Attending the International Conferences: Pages from my Diary
Laxmi Prasad Ojha*
Attending Conferences has always been my favorite professional development strategy. Every time I attend one, I feel more energetic and have stronger commitment for my own as well as fellow colleagues’ professional development. I got an opportunity to attend two international conferences recently. In this narrative entry, I will share my experience of attending TESOL and IATEFL conferences.
50th TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo, Baltimore, USA
I attended the 50th TESOL International Conference and English Language Expo held at Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Maryland, USA from 5-8 April, 2016. This was my first ever conference outside Nepal. Therefore, it was very much exciting and rewarding experience.
The first day of the conference began with a key note speech from Aziz Abu Sarah on Revolutionizing Education: Building Peace in the Divided World. He shared his experience of how education played a major role in his transformation from a radical to a peace builder, and how his educational work in Syria, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, and the United States has helped bridge the gap between hostile communities. He further explored how education has the power to heal conflicts, from the geopolitical stage to the classroom. On the second day, Andy Curtis, TESOL President presented in his presentation entitled Reflecting Forward, Reflecting Back: Looking in the Mirror at 50 discussed the idea of teachers as reflective practitioners using the metaphor of mirror. He recalled the growth of TESOL as a community and as an organization and shared his vision about the path it might take in the future.
On the third day, Jeanette Altarriba delivered a plenary on Beyond Linguistic Boarders: Language Learning Cradled in Cognition focusing on the factors to fluency in a second language like knowledge of basic contextual and motivational features that must be present in order to facilitate language learning. Taking reference of an evidence based research, she talked about approaches for effective language learning and theories used to derive those approaches for classroom use. Similarly, Anne Curzan delivered her plenary talk entitled Survey Says…: Determining What English Usage is and isn’t Acceptable.
Another notable presentation I attended was by Thomas Farrell and four other presenters in a discussion forum on Critical Considerations in Advancing TESOL Teacher Education. I have always admired the books and articles by Prof. Farrell and it a wonderful opportunity for me to interact with him in person. In his powerful presentation, Farrell talked about how traditional teacher education programs are not preparing the teachers for the real problems they will face in the classrooms. He called for a change in the way we deliver these training programs and argued that we should let them explore the skills themselves so that they become independent problem solvers. I also liked the session entitled The Evolution and Future of Diversity in TESOL by Prof. Ryuko Kubota and four others presenters. In this presentation, the presenters talked about the concept of diversity, its history, the present status and influence in English language teaching.
I presented with two other colleagues (Mr. Madhukar KC and Mr. Taranath Bhattarai) on the title Four NNESTs’ Professional Journey from NELTA to TESOL. In our presentation, we presented our perceptions and experiences towards developing our NNEST professional identity in a regional association (NELTA) to explore our leadership self to envision a better landscapes for future NNEST professional generations. We shared our teaching career trajectories, transitions from teacher-trainer-administrator-teacher trainer and formation of positive professional identity through critical reflexivity. Presenting at such a huge professional platform with 150 participants was a memorable experience.
50th IATEFL Conference, Birmingham, UK
I also got an opportunity to attend the 50th IATEFL Annual Conference held at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham, UK from 12 – 16 April. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to improve my professional awareness and skills along with international network.
I started my IATEFL conference by taking part in the pre-conference event organized by the Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TD SIG) on the theme Teacher Voices. In the event held at University of Birmingham three presenters – Marek Kiczkowiak, Suzanne Antonaros and Liliana Sanchez – presented and discussed on three different topics (a) Critical competencies of effective language teachers, (b) Teacher culture and identity and (c) Accountability and responsibility respectively. I also got a chance to visit around the university and specially the Department of Applied Linguistics and interact with the Director of the department.
The first day of the conference began with the plenary from famous linguist David Crystal, the Patron of the IATEFL on Wednesday 13th April. In his presentation entitled Who would of thought it? The English language 1966-2066, Prof. Crystal discussed the changes in the English language in the last 50 years in the areas of pronunciation, orthography, grammar, and vocabulary. He also discussed the chief factors such as social mobility, globalization, and the Internet that have contributed for the change in this global language. In his impressive talk, Prof. Crystal also compared the changes that have taken place in the past fifty years with those that are likely to take place in the next fifty.
