Mixed feelings about Twitter? Upcoming Twitter chat Thurs 5th March

© Sunil Kumar

© Sunil Kumar

Thanks to everyone who filled in the #AusELT 2015 survey – there’s still time if you would like to participate, and it only takes 5 minutes.

One of the things that is coming across is some not-unexpected mixed feelings towards Twitter.

‘Not unexpected’ because I have mixed feelings about it myself. I couldn’t give a cr@p either what Shia LeBoeuf had for dinner (was it beef?) I don’t follow Shia LeBoeuf though so I don’t have to worry about that. Also if anyone I follow turns out to be really boring, tweet nothing but food pics, make offensive remarks, try to sell me something or whatever, it’s easy. Unfollow. Never see them again. Not in my timeline.

I’ll tell you who I do follow: people who inspire me, who answer my questions, who support me, and who share some really great content to do with things that I am interested in.

I’ll scare you even more now by telling you that I wouldn’t even be in ELT now if I hadn’t discovered people through Twitter who made me feel like it was interesting again and full of questions and challenges and rewards.

I wouldn’t be able to do my current job as an editor of the English Australia Journal as I wouldn’t have access to such a range of amazing, creative and thought-provoking ELT professionals from around the world, and I wouldn’t know what people are talking about, what new ideas are being discussed, what controversies have been raised.

I wouldn’t be able to share so many incredibly useful sites, posts, videos, apps and more with my students because I just wouldn’t have discovered them.

Also, #AusELT wouldn’t exist. Even though the teachers who originally started it were from very different parts of a HUGE region, with very different backgrounds, experiences and institutions, we were able to find each other on Twitter in a way that just can’t happen if your contacts are limited to a particular school, state, specialty etc.

It’s OK if you don’t want to join Twitter. I love (and hate) Facebook just as much, and it can offer many of the same things only without that 140 character limit. But in a nutshell where Twitter differs is this:

  • you create/curate your OWN network rather be part of a shared group. The range of interests, geographical locations, personality types etc is entirely up to you.
  • you always have unlimited reading material, exactly tailored to your interests, for when you are on the train, in a waiting room etc. – all without making any effort whatsoever.
  • you have zero obligation to ever say anything to anyone on Twitter. Anyone can follow anyone, anyone can unfollow anyone, no one knows if you’ve ‘seen’ anything or not…you can just float on the Twitter tide…
  • …but if you do start interacting with like-minded folk, as time goes on, your random connections (“hey – great post!”) can evolve into amazing friendships-with-people-you-have-never-met. And sometimes you even get to meet those people.

So that’s how I feel about it, but everyone’s experience is different, so please do share yours in the comments!

And as it happens, this Thursday 5th March, as on the first Thursday of every month, #AusELT is holding a Twitter chat at 8.30 pm Sydney time. To check the time where you are, click here.

This particular chat (unusually) has no specified topic, so we can see where the conversation takes us.

If you are interested in Twitter and would like to dip your toe in the water then please come along. It’s not as hard as you might think – download the #AusELT 1-page guide to Twitter here.

Old hands, if you would like to ‘bring a friend’, this could be a good opportunity.

New chatters – come and ask anything you like.

As a teacher I am physically unable not to have a plan B for a ‘lesson’ so my admittedly rather weak back-up plan is that we also take this opportunity to swap ideas on any nuggets of TEFL gold we have come across recently or come back to frequently. This could be things like

  • websites
  • recorded webinars
  • apps
  • useful/interesting blogs or particular blog posts
  • links to particular lesson plans/activities
  • online videos
  • and so on

If you wanted to prepare to share all you would need to do is get a few links ready to cut and paste, but no prep is necessary. Feel free to just lurk (lurking is a very valid activity!! Just ask Etienne Wenger.)

So here’s hoping I am not on my own on Thursday night – come by and say hi!

