Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

IATEFL Harrogate 2010 Albums

Final Plenary – What is a storyteller?

Speaker: Jan Blake
Jan has gained an international reputation for her vibrancy in storytelling. I could not fully comprehend why she has become well-known for storytelling before watching her in action. She has a memorable way of storytelling that stays with you for a while. She got the audience sing and make joyful sounds. She got them to follow the African rhythm in her stories. All her stories had a common thread: accepting diversity and being more tolerant of what is different. The audience walked away with tears in their eyes by the end of the session. They were deeply touched by the authenticity and personalized mark  that Jan’s stories left on their minds and hearts.

Responding to Writing Symposium

Convener: Nagwa Kassabgy
Presenters: Yasmine Salah El-Din, Veena Bhamhani, Nagwa Kassabgy, Phyllis Wachob
The presenters reported various action research projects done in their classes. All projects focused on how instructors respond to their students’ writing by giving corrective feedback in various ways. Generally, there was emphasis on trying out new techniques as well as addressing students’ needs and learning styles. The presenters touched on learner preferred vs. teacher preferred techniques.
One project measured the percentage of grammatical errors made by university-level students’ writing over a semester, reporting positive results. Another project described MA graduate students’ reactions to a new technique. The instructor gave her students audio mp3 files in which she addressed their papers in a personalized manner. The presenters concluded that it is important to cater to students’ needs. They also highlighted the importance to address various learning styles for improved outcomes.

Teachers e-improving their English – Session 3.4: 14.30-15.15

Presenters Elvina Castillo & Teadira Perez
The presenters report on a project with in-service teachers in which they were trained to improve their various skills, especially their English skills through technology. The presenters mentioned the challenges those teachers faced. Apart from those teachers’ low-proficiency levels, they had limited access to the internet. Oftentimes, the trainers had to give up on parts of the course, e.g. blogs in Moodle as the teachers could not understand the task. However, improved proficiency levels in comprehension and written production are reported. The teachers’ participation in the forums increased. The quality of their writing also increased.

Day 2 Plenary – The Future of Education

Speaker: Kieran Egan
Kieran looked at child development from new perspectives. He highlighted different ways of understanding. First, somatic understanding includes bodily senses emotional responses and attachments, built-in sense of humour, musicality and rhythm, in addition to gestures and communication. He stated that patterns are ‘arbitrary’. He also maintained that a human being is a ‘musical animal’ looking for patterns and rhythms.

Second, mythic understanding is a learning toolkit or cognitive tools that humans develop. These include storytelling, abstraction, emotion opposites and mediation, association with the heroic, romance, wonder and awe, the literate ‘eye’, matters of detail, and humanizing knowledge.

To illustrate, opposites and mediation are essential for our mythic understanding. Hot and cold are mediated by warm. Life and death are mediated by ghosts. Nature and culture are mediated by talking rabbits and bears in children’s stories.
Furthermore, there is a built-in sense of associating with the heroic in our children.  This can be explained by a pre-existing threat of the ego and their need to have transcendent ‘super human’ qualities. This toolkit of cognitive development is a main driving force in how human learn in life in general and in schools in particular.

Managing Customer feedback and complaints – Session 1.4: 15.00-15.30

Presenter: Justin Kernot
Justin advocates the use of ‘anecdote circles’ – informal focus groups in which customers, i.e. students, can voice their concerns to program supervisors. This technique seems to work very well in the Middle East and elsewhere, according to Justin. The suggested technique works as follows: Program supervisors tend to listen, learn and deliver. They listen to those in the know and endeavor to meet their cultural norms and expectations. They aim at making their customers’ life easy by making systems transparent. They also provide support through continued support and development of their staff in addition to recognizing their customers’ feedback. Justin illustrates the power of stories flying around about how satisfied/unsatisfied customers can be. Formalizing these stories and providing pre and post measurement of change can give a clear direction to the institution and the right message to customers.

