11 April, 2015

Iatefl online ... live the conference (1)

Though it's not easy to have all your dreams come true whenever you want, it's still possible to come closer to them. Attending iatefl conference is one of my dreams that I will looking forward to. However, it's not impossible to attend some of the sessions now online through the live webcast offered by the conference website . This year, I intend to attend the 49th annual convention online and watch as many sessions as possible then report about them here in my blog. Today, I watched Donald Freeman's plenary session, which was really thought provoking and that's why I decided to write this blog post once the session ended.

Frozen in thought?
How we think and what we do in ELT
Donald Freeman

Donald started his session by presenting a classroom situation where a teacher plays "Bingo" with her students as she believes "Bingo is the only thing that works with kids". From this quotation, he commented that we as teachers always find reasoning or justification for what we do in class whether internally; to justify what we do for ourselves or externally; to justify it to others. "That reason we give depends on three myths," Freeman says. These myths can be right or wrong and each of them might have useful or misleading aspects. However, clarifying that distinction "helps to 'thaw' our thinking".

Myth 1 :  'Direct' causality
It's the myth that teaching causes learning. Donald explains what happens in the classroom as a Billiard game. The teacher hits a ball, which is like revealing a secret (one language point), then the students hit the next, depending on the teacher's first shot. It keeps going on until learning happens. However, we can't say that "teaching has nothing to do with learning" as it facilitates learning and is an integral part of the learning process. Donald finalized this part showing a picture that represents the relationship between teaching and learning as a spiral movement; one move from the teacher, followed by another from the learner and so on.

Myth 2 : 'Sole' responsibility
It's the belief that the teacher is the only source of learning and thus responsible for everything that happens in the classroom. In a way, we have responsibility as we act as decision makers; preparing the materials, taking decisions in the classroom, reacting to students' needs, ...etc.
However, Donald sees it as much more like a chess table. The move a teacher makes affects the students' decisions on what to do next, and their moves affects the teacher's choices of what decisions to take based on those moves , and so on. Thus, it's all about decision making; one move shapes the possibility of what comes next. It provides the teacher with opportunities to teach and offers more learning opportunities for the learner. "When you teach , you have to manage what you can't control, " was the final quote Donald ended his second myth with.

Myth 3 : 'proficiency' as the goal
It's the myth that the goal of teaching is 'proficiency', which is grounded on an idea of 'nativeness' which 'is not a linguistic idea, but rather a geopolitical one.' Donald also argued that though it's important to describe how good people can be at a language, it's also problematic to describe it as the language itself is flexible. Moreover, defining what's 'good' is not that possible as it's not a universal concept.

Donald explained how the classroom bounds the language by showing a picture called 'the suitcase for travel', in which the suitcase represents the outline of the classroom, and the background is the outside world. So, what we see through the suitcase doesn't represent the larger whole outside it. So, we do teach part of what students need to be 'proficient' but not all. At this point, Donald proposed the concept of "Horizontal knowledge" which is what's in and outside the case, suggesting that we should think of 'proficiencies' as plural rather than 'proficiency' as it happens in different contexts and should only be bounded by these situations. Donald summed up this argument with a satisfying conclusion that  as teaching is central in the learning process which should be driven by the learner, we - as teachers - should organize learning in a way that helps the learners decide what they need to learn.

It was such an eye-opening session that can change the way we teach in a positive way and thus affect our learners' concept of learning ........ and proficiency.
Donald Freeman ended his session with some inspiring quotes. However, the following one as a key that opens doors to the unknown !!

Hope I could bring some of the key ideas of the first plenary to those who weren't able to attend it. However, it's still possible to attend more plenary sessions live online and watch recordings of many more !!