This post by @sophiakhan4

Systems thinking – chat summary for 6/11/14

An adventure park for everyone’s learning

The last #AusELT chat of 2014 was voted for by the community and the selected topic was ‘systems thinking’ (ST). Nicki set us up with some pre-reading and also connected the chat with the #systhinking community on Twitter. The inspiration for this chat was Adrian Underhill’s recent professional development sessions, in conjunction with English Australia, on ‘Developing a “learning organisation” approach to PD’, and Underhill is referenced several times in this chat. You can read some posts about Underhill’s session here , here, and here.

A little bit of background

For some of us (ahem) this was a new  phenomenon, and you can be forgiven for not having heard of it before – @Penultimate_K described it as ‘one of those “sleeper” topics which is just gaining critical mass in ELT.’

According to Nicki some of the key names to look out for are Daniel Kahneman  and Amos Tversky. Kahneman, a psychologist who specialises in behavioural economics and who was awarded a Nobel Memorial Prize in 2002 is also the author of the bestselling, Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011.

One brain, two systems

In his book, Kahneman puts forward the idea that within each person’s brain there are two types of thinking, two different systems. Type 1 thinking is the ‘knee-jerk’, intuitive thinking. It’s the thinking that doesn’t think! Rather, it is a response to a situation – it’s the system that we use to deal with stressful situations or other times when deliberation could be harmful or where speed is of the essence. Type 1 is the system that guides our actions. Type 2 thinking, on the other hand, is where our actions are thought through and, through this process, those actions can be analysed and validated (or not, as the case may be). Type 2 is where we reflect and theorise.

There are many YouTube videos, both long and short, where Kahneman explains his ideas. The one that was cited in the pre-reading blog post is this one .

@sophiakhan4, who hadn’t read Kahneman’s book, wasn’t hugely convinced by the illustrative example given in this video, which centred around the hypothetical case of Julie, who ‘read fluently at age 4’. She (hypothetically) graduated recently, and Kahneman asks ‘What was her GPA?’ Apparently we are meant to assume it is high, and this is meant to illustrate the fact that we make many decisions in everyday life that we think are logical but are in fact based on beliefs and biases. This might not have been the best example, but as @michaelegriffin pointed out, ‘it is just a metaphor’ and a way to think about the issue.

@sophiakhan4 had a concern about dichotomistic divisions along the lines of “there are two types of people in the world…” – even if this is not what Kahneman intends, people unfamiliar with his work might easily interpret his ideas in this either/or way. She asked for opinions on the book and @michaelegriffin had a glowing recommendation: ‘I loved it! I said to myself many times, “Gosh this is so related to teaching I can’t believe it.”’

So what IS ‘systems thinking’?

Systems thinking can happen on a number of levels and is open to several interpretations. However, for our purposes, we were viewing ST as the awareness of the two systems at work, and how this awareness can shape our professional development as teachers and learners, and benefit, not only the individual, but organisations.

@aparnajacob said that ‘Underhill mentioned complex systems, how ST was really about understanding the interconnection/interaction between parts of a whole.’ This resonated with @sophiakhan4, who saw this as linking in with established theory on dynamic complex systems, emergent language, etc.


@sophiakhan4 suggested that ‘ #systhinking sees the complex interactions of the whole, not just an isolated event & its immediate cause/consequence.’ @Penultimate_K agreed with this, adding that ‘the interactions can have either positive or negative outcomes.’ @aparnajacob further added ‘And his point is that all of these outcomes are learning opportunities’, giving the example of a school that launches an unsuccessful new product, with investigations revealing inadequate market research, which makes for a huge opportunity for ‘wholeorglearning’. (Isn’t it great that Twitter allows collaborative definitions like this??)

You can find further simple definitions and explanations of systems thinking here and here .


Types of thinking

@Penultimate_K outlined the two types of thinking for the chat participants:  T1 (fast, instinctive) & T2 (slow, logical), and asked ‘Which do you use more in your work?’. For herself, she said, ‘My role [as an academic manager] demands more type 2 thinking than type 1.’