Culture in our classroom: Pandora’s box or treasure trove? Session 3.5: 15.50-16.35

Gill Johnson
In her course book which is part of DELTA Teacher Development Series, Gill touches upon the importance of incorporating issues resulting from cultural differences. She quotes Hofstede’s reference to “culture as the software of the mind”. Gill asks the audience to travel in time and space to somewhere they have not been to. The audience shares their visions of the smells, clothes, colors, feelings they could sense in their journeys. Some audience members share impressions of exhilaration or shock. Such feelings can be the basis for judgments we make. Gill emphasizes that similar impressions can add fireworks to our classes but are seen necessary. She also refers to matters in various cultures that can be misconstrued due to lack of knowledge or understanding. Drivers’ use of honking and flashlights is commonplace in Egypt. It is an expression of greetings rather than anger. Queue jumping is frowned upon in Britain. People standing in a line ‘tut’ the culprit among themselves but would not confront them. The Afghanis may regard the Western style of women dressing as loose, whereas Westerners associate conservative ways of women dressing as oppressive. Perceptions of time vary from one culture to another. What does it mean to be on time? What does it mean to take a long time driving home? What does mean to eat or arrive early? It depends where you are and where you are coming from. Nothing is good or bad here… It’s all about appreciating our differences. These fireworks help us to value such diversity.

ELT Journal/IATEFL Debate - The motion ‘CLIL: Content & Language – an ILlusion?’ – Session 3.2: 11.45 – 12.45

To propose the motion: Amos Poran
To oppose the motion: Sheelagh Deller
Chair: Keith Morrow
Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is quite a debatable teaching and learning approach being in its infancy. Each of the debaters was given 18 minutes to make an argument for or against the motion that this approach is an illusion.
Interestingly, Amos and Sheelagh advocated the same point of view: CLIL is not an illusion if done well. Amos regarded this approach as elitist, only successful in limited contexts, e.g. Finland. He advised teachers not to do it at all if they don’t know how to do it well. Sheelagh defended CLIL as a work-in-progress still its ‘toddler’ years. It works efficiently under certain conditions. Lessons need to be in L1 and L2. She makes a distinction between a pure language lesson that instills language versus a CLIL lesson that focuses on content. Induction rather than deduction of the rules is essential. Finally, time is needed to see tangible results.
The debaters received several questions and comments from the audience that they jointly addressed. How is CLIL different from Content-based instruction? Is it restricted to European countries? Is it a ‘designer method’ or approach like those that appeared in the seventies? The debaters ended in an amicable note emphasizing their common ground. There are issues related to CLIL that need to be resolved.

The Interactive White Elephant in the EFL Classroom – Session 3.1 10.25-11.10

Saturday 10th April 2010
Presenter: Steven Bukin
The presenter started by explaining his analogy of whiteboards being considered the obvious expensive big object in the room which is hardly mentioned. He gave very bright and simple ideas how an interactive whiteboard can be used in a language class. He highlighted some interesting functions, such as drag and drop, screen shade, insert links, hide and review, besides templates including pictures, photos and matching exercises. The exercises were mostly useful for vocabulary and grammar learning and teaching.

Web 2.0 tools that make a difference – Session 2.617.15-18.15

Presenter: Russell Stannard
Russell started his demo with a funny video on the worst that could happen for a presenter. He maintained how the Internet and YouTube have made it easier for us to teach presentation skills and other skills using free video materials. Russell referred to his portal and his free newsletter. His website includes two subdivisions: ESL/ELT-related video tutorials and web 2.0/ICT ones. Jing and other screen capture software were the highlight of the presentation. Russell demonstrated how easy it is to create a screen capture of almost anything the teacher does on screen, upload and share it with students in no time and for free. All it takes is a free account on with free server space and a URL that is automatically produced and sent once the screencast is uploaded. Russell shared all sorts of brilliant ideas how this software can be used for teaching Enlgish. Most amazingly, video feedback on essays typed in MS Word can work easily and efficiently with screen capturing where the teacher can highlight, type, and record his/her voice with comments. It simply blows the mind away how this can be turned into a group feedback screencast where the students can take this up one level by critiquing their own essays based on a model answer. Here is a creative teacher with lots and lots of ideas.

