Creating creative creativity in ELT. ExcitELT summary

Went to ExcitELT on Sunday. The theme was creativity, which is a horrible word in that it’s so positive and everyone wants to be seen positively or as nurturing/fostering positive attributes. Of the plenaries in the morning, what sticks in the midweek after? We develop skills and use these creatively, according to Stephen Ryan. Chhayankdhar Singh Rathore was saying that we create our relationships with our students. Of the afternoon plenaries, Lina Gordyshevskaya gave an overview of foreign language anxiety, and Drienne Verla Uchida did some stuff about rejigging a set curriculum that was set by administrators. The evening plenary stuff I remember was Russ Mayne and Julia Fearn-Wannan talking about cognitive biases.

The standout feature of ExcitELT for me are the hangout sessions, because they are dialogic. James York did a session on games and/versus gamification and which I learned about some games I want to find and try. Amanda Harper’s session on mixed media was informative. Peter Brereton and Shoko Kita’s hangout was hybrid presentation and hangout on creativity in our jobs, and these themes were touched upon by Julia Fearn-Wannan in her hangout on self-directed professional development, which was a must see given the name of this blog. Anna Bordilovskaya looked at creativity across cultures in the classroom and reinforced for me the impossibility of using creativity as any kind of metric for assessment because it’s so fuzzy and too subjective.

I missed the video plenary because of a mixture of ADHD-assisted ants in my pants and fatigue.

Anyway, glad I went. I kind of wish that some sessions were longer so as to go deeper. I think I should also have taken a rest for a session as well, but with interesting stuff available, the brain wants what the brain wants.

The Possible Weaknesses of Conferences in ELT

Today loads of stuff has been in my Twitter feed about conferences. My fellow socio at Cooperativa de Serveis Lingüístics, Tom Flaherty was asking why ResearchED Scotland can be so reasonably priced when other educational conferences (and I’m reading between the lines here but I reckon he means English Language Teaching conferences) are so expensive. One of my favourite JALTers, Louise Ohashi was sending out a survey about conferences. And then as part of my prep for a research degree, I was reading posts on The Research Whisperer, when I read this one about the negative aspects of academic conferences.

I have posted about the negatives of conferences (or the, why not post your research), before. Instead of retreading old ground when there are hyperlinks in the last sentence, let’s have a real think about the ELT conference.

Working Papers?

I look at loads of ELT conference lineups both in Japan and abroad, because I like to download the slides if they’re up and/or follow the Twitter hashtags. I’m going to make a bold claim here, and I’d love to be wrong, but it seems that there is a complete absence of working papers shared at conference. This is a bad thing, I think, because it means that there is only completed research being presented which means, to all intents and purposes, the presenter has made up their mind. This means that there is no dialogue, just the illusion of dialogue. People pay money for other people to pay someone else’s money to talk at them. There has to be some better way to facilitate professional development and/or vocational learning.

Sharing is caring?

Ah, but Marc, what of the shared practices? I think it could be good, but are you getting enough information to be able to replicate the good bits and also avoid the potential pitfalls. Hopefully yes, but perhaps not because nobody wants to look like a failure in front of strangers and acquaintances a lot of presenters might be giving the most optimistic look at their stated classroom practices (which might be very different to what actually happens).

Labcoat envy

I think the heart of the matter is that ELT wants to be a science, so that it is a serious academic discipline (and I want this, too). Unfortunately, I do not see that half of ELT is fond of the science that supposedly informs it, be that SLA, psychology/cognitive neuroscience, or even applied linguistics. This is down to the schism, (or “schizophrenia” as Paul characterises it but it’s not a term I’m fond of) between professional ELT (where I would like to think I work)  and industrial ELT (or selling coursebooks to anybody, whether suited to them or not). But because it wants to be a serious discipline, it needs conferences. Unfortunately, professional ELT has no money to spare, really, so it’s left to industrial ELT to foot the bill. Industrial ELT doesn’t want to unless there’s some kind of return on investment so you have big commercial conferences to enable publishers to flog books and organisations to flog courses and study abroad options and whatnot.