@michaelegriffin said, ‘For me personally, I think I need to intentionally engage T2 at certain times or it is all T1 … but I’m not convinced all T2 all the time is practical or possible or beneficial,’ and later he further clarified: ‘I see T1 as the usual mode. The one we need for surviving and filtering and all. Better decisions and clearer thinking from T2.’

@aparnajacob speculated that ‘T2 would be ideal but a combination is required’ and also wondered whether groups tended towards T2 and individuals towards T1. @Penultimate_K thought this was probably the case: ‘Group thinking would need to be more deliberative, I guess.’


There seemed to be an implication that fast, instinctive thinking is inaccurate or unreliable. @mikejcsmith was not convinced of this, and @sophiakhan4 agreed: ‘sometimes you need to react quickly, and sometimes instincts are correct.’ @HairyChef suggested that Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, which is about the remarkable accuracy of ‘first impressions’ and ‘instincts’, might be useful reading to accompany this debate.

Following the instinct debate, @michaelegriffin asked: ‘Could we say that instincts are prone to bias?’ Several participants agreed with this: @HairyChef said, ‘Absolutely – otherwise they would not exist (or humans would process info much faster).’ @sophiakhan4 thought this was probably true but wasn’t sure you could say T2 was any freer from bias: ‘some biases can be so ingrained that even T2 doesn’t always take the layers off.’


@mikejcsmith pointed that ‘instincts develop via natural selection. If they fail too often, they disappear,’ the implication being (in agreement with Gladwell) that instincts we have evolved are more likely to be accurate than ‘biased’. @michaelegriffin agreed, saying ‘[that] is why I think System 1 is very good for hunting but probably not so good for planning courses’ though @mikejcsmith found room for both T1 and T2 even in hunting: ‘maybe [T]2 is good for stalking, [T]1 good for the final lunge and kill.’ @michaelegriffin accepted this, and put it in a nutshell: ‘Using [T]2 all the time is impossible and tiring. Sometimes we need [T]1.’



What contexts can systems thinking apply in?


@mikejcsmith commented: ‘I am trained in systems engineering, but I seem to find methodical lesson planning very difficult.  Mostly teach instinctively.’@Penultimate_K asked, ‘Do the disciplines of systems engineering have any crossover into classroom instruction?’ and @mikejcsmith replied that ‘they certainly come into play in the art of needs analysis … Needs analysis happens continuously for me.  Always thinking about it in class.  Always outweighs lesson planning.’ @Penultimate_K summarised this as ‘constant fine-tuning according to the class context of the learners in front of you’ and @mikejcsmith agreed: ‘Yes, perhaps the way to think about it is that T2 (methodological) is the undercurrent, and T1 (adaptive) steers.’

@michaelegriffin made a point relating to the pre-reading blog post which seemed to be focused on how/why we need to teach students to be disciplined thinkers. He noted ‘I’m much more focused on decisions I make as a T than teaching Ss to think in this way.’ @sophiakhan4 agreed: ‘That makes more sense to me at the moment – though it’s fascinating how ‪#systhinking can apply to so many diff contexts.’


@Penultimate_K agreed with this and emphasized the importance of distinguishing between systems thinking in classrooms, in teaching approach, and in organisations. Even further contexts had come up earlier, when @michaelegriffin had shared posts showing how systems thinking is linked to language emergence and to career development. As @Penultimate_K put it, ‘it’s hard to confine the ideas to one area’ with this particular topic.

@HairyChef thought there were also applications to behaviour management – ‘how teachers respond to students’ behaviours in young learner classes.’ He wondered whether a ‘fast-thinking’ T1 teacher would get better results than the T2 teacher ‘who always thinks before reprimanding,’ thus ‘missing’ instances of bad behaviours. He also connected the topic of systems thinking to cognitive psychology models of short term memory vs executive functions, giving the example of a new vs an experienced teacher – the latter has ‘more confidence and reliance on T1 pathways/systems.’