Computer-mediated intercultural exchanges between ESP students – Session 2.5 16.15-17.00

Presenters: Rachel Linder & Vida Zorko
The talk reported the results of a 4-week online intercultural exchange project. The presented gave practical guidelines and insights into how to best manage similar projects based on theirs’ and their students’ perceptions. The presenters highlighted the shift toward multiliteracies, collaboration, web 2.0 and English as a lingua franca, away from traditional telecollaboration methods of keypal tandem projects. The students communicated through a variety of synchronous and asynchronous tools and kept a central wikispace for discussion and collection of ideas. The presenters set up the learning environment in terms of structure and task design. They emphasized the importance of teacher presence, technical support and final feedback for the students to take the project seriously. The presenters collected data in the form of surveys, class feedback, focus group interviews, analysis of wiki content and shared teacher perspectives over the exchange.

Computer-mediated intercultural exchanges between ESP students – Session 2.5 16.15-17.00

Presenters: Rachel Linder & Vida Zorko
The talk reported the results of a 4-week online intercultural exchange project. The presented gave practical guidelines and insights into how to best manage similar projects based on theirs’ and their students’ perceptions. The presenters highlighted the shift toward multiliteracies, collaboration, web 2.0 and English as a lingua franca, away from traditional telecollaboration methods of keypal tandem projects. The students communicated through a variety of synchronous and asynchronous tools and kept a central wikispace for discussion and collection of ideas. The presenters set up the learning environment in terms of structure and task design. They emphasized the importance of teacher presence, technical support and final feedback for the students to take the project seriously. The presenters collected data in the form of surveys, class feedback, focus group interviews, analysis of wiki content and shared teacher perspectives over the exchange.

The Secret History of Methods – Session 2.4 14.55-15.40

Speaker: Scott Thornbury
Thornbury gave an impressive overview of the evolution of English language teaching course books and teaching methods book over time in terms of form and content. The overview shed light on how the roles of teachers evolved as well. As Thornbury put it, @it looks like a protozoa of methods”. He assigned members of the audience to reach out some quotes from these books highlighted teaching philosophies and asked the rest to either cheer or boo them. Finally, he touched upon debatable issues in methodology. Is dogme a methodology at all? Is thechnology a methodology? Are methods being reinvented phasing in and out of fashion? Should teachers follow the latest methods or should they be leaders and follow their own methods?

Language – The root of all misunderstanding?! – Session 2.2 11.45-12.45

Presenters: Rudolf Camerer & Judith Mader
The talk was a critique of various cultural models and how far language learning is mentioned in cultural research. The European CEFR for intercultural competence was the framework of this talk. Intercultural competence is defined as the ability to have effectively and appropriately in intercultural situation. The presenters warned against falling into the trap of the stereotypical data from previous models, e.g. Hofstede. For example, it is said that “the French are unpunctual” when the French don’t perceive themselves as such. The presenters made reference to what type of English is taught in intercultural contexts. Is it the Anglo-American Mid-Atlantic English or English as a lingua franca? Criteria such as comprehensibility, appropriateness and politeness were seen crucial.  Teaching communicative competence would require focus on language use, communication skills and communication exercises that contribute to better cultural awareness.

