physical movement, in the thought processes, or social connectivity and development, of the organisms learning the new behaviour.
My next questions are: how do you get behaviour to change? How do you get your own behaviour to change? And, how do you disseminate information to groups of people?
If you want to learn to dance, you have to practice and move your body. If you want to learn to cook delicious dal bhat or Crepes Suzette, you have to go buy the ingredients and prepare the food. I implore us all to think more of the actual physiological components of teaching and learning: i.e. body language, stance, proxemics, voice tone, use of visuals and multi-sensory learning, use of applied technology, the many new findings in educational neuropsychology, and especially, collaborative work in teacher training, to help us better understand how to pass on new teaching behaviors.
Another vital idea in personal and professional development is “Idea Flow.” Alex Pentland, a computer scientist and professor at MIT, crunches together mega-amounts of data from hundreds of millions of cell-phone users, via computer. He thus been uncovering productive trends in society and business. He and his colleagues have found over and over again that working with de-centralized information flow – i.e., collaborative networking – leads to much more productive results than hierarchical (“top down”) information flow. In his 2015 book Social Physics: how social networks can make us smarter, he describes how companies that allow their teams to take a break all together at a set time improve productivity and company profits by massive amounts. Why? Because ideas, solutions, and problem-solving are flowing amongst the participants. In the U.S., even such a simple act as standing around the water cooler for employees (or in Nepal, perhaps sitting down, discussing ideas and drinking chiya together) leads to increased creativity and a flow of ideas.
As Pentland states,
It is not simply the brightest who have the best ideas; it is those who are best at harvesting ideas from others. It is not only the most determined who drive change; it is those who most fully engage with like-minded people. And it is not wealth or prestige that best motivates people; it is respect and help from peers.
As the NELTA ELT Forum is the perfect setting for our peers to globally symbolically drink tea together and share ideas about teacher development, I hope to engage our Forum members in some ongoing dynamic dialogue and networking about these ideas. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback!
In this time of global pandemics, social pressures and climate chaos, the need for the evolution of teaching becomes ever more pressing. The needs for personal and professional evolution, also, stand out more than ever before. Faced by a world wide web of planetary interconnectedness, teachers of English now are poised before a unique opportunity: to network with one another, share our needs, and develop strategies to help us all progress together toward wider understanding of how to better play at least a tiny – but essential — part in helping our students and ourselves evolve. With the current potential of online access, this opportunity holds great promise for increased communication, accelerated networking, and growth for the profession. NELTA ELT Forum is a perfect example of such promise.
A posthumous publication based upon White’s notes of ideas for completing The Once and Future King.
 See, for example, Sticky Learning: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-0306-6_13
 a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin during the signing of the US Declaration of Independence – multiple sources
 Pentland, Alex. Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science (Kindle Locations 126-128). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
About the author: Miriam Corneli is a former Senior English Language Fellow in Nepal (2013 -2015) and Sri Lanka. She is a founding member of InspirationEducation.us, devised to bring new relevant “winds of change” to teachers around the globe. She has taught English and done teacher trainings in five countries and four U.S. states to people of all ages and stages. She currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA and treasures the memory of her time in Nepal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning is an interactive and dialogic process and remains incomplete without students’ meaningful participation in learning activities. However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to promoting students’ engagement. This conceptual paper first presents the role of student engagement in learning and introduces different dimensions of engagement (i.e., affective, behavioural, and cognitive). It then suggests various ways to enhance student engagement by addressing their basic psychological needs (i.e., need for relatedness, competence, and autonomy). It is expected that the paper will contribute to raising teachers’ awareness of the fact that teaching is more about empowering students to take agency in learning than the transmission of information.