@mikejcsmith pointed out that a systems thinking approach is ‘difficult’ when it comes to very personal areas such as behaviour analysis or management and felt that ‘human behaviour may be too complex for a classical systems approach … Humans, especially learners, are not machines. They react emotionally.  Learning barriers are almost always emotional.’


Is there a place for systems thinking in the classroom?


Focusing in on the classroom, and echoing the pre-chat blog post, @Penultimate_K asked ‘So is there “a need to educate learners to be disciplined thinkers”? … How do you think that could be done in among everything else that happens in class?’

@sophiakhan4 wasn’t sure: ‘in terms of language aren’t we aiming for automaticity? Though clear benefits to e.g. editing, self-monitoring … At the moment I see more benefits to exploring this for ourselves/our organisations rather than as something we “teach” students.’ @michaelegriffin felt the same, and simply said: ‘I’m not sure this is my job or how much I can really do on this in an English class.’


However, other chatters felt there might be classroom applications. @HairyChef suggested that there may be ‘a need to draw attention to ways learners evaluate peers, own learning from day to day,’ and @DesouzaJuanita gave a concrete example: ‘I have a CAE student run the risk of another failure because [of] not trusting instinct … we need to train them to be adaptive thinkers.’ She explained that she had extensively encouraged to this student to trust his instincts, but that this may be ‘just how he thinks’, even in his L1. (At this point, @Penultimate_K’s response wins Quote of the Night: ‘So his instinct is to be cautious? T1 meets T2!!!’)

@mikejcsmith also suggested that ‘using empathy methods in teaching’ allows students to access T1, not just rule-driven T2 (eg, pair work) and that this T1/T2 combination approach is important in any grammar lesson.


Can systems thinking turn organisations into ‘an adventure park for everyone’s learning’?


Returning to a claim made in Adrian Underhill’s session, @Penultimate_K asked: ‘How close is your organisation to being “an adventure park for everyone’s learning”?’

@aparnajacob thought this could occur ‘only if a culture of healthy 360 degree feedback and learning exists,’ and @sophiakhan4 found this ‘rather optimistic’ – but added that she was ‘100 % pro people listening to & learning from each other beyond the silos.’

@aparnajacob felt that ‘systems thinking can make leaders of everyone in an organisation’ but emphasised that ‘for this we need to revisit the traditional definition of managers/leaders.’ Those interested in exploring Aparna’s ideas further should read her food-for-thought #AusELT post on this which included this quote on which we will conclude:

“Systems thinking begins when we see the world through the eyes of another…and realize that our own perspective is just a point of view”


There is nothing ‘hard and fast’ about ‘thinking fast and slow’ – when we start to question our perspective and how this perspective was developed, we can better understand our own thought processes and apply the different types of thinking to produce better outcomes in our classrooms and in our places of work.

This post by @sophiakhan4  and @Penultimate_K

What would you like to talk about on Thurs 5th Feb?

Well, we’ve just about recovered from December and January – time to get back on the horse!

The first #AusELT Twitter chat of 2015 is scheduled for Thurs 5th Feb at 8.30pm Sydney time (click here to check the time where you are).

We had a few interesting suggestions for topics:

Group work

There’s more to this than meets the eye. We could discuss: what works, what doesn’t; how to group; who to group; group projects/ homework (in/out of classroom); group management; etc. (thanks Lesley Cioccarelli for these ideas). If this appeals, you might also want to have a look at this blog post which recently attracted a big positive response on social media: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/students-riding-coattails-group-work-five-simple-ideas-try/ (thanks Phil Chappell for sharing).

Writing with lower levels

Writing is often a neglected skill, and in particular, teachers often seem to be struggling to get lower-level students writing. We could talk about foundations for writing, helping students with literacy needs, and helping Academic English students bring their writing level up, as well as what activities, book and other resources have helped. If this interests you, why not also take a look at the summary of an #AusELT chat on motivating General English students to write.

