TESOL France Colloquium Notes

Today and yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend and present at TESOL France 2021 Colloquium. The conference took place on Whova and there were plenty of sessions. What follows here are my notes and reflections. For those wondering if TESOL France Colloquium is a worthwhile event for next year, I can assure you it is – there were plenty of amazing sessions!

Khanh-Duc Kuttig – Dogme, ESP and Higher Education: Why it works

  • What is Dogme: It is materials-light and the teacher needs to use the learners as the source for classroom ideas. Khanh-Duc mentioned that it is conversation driven, but is NOT a conversation class. In essence, she mentioned that a Dogme course is materials-light, but not without materials. This means that when teaching a Dogme lesson, we are not going in totally unprepared. In essence, teachers come in to the class, let learners lead them to the topic of interest and then the lesson is built around this and using certain materials sparingly. It is also about emergent language – what the learners show that they need/want!
  • An interesting point that Khanh-Duc mentioned was that with ESP courses, the learners really are the experts – we are more often than not not.
  • Khanh-Duc also mentioned the motivational factor of Dogme, especially regarding more advanced learners. IN academic courses, learners are often constrained by the materials, etc. But, if we work with a Dogme approach (e.g. learners bringing in the texts and leading the lesson), learners can see a match between what they are doing and what they need.
  • For those working in ESP contexts, Khanh-Duc recommends breaking the cycle of Read-Write-Lecture-Test as it really is not materials-light, not conversation driven, and doesn’t really allow for or deal with emergent language. But how do we do this? This is where she says we need to be adventurous, and it starts with re-designing your syllabus. This starts with a conversation (and essentially and needs analysis) with your learners, not only relying on the top-down identified and dictated needs.
  • Khanh-Duc recommends basing lessons and units around texts. She mentions that this may sound contradictory to the standard Dogme idea, but we need to remember that Dogme is not materials-free, but materials-light. These texts should be, for the most part, chosen by learners and can act as a springboard for production.
  • Khanh-Duc also recommends re-thinking about assessment – not only having the end-of-term standardised tests. Some ideas include portfolios, reflection papers and presentations.
  • But what can we do with texts? We need to remember that we as teachers are often not the subject matter experts – our learners are, or at least are working their way to being an expert. So as language and teaching experts, we can use these texts to create opportunities for learners to engage with the language in a creative. Some ideas include:
    • Focusing on certain register-specific vocabulary and getting learners to teach it to each other.
    • Have students look at grammar from the text and ask and answer questions about it.
    • Have discourse about discourse – talk about what makes the text a text, take a look at the features, etc.
  • Khanh-Duc also presented two examples of Dogme lessons used in her contexts.
  • Khanh-Duc recommended Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching for those looking for more information.

Reflecting on this session, I must admit that I have never done a Dogme lesson ‘on purpose’; that is, I’ve never really thought about doing a Dogme lesson, prepared and then carried it out. I have always roughly know what is was after I read about it when completing Delta, but it was really good to see how it could be realised. I really see the value in this, and it falls in line with my own teaching principles, especially those of running lessons that are determined by learners’ needs and wants. I’m going to set myself a challenge to plan and execute a Dogme lesson over the next term, reflect on it and see how it goes 🙂