Student Engagement: Importance and dimensions
Student engagement refers to their investment of time and effort in meaningful and purposeful educational activities in a supportive environment (Zepke, 2017). Engagement is a significant predictor of success, not only in school but also in life several reasons. First, no meaningful learning can occur without students’ meaningful participation. As Skinner and Pitzer (2012) note, “No matter how many extracurriculars students undertake or how attached they are to the school, they will not learn or achieve unless they are constructively engaged with the academic work of the classroom” (p.23). Second, engagement shapes students’ psychological and social experiences in school. While students highly engaged in their learning “feel more academically competent and connected, and elicit more positive interactions and support from teachers, …disengaged students tend to perform poorly in school and so feel marginalized, resentful, and ineffective” (p. 24). Third, engagement is positively associated with several life skills such as academic resilience and perseverance, ability to cope with difficulties, growth mindset, positive academic identity, self-regulated and independent learning, and eventually successful academic career (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012; Zepke, 2017).
Student engagement is generally said to have three dimensions: affective, behavioral, and cognitive (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Affective engagement encompasses both positive and negative reactions that might “influence [students’] willingness to do the work” (Fredricks et al., 2004, p. 60). While positive affect involves motivation, interest, sense of belonging, the experience of a warm and caring relationship, and feeling of being a significant member of the community, negative affect includes boredom, sadness, anxiety, humiliation, and irritation (Philp & Duchesne, 2016; Skinner & Pitzer, 2012; Zepke, 2017). Students’ positive and negative emotions mostly hinge upon the types of support and care they receive from their peers, teachers, and school. For example, the students who receive support and encouragement from teachers may be willing to invest more time and effort in learning, whereas those lacking such support may feel vulnerable and powerless (Henderson, Molloy, Ajjawi, & Boud, 2019). In extreme cases, affective disengagement may even lead to failure and eventual drop-out (Tai, Dawson, Bearman, & Ajjawi, 2019).
Behavioral engagement broadly concerns students’ participation and involvement in different academic and social activities that contribute to a positive educational outcome (Fredricks et al., 2004; Philp & Duchesne, 2016; Zepke, 2017). This engagement dimension includes “effort, intensity, persistence, determination, and perseverance in the face of obstacles and difﬁculties” (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012, p. 24). It is not only the primary driver of actual performance, but behaviourally engaged students also tend to elicit greater responsiveness and receive better support from teachers (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012). The more time and effort the students invest in their academic activities, the better they will learn.
Cognitive engagement involves students’ investment in deep learning, self-regulation, perceived future relevance of learning, thoughtfulness, and willingness to exert necessary efforts (Fredricks et al., 2004; Philp & Duchesne, 2016; Zepke, 2017). According to Skinner and Pitzer (2012), cognitive engagement “encompasses attention, concentration, focus, absorption, ‘heads-on’ participation, and a willingness to go beyond what is required” (p. 24).
From a socio-cultural perspective, learning is a dialogic process rather than the one-way transmission of knowledge, and students are expected to “take shared responsibility for their learning with their teachers and institutions” (Zepke, 2017, p. 9). Therefore, our primary responsibility as a teacher is to motivate, inspire, and encourage students to take agency in their learning and promote their “willpower to think carefully and deeply about their academic work” (Winstone & Carless, 2020, p. 127). The following section presents some ways to promote student engagement.
Promoting student engagement
Students have an inherent desire for learning (Ryan & Deci, in press). However, their thirst for knowledge and skills is sustained only if their basic psychological needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy are fulfilled (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012). Therefore, it is incumbent upon teachers to address basic psychological needs to engage them in learning and lead them to success.
Relatedness refers to “the need to experience oneself as connected to other people, as belonging” (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012, p. 27). Such an experience of belongingness determines whether students become oriented to or distracted from learning. In many cases, education and teachers tend to ignore students’ feelings, worries, concerns, and inner conflicts (Gunn, 2014). Being ignored makes students feel neglected and lose interest in learning. As John C. Maxwell, an American author and leader, put it, “Students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care”. To establish a mutual and shared understanding with students, teachers may need to read their minds, communicate with them with the ethos of care and empathy, and need to put ourselves in their shoes. However, it is vital to bear in mind that the development of shared understanding has to do more with inner understanding than external communication. Therefore, our ability to identify with students and resonate with them is at the core of relatedness and, therefore, student engagement in learning and subsequent success.