Reading tasks and methods

What kind of reading do we do in class? Are we really teaching sub skills of reading beyond “gist” and “detail” and if so, what? Can we teach reading more effectively? Does phonics have a role in the English language reading classroom? The ideas here are different to last year’s discussion of extensive reading, and recently provoked some discussion on the #AusELT Facebook page.

So without further ado, please vote for the topic you would most like to talk about on Thursday using the poll below. Results will be announced on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday.

This post by @sophiakhan4

Article Discussion Group Summary

Article Discussion Group, October 2014

Article Discussion Group, October 2014

October 13 saw the kick off of AusELT’s Article Discussion Group (ADG) which was conducted primarily via the Facebook community and focused on a contribution to the latest EAJ –  Teaching Pragmatics: An action research journeyin which the authors describe a 3-year project investigating the teaching of pragmatic norms in students ranging from A1 up to refugee learners and tertiary level learners.

The following is a summary of the ADG which occurred over the period of about 1 week with the addition of a parallel discussion group at The British Council Hong Kong (BCHK).

Question 1: How important is teaching pragmatics for your students?

Several people had interested anecdotes and reflections on the issue of importance of teaching pragmatics, ranging from Clare McGrath’s experience of a Japanese student’s confusion in response to the mention that jokes be told at wedding speeches, and Sophia Khan’s mention of Maria Doyle’s blog post on cultural miscommunication, to Mike Smith’s comments on the necessity of including such features on university pathway and preparation courses.  He commented that using anything but semi-authentic recordings would be a disservice to his students, but interestingly that much of the “small talk” of the classes centred around what he call day-to-day and orientation tasks such as getting a uni ID card, solving problems such as logons not working and other IT issues, familiarisation with campus surrounds and facilities and joining social and sporting clubs.

Several readers echoed their support of the authors’ use of semi-authentic texts in contexts of immediate importance to students. Languine Phil highlighted the importance of grading texts for lower levels but he also questioned the practicality of recording and videoing semi-authentic interactions on a regular basis. Some of the teachers present at the BCHK discussion group questioned the need and relevance of teaching pragmatics in a non-English speaking context, adding that much of the English encountered by their learners would be between non-native speakers of English, and also that there was very little if any teaching of pragmatics in the local curriculum or HKDSE (secondary leaving exam – an interesting reflection on its utility here).  They came to the conclusion that, unlike in the article being discussed, there was no immediate relevant context that their teachers could use for the basis of teaching pragmatics extensively.

Question 2: Do you use naturalistic texts in your classes? (fully authentic or semi authentic texts) and what benefits do you see to using recorded role plays using proficient speakers as materials to teach pragmatics? What drawbacks?

Languine Phil commented that he was a firm believer in teacher-written texts, until he, like Mike Smith, saw the benefit of using authentic texts, with the right support for lower level learners.  This might include adjusting features of the text to make important language more prominent.  Phil added that he saw the benefit of using native speakers (rather than actors) in unscripted role plays, but wondered how easy it would be to get authentic language out of these texts in practice and how feasible it would be for teachers to use some of their preparation time to start building/creating a public resource bank of semi-authentic recordings. For those teaching in monolingual contexts, you might find James Pengelley’s (*author of this summaryarticle on teaching sociolinguistic competence useful, which details how intermediate students reacted to comparing the same dialogue conducted by native Spanish speakers (in Spanish) and native English speakers.

Mike Smith added his concerns about time constraints that most teachers work under, especially those who are not on long-term full time contracts.  He also flagged the issue of needing access to proper video equipment which would require a significant investment to be used in class, although perhaps it might be a worthwhile experiment to pursue lower quality copies for professional development purposes.  Clare McGrath added that using online voice recording software (e.g. Vocaroo) would solve any issues of costume, set or lighting that you might find in videos, and wondered if teachers were to focus on a higher volume of shorter voice recordings, it might be possible to build an effective audiobank quickly.