“They can’t just hack it!”: Attitudes to technology – Session 1.2 12.15-13.00

Presenter: Gavin Dudeney
The presenter aimed at knocking down current myths related to technology playing the role of an ‘exorcist’ as he wittily phrased it. He started his talk by sharing a photo of a group of kids circling around a Mac solving a math problem away from their parents sitting at a restaurant table. As impressively expressed by the presenter, so long for the traditional stereotype of kids with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Those kids seem to have ‘Low Boredom Intolerance (LBI)’. In his view, “swimming pools aren’t closed because people can drown.” Similarly, doors to modern technology cannot be closed for fear that the kids might go astray.
The presenter identified some notorious criticism of people working with technology. Some of these are that they are all somehow ‘nerds’ and ‘freaky’. Another is that they easily fall for the seduction of new technological tools along the lines of falling for the ‘precious’ ring (The Lord of the Rings analogy).
The presenter also shared some common concerns as well as sympathies with those who may have any. First, there is what is called ‘faffing’ or the fear of technological breakdowns and losing one’s ‘religion’ by changing ones teaching methodology. He asserts that creative teachers don’t have to ‘change’ their methodology with the use of new technologies.
The presenter concluded by the phrase that the ‘road ends ahead’. He also quotes Nik Peachey’s idea of best investments. Installing Wi-Fi in a school before anything else can do wonders. It is also more important to spend money on ‘wetware’, i. e. people, along side with hardware and software. Possible solutions to predominant myths, false positves, criticisms and worries could be solved by providing ample finances, support and training.

‘I take a deep breath’ … Lowering trainer trainers’ affective filter - Session 1.1 10.40-11.40

Presenters: Simon Smith & Radmila Popovic
This workshop was about ten suggested strategies to cope with trainer trainers’ fear demonstrating common fears expressed by fellow teachers. Mostly, there is fear of exposure of being on display or lacking knowledge in front of an audience in the ‘know’. The presenters made a distinction between healthy fear that can keep teachers on their toes and unhealthy anxiety. They also identified potential causes of fear: those coming from the context of training, those coming from someone else, and those coming from within. The presenters came up with ten strategies to help alleviate the negative emotions the most important of which is breathing exercises before training sessions.

Opener Plenary - Day1: Life Cycles of Teachers

Speaker: Tessa Woodward
A warm welcome and introductions before the speaker gave a wonderful reflective address of themes and phases each and every teacher goes through throughout their professional careers. These are uphill and downhill struggles with phenomenal changes that they cannot clearly articulate. The speaker referred to a study that investigated these cycles in every teacher’s life. Five themes/phases were identified: stabilisation, experimentation/activism, reassessment/self-doubt, serenity/relational distance/conservatism, and disengagement.
New Qualified Teachers (NQTs) experience stabilisation in their early years in their career. They vacillate between formality and informality with older teachers that are sometimes regarded as friends or brothers/sisters. This is followed by experimentation/activism which is also known as ‘pedagogic tinkering’. Teachers toward their sixth year of work may try out little projects in their own classrooms.
In years 7-18, teachers can go through a phase of reassessment/self-doubt. To illustrate, “Will I die with a piece of chalk in my hand?” was a concern voiced by one teacher. A video was also shown capturing the stagnation suffered by an energetic-turned-burnt-out teacher. That theme/phase raised questions about the most effective ways to deal with similar situations: resolution (acting proactively) vs. non-resolution (doing nothing about it). Some resolutions could be quitting the job, working part-time, taking on extra responsibilities, taking up new hobbies such as painting to remind a person that they’re still intact.
In years 19-30, teachers seem to experience a phase of serenity/relational distance/conservatism. They can assume paternal/maternal roles. The good new is that they become more relaxed and self-accepting with the least of self-whipping over professional mistakes. The bad news is things tend to be a bit mechanical. One teacher jokingly said, “The older I get, the better I was”.
The last phase in years 31-40 are normally of either serene or bitter “disengagement” were age gets to teachers. One teacher was quoted, “I got nothing to lose, I can do what I like now!”
The speaker concluded by a nice call for teachers to consider the implications of these themes related to themselves, their colleagues and teacher educators. Proactive conference-going can be more compassionate toward their peers who may be going through one of the phases previously mentioned. Furthermore, those teachers who are experimenting and ‘tending their own private gardens’ may be those who lead others to more serenity.