Annie Altamirano – Differentiation: myths and reality

  • Some myths include: Differentiation is…
    • Individualised instruction
    • Chaotic
    • Another way to provide homogenous grouping
    • Tailoring the same suit of clothes
    • Just for learners who struggle
  • So what is differentiation? Annie gave us a huge list of the what of differentiation:
  • Annie chose to focus on three areas that we can differentiate in the class: Content, Process and Product.
  • Content (what we want learners to learn):
    • Use of KWL charts
    • Varied text and resource materials (see picture)
    • Divide content into manageable chunks
    • Simplify/pre-teach /increase difficult of vocabulary
    • Use stepped activities
    • Use scaffolding cards
    • Ensuring that different modes of delivery are provided (e.g. ensuring that there is movement)
  • Some resources that Annie recommends for modifying and checking content:
  • Annie also recommended using a type of inquiry boards/learning boards with plenty of activities that learners can choose from. These activities are focused on what learners have studied and allow for a lot of learner choice and provide teachers with immediate feedback. Another ideas is to use learning stations; that is, places around the classroom where learners solve a problem or answer a question in each place. For example, in one place there may be a question about a topic, another place there might be a writing activity, and in another there might be problem-solving activity. I thought this was an awesome idea!
Inquiry board for bees
  • Annie spoke about questioning in the classroom. She said that every question is a learning opportunity and ensure that our questions are not simply ‘recall’ questions, but rather they should be a mix and include higher-order thinking questions. One of her tips that I really, really liked was the ‘no hands-up’ – ensure learners don’t put their hands up after a question, let them think about their answers and then you choose a number of people (and not only those who are confident). Here are some of her other tips:
  • Product: We can create product assignments (projects, assignments, readings, etc. in essence, something they need to create); that is, different assignments using the same content (e.g. by doing something with a text). But one of the main things we need to consider and make clear is the ‘success criteria’ for each of the products. This can be done through checklists or agreed-upon criteria.
  • Some final tips from Annie:
    • Ensure you have a strong rationale and share this with learners and parents
    • Begin at a pace that is comfortable for you
    • Time activities – ensure that the time allocated to the task is less than the perceived attention span of learners
    • Create and deliver instructions carefully
    • Create a system to assign students to groups

Plenary Session – Heather Hilton – Cognitive Perspectives on Language Learning

  • Heather started with going over the history of cognitive science and language teaching, and emphasised that with the advent of CLT there was a move away from ‘cognitive’ approaches and psychology.
  • Heather stated that communicative and task-based methodology have mainly been based on sociolinguistic and functional linguistics, and certain educational psychology (mainly Piaget and Vygostky).
  • Heather also presents what Krashen presented back in 1981 (which was very much influenced by linguistic Noam Chomsky’s LAD), and then goes on to show how there is no real backing in cognitive psychology.
  • She encourages both us and ‘governments’ to not use Krashen’s hypotheses; rather, we need to asnwer the following questions:
  • Heather then went on to show some of the latest discoveries in psycholinguistics related to language. For example, Gallant’s Brain Atlas and how certain areas of the brain ‘light up’ when a certain word is said in a certain context.
  • She also spoke about alignment; that is, when people talk, spend time together, etc. they start to talk the same, mirror each other’s emotions, etc. She also mentioned a study that showed that this alignment does not occur in foreign languages, maybe because of cognitive processes focusing on linguistic coding.
  • Heather described in quite a lot of detail te brain areas, and then lead to the importance of phonological networks in the brain (and how important these are for pretty much everything!). An interesting fact is that we have different phonological networks for speaking and listening.
  • Heather then mentioned that current methodologies take a view of language teaching that takes into account only one view of learning (e.g. associate, conditional, conceptual, etc.).
  • There are number of types of both implicit and explicit learning:
  • She also went on to show that L1 learning is NOT all implicit; rather there are both implicit and explicit process in L1 acquisition.
  • Heather then put forward a number of conclusions for teachers

Helen Ng – Incorporating divergent thinking in ELT classrooms

  • Helen got us to draw an arrow-like shape and then continue our drawing however we like. Some very interesting things came up!
  • We looked at what divergent and convergenet thinking is:
  • Helen presented a really simple idea called a story with a twist. In essence, a number of aspects are ‘defined’ but then learners come up with their own. Then after they have come up with their own mini-stories, the teacher can then add in a final task called the ‘with a twist’ – learners then need to incorporate this into their story somehow.
  • Helen then spoke about how certain limitation actually create conditions for divergent thinking. Sometimes these limitations are called ‘random input’ or ‘creative constraint’.
  • Another activity called bookend sentences is when learners ‘determine the constraints’ but with a grammar point from the teacher. So, for example, the Helen asked us to write our favourite comfort food, a band we listen to, and a place we would like to travel to in the chat. Then we, if we were learners, would have to create a sentence using these but also using the grammar in focus in the lesson.
  • An idea that Helen presented regarding fluency and divergent thinking is Best New Object. Basically, learners are given two objects (e.g. window and book) and need to create something (e.g. a booking window – a window that people use to book hotels). Learners can then share their ideas and really try to conceptualise what they would like their new object to do/be/look like, etc.
  • Another idea presented was the idea of challenging learners to take a small, everyday object and make it more valuable. Helen mentioned that she got this idea from Prof. Tina Seelig who has an example of mismatched socks. We were asked to write our ideas and again some very interesting ideas came up! One of Helen’s examples of how she would do it in class, can be seen here:

Padmapriya Raghavan – Reflective Practices: A strategic teaching method

  • Priya emphised the need for reflective practices in teaching and learning. She pushed the idea that we can learn from our experiences , and use this learning experience to bridge the gap between the learners and teacher, and the learning and teaching. In essence, reflection can lead to building empathy.
  • Priya showed a model that demosontrated that reflection is actually made up of three distinct areas:
  • Priya also gave a very interesting overview of the history of reflective model, and then said that in essence they all boil down to three elements ‘What? So What? Now What?’. She used Gibb’s reflective cycle to demonstrate this.
  • Priya said that from the learners’ perspectives, what they are looking for from a ‘reflective teacher’ includes:
    • Knowledge/Expertise
    • Communication
    • Approachability
    • Sense of commitment
  • Priya then put forward a way to apply the strategy of reflective principles. There was quite a lot of information involved, so I’ll leave another picture here! One thing to remember is that all the stages influence the next; that is, by focusing on 1, then 2 will be influences in some way.
  • Priya put forward a number of attitudes we need to take on if we are going to be successful teachers:
    • Open-mindedness
    • Responsibility
    • Wholeheartedness

Rachel Paling – Empowering Learning through Coaching

  • Rachel started by asking us to think about the difference between teaching, training and coaching. She mentioned that language coaching is very much an approach that ‘includes’ the learner – they are very much active in the process.
  • Rachel emphasised that we are the source of information, but not necessarily the expert – more often than not the learner is the expert in what it is they need. With this in mind, we share an equal status with our learners.
  • Rachel presented a list of general coaching principles for language teaching:
  • Rachel mentioned that coaching can influence learning conversation, especially regarding the effect that words have on learners. Research has shown that we have somewhere near 60000 thoughts a day, and quite a lot of these are negative. If many of our internal thoughts are negative, then we need to also think about the impact of external words and the impact these may have on stress, anxiety, etc.
  • Rachel encouraged us to be more self-aware and remove ‘directives’ from our classroom discourse. That is, rather than saying ‘Do this…’ we can use language that asks learners permission to do an activity. And this means that if learners do take ownership of the decision, we should respect that (i.e. if they say let’s do something different, perhaps we should).
  • Coaching can also change the structure of learning. As coaches, we really need to help people see their passion and motivation so that they can have a much clearer vision of their future-self. This skill needs to be combined with effective goal setting (with the learner setting the goals).
  • Rachel also spoke about how coaching with ‘compassion’ as opposed to coaching ‘for dealing with problems’ can have a more positive impact on the learner. Coaching for dealing with problems normally brings up negative, conscious thoughts (and activates the areas of the brain where these are stored). This is not to say that empathic should be done and analytic coaching should not be done. Rather, we need to think about the questions we ask to whom and when. In essence, we really need to think about the purpose of the conversation and engage in either empathic or analytic coaching where appropriate.

My talk – Developing Teacher Assessment Literacy throughout Consensus Moderation Workshops

So my talk went really well. Had a reduced group, but that made it all the more interactive. I felt really good going into the session, although I recognised that I ‘rambled on’ a little too much at one point. When I recognised this, I made a conscious effort to stop speaking, ‘reset’ and then continue. For those of you interested, this is my preparation sequence:

  • Practice my session in the morning, including my introductory story
  • Practice it again an hour before
  • 30 minutes out take a moment to concentrate and then ‘get in the zone’. This usually means walking around the house saying ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen…’, focusing on my presenter voice, and repeating key words over and over again. I also jump around a get a little ‘worked up’ so that I feel a little adrenaline.
  • 15 minutes out tech check
  • 5 mins out, chat with moderator, share screen and breathe!

Final note

The conference actually goes until tomorrow (Sunday) night. Unfortunately, I can’t attend tomorrow, but the great thing about Whova is that all the sessions are recorded, so I’ll be able to go back and watch them over the next few weeks 🙂

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