Sophia Khan reiterated Mike’s concerns about having enough time (it’s easy enough when you’re on a low teaching load), but she (as did several others in the discussion) felt there was an interesting potential, proposed earlier by Phil, of sharing such resources publicly, say, within the AusELT community, possibly a section on the wiki with a selection of lesson plans and accompanying videos.  Sophia’s concerns about grading semi-authentic texts for lower learners was echoed by the Sue Valdeck and the BCHK group who also raised their concerns about the potential of quality control, if a group of teachers were to be allocated additional admin time to work on building a resource bank like this.

Agi Bodis wondered what, exactly, was being implied by “authentic” – whether is was native-like, or “not from a course book”, adding that the real issue is what level of pragmatic complexity would be beneficial for a particular learner group e.g. sarcastic language in a dialogue for beginners is too complex but it isn’t ‘inauthentic’.

Lesley Ciioccarelli referred to a highly recommended online resource developed by Lynda Yates, Terry Griffin and Jenny Guilfoyle, in conjunction with the AMEP on teaching employability communication skills to adult migrants.

Question 3: How useful do you see Simplified Discourse Tasks for your teaching?

Agi Bodis and Clare McGrath both added suggestions of adding paralinguistic and non-verbal elements to the DCT (DCT = Discourse Completion Task – for some examples of different kinds of DCTs, Clare recommended this article) used in the article, adding that using DCT’s might be more effective where students are asked to reflect on what was said, rather than what they might say in the same situation. Languine Phil rounded off this question with his belief that DCTs are more (maybe only) effective if they are used frequently in classes, rather than as a one-off.

The BCHK group queried the use of DCTs as a valid assessment of students’ ability to use the pragmatic features being tested. They acknowledged the assumption that knowledge of a linguistic feature is likely to precede (and potentially facilitate) an ability to produce it. They also expressed curiosity over the ways in which students in the study were assessed and to the lengths to which the authors went in order to best ensure independence of pre- and post-tests of pragmatic awareness.  The discussion then turned to the overarching purpose of action research and they concluded that they felt action research is best served when its intention is to improve understanding and relationships between those in the classroom – they felt that more precise disclosure of the means of assessment in the article would have been an useful addition to the article.

Clare McGrath (in an earlier thread) voiced her interest in developing tasks that might help to adapt their own texts – perhaps as a way of exploiting existing texts (and thus minimising word load?).  Sophia Khan added that Lynda Yates, a pragmatics specialist at Macquarie University, had recently published an article on this in which she uses the acronym PREFER as a way to guide teachers to use materials from a pragmatic perspective:

– Practice-relevant models

– Raising awareness of pragmatic and pronunciation issues and their interaction

– Experimentation with new pragmatic resources and pronunciation

– Feedback, Exploring the world outside

– Reflection on what to do and how to do it

Teachers looking for pragmatic lesson ‘frameworks’ in particular may benefit from this.

Question 4: It seems that a combination of being explicit by using such things as Discourse Completion Tasks and using authentic (or close to authentic) texts to focus on “formulaic sayings” can be useful for low level learners.  To what extent might this “liberate” teachers from dull coursebook content?

Sophia Khan commented here that she loved the idea of a coursebook based purely (or mainly?) on naturalistic texts – thought she remained skeptical of any thing like this being published in the near future, until at least publishers begin to move away from the grammar-driven course book syllabus that dominates mainstream materials. Agi Bodis cited the CSWE course book used in the Australia Migrant English Programme. Clare McGrath was able to give detailed insight into the CSWE course book and added that she felt the book was more tailored to giving students information about life and systems in Australia.

Clare also added to Agi’s point relating to the importance of the teaching culture at each particular school – where if pragmatics are included in teaching materials or assessment tasks, there would be very little consistency in the way pragmatics were covered, especially by early-career teachers, or those who were changing teaching contexts, especially between Migrant English and ELICOS programmes.

Languine Phil posted a link to a chapter from Listening to Australia (and supporting audio files) suggesting that it was a good example of a resource to inspire teachers to start incorporating their own activities to focus learners on features of pragmatics in audio scripts.