PCE – Literature, Media & Cultural Studies: the Film of the Book 13.30 – 14.40

Facilitator: Robert Hill

This is third session in this pre-conference event. The session leader was both informative and most entertaining. His witty quotes and comments added a special flavour to his presentation of the relationship between films and the books on which they are based. He started by his nice play on words: Horrorgate—which sums up nicely his choice of horror novels and their various related screen reproductions. It was most humorous to hear about how Edger Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death relates to recent H1N5 and H1N1 scares. His illustration of the most recommended sneezing habits was memorable comparing the most recent sneezing tradition as The Dracula Sneeze—chosen as the most creative word of 2009 by the American Dialect Society. His most comic quote was about how IMDb includes the best and the worst reviews on the Web. “It was said that if you give a million words to a million people and they’d produce Shakespeare-like works. But the Internet has proves us wrong!”

The presenter gave examples from two interesting websites: and the famous website. The session was full of illustrative activities of how to use posters and books covers to elicit information about the films and/or books. The presenter particularly focused on Frankenstein and Dracula.

The presenter raised issues, such as the mismatch between seeing and describing posters and book covers, the emphasis placed on various visual elements (women, weapons, thunder, etc), the use of images, taglines, quotes, etc, and the choice of best posters even if you end up creating one yourself. He also used some recent film posters (Twilight) to highlight themes of contamination, hybridization, allusion, and intertextuality. He contrasted this one with the poster of Underworld where there are clich├ęd echoes of other films, such as Matrix, Seven, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Hulk.

The presenter nicely concluded by the idea of maintaining human-like features—i.e. the noble savage—of a monster in films. The implication is that these monsters can somehow be identified with.

PCE – Learning Technologies 10.00 am - 12.30 pm in SL and F2F

Facilitators: Gary Motteram & Graham Stanley

The first session of this pre-conference event was conducted face-to-face with IATEFL participants in the UK and virtually in Second Life (SL). It was presented by Mark Pegrum who participated virtually from Australia. Pegrum’s presentation was preceded and followed by closed group discussions with reports from various groups, and was nicely wrapped up with a summary of main topics.

The participants from the UK were divided into five groups of eight in which participants made introductions and shared interests and their technology-based activities in various countries. The groups discussed activities, e.g. exchange programs and project-based learning. They also shared concerns and issues related to the role of technology in learning, e.g. teachers’ fear of losing jobs because of technology, lack of time for integrating technology, the students’ being more tech-savvy than their teachers, the students lack of academic study skills and ICT literacy skills despite their being tech-savvy, etc.

Various groups reported on the main topics. Group 1 shared their experience of the techno-wow! effect related to new technological toys: the iPad, which wore off immediately right after it cracked! The integration of older technologies was also shared. Group 2 discussed web 2.0 and mobile learning, digital natives vs. digital immigrants and other training issues related to technological tools. Group 3 raised the issue about the ignorance about the latest technological advancements, technology underuse and not being institutionally supported and the diversity of experiences. Group 4 also raised the issue of students being tech-savvy but ICT-illiterate. They also mentioned the importance of content versus playing around with technological tools. Finally, they highlighted the importance of Twitter. Group 5 discussed student reactions to SL and how to monetize this environment.

A pre-recorded video of Pegrum’s presentation on 4 subdivisions of literacies: language, information, connections and remixes—the hallmark of the digital age. He elaborates on each group raising important points. First, teachers and students who aren’t savvy in writing codes would not be considered literate and would be unable to overcome firewalls and political blocks on certain platforms. Second, participatory literacy can be dangerous and may have serious consequences. Third, the younger generations—digital natives—seem to monopolize remixes and mash-ups, although ‘quality’ products still seem to come from adults. Finally, remixes—which aren't really a group but can be a stand-alone—seem to pull out the rest of literacies.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

After-thoughts about Harrogate 2010

I'm on my way to Bradford airport in Leeds thinking, "it's been a memorable visit." Despite the cloudy weather on my final day, I can't complain since I've been promised cloudy, windy and rainy over the past week. Still I got two sunny days as a token of friendship from the town of Harrogate. The town does have this friendly atmosphere. People are warm with smiley faces wherever you go. It's taken me one day to feel at home.