Competence is concerned with students’ sense of confidence and ability. They need to experience that they can succeed (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012). Students’ “need for competence is best satisfied within well-structured environments that afford optimal challenges, positive feedback, and opportunities for growth” (Ryan & Deci, in press, p. 1). Conducive environment for enhancing students’ competence can be created by providing them with relevant, valuable, meaningful, and sufficiently challenging (i.e., neither too easy nor too difficult) tasks. Students also need clear instructions to accomplish the given activities as well as sufficient scaffolding to perform tasks and encouraging feedback. It is crucial to acknowledge their efforts and focus on what they have done well, even when their performance is not meet our expectations. Although it seems natural for teachers to focus on what is wrong, it should be acknowledged that we all tend to learn from what we have done well. Unfortunately, this aspect (i.e., positive feedback on students’ efforts) is too often neglected.
Autonomy refers to “the need to express one’s authentic self and to experience that self as the source of action” (Skinner & Pitzer, 2012, p. 27). Teachers can support students’ autonomy “by attempting to understand, acknowledge, and where possible, be responsive to students’ perspectives” (Ryan & Deci, in press, p. 3). It is essential to explain to students the rationale behind different activities they are required to engage rather than just giving them instruction in the form of order and pressure. Besides, students’ need for autonomy can be supported when they are provided with an opportunity to choose activities that interest them or that resonate with their knowledge and experience. Research has shown that autonomy supporting teachers tend “to listen more, be more responsive to student questions, bring more attention to student interests, resist giving answers, voice fewer directives, show more support for student initiatives, and convey more understanding of students’ perspectives” (Ryan & Deci, in press, p. 4). Such support for autonomy creates an optimal learning environment for students to learn and grow.
The ultimate goal of teaching is to empower students to take agency and responsibility in learning. This goal can be achieved by promoting students’ engagement in learning, for which it is necessary to attend to their basic psychological needs of relatedness, competence, and autonomy. The need for engaging students has been even more critical in the context of emergency remote teaching. Teachers may need to be in regular contact with students by using whatever means are available, being flexible in assignments and assessments, and seeking students’ perspectives to adapt teaching to their needs (Gares, Kariuki, & Rempel, in press). As Peters et al., (2019) note, “when students realize that their opinions are heard and valued, and they come to understand the reasoning behind decisions, they may show improved tolerance for unfavorable experiences and then provide constructive feedback” (p. 2). Despite difficulties, teachers can make a difference if they keep students’ learning and well-being at the center.
Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59–109.
Gares, S. L., Kariuki, J. K., & Rempel, B. P. (in press). Community matters: Student–instructor relationships foster student motivation and engagement in an emergency remote teaching environment. Journal of Chemical Education.
Gunn, V. (2014). Mimetic desire and intersubjectivity in disciplinary cultures: Constraints or enablers to learning in higher education? Studies in Continuing Education, 36(1), 67–82.
Henderson, M., Molloy, E., Ajjawi, R., & Boud, D. (2019). Designing feedback for impact. In M. Henderson, R. Ajjawi, D. Boud, & E. Molloy (Eds.), The Impact of Feedback in Higher Education (pp. 267–285). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Peters, H., Zdravkovic, M., João Costa, M., Celenza, A., Ghias, K., Klamen, D., … Weggemans, M. (2019). Twelve tips for enhancing student engagement. Medical Teacher, 41(6), 632–637.
Philp, J., & Duchesne, S. (2016). Exploring engagement in tasks in the language classroom. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 36, 50–72.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (in press). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology.
Skinner, E. A., & Pitzer, J. R. (2012). Developmental dynamics of student engagement, coping, and everyday resilience. In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Student Engagement (pp. 21–44). Boston, MA: Springer US.
Tai, J., Dawson, P., Bearman, M., & Ajjawi, R. (2019). Beware the simple impact measure: Learning from the parallels with student engagement. In M. Henderson, R. Ajjawi, D. Boud, & E. Molloy (Eds.), The Impact of Feedback in Higher Education (pp. 37–50). Cham: Springer.