To have and have not

I’ve been to small conferences. I’ve helped a little bit with the logistics of ExcitELT, too. However, most of the English teachers I know in my small corner of Tokyo have never been to a conference nor have even dreamt of it. There’s the cost, for one; the needing time off for another, seeing as most conferences happen on weekends and most English teachers outside school and university contexts work weekends. Add to this, relationships with partners, family and friends as well as just the need to wash clothes and have a clean home. Add to this the fact that a lot of teachers just do not get paid to plan lessons or do admin that we are promised is quick but actually mounts up and you have a mass of teachers with too much on already to even think about conferences on their days off.


I do think it’s high time that we looked, as a profession, at alternatives to this. What could it be? As much as I hate Silicon Valley’s hegemonic grip on culture at the moment, a hackathon – a concerted effort to create something worthwhile – would be a useful idea. Imagine actually creating useful listening materials together with a peer group, then going away and refining them. A round table, where people really share their ideas and experiences would be helpful because that information can then be synthesised and mediated through our own ideas and experiences, and honestly, with an exchange of knowledge I think people would be more amenable to sharing what hasn’t worked as well as what has. These are only two ideas late at night but I know that there could also be a larger number of workshops (with actual work being done and gathered and distributed) and discussions. I think these could be better returns on teacher investment than conferences, which considering ticket prices and travel, work out less economical than an academic book for a lot of us.

On stuff about research and conferences

Happy New Year everyone. I am not going to do a yearly reflection because 2017 was a mixed bag and quite stressful.
On ELT Twitter and across ELT blogs there is some murmurings about research (usually on teacher beliefs) and hidden in a paragraph somewhere is a mention that this is in preparation for an IATEFL talk. This got me wondering about whether people would do such research if they didn’t have a conference proposal accepted. I suppose what I am trying to say is that if you had a rejection, at least one person thinks your idea matters (you), and the big conferences are not the only way to get such research out. Local teachers associations and chapters of them want speakers at meetings. If that doesn’t work, it might even be useful as a magazine article or blog post. For all the hand wringing about teacher research, it would be a good idea to follow through on a good idea without needing a conference committee to say something is a good idea.
Speaking of conferences, how many of them are affordable for people without research budgets? Seriously! JALT’s conference is quite expensive for four days (without considering the fact that most working teachers in Japan can’t take Friday and Monday off). IATEFL is expensive, too. Pretty much anything with ‘International’ in the name of the conference is expensive. When ExcitELT came to Tokyo, it was cheap. There were no tote bags filled with university press-branded pens or anything but that’s a weird thing to want from a conference. Could we have more for less? Easy, if commercial entities don’t join in and demand their perks.
I suppose what I am saying is ELT doesn’t have to be a spending spree. What the CPD could be is a lot cheaper, a lot more grassroots and perhaps more relevant. Let’s see more of this from this year.

Foolish Utopianism in Teacher Development?


I was going to go to a conference relatively recently but at the last minute I decided not to because I hadn’t actually looked at the price. I thought that because it wasn’t the JALT (Inter?)national conference (nor was it a JALT event at all) that it might be relatively cheap, also seeing as it was at a university campus.
I nearly vomited in my mouth at the price when I saw it. Seeing it there, I hope the keynote presenters were paid for their time, especially seeing as it was unlikely that major publishers would have been paying for them.

1. Possibilities vs. Practicalities

I know that space with nice chairs and decent coffee doesn’t come for free but I also know that some of the teachers who give a damn about their CPD or lack of it can’t afford to pay the equivalent of US$200 to see someone give a talk or workshop that may (or may not) be useful for them in their context.
I’ve never really been that interested in any of the ‘name’ ELT people bar Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings because what seems to be the case at IATEFL is that facile reinforcement of (perhaps erroneous) beliefs is what draws the attention on the internet, with the exception of Silvana Richardson’s NNEST plenary and Russ Mayne’s Myths in ELT presentation. Geoff Jordan complains about the IATEFL palaver, with big names. To justify a large cost I suppose they need names, but why not cut the costs?
I’ve never been able to get to big conferences due to work but the ones I have made it to have been highly participatory and kind of grassroots. I have also loved many of the webinars I’ve attended and some stuff that might fly might be a hybrid of the two.

