The Eaquals 30th Anniversary Conference
The Eaquals 30th anniversary celebrations started in 2020, the 30th year since the foundation of Eaquals but the Eaquals 30th Anniversary Conference had been postponed to this year because of the pandemic. The conference was finally held as a hybrid event in Belfast on October 22st and 22nd, 2021 and we, Deniz K.E., Pınar, Esra, Neslihan, David H., Burca and Jacqueline were able to attend online. You can find the write-ups of some of the sessions that we attended in the following two blog posts.
Opening Plenary Leading in Times of Volatility
Classroom Research & the Whole Teacher
Probing the Principles of EAP Course Design
Language Teachers and Subject Teachers
Exploring the Impact of the Pandemic
Taking Advantage of Your Students
Language Teachers and Subject Teachers: Where’s the Common Ground? by Richard Rossner
While the Eaquals’ heavy weights, Richard Rossner and Rod Bolitho were both responsible for putting the content together, the talk was delivered by Richard Rossner at the Eaquals Conference which took place on November 24th and 25th. (Richard Rossner has a wonderful voice and superb delivery so it was a pleasure to listen to him speak.) The talk was partly based on their recently published book Language Education in a Changing World.
Rossner started by demonstrating with some snippets from a foreign language classroom, a CLIL classroom and a science classroom that there are overlaps in the way that language is used in these different learning settings. Early on in the talk he posed the question: What purposes does language serve in learning? He said that communication and inner use of language is essential for acquiring most new skills and knowledge even where observation and imitation play a key role.
Rossner referred to Alexander (2008) who has identified different types of learning talk that students do. These include: narrating, explaining, instructing, asking different kinds of questions, receiving, acting and building upon answers, analysing and solving problems, speculating and imagining, exploring and evaluating ideas, discussing, arguing, reasoning and justifying and negotiating. In more complex learning situations, students need to listen and be receptive to alternative viewpoints, think about what they hear and give others time to listen.
Rossner also quoted Mercer (2000) who said, “Teachers have a professional responsibility for helping their students build new understandings upon the foundations of their previous learning and language is the main tool available to the teaching profession for doing this … teachers can also help students to learn how language can be used as a tool for making joint coherent sense of experience.”
Rossner explained that language education is broader than learning a foreign language and that to some extent all teachers have to be language teachers. He stated that teaching talk is how teachers use communication to support learning. Some types of teaching talk are elicitation, reformulation, mediation, recapitulation, repetition, reformulation, exhortation, questioning, elicitation, framing, presenting, explaining, refocusing, providing feedback, using body language, images, media and real objects. He said that teaching talk also includes scaffolding for linguistic and communicative support and classroom management language such as greeting, getting attention and reprimanding. Building on this he said that teaching is one kind of mediation. Mediation in terms of teaching and learning includes mediating a text, mediating concepts and mediating communication. It also includes strategies to explain a concept and to simplify a text. (CFR Companion Volume, 2018, p. 104)
To summarise what he was trying to get across, Rossner answered the question of what is at the core of any teacher’s job, whatever the subject. He said any teacher’s job was to help students develop their repertoires of knowledge, cognition, subject related skills, language and life skills. In terms of developing students’ language repertoires, some key principles for language across the curriculum are firstly to respect and work with students’ existing language repertoires and to encourage pluralistic approaches. Secondly, to use a range of different styles of teacher talk and questioning. This should include a focus on critical literacy, that is asking questions about texts, including science texts by asking students to think about experiments and scientific concepts. Thirdly, to work on both reading and writing (literacy) and listening and speaking (oracy) skills so that they develop the range of language available to them and the range of language and texts that they can work with. This is because, depending on the subject, different texts, different genres and different levels of sophistication are needed.