Winstone, N. E., & Carless, D. (2020). Designing effective feedback processes in higher education: A learning-focused approach. New York: Routledge.
Zepke, N. (2017). Student engagement in neoliberal times. Singapore: Springer.
About the author: Ms. Madhu Neupane Bastola is a Lecturer at the Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Currently, she is a PhD scholar at the Department of English, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. She did her M. Ed. in English Education and M.A. in English Literature from Tribhuvan University, Nepal, and M. Ed. (TESOL) from the University of Sydney, Australia. Her scholarship focuses on academic reading and writing, motivating and engaging learners, graduate research supervision, corpus-based research, and Nepalese higher education. She can be reached at email@example.com
Learning is ‘like a river flowing unobstructed’: Role of reflection in teachers’ professional development
Reflection, as a process of learning through and from experiences, can play a crucial role in teachers’ professional development. It is the collection of insights from the past, making sense of the past and drawing meaning from it for future growth. The purpose of this writing is to share my reflections upon my ‘self’ and my learning that has followed a step-wise process, and to see how reflecting on the past contributed to my learning as an English teacher. I conclude, reflection is a powerful means of learning while my journey into learning English has been like a river which always flows forward changing its place and pace.
Keywords: reflection, professional development, learning, self-actualized experiences
Almost three and a half decades ago, when I was in grade four in a government school of a remote village located in the eastern hilly region of Nepal, learning English for me was just to write alphabets, and vocabulary items and some simple sentences using limited vocabularies. For example, ‘I eat rice,’ ‘my name is …’, ‘my father’s name is …’, I live in ….’, Ram was a …’ etc. My teachers used to read some sentences from a book aloud and we, students, used to repeat the same after him, first in English and then in Nepali. Learning (English) then was just memorizing what had been taught by teachers. At that time my understanding of learning English was reading lessons given in the textbook and being able to answer short questions that followed the lesson. Most of the time, the teachers used to write answers for the students. Vocabularies were also the things to be learned by heart. Now I understood that it was the famous grammar translation method followed by my teachers. I used to think that I was very good at English because I could easily do what my teachers asked me to do and passed the exam getting good marks. The only way to assess the students’ achievement then was written examination by asking some questions from the lesson taught. The meaning of learning English to me then was just to pass the exams.
Later, when I joined high school ( Grade 8), my teacher taught English along with grammar rules. He was a trained English teacher of that time. In the high school, the teacher used to give us notes about grammar rules and some sample sentences reflecting on the rules. This is how, I started learning grammar rules and producing some of my own sentences following a certain pattern or structure. Reading lessons , writing word-meanings ,writing answers of questions given after the lesson ( mostly provided by the teacher) and memorize , writing simple essays and guided compositions (mostly provided by teacher), understanding and memorizing grammar rules were the goals and the meaning of learning English for me then was again pass the examinations (written only) with good marks.
The meaning changed further after I passed SLC. My parents and teachers encouraged me to study English education in college so that I could easily get job as an English Teacher. After that I developed an idea that learning English means an opportunity to get a good job (as a teacher). Since then I started thinking about being an English teacher like my teachers in school.
When I joined I. Ed (Intermediate in Education) in a college in Dhankuta, I found myself in quite different circumstances than that of my school. I found all English teachers speaking English in the classroom. That was a great challenge for the student like me who was the product of the grammar translation method, who never heard of ‘listening’ and ‘speaking’ skills as an important part of language learning. In the very beginning I used to sit in the classroom listening lectures but without getting any clear clues of what I was listening to. I could not ask any questions in English because I had not practiced it. I had no option but to sit silently without asking any question even though I wanted to. I once asked a question collecting all my courage, but felt humiliated when my teacher asked me back to clarify it further as the question I asked in English was, it looks, not clear.