The BCHK group spent considerable time discussing the possibility and practicalities of adapting their current courses to accommodate a greater focus on pragmatics – with a staffroom of more than 100 teachers, they felt it would be an almost impossible task to meaningfully organise an audiobank in the way Clare had previously suggested. In addition, BCHK was the HQ for developing a “revolutionary”, customer-oriented course called MyClass in which students can choose the topic, time and teacher they wish to study from class to class.  It is a listening-speaking-lexis driven task-based course, with graded, scripted materials in every lesson, and attempts to cover some pragmatic features such as ‘sounding polite vs sounding sarcastic’. The question remains whether the distribution of pragmatic features MyClass courses are distributed in a way that is representative of native (or semi-authentic) contexts.

The group wondered if adapting the MyClass materials would be a valuable feature of future revisions of the course although it would require significant man hours to do so.  Given the unique characteristics of MyClass, and the relatively high need for training in each teaching centre where it has been rolled out within The BC network, the BCHK group also recognised that including a more explicit focus on pragmatic language in MyClass materials would also require further efforts in training teachers in the delivery of the course. Indeed, the group felt there were many examples of pragmatic features that couldn’t be easily taught in class without prepared materials – e.g. the use of silence and, given that each MyClass session runs for 90 minutes, and each group of students varies from session to session, there are limitations on the efficacy of the MyClass platform for covering pragmatics in great depth. This perhaps reiterates the point rased earlier, that pragmatics is most effectively dealt with when the learners have a homogenous target culture.

Thanks to all who participated in the discussion – online and face to face – we are all looking forward to the next one!

This post by @hairychef

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the individuals, and not those of #AusELT in general or of English Australia.

Upcoming chat – systems thinking: an introduction to fast and slow thinking

Our next chat will take place on Thursday 6th November at 8.30pm AEDT (you can check how that corresponds to your own time zone here) and we will be talking about systems thinking. The interest in this topic was stimulated by Adrian Underhill’s recent visit to Australia where the concept of ‘fast and slow thinking’ formed the basis of his presentations on professional development in learning organisations. We look forward to exploring the topic in more depth on Thursday. The recent blog posts on Adrian’s workshops by Aparna Jacob and Tamzen Armer give a great overview and make for useful pre-reading. There’s also an article here which considers the role of fast and slow thinking in education and has a short Youtube clip narrated by Daniel Kahneman who developed the concept.

To get you thinking (fast or slow?)  here are some pre-chat questions:

  • Would you consider yourself a fast, instinctive thinker or a slower, more reflective thinker? How does your thinking style inform your approach to teaching/learning/management?
  • Is there ‘a need to educate learners to be disciplined thinkers’ these days? How would this work in a TESOL context?
  • In your organisation, does ‘daily fire-fighting take precedence over systems-thinking’? (See Aparna’s blog post)


This post by @Penultimate_K

Perspectives on developing a ‘learning organisation’ approach to PD – Part 2

This is the second in a short series of blog posts inspired by Adrian Underhill’s workshop on Developing a ‘learning organisation’ approach to PD, which he delivered at various locations in Australia recently. To find out more about Adrian Underhill, read his recent interview in the English Australia Journal.

TamzenAbout the author:

Tamzen Armer is currently Assistant Director of Studies at an LTO in Canberra, and Reviews Editor at the English Australia Journal.

Adrian Underhill’s session on “Developing a ‘learning organisation’ approach to PD” raised some interesting questions for me about learning in my LTO. In keeping with my key ‘take-away’ from the session, allow me to share . . .

Identify something you have learnt at work recently . . . who else knows you have been learning that?

Throughout the workshop, Adrian made reference to “the mess we’re in”. For me, that mess was perhaps best summed up by the question above – who else in my organisation knows what I have been learning, and indeed what do I know about what others have been learning?

