2021 Okinawa JALT Summer Symposium Conference

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at this year’s Okinawa JALT (Japanese Association of Language Teaching) Summer Symposium. It meant an early morning wake up (had to get up at 4am!), but it was certainly well worth it. I got to not only run a workshop on exam moderation and assessment literacy, but I also got to sit in on some very interesting talks. I’ve tried to recap everything here as best as I can!

Andy Curtis – ‘Leader-Less-Ness’ in Language Education

Andy Curtis is one of the big names within ELT, especially regarding leadership. In his keynote session, he spoke about the lack of leadership and management literature in our industry. He mentioned that we publish 100 more times about other stuff than we do about leadership in ELT. He really stressed the point that there are barriers or hurdles to jump over for teachers to be able to teach, but not necessarily for teachers moving into management, and that this needs to change. He also highlighted the importance of getting insights from other fields but remembering that those fields are not ELT, that they can be very different, and at times, strikingly North American, which might not be appropriate for all language teaching contexts around the world. His final point was that there are still many gaps within ELT leadership and management literature, and he hopes that these will start to be filled over the coming years.

Nathanael Rudolph – Criticality and ELT in Japan: Re-imagining Issues and
Approaches to Inquiry/Practice

Nathanael Rudolph spoke to us about the importance of not viewing all groups as homogenous, including native-speaker and national (in this case Japanese) groups. One of the interesting points he brought up is the fact that there is always a focus on English and the general national identity of the country in which English is being taught (e.g. Japan). What is missing, however, is the identity of the various Japanese communities that are in Japan as well as the various Englishes that are relevant. He went further and gave examples of how a homogenous view of Japan and language learners is general might be dangerous and detrimental (language loss, identity issues, etc.). He finished by stressing the need to ensure that knowledge creation is localised, i.e. we take everyone’s views and socio-cultural perspectives into account, even if it is difficult.

Curtis Kelly – The C Factor: The Overlooked Dynamic in Successful Language Classes

Curtis Kelly made the point that very often something is missing from classes – the C factor! C stands for connected, but not only from a teacher to student perspective, also from a student to student one. Much research focuses on the relationships between teacher and student, but there is not a substantial amount on the student to student relationships that occur in classrooms. The research we do have shows that when learners become friends and build bonds, they are better behaved, there is greater willingness to learn and collaborate, and learners are more open to sharing. He pushed the point that while teaching often focuses on analytical thought processes, we as teachers should also take time to focus on social thought process (different parts of the brain are engaged). We were able to come up with a number of suggestions of how this might be done in the classroom, and one that I really liked was having the class party at the start of the year as opposed to the end!

Andy Boon – Teaching Speaking: My Past, Present and Future

Andy Boon took us through his journey teaching speaking. His past was very much focused on the traditional ‘hi, how are you?’ unauthentic types of conversation one might find in a course book, to now drawing on insights from conversation and discourse analysis for dealing with whole speech events and analysing conversational moves. He used introducing oneself as an example. More often than not course books and teachers push this view that the first thing we say to someone is our name, when in actual fact this ‘move’ is not done till quite some time later. For example:

Scenario: You are walking into a full lecture theatre and are late. You see a seat next to someone.

Move one: Sorry, do you mind if I sit here. / No! Take a seat.

Move(s) two: Hope I haven’t missed anything. / Don’t worry, he only just got here.

Move(s) three: Great. I hear he is a strict marker. /I’ve heard this as well – I hope I don’t fail. This is my last subject.

Move(s) four: I’m sure you’ll be fine! My name’s Jim, by the way. / Hi, my name’s Melanie!

Andy emphasised the need for us to teach speaking as speaking is, use near-authentic materials where possible, and raise learners’ awareness of the underlying structures of discourse. This way they can be better prepared for going out into the real world.

Matt Cotter – Mixing Past, Present, and Future Methods for
Language Survival and Revival

Matt Cotter had a really interesting talk on a programme in New Zealand that aimed to revive Maori language, especially with adults, through the use of Te Ataarangi, a methodology based on the Silent Way. He spoke about the success they had in New Zealand and how the programme has now extended to Japan, with a programme being run in a similar way with Ainu speakers.

Scott Thornbury – Swings and Roundabouts: Where We’ve Been
and Where We’re Going

Scott Thornbury spoke about how we have moved from method to method, almost viewing this progression as from bad to good. He emphasised that in actual fact, we are going back and forth, and that we are actually revisiting old methods (e.g. grammar translation) albeit slightly improved. We looked at what defines a method and some of the dimensions that are useful in defining them.

Credit: Scott Thornbury

Scott really emphasised the cross/multi-lingual – intra/mono-lingual dimension, saying that perhaps it is time that we reconsider this one-language classroom idea. There has been a large shift in perspectives, mainly regarding the idea of plurilingualism and that learners are rarely going to be without the ‘skills and abilities’ that their L1 provides, i.e. they can very often use it to their advantage in communication. He also mentioned that competencies are being updated to being plurilingual (e.g. CEFR) and that perhaps methods like grammar-translation could be reformed so that they are compatible with modern-day classrooms. He emphasised that translation is something that can be rewarding for learners, aid in noticing and can be a way to really allow for plurilingualism in the classroom (he advocated the use of re-translation activities – I love these, by the way!). He also made mention of the fact that there are many translation tools available to learners and we should, at minimum, use these to our advantage.

Final notes

The Okinawa JALT Summer Symposium was great fun. I don’t think I’ve been to such a relaxed conference before – we even had a post-conference social event. Granted, they were all drinking a beer while I was drinking juice (this was 11am Spain time), but I had a great time and would love to return in the future. I also thought that the fact that the conference was offered free to anyone was great! We had people from all over the world (e.g. Tunisia, Egypt, etc.), and this made for an excellent mix of opinions.

Featured image credit: JALT.org

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