Even in the college, there was no environment to practice speaking English with peers (most of them boys) because they were all from almost the same background like mine. We were only two girls and interacting with boys was very rare during that time, perhaps the influence of cultural socialization.
After some months listening lectures continuously, I started to grasp what the teachers were talking. By the end of the academic year, I was able to catch my teachers and develop some listening and reading skills. Still speaking was quite a neglected area. The only way of evaluating student’s achievements was written examinations at the end of every academic year. Other language skills would not be assessed, hence would not be in the list of my priority of learning. I completed I.Ed. in such situation.
After completing I Ed examinations, we had to do a teaching practicum for a month or so in schools. That was a great challenge for me (and for all) because we were not allowed to use Nepali while teaching English in the classroom and I was not so good at speaking. Filled with fear and confusion, I prepared myself as a practicing teacher with great effort by consulting teachers, seniors and some reference books. To my surprise, I did not feel speaking English as difficult as I used to think before starting practice teaching. It was a bit difficult in the beginning to speak in front of the students but things went smooth by the end of the practice period.
By the time I started my Bachelor’s degree, I had developed some confidence over language skills, in the sense, I was not as shy as I was in I.Ed, and could interact with male friends as well. I was the only girl at the Bachelor level to study English education. I was, to some extent, able to ask questions with teachers in the classrooms. I studied theories about new teaching methods and skills that could be more student-centered although my teachers were not necessarily applying those skills. In that particular scenario I completed my B.Ed (Bachelor in Education) developing the idea that learning English and becoming an English teacher means speaking English fluently in front of students and delivering the content in English.
My concept (truth for me) about teaching English again changed after I finished my Master’s degree as I was theoretically exposed to new approaches and methods of teaching English. The traditional grammar translation method and lecture method were considered ineffective and new learner centered approaches and methods, such as communicative approaches, were considered an effective approach to teaching English in non-English contexts. Then the meaning of learning English amounted to being able to communicate in English. Similarly, being an English teacher was not only to speak English fluently but also to teach students about different language skills following particular methods and techniques and create an environment for them to practice communicative skills in the classroom.
I started teaching in a campus after finishing my Master’s degree having the same concept I had developed so far.
Now, after fifteen years of my teaching career, a lot has changed in the ELT field. There have been paradigm shifts regarding the goal of learning, way of teaching, teaching contents, contexts, status and use of English/ Englishes, role of students and teachers, use of technology and so on. My previous meaning of learning and teaching English has changed again. Now the meaning of learning English for me is to develop myself more as an active, up-to date and curious learner than teacher so that I can help my students to develop themselves as an active, energetic, goal-oriented and internationally competent citizens. I am trying to keep myself updated with these new changes and trends by learning new ideas by engaging in different professional development activities and by unlearning and relearning the old concepts I developed in my mind.
When I reflect upon my own journey of English language learning and teaching, I found myself struggling to fulfill the different needs of different times during my career as an English teacher. There is always a pressure of keeping myself updated about new knowledge areas such as those brought about by curriculum changes, advancement in technology and assessment systems. Balancing between theory and practice and changing needs and priorities of the institution or work place has also been challenging at times. It is not easy to cope with the changes/paradigm shifts in the field of ELT, as all changes primarily take place in the western contexts, and adapting to those changes in non-western contexts, like Nepal, is not all plain sailing. The hegemony of ‘standard English’ and ‘pure English’ still continues despite ‘Englishes’ being celebrated. So do traditional teaching methods. All these keep a teacher in perpetual transition in a non-western context.
Finally, this reflection takes me to conclude that learning is an evolutionary process, one that does not stop and what we have learned at one particular time and context may not fit or remain true in another time or contexts.
About the author: Ms. Ganga Laxmi Bhandari is a lecturer of English education at Mahendra Ratna Campus Tahachal (T.U.), Kathmandu. She has over 15 years of teaching and training experience in ELT. She has also been working as a Central Committee Member of NELTA. Currently, she is pursuing a PHD degree from Tribhuvan University. Her area of research interest is teacher professional development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org