Individual learning can be wasted unless harnessed at organisational level

It seems to me that in my organisation a lot of learning must be getting wasted. I know I rarely share my learning with others and I suspect that is the same for other people. It’s not because I don’t want to share, but there never seems to be the time, the opportunity or the forum.

In an organisation I worked at previously, there always seemed to be discussion about teaching and learning, about how to explain things to students, about how best to teach things, about what people had learned at external PD sessions. It all happened in a very organic way, outside of organisation-imposed PD sessions, and it was extremely important for me as a relatively new teacher. These discussions made me enthusiastic about English, about the job, the possibilities. It helped me bond with my colleagues. It gave me confidence when I felt I could contribute to the discussions and when I didn’t, I learned things.

There are no ‘universal’ solutions to ‘local’ situations . . .

So what is different in my current LTO? Well, to start with, the way our timetable works means that there is no common break time or lunchtime. Or start or finish time. A lot of the discussion in my previous organisation occurred during the short breaks in classes or after class when everyone would be in the staff room. The staff room: difference number two. At my current organisation some teachers are in two-person offices; the others in 10-person rooms. But because of the timetable, there may only be a couple of people in those room at any one time. It seems to me that both of these factors impede the sharing of ideas and opinions and thus learning is wasted.

It’s been easy for me to notice this but to put it in the “too hard” basket. However, having the time in Adrian’s session to focus on this problem, to talk through it with others and to see that no ‘universal’ solution does not mean no solution, was very useful.

We need to develop local knowledge that follows the contours of the setting and circumstances we are in . . .

A number of suggestions were made by other workshop attendees. The first was having a noticeboard in a common area where things could be shared. Unfortunately as our common areas are also common to other departments, as well as accessible to students, I had to rule this one out. A second suggestion was to have face-to-face meetings/idea shares. I know this is popular with teachers as when we have done it in the past, feedback has been good. However, the time constraints mean this is only really possible in our non-teaching weeks which occur four times a year. This did not seem frequent enough to create the kind of collaborative environment I was envisaging and also our sessional and casual teachers, the bulk of the staff, aren’t generally around at those times. However, as people are keen on this kind of forum, it seems worth pursuing and I think it would be possible to have more frequent get-togethers of smaller groups and, by changing the meeting times, different combinations of people could come together. A final suggestion was a closed Facebook group where ideas could be shared. Another attendee reflected on her experience of using this kind of forum in her LTO and it seemed promising and would certainly overcome many of our “environmental” constraints.

We make the mistake of dictating problems and solutions, making people passive, colluding in the problem and dictating answers, rather than inviting them to empower themselves by entering the problem, and developing their own knowledge — Anne Burns

Fortuitously, this workshop occurred just before one of our non-teaching weeks and I took the opportunity to arrange an informal PD session in which I reported back on my learning from Adrian’s session and had colleagues who attended the EA Conference share what they learned there. There did seem to be a general feeling that we could be sharing more and a number of avenues for communication were suggested by staff. Firstly, people were, as expected, keen to meet face-to-face, even for relatively short periods of time. There was also a feeling that email, as our main workplace channel of communication, could be used for such purposes. One colleague suggested having a particular subject-line convention such that emails of this type could be easily identified/redirected into folders to save them disappearing into the mass of email communication which fills the inbox each day. It was also suggested that our staff Moodle site be used to collect and store useful links, and indeed a number of the conference attendees had already put links to sessions they found particularly beneficial on there.

Do you, the teacher, demonstrate the quality of learning you want your students to develop?

In our classrooms we ask learners to communicate, co-operate and collaborate. We expect our learners to think critically about resources they use, and we expect them to become autonomous in their learning. It will be interesting to see now whether we are able to do the same.

This post by @tamzenarmer

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the individuals, and not those of #AusELT in general or of English Australia.

Next Twitter chat 06/11/2014 – voting now open.

The next #AusELT Twitter chat will take place on Thursday November 6 at 8.30pm AEDT (the D stands for daylight saving!) and voting for a discussion topic is now open. You can cast your vote using the link below.