2. The Interzone of Cyberspace and Meatspace

Imagine 20-odd people gathered in a space with a mike, a projector, a webcam and several others watching online,  feeding questions for the speaker into a public Google document or Twitter hashtag. Imagine 20-odd others in another space in another country watching on a projector, while one of them has the familiar stomach-cramps related to their upcoming presentation-come-workshop.
Google already allows live streaming on YouTube and there are other providers, too. Electronic Village Online has already done web conferences. What about face-to-face with an electronic function? The live-tweeting phenomenon points in this direction, as people seem to want it.
You get to have the communal experience, with networking breaks, yet also have people presenting that you’d never see because they would never normally be able to make it due to time/money/family.

3. Outreach

What good is a conference when it is an echo chamber? Why preach to the choir? In Japan, we need chain eikaiwa teachers and dispatch agency ALTs to come and listen but, more importantly, make their voices heard. Do you know why there is little action research or exploratory practice done in eikaiwa? It isn’t the companies, because people could be taking notes on their regular students, and often do in the roll books. It’s because the teachers know that nobody outside is reaching out to them. Nobody gives a monkey’s. Yet these people do ditch the book, do try out-there things with their students from time to time. I know it would help more of them (as it helped me) to learn more about SLA without it seeming high handed. It would help them if they saw principles put into practice in a workshop. If they could hear people like themselves elsewhere, and also unlike them, with new ideas and alternative perspectives, it would help massively. If it were made accessible, through technology, at cultural centres or coworking spaces, this could easily happen.

4. What could this be like?

It could be like Lesson Jamming.
It could be like Edcamps.
It could be like Electronic Village Online, the ToBELTA web conference, iTDI’s summer webinar season.
It could be like JALT Saitama’s Nakasendo, or Michinohe MEES linked to different locations, available on mobile phones and laptops and projectors and TVs.
If you are interested, message me on Twitter.

Saitama Nakasendo Conference 2015 Thoughts

I had a brilliant time at the Saitama Nakasendo Conference yesterday. I feel I have loads to do because I left with a ton of things to think about and so now have quite a few summer projects on to of DipTESOL portfolio writings and a summer course in writing for a mixture of ESL and EFL kids.
Paul Raine‘s keynote presentation made me regret forgetting most of the little JavaScript, JQuery and Python that I learned but also made me double keen to get back into it. Chatting to him before and after was interesting: plenty of sites and other stuff to read on my list, too.
Jesse Ewak demonstrated a bit of Voicethread, which is something I might use in the future after I have a bit of a mess around with it and find out what it can and can’t do.
I wish I had gone to see Vanessa Armand‘s presentation because after seeing her slides I realised that her ‘fishbowl’ idea might be useful for a reading class that I teach.
Rob Lowe‘s presentation on integrating a blind student into his classroom was a presentation that he gave at the Tokyo JALT/TEDSIG Teacher Journeys conference a few weeks ago. There were four of us in the audience and basically what seemed to come up was that:

  • institutions need to provide a bit more notice when assigning students with special needs to teachers;
  • there is next to no information about integrating blind/visually impaired students (or any student with special or specific needs) into the EFL/ESL/ESOL classroom.

To this end, I decided to set up a Google Plus community, SEN in ELT as a place for teachers to share information.
My presentation was quite full, probably because my title was quite simple and something that most teachers need to do (‘Teaching Listening‘). I felt almost clever by involving a bit of research that I had done and using some unusual listening material choices. It seemed to go down quite well and I felt relieved because I feel a bit like somebody’s going to point out that I’m talking through an unorthodox orifice whenever I start new classes never mind presenting in front of people with PhDs and publications and stuff.
To cap it all off, I have ideas about discourse-level language teaching and JQuery-based web apps in my head, a lesson jam to schedule and publicise and other stuff too.
Everybody I met at the conference was lovely, including the mother of one of my former junior high school students, and it was rather a festival atmosphere throughout, except I had convenience store rice balls and canned coffee instead of cold beans and a bottle of vodka for lunch.