I panic on the bus when I realize that 50-pound notes aren't accepted.  Oh my, I have no change for my ticket to the airport. I'm bogged down with my luggage with only 15 minutes to find a solution. I get off the bus running down to a small cafe, bumping into chairs and apologizing. The shop assistant gives me change for a fifty giving me 'all' the change she has. She doesn't even ask me to buy a cookie, which I was ready to do anyway. Goodbye Harrogate .. I'm going to miss you,

Friday, April 2, 2010

My favorite singer

I'm nearby ElSaqia (ElSawi culture wheel) on Mar 31 waiting for Haggar's appearance for his monthly performance on ElSaqial's stage. It's exciting to see my favorite singer for the second month in a row. The same time a month ago I was in the middle of an episode. Today I'm fully recovered -- I hope. Alhamdulillah.

The kind beat the unkind

I texted my boss about my visa acceptance and the possibility of resuming work right after I come back. She reassured me that I surely can. She's the kindest. She manages with a style. I'm lucky to be where I am now.

Beginner's Luck

I applied for a visa to the UK on March 30 & got it on March 31. That's unprecedented. I raise my hat to all who made this possible. Admirable coordination job went on. All that remains is for me to pack. The right way: identify what's essential and what's not. No need for extra luggage on a business trip. Or is it a convalescence trip after 6 weeks of feeling under the weather? I've made it just in time for Harrogate. Yuppi!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Virtual Encounters of the First Kind

Winning Entry - Roving Reporters competition, IATEFL 2010: Writing Challenge
Hanaa Khamis

Click to view a pdf version of this entry

Virtual Encounters of the First Kind

The last time I participated in an international conference was in 2001. It was special to network with professionals from all over the world. It became a dream to regularly attend similar events. However, many practitioners are bound by space and time, among other constraints. I remained one of those till Spring 2009 when I first heard about a free online conference. Bottom-up planning, volunteer moderators, simulcasting were all foreign terms. To top it all, presentation platforms were new as well as overwhelmingly diverse. I felt intimidated but insisted on conquering those unfamiliar territories. It was a three-day cultural experience.

Webheads-in-Action Online Convergence (WiAOC09)i was my first interactive participation in a virtual conference. Despite previously attended synchronous and asynchronous events, this was a true convergence. I witnessed the most professional endeavour by dedicated members of a community of practice.

In a matter of days, I registered online on Ning social network for free. I had no idea how to access conference platforms, yet I found tons of helpful responses to my queries. It took me sometime to figure out my way around times and virtual venues in the program book. I first encountered the practical use of a wiki where organizers, volunteers and participants collaborate in bottom-up planning of conference events. I entered a virtual beehive of active members willing to dedicate their time and effort nonstop over three days, not to mention time spent before and after the event.

I managed to attend the inaugural session just in time. I was excited that I could access Elluminate without problems. It was fun interacting with presenters and other participants via text chat. I could not attend the following session in Second Life as its installation was too demanding for my laptop. However, I was amazed that I could still follow the session through audio simulcasting on WorldBridges. I struggled my way in and out of sessions, trying hard not to miss any. Still I could not attend all due to time zone differences. Interestingly, I woke up to find recordings and Slideshare presentations of the sessions I missed. Watching the event in action was like virtual gymnastics blowing my mind away.

One session I cannot forget was by Professor Sugata Mitra, the inspirer of Slum Dog Millionaire. A ‘Hole in the Wall’ summarized a leading experiment conducted in India. Poor kids with little or no knowledge of English or technology learned how to play computer games through trial and error. Listening to the philosophy of that scholar was humbling.

In retrospect, that event transformed me from a mere lurker to a proactive member. I could not fully comprehend the positive energy it generated. As maintained by George Siemens in his talk, in another conference, on ‘Connectivism and Social Networking’ii, networks are changing learning and teaching in ways we cannot fully grasp. Furthermore, modern technology is bringing professional events to one’s doorstep. It is admirable that renowned figures dedicate their efforts to bring fellow practitioners to the centre of professional events.

(500 words without end notes)

i WiAOC09, May 22-24, 2009
ii AVEALMEC ARCALL Social Networking: Thriving as a Community of Practice, November, 5-8, 2009