I attended the presentation by Jim Scrivner entitled The naive teacher walks into a classroom in which he talked about how the traditional way of teacher preparation that prepares teachers to face imagined problems fails to so on most occasions. He claimed that the only way to learn teaching is by teaching – learning to teach by teaching. Other notable presentations on the first day were The teacher Trainer Journal 30th birthday Panel by Tessa Woodward; Young learners as researchers: a language landscape project in Mexico by Nick Saville & David Graddol and TTEd SIG Open Forum. The day ended with a presentation by Paula Rebolledo, Richard Smith, Thomas Connelly on Exploratory action research – a practical introduction,in which they discussed about Champion Teachers Project conducted in Chile. They shared about how this project encouraged teachers to start with their success stories and explore their practices
Silvana Richardson began the second day with her presentation entitled The ‘native factor’, the haves and the have-nots… …and why we still need to talk about this in 2016. In her impressive presentation, Richardson talked about the state of equality and social justice in ELT with reference to the so-called ‘non-native speaker teacher’ thirty years on since Peter Medgyes raised the issue of non-native teachers in 1983. She criticised the discriminatory recruitment practices that still views the non-native teachers as unqualified and prefers native speaker as qualified ones discarding the professional qualities required. She further reflected on the impact of the native-speaker bias and its dominance on developments in English Language teaching methodology. This was one of my favourite presentations in the IATEFL conference and raised my awareness to various issues related to NNEST movement.
I also attended a session by Fiona Barker & Anne Burns on Getting to grips with action research for teachers. The presenters talked about the process of action research and shared about engaging a group of teachers in an action research through different stages of planning – acting – observing – reflection leading to publication of research findings. In his presentation entitled Chronicle of a death foretold: course books, classrooms, learning and language, Jeremy Harmer discussed about how over reliance on textbooks leads to lack of creativity in the language classes. Harmer shared some techniques to create dialogic interaction in the class and discussed about strategies that teachers can use to make their language class lively and interactive leading to language development. Adrian Underhill, in his presentation entitled Improvisation: a response to complexity in class and school management, talked about the importance of adaptation or changing lesson plans to respond to what is happening in the class. He shared some techniques that teachers can use for impromptu adaptation of lesson activities.
I also presented on day two on the title Leading the change: Changing approaches of teacher education in Nepal. In my presentation, I talked about the changes made in the pre-service teacher education programme in my department at Tribhuvan University by introducing semester based system replacing yearly system. I discussed how the pre-service teachers have benefitted because of the use of different ICT tools and internet based platforms to access resources to develop their understanding and skills. It was an experience of life time to get an opportunity to present in an international platform like this.
As the plenary speaker, Diane Larsen-Freeman started the third day with her presentation entitled Shifting metaphors from computer input to ecological affordances. She talked about how input provided to the learners was an inappropriate concept and focused on the need to focus on affordances. She elaborated the concept of affordances and discussed the implications of affordances for English language learning and teaching.
It was an amazing opportunity to listen to Jack Richards on What does it mean to be a teacher of English? In his presentation, Prof. Richards discussed 10 different skills that language teachers need to have. These skills included the language proficiency factor, content knowledge, developing a repertoire of teaching skills, contextual knowledge, developing one’s sense of identity as a language teacher, developing learner focused teaching, acquiring specialized cognitive skills, learning how to theorize from practice, joining a community of practice and becoming a language teaching professional.
On the fourth and last day of the conference, Scott Thornbury delivered his plenary speech entitled 1966 and all that: A critical history of ELT. He reviewed the major developments in the teaching of EFL since the mid-sixties specially the emergence of communicative methods. He argued that the notion of method has been rejected at present because of the diversity of contexts, needs, and traditions that ELT currently embraces. He summarized that established orthodoxies as cookie-cutter pre-service training, global textbooks, uniform examinations and even the notion of a Standard English itself have been challenged and this trend will continue to grow. Jan Blake delivered the closing plenary on Man, woman, life, love: stories from Africa, the Caribbean, and beyond.
Attending these international conferences has helped me be more confident about what I do in my professional life. I have a stronger network with English language professional from around the world and have more ideas now to teach, research and write. I have already started collaborating with some of the colleagues through different media and hope it will help me develop my professional skills. Besides, I feel that my spirit of volunteering for my professional community has become stronger.
I came to realize that the world of English language teaching has started discussing about new issues like diversity in language teaching, race and gender, peace building through education. We need to discuss these issues in our academia and include ideas in our education as well. The conferences forced me to reflect my own activities and the teaching-learning situations in Nepal.
I got a chance to meet and interact with some of the great scholars in the field of English language teaching like David Crystal, Jack Richards, Jeremy Harmer, David Nunan, Thomas Ferrell, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Scott Adrian Underhill, Anne Burns, Jim Scrivner, David Graddol, Scott Thornbury. I have been reading and teaching various publications from these scholars for a long time and it felt like a fairy tale and a dream come true to be with them all at the same time!
I would like to thank British Council Nepal for funding my visit to the IATEFL Conference 2016. I am also thankful to my professional family – NELTA – for the support throughout this process.
(*Mr. Ojha teaches at Department of English Education, Tribhuvnan University, Kirtipur. A central committee member of NELTA, he is also an editor of “NELTA ELT Forum”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)