Rossner identified some of the possible implications for teacher education and for teachers in general. He said that greater awareness of the various roles that communication plays in teaching was necessary. Therefore more training in the actual use of communication in different ways for different purposes both in the classroom and online was essential. Additionally, for language teachers he recommended a clearer understanding of whether or how their work went beyond the foreign language. For example, teachers should consider if students would be using the language for specific purposes, academic skills or general competences. He also said that language teachers required more training in how to balance the language and content focus for optimal learning. Finally he touched on some possible implications for Eaquals members saying that CLIL offers a bridge between language on the one hand and content on the other. He urged the audience where possible to reach beyond focusing on students as language students and seek active partnership and interaction with those who are teaching other subjects. Rossner said that working with them and learning from them where possible on language issues could be described as embracing CLIL.
To me this sounds a lot like what we are doing with EMS, CTSS, SPS-SL.
What’s really changed? Exploring the impact of the pandemic on values-based decision making in higher education by Prof. Rhona Sharpe
What follows is an account of the talk What’s really changed? Exploring the impact of the pandemic on values-based decision making in higher education, given by Professor Rhona Sharpe, the head of Oxford University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning and a leading expert on online learning, at the EAQUALS International Conference on October 23rd. It is also informed by a Q&A session that was held later in the day as a follow-up. Some sources which she recommended for further reading are listed at the end. (The book by Robinson seemed especially valuable; perhaps we can get it through the IC.)
At the outset, while acknowledging the terrible nature of the pandemic, Sharpe pointed out that it had actually presented educational institutions with positive opportunities for change. In terms of her rather long title, Sharpe explained that her focus was on decision making as its processes have changed due to the circumstances of the pandemic and as decision makers are uniquely placed to face its challenges, and that recent circumstances have allowed a greater focus on values as a basis for such decision making. She also noted, happily for us, that in her extensive experience, language educators have been the most open to such changes; she also pointed out that, despite some clichés to the contrary, educators are not resistant to technology and online teaching if and when there is a need for it.
She went on to state that most accounts of educational practices during the pandemic have focused, in her view erroneously, on distinctions between online and in-person lessons, rather than being centred around the things that actually matter most to learners and educators: how we can best implement learning/teaching according to the values and priorities that we already hold. Again, our current situation was viewed as an opportunity, and as an accelerant, not towards wholesale innovation, but towards foregrounding these existing values and principles in our practices.
According to Sharpe, our current situation has facilitated the principled inclusion or implementation of many features in such a way that we are actually now able to operate more closely in accordance with the values of inclusivity and flexibility, which are crucial to us as educators, and perhaps even more so to our students. Such features include modular course design, consistent course structure, sense of community and engagement, active participation in learning, and assessment linked to learning outcomes. Most of all, it was stressed that we are now able to cater for students’ multiple needs, and to provide individualized guidance and flexibility in teaching and learning to a greater extent than before.
By way of explanation, Sharpe stated that, as implemented properly and not just as emergency stop-gap measures, the various types of instruction that we have recently had to become accustomed to allow for learning programs that are designed in a more transparent and comprehensible way for students, that can build in features to account for and anticipate students’ needs, and that allow a wider range of modes and times of participation.
In terms of decision making, we can now be far more student-centred as we are able to gather data from our learners far more efficiently and rapidly than ever before. Thus, we can better establish a shared vision of goals and expectations, allocate resources more strategically, and focus on other areas which have always been our priorities, such as ensuring high-quality teaching, focusing on teachers’ learning and development, and ensuring that we provide safe and orderly learning environments, as well as engaging and working with our communities, having values-based, ethical leadership and listening to students’ voices. The pandemic has also placed us in a position in which we have been forced to focus on such matters as equality of access to technology, catering for a wide range of learner needs, taking responsibility for students in difficult circumstances, and understanding students’ experiences holistically; areas which were always of great importance to us, but on which most institutions were not doing enough.
In short, the talk was quite inspiring, and focused on a great many positive changes that have been or can be made in decision making in educational institutions, most of which were long overdue.
Harris, C.J., Penuel, W.R., D'Angelo, C.M., DeBarger, A.H., Gallagher, L.P., Kennedy, C.A., Cheng, B.H. and Krajcik, J.S. (2015), Impact of project-based curriculum materials on student learning in science: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52: 1362-1385. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21263
Robinson, V. (2011). Student-Centered Leadership. Jolley-Bass. Indianapolis, IN.
Varga-Atkins, T., Sharpe, R., Bennett, S., Alexander, S. and Littlejohn, A., 2021. The Choices that Connect Uncertainty and Sustainability: Student-Centred Agile Decision-Making Approaches Used by Universities in Australia and the UK during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2021(1), p.16. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.649
Take Advantage of your students by Jon Hird
In this practical session, Jon Hird explained how we can facilitate deeper processing through making classroom activities more engaging and meaningful by taking advantage of students’ own experience, interests, knowledge and opinions. Throughout the session, sharing activities from Macmillan’s new course book series ‘Language Hub’, he focused on how to engage learners during online education as this seems to have gained more importance since the beginning of the pandemic.
The presenter started his presentation by referring to the famous book from 1978, Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class by Gertrude Moskowitz who was the first person to highlight the importance of feelings in learning. Gertrude Moskowitz (1978) said “By connecting the content with the students’ lives, you are focusing on what students know… From the learners’ standpoint, there is quite a psychological difference in dealing with what is familiar rather than what is unknown.”. Then, he underlined the idea of personalizing by sharing Craik & Lockhart (1972)’s argument that information which is important for someone will lead to deeper cognitive processing; therefore, will be remembered better.
The presenter argued that language learning is the most effective when students engage in meaningful activities on a personal level rather than doing mechanical activities that are not meaningful. For example, rather than doing mechanical out-of-context activities such as ordering words to form a sentence with a relative clause, he suggests thinking of a natural context in which students fill in the gaps in a sentence, which leads to a speaking activity.
Example: A famous person … I admire is …
A global issue … I think is important is …
The presenter believes that by asking ourselves ‘What is a real context for this language?’ and ‘How might we use this language in real life?’ as language teachers, we can design activities which focus on form and meaningful engagement. The presenter shared the common experience that keeping students motivated and engaged during online and hybrid lessons might be far more challenging compared to face to face teaching. However, he thinks that by adapting materials, exercises and tasks, it is possible to nurture more engagement.
Based on a small survey with some of his colleagues, he shared the following list of principles to increase learner engagement:
1.Focus on relationships
2.Get students talking as early in the lesson as possible at the beginning of the lesson
3.Take a total break in the middle of the lesson for 5 mins.
4.Give clear and specific instructions
5.Use mediation: reporting back their partner’s answers rather than talking about their own.
6.Adapting regular activities to fit online lessons
In addition to the guiding principles above, he listed three concepts related to intrinsic motivation by Deci & Ryan, which are competence (achievable tasks), autonomy (having ownership/voice/choice), and relatedness (feeling valued/ connected & relating to the task).
Later, in his presentation, he shared some activities that might increase learner engagement especially in online lessons. For instance, he shared an activity he designed by using www.emojistats.org which might be interesting for young people today. Asking students questions such as ‘What emojis do you use?’, ‘What are the most used emojis?’, ‘Do you use the top 5 emojis on this website?’ might increase engagement. Students could also share their answers in breakout rooms and report their friends’ answers (E.g. most of us think that… or half of us use…), or compare their answers with others (E.g Ali has the most similar ideas to me or Joanna has the least similar.). The presenter also suggested using Picasso dictation, ice-breakers, lead-ins, games and quizzes and the home environment for different activities. He also thinks that we could still include some classic activities with some revisions. For example, using superlative seconds quiz and asking the second most spoken language in the world instead of the first one might attract more attention.
The presenter finished his presentation by asking the audience to keep the following question in mind while planning their online lessons: “How can I play around with the course book materials to fit in online world? This might help us all to increase learner motivation and engagement in our lessons.